SBM president gives update on state bar at conference

By Jo Mathis
Legal News

The State Bar of Michigan’s financial situation is in better shape than it has been in years, SBM President Bruce Courtade told the crowd at the Washtenaw County Bar Association’s 24th Annual Bench-Bar Conference last week.

“In fact, you should have noticed that you had a $10 dues reduction this year,” he said. “I’m taking full credit for that.”

He said the SBM is offering more programs for less money to more attorneys than ever, and membership is now 42,600 attorneys in the state of Michigan.

Courtade talked about the upcoming one-year anniversary of the soft launch of the Michigan Online Legal Self-Help Center website which was created to help citizens who can’t afford an attorney, or who don’t qualify for Legal Aid, or don’t have Legal Aid attorneys available.

“That is a program that is not a State Bar program, but is one that the State Bar fully supports,” he said. “When that was announced, there was a lot of blowback from people saying, ‘How can you do that? It’s taking work away from Michigan attorneys, because these people are now going to have access to forms.’”

But he said the site has been a boon to lawyers, as making legal forms available to the public streamlines the court system. And, he noted, the second-most clicked on link on the site is “Finding a Lawyer.”

“What we hoped would happen is happening,” he said.

Courtade noted that the most common phone call he received this year was from a lawyer wanting the SBM to help with the Newtown massacre relief. That was followed by many calls about the results of the Bar Exam in July, when just 62 percent passed the exam, the lowest in the history of the state.

(According to a November 2012 SBM Blog post, the best explanation for the drop “seems to be a change to a straight 4/3 ratio for the MBE and essays, without scaling using the standard deviation method for the essays.” )

Courtade said some lawyers were dismayed at the exam rule changes to students who had invested so much money in law school, while others said, “It’s about time!”

Courtade noted that the SBM has nothing to do with writing or scoring the exam or anything else.

“But we have been involved in trying to address all the problems,” he said, adding that there are ongoing discussions about the issues with law schools, examiners, Supreme Court and sometimes SBM.

He said he doesn’t care what changes are made, but he has insisted that those changes be transparent so everyone knows exactly what to expect.

Courtade made the case for criminal juvenile defense legislation and better civic education in the schools.

He said he attends similar events throughout the state, and called the attendance Friday “outstanding.”

 “It speaks highly of your commitment to the local bar and to the justice system,” he said.

He also applauded the work of Ann Arbor attorney Lori Buiteweg, who is SBM secretary.

“That means she is in line to succeed eventually as State Bar president,” he said, noting that she is extremely qualified for the position. “What amazes me is that she’ll be the first Washtenaw County attorney to be State Bar of Michigan president.”

Courtade left each guest a Guide to the U.S. Constitution.

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