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More Stupid Lawyer Tricks

A silly action by the Cleveland Bar to bring charges of unauthorized practice of law against a dad who successfully sued the school board on behalf of his son to secure special education services is now making all of us lawyers look like fools.  According to this New York Times article,  when Brian Woods couldn't afford an attorney to sue the school board for services for his autistic son, he took on the board himself, soundly defeating the board's team of attorneys and recovering $160,000 and other concessions.  But here's how the bar reacted:

"When the Cleveland Bar Association got wind of Mr. Woods' victory recently, it also went to court -- to sue Mr. Woods. The bar association said he had engaged in the unauthorized practice of law. It sought a $10,000 fine, lawyers' fees and a promise that he would not continue to assist other parents seeking to represent their own children in court."

Fortunately, sounder minds on the Ohio Supreme Court saw the light and ordered the bar association to produce additional evidence to support its UPL claims.  At that point, the bar dropped the complaint.  But apparently, a Supreme Court case is pending over a similar issue of
the circumstances in which non-attorney parents can represent their children under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.  As a result, the Cleveland Bar has suggested that depending upon the outcome of this case, it still might re-file charges against Mr. Woods.

The case has lead to a discussion round the blogosphere on the narrow issue of whether parents can represent their kids under the IDEA to whether we should dispense with lawyer licensing requirements entirely.  Norm Pattis of Crime & Federalism takes this  position that a family that "has neither the funds for a lawyer nor the charm to seduce a public interest group" should not be barred from the courthouse door by a rule prohibiting non-lawyer parents from representing their own children in these types of cases. 

Meanwhile, Larry Ribstein and Jonathan Wilson use the Woods case as a springboard for a debate on whether lawyer licensing is necessary.  Ribstein argues that licensing is no longer necessary since lay people can adequately represent themselves, and that the market can take care of consumer protection issues.  Wilson, however, believes that regulation is required, not because he seeks to preserve the status quo but because the market is an inefficient regulator of legal services and many consumers lack the skills to differentiate between competing price proposals.

On the larger questions of the day, I fall between Ribstein and Wilson.  I believe that some consumers may lack the ability to distinguish between legal services, but at the same time, blogging and the Internet and the "flattening of the world" is fast changing that deficiency.   But I leave that question for another day.  On the matter of Brian Woods, I'll end with this question:  Would the Cleveland Bar have pursued Woods if he had lost?  I'm almost certain the answer is no, and if I'm right, it shows you where the bar's interests really lie. 

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on May 8, 2006 at 03:47 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

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