Message from your President
March 2015 President's Corner
Times are changing. What are we doing as a profession to keep up with those changes? The idea of equal access to the courts is becoming more and more a concept as opposed to the reality it was intended to be. Whether we like it or not, technology is here, it has and is changing the landscape of our profession and we need to be innovative and collaborative in our efforts to keep up with the changes. Our options are simple. Embrace and utilize technology in our profession to keep up with the rest of society or ignore the realities and move further away from our ideals of true equal access to our courts.
This topic is one that is being discussed nationally and perhaps like everything else, South Dakota is among the later states to feel the impact of the problem. The responses are varied and range from doing little or nothing to authorizing paralegals to take on limited scope representation of clients. Much of the current focus for the State Bar has been the delivery of legal services to the poorest of our citizens. We continue to work on ways to improve the delivery of service through our legal services providers. Technology may play a vital role in increasing the efficiency with which our legal services organizations can deliver their services. This sort of change may not be easy, but as with any change, in the long run, the benefits will become obvious.
What about the “working poor” who don’t qualify for assistance. I have heard this group described as the stem of a martini glass. The wealthy and corporate America comprise the drinking part of the glass and enjoy the ability to hire the most expensive legal representation available. Those eligible for legal aid (criminal or civil) make up the base of the martini glass and are able to obtain quality representation from those dedicated to the public service of indigent legal aid . But, what about the vast majority of our population that make up the stem. Not only are these people often unable to get representation, they often don’t realize that they need representation. Can technology be our ally in reaching out and assisting those who might otherwise go to Legal Zoom or some other internet service to address their legal needs?
We need to do more as a profession to begin the process of insuring that these individuals have meaningful access to our justice system? A small but meaningful proposed change to our rules of civil procedure is going to be considered by our Supreme Court in a special April rules hearing. The “fast-track” civil litigation rule will allow claimants seeking $75,000 or less in damages to elect the fast track proceedings where there will be limited discovery, limited expert witnesses, limited motions and a trial within one year of filing the action. This proposed rule change should clearly make the court system more accessible for those who are left out because of the extensive costs associated with litigation. A link to the proposed rule is posted on the State Bar’s website. Please take time to review the proposal which has been approved by the Bar Commission and endorsed by both the South Dakota Trial Lawyers and South Dakota Defense Lawyers organizations.
Obviously, more needs to be done. As the Bar moves forward, we continue to look at these challenges to our profession and finding ways to educate the public on the value of the services we provide. If you have suggestions for these issues, please feel free to share them with Bar leadership and your Commissioners. We would welcome your input.
The 2015 Legislative session is winding down. Remember to follow the State Bar updates which are posted each Friday on our website. Also, be sure to thank your legislators for their service. We particularly thank the members of the Bar who have answered the call to serve in the Legislature. Our Public Service Committee is prepared to assist interested candidates address some of the difficulties associated with running for office, serving in office and maintaining your practice. The time spent by our lawyer legislators is invaluable to our system and the betterment of South Dakota as a whole.
The State Bar has succeeded with passage of most of its legislative agenda. One item that met resistance was a re-write of the non-profit corporation act. This is a comprehensive proposal that caused concern for many non-profit organizations that need more time to understand the benefits of the new act. To address the concerns, our CLE and Business Law Committees are working together to develop a half-day program on the new act which will be offered free of charge to not only our members, but to the non-profit community at large. The free program will be offered in both Sioux Falls and Rapid City, in September. A summary of the changes is posted on the State Bar’s website (click on the Legislative Updates link in the Blue “For Members” Box). Please take time to review the materials, attend the programs and help us make the passage of this important legislation possible in 2016.
Finally, the Supreme Court will also be considering rules changes to the Rules of Evidence to mirror changes made to the Federal Rules of Evidence and to make the numbering of the SD Rules of Evidence more consistent with the Federal Rules. A link to these proposed changes is also on the State Bar website (see the rules notice on page 30).