The ISBA Goes to Washington

By James Dimos

From April 8-10, Joe O’Connor, Indiana’s State Delegate to the ABA, and I, along with Susan Jacobs and Tom Pyrz, participated in ABA Day 2014, the American Bar Association’s annual effort to advocate for the legal profession and access-to-justice issues. More than 350 volunteer leaders from the ABA and bar associations representing 49 states and the District of Columbia converged on Capitol Hill to express their opposition to proposed legislation that would place an undue financial tax burden on lawyers and law firms, and to ask for increased funding for the Legal Services Corporation. The video above provides some more detail about the ABA Day experience.

As to the issues we discussed, the pending tax reform legislation would impose substantial new financial burdens on lawyers. Specifically, the proposal would require law firms and other personal services businesses with annual gross receipts of more than $10 million to use the accrual method of accounting rather than the traditional cash receipts and disbursement method.

The proposed reform could result in law firms paying taxes on income that they have not yet received and may never receive. Moreover, the legal profession would suffer even greater financial hardships than other groups because many lawyers are not paid by their clients until long after the work is performed.

The Legal Services Corporation is the single largest provider of civil legal aid in the nation, distributing 95 percent of its federal appropriation to 134 legal aid programs, with more than 800 offices. Today, the number of people who qualify for LSC assistance is at an all-time high, with more than 63.5 million Americans eligible for such aid. The proposed funding for the LSC set out in the president’s budget would result in approximately $1 million in funding for Indiana Legal Services. This would allow ILS to provide Hoosiers in need with legal representation in matters that affect their daily existence.

It was a busy time in Washington as hearings were being conducted and numerous votes were being taken. Yet, many members of Indiana’s congressional delegation were able to find time to visit with us. We had a chance to discuss both issues with Sen. Joe Donnelly and Representatives Susan Brooks, Peter Visclosky, Luke Messer, Marlin Stutzman and Todd Young. While Sen. Dan Coats could only speak to us briefly, we had the opportunity to discuss these issues with a member of his staff. We also had a chance to meet with a member of Rep. Larry Bucshon’s staff to discuss these issues as well. There was a respectful and informative exchange of ideas on both issues and a true appreciation of the opportunity to hear each other’s viewpoints.

The visits reminded me of the truth of the notion of Hoosier Hospitality. Every office we visited was warm and welcoming to us. This is a contrast to the experience of some of our colleagues from other states. The visits also showed that the idea that our representatives in Washington do not work hard is unfounded. The hours are long, and the demands for some of the elected official’s time are numerous and often competing. We appreciated the welcome and the time that everyone provided to us.

Finally, let me thank all of you for the opportunity to participate as president of the ISBA. As I mentioned to someone, Washington, D.C. is a lawyer’s “Disneyland.” The chance to walk the halls of Congress and to see the Supreme Court and the monuments was truly enjoyable.

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