Sausage making

By James Dimos

“Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made.” – Lawyer-poet John Godfrey Saxe*

Article II of its Articles of Incorporation states that the purpose of the ISBA is, in part, to “encourage and promote reforms in the law … secure the more efficient administration of justice … [and] endorse and encourage reforms in legislation.” The ISBA and its sections and committees undertake this charge in a variety of ways, through the filing of amicus briefs, commenting on proposed rules, and lobbying both the executive and legislative branch. The Association focuses its activities on issues where lawyers can provide technical expertise or which directly affect lawyers. On certain occasions, the State Bar speaks as a body to urge the adoption or defeat of a particular piece of legislation. However, most of this work is done through the sections and committees of the ISBA, where the technical expertise resides.

Guided by Paje Felts, our in-house legislative counsel, sections and committees monitor legislation and recommend to Paje whether their section or committee, or the ISBA itself, needs to speak on a particular piece of legislation – either to support, modify or oppose it. In addition, our sections and committees develop their own ideas and language for legislation. In those instances, the section or committee works with an interested legislator, the Legislative Services Agency and Paje to draft a bill for consideration by the General Assembly.

Our sections and committees may undertake a comprehensive review of existing law and work with legislators to draft bills that make numerous changes to the existing statutory framework. During this last session, the ISBA actively supported three pieces of legislation that made sweeping changes to the law on the transfer of real property (SEA 249), the probate and trust code (SEA 36) and the law of guardianship (SEA 59). These types of efforts take years of planning, drafting and education to provide the legislature with the confidence to adopt these bills.

Other times, the ISBA supports legislation addressing specific issues. For instance, the ISBA brought forth the idea for SEA 19, which created exceptions to the confidentiality of juvenile court records to allow limited access in proceedings related to paternity, custody, parenting time and child support issues, and SEA 180, which establishes a veterans disability clinic fund to provide grants to Indiana law schools that maintain a veterans disability clinic.

And some of the legislation we supported is even considered groundbreaking on the national front. This year the ISBA put its weight behind HEA 1121, which requires all Indiana administrative law judges to be attorneys. Further, there will be ethical and procedural rules established to ensure confidence and predictability in our state’s administrative procedure.

Besides at the Statehouse, the ISBA has also represented Indiana’s lawyers to members of Congress. Annually, our leadership participates in ABA Day on the Hill, where state bar leaders visit their congressional delegations to discuss issues important to the profession. Last year, we urged members of Congress to provide adequate funding for the judiciary and the Legal Services Corporation in light of the pending sequestration. This year, in addition to again requesting funding for the Legal Services Corporation, which would have a direct impact on Indiana of an additional $1 million, we addressed a proposed change to the tax law that would require law firms and other professional services firms with annual revenues of $10 million or more to adopt the accrual method of accounting.

The proposed 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. In January, I wrote to members of the Indiana congressional delegation, expressing concern over the accrual tax proposal, and in April I had the opportunity to discuss the issue with many of the delegation members in visits on Capitol Hill. 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 members and the staff of the ISBA take seriously the charge to speak on behalf of Indiana’s lawyers. Countless volunteer hours are spent to research and develop arguments or legislation that our sections and committees believe will improve the operation of our legal system. It is one of the many things about membership in the ISBA that our members value. If you have an idea, do not hesitate to share it with the appropriate section or committee. Even more so, if you would like to help take your idea toward fruition, get involved in a section or committee and help make change happen. While the sausage making isn’t always pretty, it can be fulfilling.

* I know you want to tell me that this quote or a variation is properly attributed to Otto Von Bismarck. However, in his March of 2009 posting at the Freakonomics blog of The New York Times, Fred Shapiro discussed the quote and noted: “This is usually attributed to Bismarck, but the Iron Chancellor was not associated with that quip until the 1930s. The Daily Cleveland Herald, March 29, 1869, quoted lawyer-poet John Godfrey Saxe that ‘Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made,’ and this may be the true origin of the saying.”

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