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Courts & legal news weekly roundup

Welcome to the weekly roundup of the latest news from the courts and the legal industry. Each week, we bring you a quick summary of significant developments, new trends, and interesting articles. 

This week’s highlights 

  • New York attorneys may use, own recreational marijuana, and invest in pot businesses 
  • Fifth circuit: Texas lawyers don’t have to join the state bar or pay dues 
  • Florida: Working group proposes permanent changes to procedure rules post COVID 
  • Legal industry adds 5,700 jobs in June 
  • $37m verdict reversed on appeal after lawyer makes “improper” literary references in arguments 

New York attorneys may use, own recreational marijuana, and invest in pot businesses 

“New York lawyers can advise clients on how to comply with the state’s new recreational marijuana use law and accept payment for their services via equity ownership in a cannabis business, the state’s premier bar group said.” (Bloomberg Law) 

An ethics ruling issued this week means that New York becomes the largest state where attorneys can ethically consume cannabis recreationally. They can also grow it and accept ownership interest in cannabis related businesses in exchange for legal services.  

As Bloomberg reports, Colorado and Washington state also permit lawyers to consume cannabis, and California last year said attorneys can counsel clients on state marijuana laws. 

Fifth Circuit: Texas lawyers don’t have to join the state bar or pay dues 

“The State Bar of Texas engages in political activities that fall outside the scope of its interests so it cannot force attorneys to join it and pay mandatory dues, the Fifth Circuit ruled.” (Courthouse News) 

A federal appeals court has ruled that mandatory membership of the state bar association is a violation of lawyers’ First Amendment rights because of its political activities. 

Three Texas attorneys filed suit in 2019, claiming that the association has overstepped its core regulatory functions by helping undocumented immigrants, and lobbying for passage of a bill that would amend the Texas constitution to recognize same-sex marriages. 

The state bar now has several “constitutional options,” the fifth circuit said. “The bar can cease engaging in nongermane activities; Texas can directly regulate the legal profession and create a voluntary bar association, like New York’s; or Texas can adopt a hybrid system, like California’s.” The ABA Journal has further coverage. 

Florida: Working group proposes permanent changes to procedure rules post COVID 

“The Workgroup on Continuity of Court Operations has filed a petition proposing various amendments to the Florida Rules of Procedure arising from lessons learned in the COVID-19 pandemic. The Court has opened a case and invited public comment.” (Florida Courts) 

Many proceedings that were conducted remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic should continue, says the report of a working group of Florida lawyers tasked with reviewing the subject. 

In a detailed set of proposed procedure rules changes published Thursday, the working suggests that remote depositions, mediations, and other hearings should be permitted post-pandemic. It also proposes making compulsory electronic service of process permanent, except where personal service is explicitly required.  

Legal industry adds 5,700 jobs in June 

“There were 1,137,900 jobs in the U.S. legal sector in June, up 2.9% from the same time last year, according to seasonally adjusted figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday.” (Reuters) 

The legal industry continued its slow post-pandemic jobs recovery, with 5,700 jobs added from May to June. The growth rate (0.44%) is substantially slower than the broader jobs market, which grew 0.54% month-over-month. 

There are now 1,137,900 people employed in the legal services industry. That’s still 27,400 below the record-high recorded in February 2020, right before pandemic-related lockdowns began shutting down U.S. cities. 

$37m verdict reversed on appeal after lawyer makes “improper” literary references in arguments 

“A lawyer’s literary references and descriptive comments in closing arguments has doomed a $37 million verdict obtained against two tobacco companies. The improper argument included references to George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 and Oscar Wilde’s book The Picture of Dorian Gray.” (ABA Journal) 

As reported in Bloomberg Law, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Philip Morris USA Inc. won dismissal of a $37 million jury award to the estate of a deceased smoker, after a Florida appeals court found plaintiffs’ counsel’s references to infamous literary characters improperly inflamed the jury against the companies. 

Counsel had read passages from the novel 1984 to the jury and asked jurors to see the tobacco companies in the same light as Oscar Wilde’s character Dorian Gray. The appeal court found that, because the passages had no connection to the evidence, the closing arguments were “improper”. The court reversed the jury judgment and remanded for a new trial.  

Author

  • Richard Heinrich

    Richard is Vice President of Sales and Marketing at InfoTrack. He has worked with law firms for more than a decade to advise on adapting to regulatory and technological change. He writes about the courts, civil procedure, and developing trends that may affect law firm operations.