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President’s perspective: Starting a continuous dialogue

By Judge Patrick F. Fischer

Dear OSBA Members,

In the past, the Ohio Lawyer President’s Page was often used by the OSBA president to tell bar members his or her view on a subject. I did that while president of the Cincinnati Bar Association, and wrote similar “my view” columns.

With your indulgence (and as an experiment to see if this works), I want to waive, at least temporarily, my right to tell you how I feel. Instead, I want to use my space in Ohio Lawyer to raise issues facing the legal profession or justice system, and then have OSBA members tell me their views on the subject to be shared in this column.

But I will need your help to do so. I need you to take just two minutes or so after reading this column and respond or comment on the subject raised. Your response can be provided by writing a letter to the editor, posting on the OSBA Facebook page, or “tweeting” on the OSBA’s Twitter feed. You can also call me the old fashioned way at (614) 487-4497, or contact me through email if you want to discuss the issue.

The first topic I would like to raise has to do with the number of law schools in Ohio. According to an ABA seminar I attended in early August, there were about 45,000 students in just over 120 ABA-accredited law schools in 1965. As of 2008, those numbers grew to approximately 143,000 law students in almost 200 similarly sanctioned law schools. According to the ABA, as of 2010, these students graduated law school with an average debt of $98,500.

In Ohio alone over the last few years, the Supreme Court of Ohio has issued approximately 1,200 law licenses per year to new lawyers. There are nine law schools located in Ohio, and Chase Law School in Northern Kentucky also sends many of its graduates to Ohio.

So the first question I need for you to answer is basic: With talk of another law school starting in Ohio, should I continue my opposition—a major part of my speech as a candidate for this office—to the creation of a 10th law school in the state of Ohio? Or do I need a change of mind, as not everyone is getting legal help?

And with the large numbers of new lawyers has come a much, much more diverse membership of the bar, a benefit to our state and a long-time goal of this Association. Currently there are more than 40,000 persons with Ohio law licenses. The entire nation has about 1.2 million people with law licenses. With a U.S. population of more than 300 million people, this equates to one lawyer for every 250 people in this country.

Yet there remains a large group of Americans who cannot get legal representation. Our legal aid groups cannot keep up with unprecedented demand, despite lawyers doing so much pro bono work—73 percent of lawyers donate pro bono services versus about 25 percent of the American population which donates time doing volunteer work. Our Volunteer Lawyers for the Poor groups cannot meet demand. Pro se litigation is skyrocketing.

So my last question to you is this: How can we use this growing number of new attorneys, many of whom are finding it difficult to find traditional jobs in the profession, to serve the legal needs of the poor and those who cannot otherwise afford legal services?

Please let me know your thoughts and ideas.

Judge Patrick F. Fischer is president of the Ohio State Bar Association.

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