LAWYERS ARE SOMETIMES only as good as their law books. It is no surprise, therefore, that a recent tightening of access to up-to-date legal materials in this attorney-crammed town has become an exceedingly sore point.
Crowded law schools in this area are increasingly closing off their libraries to practicing attorneys so they can accommodate their students; the law libraries in larger firms are becoming less available to attorneys outside the firm because of the influx of lawyers with smaller practices here who want to use the already-strained facilities; and attorneys stuck down in the Judiciary Square area are finding it more difficult than ever to research legal points on the spur of the moment in minimal facilities available there.
In response to all this, there is good news and bad news.
First, the good news:
The board of governors of the D.C. Bar Association, the bar to which the 30,400 attorneys here must belong, voted last week in principle to purchase a law library in the U.S. Courthouse. That library is now owned by the voluntary, 4,400-member Bar Association of the District of Columbia. The D.C. Bar intends to make the library into a full-service resource center and lending library, with all the latest materials and computer technology.
Now, the bad news:
The agreed-upon purchase price was $500,000. The D.C. Bar does not have that kind of money. It wants to raise the cash by gaining the approval of the D.C. Court of Appeals for an increase in the dues ceiling for its members.
In real-money terms, the purchase and other factors mean attorney's dues for joining the D.C. Bar are likely to go up from $50 to $75 this year, and then on up to $150 a year over the next few years.
As might be expected in any issue involving attorneys and money, raising the dues can't be done with a sweep of the hand.
In basic terms, here's the process: When the compulsory bar was set up eight years ago, the D.C. Court of Appeals set a $50 ceiling on dues. The first year, the dues were $24. By last year, however, the dues had increased to $50.
Now, because of the planned library purchase, increased bar workload and administrative costs and ever present inflation, the D.C. Bar says an increase in dues is imperative.
Since the bar group cannot legally raise the dues above the $50, it has to go back to the court. At the same time, the D.C. Bar wants that ceiling set high enough so it can raise dues further in the future without going back to the court yet again for permission.
So, at the same meeting in which the library purchase was approved, the bar's governing board also approved a plan to approach the court in an attempt to raise the limit to $150. It acted on the basis of a comprehensive, 30-page outline of the anticipated costs of the bar's continuted work here, down to the fact that the cost of a dozen pencils has risen from 70 cents in 1972 to $1.98 last year.
Bar President John H. Pickering and president-elect Stephen J. Pollak kept emphasizing that the approval of the library purchase and the approval of the request for an increased dues ceiling don't automatically mean a dues increase. They pointed out that, before any new budget is approved, there has to be public hearings and detailed consideration of any need for an increase.
Even the court's approval of the increased dues ceiling is not automatic, Pickering said. "I doubt if the $150 [dues ceiling] is going to open to rave reviews," he told the board.
But if you are a lawyer here, the tone of discussion among the board members was clear: Don't plan on writing a $50 check for bar dues this year. Think higher -- like $75 or so.
Unfortunate incident No. 1: On May 2, 1976, a District cabdriver refused to give a ride to a blind man because the man had a seeing-eye dog with him. After a nasty curbside exchange between the two, the cab company dispatcher sent another cab. Half an hour later the blind man and his dog were on their way.
Unfortunate incident No. 2: It is nearly four years later, and the blind man's discrimination complaint against the cab company is still unresolved.
Last Friday, the chairman of the D.C. Commission on Human Rights held a hearing to try to sort out what has clearly become a can of worms by now. The bare hearing room on the second floor of the District building lent an air of informality to the proceedings.
Despite the surroundings, the attorneys for both sides made it clear that the case was as important to either side as any in more hallowed, marbled halls. And sometimes they did so at the top of their voices.
Harry J. Lambeth, representing the cab company, had a whole series of legal arguments as to why his company shouldn't be held responsible. Among them was the fact that the case against the company had been dismissed once and reopened without its knowledge; a claim that the driver involved was an independent contractor who was not employed by the firm; the fact that another cab had been immediately dispatched; the fact that the driver had been reprimanded; and the fact that the passenger had been told the firm would give a $50 donation to the charity of his choice.
Henry D. Levine, who represented the passenger, questions the relevancy of many of those arguments. His main point was the need for a clear ruling that should be used to settle once and for all that cab companies are responsible for the acts of their drivers, regardless of whether they are independents or employes and whether or not the drivers' acts are accidents or discrimination against passengers.
Human rights commissioner Charles E. Morgan patiently listened to 1 1/2 hours of arguments and asked for some further material to be filed with him. He said he would rule soon.
Meanwhile, the meter is still ticking on the case of Paul E. Kay (and his golden retreiver Tiger) vs. Barwood Cab Co. of D.C. Whatever Morgan does, each side said it probably would appeal his ruling.
The following item is for those who think the legal profession is stuffy: Rolling Stone magazine, not exactly required reading in most law offices, names each year what it calls the "Heavy Hundred" in the rock-and-roll music business -- the "movers and shakers," as it calls them. At least six of those persons named this year were lawyers who represent the top acts and companies in the industry.