THE CONCERN OVER the competnecy of attorneys who practice in federal courts has been public long enough now so that everyone seems to agree something needs to be done.
The U.S. judicial system's planned response is not meeting unamimous acceptance, though. This response would involve an experimental program in which selected districts would impose entrance barriers for licensed lawyers, such as additional law tests and trial experience requirements, before letting them practice in federal courts.
It would be one of the biggest changes in the federal court system's admission rules in years, and would mean that attorneys accustomed to uniformity in federal court rules in the past would be confronted with different rules in different federal courthouses.
Some of the strngest opposition to the plan is coming from the Institute for Public Representation, a public interest group headquartered at the Georgetown University Law Center here. In a letter to the judge overseeing the still-secret process of selecting districts for the experiment, representatives from the group have outlined their fears that the plan might actually harm lawyers, clients and the legal education process in general.
After all, the Institute argues, the experiment deals with "human subjects" -- the lawyers and clients involved in federal cases daily -- and should not be undertaken unless the benefits outweigh the risks.
"The Institute believes that the social and economic risks of such an experiment may well outweigh the benefits." said director Charles R. Halpern.
halpern reiterated the general complaint that a new bank of requirements for an already-overtested profession will make it more difficult for minorities to practice in court and "frustrate the historic role of the federal courts as forums for the vindication of civil and other essential rights."
In addition, though, he pointed out there are special problems raised by imposing requirements in only certain districts on an experimental basis while not imposing them in others.
For example, law students would be unable to plan their schoolwork unless they knew in what specific district they planned to practice law. Also, Halpern said, the experiment will only produce "anecdotal district-by-district impressions" and not solid survey data.
"The experiment will have a substantial impact on the client community in the federal districts chosen, and on lawyers, law students and law schools. Its impact may include increased legal fees, decreased availability of counsel, disruption of legal education, disparate impact upon the poor and minorities, and other time, monetary and social costs," the institute claimed.
Underlying all this is the fact that no one even has come up with a good definition of "competent advocacy" in the first place, Halpern said.
Overall, he said, the committee looking into the implementation of the plan should go back to the drawing board and not hesitate to tell the U.S. Judicial Conference that the experiment should be stopped before it is started.
That is extrememly unlikely, since the biggest supporter of admission requirement plans for federal court practice is U.S. Chief Justice Warren E. Burger.
Burger has said, for example, that "in spite of all the bar examinations and better law schools we are more casual about qualifying the people we allow to act as advocates in the courtrooms than we are about licensing our electricians."
So even though no one knows what districts will be chosen for the experiment, how long the experiment will last of how anyone will measure any "improvements" in courtroom work by lawyers, it seems certain that Burger will get his way and the experiment will be conducted.
At least the institute will have the feeling it didn't go down without a fight.
Defense attorneys in Mobile Ala., do not ger free publicity from the Mobile Press-Register, that's for sure. The newspaper has a policy of printing only the names of elected prosecutors on the grounds that they are public servants, and keeping the names of defense attorneys out of the paper altogether, said Press-Register publisher W. J. Hearin.
Hearin said the "top law firm" in town respect the policy, but that is objected to by "attorneys in our area who generally use theatrics in their trials and are seekers of publicity."
Hearin said the policy began after he learned that some defense attorneys were getting unusually favorable treatment in the paper -- possibly in return for "winning and dining" courthouse news reporters and city desk editors.
"We don't have that problem anymore," Hearin said.
Hearin said the "top law firms" in ues to be hot, with private lawyers sometimes claiming astronomical rates when they successfully sue the government and the government is forced to pay legal costs.
So, some people were wondering what the bill would look like when U.S. District Judge John Lewis Smith Jr. turned the tables recently in dismissing a Black Panther Party suit against the Justice Department and told the party it would have to pay the cost of the federal attorneys' work.
The final bill presented by the government in the four-year-old suit: $4,586.60.
According to the government, that is all it cost to prepare and argue the motion that resulted in the case's dismissal. The feds charged their attorneys' rate at $60 an hour (pointedly "suggesting" to the court that private attorneys usually charge more) and copying costs of 10 cents a page.
They didn't charge for their secretarial time, either.
W. Risque Harper, former senior trial attorney at the Federal Trade Commission and former executive director of the Service Station Dealers of America, has opened law offices and Spaulding has announced that Steven R. Bisker has joined the firm and that Richard Loftin has been made a partner . . . Joseph D. Gebhardt of the firm of Dobrovir, Oakes and Gebhardt has been retained by Local 3331 of the American Federation of Government Employees, the union representing employes of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency headquarters . . . Clark M. Glifford, former Secretary of Defense, has been named the national chairman of the Lawyers' Committee for Carter/Mondale.