State Bar of Georgia
State Bar of Georgia

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Georgia Bar Journal
April 2023, Vol. 28, No. 5

Professionalism Month Proclamation Highlights Legislative Session

During the waning days of the 2023 session of the Georgia General Assembly, Gov. Brian Kemp signed a proclamation designating April as Legal Professionalism Month in Georgia.

The purpose of the governor’s proclamation is to promote collegiality and professionalism among members of the State Bar of Georgia.

The proclamation states in part, “Collegiality among counsel is critical to the effective and efficient adjudication of cases and controversies before Georgia Courts. … Increased legal professionalism may help to instill public trust and confidence in the legal system.”

I had the honor of attending the governor’s signing of the proclamation at the Capitol, along with the Bar leaders and staff who helped make it happen, including our Professionalism Committee Chair Josh Bosin, committee members Carlos Vilela and John Lange, Chief Justice’s Commission on Professionalism Executive Director Karlise Grier, as well as Bar Executive Director Damon Elmore and Governmental Affairs Director Christine Butcher Hayes. Georgia’s First Lady Marty Kemp also joined us for the ceremony.

Having called for a renewed commitment to professionalism at the beginning of my term as Bar president, I was delighted by the governor’s action, which was the result of exemplary teamwork among the Professionalism Committee, the Chief Justice’s Commission and Bar staff.

Recognizing April as Legal Professionalism Month in Georgia serves as a timely reminder to reinforce our commitment to conducting ourselves in a professional manner, which—as I stated on these pages last August—is something we should resolve to do every year.

Take a Chance to Take in the State Capitol

Visiting the governor’s office in late March also gave us a chance to catching the flurry of action beneath the Gold Dome during the final days of the 2023 legislative session. After two years of limited entry due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the capitol building was back to normal and full of energy, celebrating everyone from 4H participants, Girl Scouts, high school and college football champions, and even the Young Lawyers Division of the State Bar. For those Georgia lawyers who have not had a chance to visit the Legislature while the members are in session, I would encourage you to plan a trip with your local bar association or coordinate with the State Bar’s legislative team for a visit.

Thanks to our members’ voluntary contributions to the State Bar’s legislative program, we have an outstanding advocacy team working on our behalf throughout the session to stay on top of any legislation affecting the practice of law and the judiciary. Our team is led by director of governmental affairs, Christine Butcher Hayes, who works alongside Rusty Sewell of Capitol Partners Public Affairs Group, Mark Middleton of Middleton Public Affairs and Roy Robinson of R.B. Robinson Company to lobby in favor of proposed legislation supported by the Bar or against measures opposed by the Bar. I was grateful to have this team to show me the ropes at the Legislature this year.

Celebrating Our Lawyer-Legislators

The Georgia legal profession also owes a debt of gratitude to our fellow lawyers who—in addition to the demands of their law practices—devote the necessary time travel and energy to represent their communities in the Georgia Senate and House of Representatives. For multiple reasons, the number of lawyer/legislators in our state has dwindled for the last several decades, not the least of which, includes spending three months away from law practice during the legislative session.

We do appreciate the Bar members who serve the House and Senate, including those in top leadership positions like Senate President Pro Tem John Kennedy of Macon (who is also on the State Bar Board of Governors), Senate Minority Whip Harold Jones of Augusta, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Brian Strickland of McDonough, Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Blake Tillery of Vidalia, House Majority Leader Chuck Efstration of Dacula, House Majority Whip James Burchett of Waycross, House Minority Whip Sam Park of Lawrenceville, House Judiciary Committee Chair Stan Gunter of Blairsville and House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee Chair Tyler Paul Smith of Bremen.

There are currently 34 Georgia lawyers serving in the General Assembly—25 out of 180 members of the House and nine out of 56 members of the Senate. Although it is unlikely we will ever see lawyers make up a majority of the General Assembly as was the case once upon a time decades ago, the public and the justice system would benefit from a healthy increase in the number of lawyer-legislators. I encourage Bar members to seriously consider becoming a candidate for your House or Senate seat in the next election. Those who serve will confess that it is a sacrifice, but also admit that it is an incredibly rewarding form of public service.

The State Bar Under the Gold Dome

In addition to supporting a resolution designating April as Legal Professional Month, the State Bar’s legislative agenda entering the 2023 session of the General Assembly included the following items:

  • Support for a comprehensive review of the Georgia Nonprofit Corporate Code (from the Nonprofit Law Section);
  • Support for an Amendment to O.C.G.A. § 44-2-18 Correcting the Savings Statute (from the Real Property Law Section;
  • Support for the Adoption of the Uniform Unsworn Declarations Act in Georgia (from the International Trade in Legal Services Committee);
  • Support for $300,000 in the fiscal year 2024 state budget appropriated to Department of Community Affairs for civil legal services for heirs property owners seeking federal disaster relief funds following Hurricane Michael and Hurricane Ian in Georgia;
  • Support for a $619,000 Judicial Council budget request to provide civil legal services grants for medical legal partnerships;
  • Support for a $750,000 Judicial Council budget request for continued funding for civil legal services grants for kinship care families;
  • Support for a $3 million Judicial Council budget request for continued funding for civil legal services grants for victims of domestic violence; and
  • Support for an $800,000 Judicial Council budget request for continued funding for the Georgia Appellate Practice and Educational Resource Center.

We will report on the outcome of these 2023 legislative initiatives at the Annual Meeting in June and in an upcoming edition of the Georgia Bar Journal.

For those who are unfamiliar with how the Bar’s legislative approval process works, any State Bar committee or section that is interested in advocating a position relative to any bill or legislative issue must comply with Standing Board Policy 100, which outlines the Bar’s legislative policy and procedure. Any proposed position must be “germane to the legitimate purposes of the State Bar.” The U.S. Supreme Court has held that the justifiable purposes of a mandatory bar are (1) regulating the legal profession and (2) improving the quality of legal services, a standard outlined in Keller v. State Bar of California (1990).

Sections and committees submit legislative proposals through the Advisory Committee on Legislation (ACL) for approval. Sections and committees cannot take legislative positions without following the process set out in Rule 100. If the ACL votes to adopt the proposal, it will proceed to the State Bar’s Board of Governors for final approval.

We encourage Georgia lawyers to donate annually by contributing a suggested amount on your yearly license fee statement. Attorneys who forget to contribute on their annual licensing fee statement can also donate on the Bar website at your convenience. Without our members’ support, the State Bar cannot maintain our presence at the Georgia General Assembly and cannot continue to advocate effective updates to Georgia law. We are grateful for your support.