Is Punishing Immigration Attorneys Bad for Business?

This article is a follow-up to my article last Thursday, where I wrote about Alabama Senate Bill 543 (SB543), which was introduced by Senator Holley on April 19, 2012. (Click here to read the full article.) In a nutshell, the proposed bill requires attorneys in Alabama, who practice immigration law, to complete an additional 50 hours of continuing legal education in addition the standard 12 hours that are already required by the State Supreme Court each calendar year.

SB543 AUTHOR STILL SILENT

Though I was informed last week the Senator would provide me with a response, I have not yet heard back. With the legislative session nearing an end, and the bill still being reviewed by a Judiciary Committee, the likely future of this bill may very well be expiration. Notwithstanding, this bill has raised the ire of many practitioners and observers. Continuing legal education costs practitioners time and money, which ultimately raises the cost of doing business in Alabama. This bill erects additional barriers for Alabaman businesses owners during a time when most businesses are struggling to recover and succeed in this economy. In just a few days, I was able to get additional comments from attorneys nationwide as well as from two prominent organizations in the field of immigration:

AILA GEORGIA-ALABAMA CHAPTER SPEAKS OUT

As one of the leading professional organizations in one of the most complex fields of law in the U.S., the American Immigration Lawyers Association Georgia-Alabama Chapter, provided this letter from Chapter Chair David Soloway and First Vice-Chair Klari B. Tedrow, commenting on SB543. Portions are quoted here:

Immigration law is a complex, dynamic area of the law and can be a mine field for lawyers who do not focus in this field. Most immigration attorneys voluntarily engage in much more than the minimum twelve hours of continuing legal education the State requires. Nearly all immigration practitioners belong to AILA, the leading professional bar association for immigration lawyers, with more than 11,000 attorneys and law professors who practice or teach immigration law. …

The Alabama State Bar correctly noted that continuing legal education and the relevant rules and requirements are solely within the province of the Supreme Court of Alabama and are outside the legislature’s mandate and purpose. The Georgia-Alabama Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association shares that position, and asserts that Senator Holley’s bill is an unconstitutional (and unwise) effort by the legislative branch of government to wrest power and authority from the judicial branch.

Because of the constant changes in U.S. immigration law, immigration attorneys already participate in CLE above and beyond what is minimally required in order to stay up-to-date on the law. (With another 18 months to go before I have to report my CLE hours, I’ve already completed my minimum and anticipate attending more just to stay up-to-date.)

CLINIC SPEAKS OUT

Allison Posner, Director of Advocacy from the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC), one of the largest non-profit organizations that provide legal immigration assistance nationwide, was deeply concerned about the disparate impact this would have on immigrant communities in the State of Alabama:

Immigration law is complex and confusing at the best of times. Alabama added a layer of difficulty for its residents when it passed HB 56. To compel its immigration law experts to meet onerous education requirements over and above those of experts in every other field is mean-spirited. Immigrants in Alabama need legal assistance now more than ever, and the state should do everything it can to support authorized practitioners instead of making their work harder.

Indeed, “mean-spirited” was the consensus that most readers of this blog felt when responding to my poll from last Thursday’s article:

  • 97% felt this bill discouraged immigration attorneys from practicing in Alabama
  • 1% felt this bill encouraged immigration attorneys to be better informed
  • 1% felt this bill justified the role of Senators in Alabama
  • Nobody felt the bill served to increase revenue streams for CLE providers in Alabama

Regardless of practice area and minimum requirements, all attorneys should strive to continually advance their legal education.  For immigration attorneys, reduced and free CLE courses are available if you look in the right places. However, it begs the question whether any legislative representative should propose bills that so profoundly affect their constituents, without (at minimum) providing a rational justification for doing so.