Profession lauds Crane's term as BBO bar counsel

Issue July/August 2006 By Andrea R. Barter, Esq.

After nearly seven years of service to the Board of Bar Overseers of the Supreme Judicial Court of the commonwealth of Massachusetts, Bar Counsel Daniel Crane has resigned.

"We have an extraordinary staff in the bar counsel office that is committed to having our profession practice at a high level," said Crane. "I've had the good fortune to be with this staff for almost seven years; we have accomplished a lot together."

Those who have worked with Crane laud him as an outstanding chief bar counsel who has won a national reputation for his work in the field.

"From the 'private bar' perspective, Dan will be an extremely tough act to follow," said MBA General Counsel Martin W. Healy. "The bar was fortunate to have him. Dan comes from the trenches of small firm law practice and never lost sight of the trials and tribulations of everyday practice. He has a deep respect of the law and is ever mindful of the serious obligations lawyers have with their clients and to society."

Healy added, "As an MBA leader in the 1990s, Dan shaped the bar's agenda out of experiences honed in the courtroom and political skills that came naturally to one who grew up in a storied political Cambridge family. Through his MBA presidency, he made friendships that last to this day."

According to Mike Fredrickson, BBO general counsel, "Dan has made substantial inroads into a backlog he inherited. I think he's done a tremendous job and will be difficult to replace."

The bar counsel is the head of the Office of Bar Counsel, the disciplinary agency responsible for investigating and prosecuting charges of professional misconduct by attorneys in the commonwealth. Responsibilities of bar counsel include supervising the Office of Bar Counsel, setting policy and goals for the office, practicing before the Supreme Judicial Court, reporting on administrative matters to the Board of Bar Overseers and interacting with the bar and the public.

"It's a job in which you can make no one happy. But it's absolutely vital," said Fredrickson. "I think we have an independent and fair system of processing and adjudicating complaints against lawyers. Dan has done much to improve that system."

High notes of Crane's tenure include a new complaint intake system, known as the Attorney Consumer Assistance Program, and a dramatic reduction in the age of cases.

According to Crane, ACAP is a triage operation that reviews every new matter that comes in the office and allows the bar counsel's office to provide a higher level of service to both the public and the bar. It has cut number of investigative files that the BBO opens by 50 percent.

Laurie Aaron, board administrator, Board of Bar Overseers, said, "ACAP is an extremely effective program that benefits both attorneys and the public. I believe very strongly in that program."

Although Crane's administration has reduced the time it takes to conclude investigations and to file charges if necessary, he cautioned that more work was needed by the staff, the board and the volunteers in how they respond to matters under investigation, conduct hearings and issue decisions. "Those will be things for my successor to follow up on," said Crane.

Crane had other suggestions for his successor, the bar and the judiciary.

He strongly supports the enactment of the Law Office Management Assistance Program, which will intervene and provide assistance to lawyers who get involved in minor misconduct, matters such as failure to return phone calls or complete work within a quoted timeframe, usually caused by lack of organization and practice management skills.

Crane also recommends that the bar and the courts consider adopting mandatory fee arbitration at the client's option for all fee disputes, similar to programs in Maine, New Jersey and New York. "It would proviade a forum for matters that are essentially fee disputes to be adjudicated more promptly and would be an alternative to the discipline system for some of these matters," said Crane.

As a final note to his successor, Crane said, "Don't forget that while we pride ourselves as a self-regulating profession and we point out that that distinguishes lawyers from other professions, if we're going to differentiate ourselves on that basis, we have to be serious about how we handle professional discipline. When lawyers do get into trouble, we have to continue to apply appropriate consequences, sometimes serious and unpleasant, administered consistently, based upon the type of misconduct in which the lawyer engaged."

Of Crane's administration, MBA President Warren Fitzgerald said, "Dan Crane is truly a pillar in the legal community and stands out in a field of distinguished bar leaders. As president of the MBA, he guided the association with a steady hand; as a practitioner, he is a lawyer's lawyer; and as an individual, he is one of the finest people you can have the good fortune to meet. It takes a special strength and commitment to the profession to undertake the job which he has for the past seven years. We all thank him for this contribution to the profession."