CHICAGO - Whatever attention M. Jane Dickey gets as the new president of the National Association of Bond Lawyers, it may well pale compared to the scrutiny she and her firm have come under because of Hillary Clinton.
The Rose Law Firm. where the two women are partners, has been a favorite target for the hordes of reporters that have descended upon Little Rock to investigate the private and professional lives of Ms. Clinton and her husband, Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Bill Clinton.
Many of the resulting news articles have focused on the firm's municipal bond practice, even though the firm ranked third in Arkansas and 222nd nationally among bond counsel firms last year and Hillary Clinton's practice is commercial litigation and property law.
The 44-year-old Ms. Dickey, one of five bond lawyers at the firm, said in an interview that she has been "amazed" by the attention.
"I could never have anticipated the level of interest in all manner of uninteresting daily life that the press has developed," said Ms. Dickey, who took over as president of NABL last night. "I don't think a single day passes that some [press] question does not arise."
The onslaught has led the firm to beef up its security and to set up a system for handling inquiries. While other members of the firm usually take reporters' calls, Ms. Dickey has found herself on the hot seat at times.
Writer Gail Sheehy, for example, asked her about Ms. Clinton's clients and cases. "I could not answer," Ms. Dickey recalled, explaining that she and her colleagues are determined to protect their clients' privacy.
Ms. Dickey said that while the firm has never sought publicity, it has "had to endure" it and recognizes that "it comes with the territory."
"We've never been a flashy firm," she said. "We're kind of an old line, traditional law firm that has been in existence since before the Civil War."
Ms. Dickey's husband, Don K. Barnes, also has been besieged by reporters. As chairman of the Arkansas Board of Review, the state agency that handles appeals of unemployment compensation matters, he was grilled by reporters about his hiring and firing of Gennifer Flowers, who created a stir after alleging she had an affair with Gov. Clinton.
Ms. Dickey and her husband are friends and colleagues of the Clintons, as well as campaign contributors. Ms. Dickey and Ms. Clinton both joined the Rose Law Firm in 1977 and the are currently the only female partners in the 60-member firm.
But Ms. Dickey stressed in an interview last week that her relationship with the Clintons must have nothing to do with her role in NABL.
"I want to be careful that the co-incidence of my relationship with the Clintons will not be perceived to involve the National Association of Bond Lawyers in any way," she said, adding that it would be "inappropriate" for the association to appear to have a partisan position on any issue.
Ms. Dickey said that, as president of NABL, she expects to focus most of her energies on furthering the association's long-standing goals of educating its members and undertaking projects to improve the law.
"I don't have any new or dramatic programs or plans for the coming year that would be different from what we've been doing in the past," she said.
NABL has just surveyed its membership to determine what issues they want to see addressed, she added, and the results of that survey, which are due in October or November, could shape the association's agenda.
Ms. Dickey said she expects NABL will have a full plate of tax issues to contend with in the coming year. One key project will be to provide comments on the rewritten and consolidated arbitrage rules that the Internal Revenue Service is expected to propose this year. Meanwhile, the association will continue to move forward with ongoing tax-related projects, such as providing input to the IRS on writing new management contract rules.
Ms. Dickey applauded the Treasury and the IRS for trying to write simpler and more workable regulations. Simpler regulations and strong IRS enforcement activities, she said, are helpful "in creating a climate and a possibility for ethical behavior on the part of issuers, underwriters, and lawyers."
"When you have laws that are extremely complex and that are not enforced, then people are encouraged to ignore them," she said.
Asked about the growing number of mid-1980s bond deals under investigation or subject to enforcement action by the IRS, Ms. Dickey said, "Almost all of the ethical problems that people point to are caused by a small minority. But to the extent that the majority does not stand up and speak out when we see significant abuses, I think we are all tainted."
She said she believes that IRS' stepped-up enforcement is "ultimately good for our industry." While IRS efforts to tax the interest earnings of bondholders may rekindle an industry debate about the need for alternative IRS enforcement penalties, she said, NABL's role is likely to be one of commenting on other groups' recommendations rather than on initiating its own proposals.
Ms. Dickey said NABL will also have a full plate of securities law issues. The group's main project in this area, she said, will be to update the "green book," which was jointly published in 1987 by NABL and the American Bar Association to provide guidance on disclosure issues.
"We really haven't made as much progress as we want to" on the update, she said, adding, "I hope that we're going to be able to move it into high gear and maybe get a discussion draft out late this fall or early in 1993."
While she would like the new version to cover secondary market disclosure, she believes the issue is a "difficult" one for the industry. Though it "sounds like a good thing to have, a good government idea, there's not been any indication that I've seen of anyone willing to pay" for it, she said.
In addition, "an issuer willing to do it doesn't seem to get anything in return other than a lot of paperwork headaches and exposure to securities fraud liabilities," she said. The liability concerns stem from fears that some disclosure notices would be regarded as inadequate or untimely.
Secondary market disclosure is also an area in which NABL is more likely to comment on others' proposals than to initiate any of its own, she said.
Ms. Dickey joined the Rose Law Firm as a commercial and securities lawyer, but moved into municipal bond work after she got a taste of it and liked it.
She has developed a broad practice, and her many clients include the Little Rock Municipal Airport and the Arkansas Development Finance Agency. Several years ago she helped draft a revenue bond-related amendment to the state constitution.
Ms. Dickey said she likes municipal bond transactions because "all of the participants are working toward a fundamental goal" and "there is generally a resolution of a situation that leaves everyone pleased and with a feeling of accomplishment."
She enjoys explaining the technicalities of transactions to public officials, which is not a surprise given that she is a former math teacher.
Ms. Dickey gets high marks from NABL members who have worked with her. "She has been a tireless worker for the organization. Her contributions to the board have always been insightful," said Richard Chirls, a partner at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe in New York and a former NABL president.
"Everybody is a big fan of Jane's," said Neil Arkuss, a partner at Palmer & Dodge in Boston who is to be president of NABL next year. "She's a master administrator and is extremely well organized," he said, adding that he also liked her "forthcoming" and "straightforward" manner.
Ms. Dickey was born in Arkansas and has spent most of her life there, apart from a few years in Louisiana to attend college and several years in Oklahoma to teach math and go to law school.
She participates in many community activities and is a founder of a program to provide pro bono legal services for indigent persons in central Arkansas.