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May 2014 Archives

Lawyer Strike Flops, But Raise May be Coming Regardless

Court appointed work is rarely lucrative, but lawyers in Franklin County, Maine were so fed up with the ridiculously low rate in state cases that they agreed to do something about it: go on strike by refusing to take sexual assault cases until the rate was raised from $50 an hour to $70 or more.

Unfortunately, the strike failed for two predictable reasons: the court found attorneys willing to undercut their fellow members of the bar and there weren't that many cases to begin with -- the Morning Sentinel found only two.

A Salute to Shame Sentencing and the Judge Who Popularized It

Shame has long been a part of criminal justice, from sentences in the pillory and stocks to the modern mug shot. But our modern system has mostly lost its creativity, with jail, prison, probation, and occasionally drug treatment as the default choices.

Some judges dare to be different, however. Some judges take things back to the good old days and use public shaming as a corrective tool and alternative to incarceration. Though these sentences are rare, they are always good for a laugh. Unless, of course, you are the defendant.

Petulant Prosecutor's Refusal to Participate Means Double Jeopardy

Esteban Martinez is a free man, and he may have a petulant prosecutor to thank.

When Martinez's two alleged victims were no shows at his much-delayed and oft-rescheduled felony trial, the court finally lost patience, after nearly five years of waiting to resolve the pending case. And when the court ordered that the trial proceed, the prosecutor refused to participate, even after a jury was sworn in, leading to a judgment of acquittal.

The Illinois Supreme Court ordered that Martinez could be retried, as he was "never at risk for conviction," but yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a brief per curiam opinion, pointed to their own long-standing bright line rule: once the jury is sworn in, jeopardy attaches. And the trial court's directed verdict was "a textbook acquittal: a finding that the state's evidence cannot support a conviction."

Especially since, you know, the State didn't present any evidence.

Judge Randall Rader's Resignation And Judicial Ethics Basics

Patent reform crusader and Federal Circuit Chief Judge Randall Rader will no longer be chief, after an ethics mini-scandal involving a complimentary letter to a friend who appeared before the court in recent cases. The court initially issued recusals and new opinions and orders in cases involving the attorney, before Rader issued a public letter of apology and announced that he would vacate the top seat in the circuit at the end of this month.

In all, a complimentary letter to a friend really is a tempest in a teapot, but kudos to Judge Rader, who will stay on the Federal Circuit bench, for erring on the side of proper appearances.

Beer, Bacon, and Barristers: Ludicrous Lawsuits Filed by Lawyers

Last weekend, a festival promoter in Maryland (almost) pulled off the greatest festival concept ever: all-you-can-eat bacon, plus craft beer, and bands.

Kenneth MacFawn, the event promoter promised two tons of bacon, but somehow, after attendees waited over an hour in line to get in, the bacon was gone. Apparently, the cooks couldn't cook fast enough.

The 'F U' Response Letter: 5 Tips for Writing One

On Tuesday, we looked at two recent "F U letters." These letters, sent in response to legal claims that the recipient felt were lacking in merit, are not of the "let's settle this peacefully" variety -- they are of the die now, and die slowly variety. A well-crafted "F U letter" let's opposing counsel know that, not only are any claims frivolous, but that if they proceed, you will destroy them.

It's not always advisable to immediately reach for the rage button, however. Here are some tips for when and how to do so:

We've done a few posts on law firm websites, and tried to cover all the basics from branding, website design and content, and even covered the basics of search engine optimization. For some, following easy steps is enough.

Others need to see a list of what not to do. While some may warn your website is designed to fail, we're going to list for you some big don'ts of law firm website design -- if you follow enough of these, you'll have a "do" law firm website on your hands.

The 'F U' Response Letter: Two Examples for Inspiration

We've all dealt with that case, that opposing counsel, or have at least heard stories about it -- the frivolous patent troll, the baseless lawsuit asking for $5 million, the opposing counsel that threatens sanctions every other day.

And while not all of us are quick to flip the switch to hardball mode, once in a while you have say "screw it, this person deserves a butt-whipping." Sometimes, you have to send the 'F U' letter.

Here are a couple of recent examples, to serve as inspiration when crafting your own.

Last week, we read about an article discussing the fine line between having the right amount of stuff on your plate to avoid boredom, and being too busy. That elusive place in the middle was dubbed the "sweet spot" by The Wall Street Journal, and accompanied by a snazzy graphic (see below).

That got us thinking, how can lawyers find that elusive sweet spot? Here are our tips for finding that stress sweet spot and avoiding both boredom and overload.

Super Lawyers Salutes Super Pro Bono Lawyers and Firms

Back in February, the 2013 Super Lawyers Pro Bono Award recipients were announced and the nine exceptional winners included attorneys, firms, and law schools that gave back to disabled veterans, the homeless, immigrants preyed upon by fraudulent non-lawyers, and more. As promised, Super Lawyers provided in depth profiles of the winners in this month's issue of the magazine.

It's truly an impressive slate of winners, and for those of you looking for inspiration for your own project, the Super Lawyers Pro Bono Awards 2013 issue is, appropriately, available online for free.

Psst. Have you heard? No? Well the word on the street is ...

We've all been there. A coworker has some juicy news he can't wait to share and you are so tempted to hear about it, but you know better than to engage in office gossip. As a leader at a small firm, it's up to you to manage damaging work place behavior.

Here are four ways to stop office gossip.

Small Business Week: Our Small Firm Startup Series

You may have heard by now that this week is Small Business Week. It's a week to celebrate small businesses, and an excuse for companies to send themed spam email to your inbox. It's also a good excuse for those of us who aren't self-employed to ponder the pros and cons of going into business for ourselves -- freedom versus risk, ownership versus limited resources, etc.

If you're thinking about going solo, we've got more than a few tips for you. In fact, this blog is an endless stream of tips for sole practitioners and small firm startups. But where do you start?

How about here, with a handy recap of our ongoing "Small Firm Startup" series:

We are smack in the middle of National Small Business Week.

Didn't know? Didn't care? Well, as a small law firm partner, you should. Your law firm after all is a small business, and all of the things business owners have to worry about -- you do too (and then some).

Inevitably, any conversation about small business involves drumming up more business, a/k/a marketing. So to get in the swing of National Small Business Week, we thought we'd chat about law firm marketing.

Online Video: Should Your Firm Jump on the Next Big Ad Trend?

The first video was uploaded to YouTube on Saturday, April 23, 2005. In January 2007, Netflix started streaming video.

It's been a slow journey, but now, more than ever, online video is becoming the next big thing.

We recently came across a profile of hip eyewear company, Warby Parker's corporate book clubs, and thought that having a company wide book club -- formal or not -- is a great idea. And, it's not something limited to trendy companies that do good -- your law firm can have a book club. Not convinced?

Read on for three reasons why your law firm should have its own book club.

Mother's Day is approaching, and we got to thinking about women's issues in the workplace. With childcare costs soaring to ridiculous heights, it's no wonder that women have been "opting out" of the workplace.

Or so we thought.

On Wednesday, the Pew Research Center released a study that showed that only 10% of moms with professional degrees were "opting out" to stay at home with the kids. Which lead to this thought: with 90% of mothers with professional degrees out in the job market, law firms should be hiring more moms. And here's why.

6 Things To Do Before You Take a Vacation

Lawyers, generally, have a hard time stepping away from their desks for  a vacation -- there's always something urgent awaiting completion.

This is doubly true for small firm and solo practices. When a BigLaw attorney steps away, there's someone else to cover cases. Ditto for prosecutors and public defenders, assuming they've planned far enough in advance. If you're a solo, or in a small firm that is stretched thin already, it might not seem worth the trouble of planning for a vacation.

Not to worry folks -- we've got a few ideas that'll help.

The Inevitable Has Happened: Walmart Selling Legal Services

You had to know this was coming eventually -- Walmart selling legal services. Fortunately for us, the company's first forays into firms in supermarkets is happening north of the border, in Ontario, Canada. (H/T to Solo Practice University.) But expansion into the United States can't be too far behind.

Why? Take a legal system that prices services out of the reach of middle and low income individuals, add in favorable rulings for legal services providers (like LegalZoom) that aren't exactly law firms, toss in tens of thousands of unemployed lawyers, and you have an unserved market, a tempting business model, a cheap labor supply, and a distribution network already in place.

You may have heard the terms "branding" and "storytelling" thrown about in business circles, but have you ever thought about whether branding and storytelling fit in to lawyer marketing?

The short answer is, yes, branding and storytelling will not only help you develop your client base, but keep your clients loyal, according to the ABA Journal.

Here's a (re)fresher on how branding and storytelling can help your practice in two steps.

How Much Juror Social Media Stalking is Too Much?

Should you stalk jurors on social media, for juror selection research?

Short answer? Yes.

Last year, we asked: does an ignorance of social media amount to malpractice? It may seem like a silly question, but the sheer amount of information available on social media (for researching opposing counsel, clients, witnesses, jurors, and any other parties involved in a case) make it an invaluable resource that you'd be foolish to ignore, especially for voir dire.

Don't Let Your Practice Go to Pot -- Marijuana and Lawyer Ethics

Your state has legalized -- or partly legalized -- marijuana and now you've got a client who wants advice on how to lawfully consume or sell it. Maybe she wants to open a dispensary and needs your help to make sure she complies fully with the state's laws.

What could possibly go wrong? Plenty. You might be committing an ethics violation by helping her.

A Happy Lawyer Is a Good Lawyer -- 3 More Ways to Get Happy

Our last "get happy" post covered ways to get happier instantly. It was filled with tips you can use right now. This post covers three ways to get happier in the long run -- ways to become a happier and healthier person. If you're feeling a little down thanks to your work, or anything else, read on for some fresh ideas.

Because a happy lawyer is a better lawyer.

As if being called a shark were not bad enough, now lawyers seeking political office are being attacked for doing their job. At its barest, the ads at issue state: Don't vote for X, X is a lawyer, and don't vote for a lawyer. Well one thing lawyers are good at is logic, and these arguments friends, are circular at best.

One political attack ad in particular urged voters not to vote for a candidate because he represented criminals -- or in other words, yes, doing his job, reports Slate.

If Then next time you are in a position where you need to defend your choice of profession, here are some ways to convince people that practicing law is, in fact, a noble profession.

Cinco de Mayo is celebrated with varying degrees of excitement that vary across geographic and generational lines. In most colleges, you can bet that the student population will use the day as an excuse to take a cue from the "most interesting man in the world." While folks of an older (wiser) age, may just enjoy some chips and salsa.

As an employer of people from various backgrounds and ages, you may want to disclose up front what you expect on this festive day. Here are some tips for whether you should ole, or not.

Are You a 'Hot' Lawyer? 3 Tips to Stay Cool This Summer

Did you know that lawyers are ranked as #9 on the list of sexiest professions? So we're sexy-hot (riiiiight), but we don't want to be hot-hot, and summer is coming. All Internet foolishness aside, as a lawyer, you want to show that you can handle everything, no sweat.

Here are some tips to keep your cool image from wilting when the heat is on.

Law Day: A Call for Lawyers to Educate Everyone!

It's May Day, Communism Day, Law Day!

Law Day, you say? We do. President Ike Eisenhower, in 1958, declared May 1 to be Law Day, U.S.A. (Codified on April 7, 1961.)

Does this mean you can go home early? Well, it's your office, your firm, your rules, but according to the infallible Wikipedia, Law Day has come to be more of an opportunity to educate the masses on legal concepts, particularly for students. Instead of (or at least before) happy hours and beach trips, Law Day should be spent discussing law, liberties, and justice.