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Wielding a Judicial 'Wild Card'

Rolling Stone called Judge Jed S. Rakoff a "legal hero of our time," but the judge doesn't come across as a rock 'n roller.

With a resume that includes triumphs at Oxford, Harvard, Wall Street, and the United States District Court, Rakoff wears well the garlands of his labors. He spends his time now as an adjunct professor at Columbia Law School, contributor to the New York Times and occasional guest jurist for the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

So why does Rakoff think that judges should have a "wild card?" Did he save something from 1969, when he graduated from Harvard Law School and the Beatles cut their last album?

In a recent interview about injustices in the legal system, Rakoff said judges should have a "wild card" to dismiss cases sua sponte when they see injustice. "I think that's a great idea," he said. "Now there would be abuses, obviously."

Nearly one out of five Americans experiences mental illness at some point in their life, making it likely that, sooner or later, you'll encounter a client with a mental illness or impairment, whether it's a major impairment like dementia, or something more minor, such as moderate depression.

These relationships can be fraught with strategic, legal, and ethical concerns. To help you prepare for these tricky situations, here are five tips, from the FindLaw archives.

How to Leave Your Law Firm Amicably

Leaving your law firm amicably is sort of like an amicable divorce. Sure, it happens. Not always, but sometimes.

The key to a good split is having the same goals -- to avoid unpleasantness and maintain profitability. Here are some tips on how to part ways without rancor.

Assessing Clients for Diminished Capacity

If psychologists go into the field because they have psychological problems, then do lawyers go into the law because they have legal problems?

The first half of the question may be true -- Freud was a self-diagnosed neurotic -- but the second half of the question hardly makes sense. Lawyers as professionals are clearly distinct from the problems they typically handle for their clients.

However, there is a crossover in psychology and the law that can create problems for attorneys: assessing diminished capacity. Here are some tips about dealing with this problem area:

Cookie-Cutter Law Practice: Recipe for Success or Excess?

If a cookie-cutter law practice sounds tempting to you, maybe you should consider another line of work -- like baking.

"Cookie cutter" lawyering is not supposed to sound alluring; it's generally used in a pejorative way. It suggests a high-fructose, low benefit, no-brainer business model.

Ah, but easy money smells so good. After all, why reinvent the wheel when it turns a profit so well?

Here are some reasons that cookie cutter law practice is really a recipe for excess:

Dealing With Difficult Opposing Counsel

The toughest lawyer I ever met had the credentials to prove it.

In college, he was a Golden Gloves boxing champ. He got knocked down one time, but got back up and knocked out his opponent.

He didn't go directly to law school, taking time to explore a career in rodeo first. That's right, he jumped on wild horses and bulls because he enjoyed the ride.

But this man was also the most civil and respectable attorney I ever met -- and very successful in the courtroom. That's because being "tough" does not mean being difficult.

Solo Attorney Takes New York's 'Bona Fide Office Rule' to the Supreme Court

Ekaterina Schoenefeld is a one-woman law firm working out of a duplex in New Jersey. She is also a force to be reckoned with, so get used to pronouncing her name.

Admitted to practice in New Jersey, New York and California, Schoenefeld sued in 2008 for a declaration that New York's law requiring out-of-state attorneys to maintain in-state law offices to practice there is unconstitutional. She has pushed the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court, and three bar associations and countless lawyers are following her in support.

Schoenefeld argues that New York's Judiciary Law Section 470 violates the U.S. Constitution's Privileges and Immunities Clause. It does not require in-state practitioners to have physical offices, only out-of-state lawyers. That's not fair, she says.

If you are starting to think she is right, join the club. Here are a few words from her sponsors:

How to Tell a Client you Made a Mistake

"Lawyer to the Colombian Drug Cartel," Time magazine called him. With the article for an introduction, I called him for an appointment. It's easy to get inside places when you have press credentials. I had a burning question:

"How did you become that guy?"

He told me a story that every lawyer should remember: Do your best not to make mistakes because some clients will not accept an apology.

'Eat This, Not That' of Social Media Ethics for Law Firms

When it comes to avoiding ethical issues, isn't it just a Ten Commandments of Thou-Shalt-Not's?

"Don't lie." "Don't cheat." "Don't steal." But how boring is that? Plus it's like a million years old!

So let's break the mold and have a little fun with it. After all, what could be more fun than taking some risks with social media lawyer ethics?

Here's a twist on a list from Eat This, Not That, tailor-made for the modern world of social media. We're going to skip a lot because, like ethics violations, there are just so many:

Working With Startups and the Value of Saying 'No'

A young, ambitious entrepreneur came into the office with the next big thing.

Having made millions in other enterprises, the client was confident this was the business that would set him up for life. He wanted to record videos of young women at parties, like Mardi Gras, and sell them online.

"I don't think it's a good idea," I told him, saying that another company was already risking privacy violations in a similar venture. To his credit, the client listened and came back another day with a different idea.

The founder of that other company, by the way, later fled the country after a judge issued a warrant for his arrest in a bankruptcy case. Girls Gone Wild made about $20 million in its first two years, but civil and criminal lawsuits soon followed and forced the founder into bankruptcy.