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January 2012 Archives

Lawyer Who Failed Courthouse Breath Test is Criminally Charged

Michelle Winspur has shown up to court drunk on three separate occasions. She's caused at least one mistrial. She recently left a teenage murder suspect at a preliminary hearing without an attorney.

And now the Visilia, Calif. attorney has pleaded not guilty to driving under the influence, driving with a suspended license, and being under the influence of a controlled substance.

She may soon be disbarred.

A New York lawyer's bilingual skills and 20 years of experience in personal injury law led him to uncover an international scam by some phony survivors of the Costa Concordia disaster.

Attorney Peter Ronai traveled to Budapest, Hungary, to represent six real-life survivors of the Italian cruise ship disaster. Soon a Hungarian woman contacted him, claiming her daughter and 5-year-old granddaughter were among the missing, the New York Daily News reports.

The Hungarian woman's story grabbed headlines in Europe, because she suggested her missing kin were stowaways. But then the woman said something -- in Hungarian -- that raised Peter Ronai's suspicions.

There is a disconnect when it comes to law firm professional development. Managers are increasingly turning to electronic forms of training, while associates prefer more in-person mentoring, a study shows.

The study, by West LegalEdcenter and the NALP Foundation for Law Career Research and Education, asked 1,700 associates and law firm administrators about professional development at their firms.

Here are some of the study's key findings that could help your firm:

Victim Proposes to Domestic Violence Defendant Through Her Lawyer

It's not every day that a man proposes through his girlfriend's lawyer. This strange scenario unfolded in a New York court last week.

Theodore Murphy proposed to girlfriend Nicole Osbourne by relaying a message through her defense attorney Aurora Flores. Yes, the newly engaged woman was in court that day facing criminal charges.

Would you go the extra mile for your client?

Grandma, 92, Sued After Lawyer Murders Partner's Ex-Wife

Today's edition of Bizarre Lawsuits is straight outta Texas -- Dallas, to be exact. It involves the failure of a small law firm; a dead ex-wife; a 92-year-old grandma; and allegations of wrongful death.

Enter Scott Marshall, an attorney who recently pleaded guilty to the murder of Staci Montgomery -- his former law partner's ex-wife. Marshall, quarreling with ex-partner Bady Sassin, is believed to have killed Montgomery out of revenge.

Montgomery's mother is now suing Marshall's parents and grandma out of what appears to be spite.

Should Law Firms Be Owned by Non-Lawyers?

Jacoby & Meyers, the New York-based personal injury firm, believes that law firms should be allowed to be owned, at least partially, by non-lawyers.

They've even filed a lawsuit in New York challenging the state rule that specifically bars attorneys from practicing in firms or businesses in which a non-lawyer has any interest.

If they prevail, it could mean that firms might be able to raise funds from a plethora of other sources, including outside investors. This practice, though rare in the United States, has a global reach.

Should You Contribute to Political Campaigns?

To contribute or not to contribute--that is the question.

The 2012 presidential race is in full swing, and dozens of local and state positions are currently up for grabs. As the races heat up, you will undoubtedly grapple with the issues surrounding political donations.

Even though you are an attorney, campaign contributions are your constitutional right. But should you exercise that right? Or abstain in favor of protecting your reputation and practice?

Prosecutors Banned From 'Jaw-Jacking' Outside Judge's Chambers

No jaw-jacking in the courthouse!

Wait, let's rewind. What is jaw-jacking?

If you ask Indiana defense attorney Jerry Peteet, it's when a group of deputy prosecutors and court employees gather near a judge's chambers to drink coffee and gossip. It creates such an appearance of impropriety that it should be banned from the courthouse.

At least that was the reason given by Peteet when he recently asked Lake Superior Court Judge Thomas Stefaniak Jr. to ban such behavior during his client's rape trial.

Contract Legal Work is Cheaper in Ohio than India

Outsourcing legal work to attorneys in the Midwest may be more economical than you'd think, according to a new report by Fronterion.

Firms that outsource work to offshore companies, like those in India, often pay $25 to $35 an hour for basic legal services. Surprisingly, Midwestern attorneys are now charging comparable hourly rates.

This could mean that an increasing amount of legal work could remain bound for domestic attorneys.

Going Solo: 3 Things to Consider Before Taking the Plunge

Law graduates are going solo at a higher rate these days, trying to overcome the lack of jobs and stagnant economy. Some are sharing the costs with friends, while others have turned to virtual law offices.

Whatever the case, they all have one thing in common -- law school did not teach them how to run a business. Luckily, with a little work, that knowledge gap can be overcome.

But the question remains, is the work with it? Only you know the answer, but consider the following things while deciding whether to go solo.

Are Lawsuit Cash Advances Unconscionable?

Every personal injury lawyer has encountered at least one client in need of a lawsuit cash advance. Clients have medical bills, college tuition payments and need to eat. But are the terms of those advances legally enforceable?

Justice Ellen Spodek of Brooklyn is set to make that determination in the coming weeks. She's hauled third-party lender LawBuck$ into court to defend $4,000 in loans made to police brutality victim Joseph Gill.

The $4,000 has grown to $116,000 in the five years since he obtained the cash advance.

It's an increasingly common complaint among lawyers: Do-it-yourself legal websites are stealing potential clients.

But instead of complaining about being undercut by online competition, perhaps your practice could rise to the challenge and beat these DIY legal websites at their own game.

Here's a look at what these DIY legal websites offer, and some ideas for how your law firm can compete.

Law Firms Garnered Free Publicity with Free Cab Rides

Law firms that offer free cab rides on New Year's Eve are doing their community a good service. They're reducing the number of potential accidents by taking inebriated drivers off the road.

They're also receiving free publicity. 

Talk about a good way to land goodwill from potential clients.

It's a trend that seems to be growing. Many news outlets from across the nation have reported stories of do-good law firms sponsoring cab rides.

Cost-cutting attorneys beware: Taking advantage of law students' free access to Westlaw is unethical and could be a potential felony.

That's the conclusion of a recent Utah State Bar ethics opinion, as reported by the Legal Skills Prof Blog. Lawyers who encourage or require law students to use their free Westlaw accounts for firm work could face discipline and even criminal charges, the Bar committee found.

"Numerous students" have complained about this widespread practice, the Utah Bar's opinion notes, adding it really amounts to theft of services. Here's why.

White Powder Attack at DA's Office: How to Safeguard a Legal Office

White powder was found in a letter sent to a Florida state attorney's office.

Three individuals were hospitalized after being exposed to the substance last week. They were taken for treatment after suffering from headaches and vomiting.

Officials are unsure what the powder was. Preliminary testing was inconclusive. The substance was sent to a FBI lab for more testing.

Parts of the building were evacuated. Some were reopened after an air duct was sealed off. Authorities have declined to release information about the intended recipient of the letter and the sender.

If your law firm uses unpaid interns or paralegals, you won't want to miss this legal cliffhanger. A class-action lawsuit is trying to reel in the practice of unpaid internships, with a Hollywood film as the backdrop.

The lawsuit sets the scene: Two interns on the movie Black Swan say they were made to perform menial tasks -- taking out the trash, getting coffee, shuffling papers -- while Fox Searchlight Productions reaped the rewards of their work.

The interns say Fox Searchlight violated state and federal labor laws with regards to their unpaid internships. Fox denies the charge, and says the interns got what they came for -- a chance to break-in to the industry.

This isn't the first time unpaid interns have challenged their roles at work.

New Year, new rates? It's something your law firm may be considering for 2012 as the economy slowly improves. But what's the best way to implement a law firm rate increase without losing clients?

Experts say it comes down to communication, calculation, and timing. Here are some tips on how to handle each prong of the law firm rate increase test.

1. Communication

If you have specific reasons to justify your law firm rate increase, communicate those reasons to your clients. For example, perhaps your firm froze its rates when the recession took hold, out of respect for your clients' finances. Or perhaps your firm chose not to bill clients for de minimis expenses such as printing and scanning.