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February 2012 Archives

Deleting Discoverable Docs Lands Obama Poster Artist in Criminal Court

Shepard Fairey, the artist responsible for the red, white and blue Obama "Hope" poster, is not a very good client. In fact, he's the kind of client that can get you in trouble and ruin your reputation.

The Obama poster artist is facing up to six months in jail after pleading guilty to misdemeanor criminal contempt last week. Not only did he delete key evidence from his computer, he acknowledged that he fabricated evidence and lied to the court and his attorneys for months on end.

Three Ways Attorneys Can Get More Out of LinkedIn

If you're an attorney, why aren't you on LinkedIn? The social networking site is geared toward professionals and is where many of your peers are probably set up as you read this.

It can also help you manage your reputation, public image, and assist you with landing the right clients.

How can LinkedIn help you and your legal practice? Here are three ways you can utilize the website for its maximum impact and potential:

A lawsuit accuses Westlaw and LexisNexis of "unabashed" copyright infringement in selling access to legal documents without permission from the authors -- namely, attorneys from coast to coast.

Two attorneys filed the suit in Manhattan federal court against Reed Elsevier Inc., which owns LexisNexis, and West Publishing Corporation, which owns Westlaw, The Wall Street Journal reports. West is a division of Thomson Reuters.

The legal-database companies "engaged in wholesale unlawful copying of attorneys' copyrighted work, bundled those works into searchable databases, and sold access to those works ... for huge profits," the lawsuit states.

A suspended lawyer lied about her educational and criminal background in order to serve on a jury, and it could result in a new trial.

Catherine Conrad of Bronx, N.Y., had to be hauled into court by marshals after she failed to show up at a hearing about the new trial request, the New York Daily News reports. Conrad was arrested in connection with defying a subpoena.

When Conrad finally testified at the hearing -- under an immunity deal that means she won't be prosecuted -- she admitted to lying during the jury-selection process in a 2011 tax-fraud case. But then prosecutors raised another question: whether defense lawyers should have said something earlier.

It seems more American couples are pursuing legal separation agreements these days as they consider divorce. Savvy attorneys may want to take note.

Case in point: Colorado, where 72% of divorcing couples filed legal separation agreements last year, up from 60% in 2007, The Denver Post reports.

The sluggish economy means more couples are seeking separation agreements instead of racking up costs in contentious court battles, the Post suggests. Even in an era of do-it-yourself legal forms, that could mean a lot more work for attorneys.

Could Kamala Harris Be Obama's Next Supreme Court Nominee?

Despite the possibility being years off, there are already questions about whether Justices Ginsburg and Breyer will retire if President Obama wins a second term in November. Tom Goldstein of SCOTUSblog has even added to the speculation.

He thinks Justice Ginsburg is the more likely candidate, and predicts she'll retire during the second term's third year. He also thinks Kamala Harris, California's Attorney General, is the most likely to replace her.

How to Ethically Represent a Client with Diminished Mental Capacity

Attorneys strive to provide the best representation to their clients. Yet, sometimes lawyers are confronted with clients who have a diminished mental capacity.

This can be especially true if an attorney's practice focuses on elder law, disability benefits, or estate planning.

Lawyers may be presented with an ethical dilemma. How do you represent these individuals without breaking confidentiality, and how do you ensure their interests are met?

Senate Panel Approves Bill to Televise Supreme Court Proceedings

Will the justices of the Supreme Court need to get ready for their close-up? Cameras may soon be allowed in the nation's highest court, if a bill gains approval.

Last week the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 11-7 in favor of a bill that would televise Supreme Court proceedings. The bill has now been sent to the full Senate for approval.

It has been a contentious issue from the start.

Is Ghostwriting Petitions for Pro Se Clients Unethical?

Attorney ghostwriting--the practice of preparing pleadings for pro se clients--seems to be a growing trend. It's often the best option for struggling clients and attorneys alike.

But is it unethical? Are you misleading the court by not signing your name to a pleading you prepared? Are you violating rules that require all pleadings to be signed by the attorney of record? Are you breaching your client obligations by only preparing a pleading?

The 2nd Circuit doesn't think so.

Remember You're Free to Deduct Pro Bono Expenses

Many lawyers donate to charity. When that's not fiscally possible, some may donate the value of their services to help clients in need. But remember: the value of your pro bono work is not tax deductible.

You can't jot down on your tax return that you spent $450 for one hour of "advising indigent clients" in order to reduce your taxable income.

But there are tax considerations for pro bono legal services that you should know about.

Google Plus for businesses is up and running -- and it could make law firm marketing a whole lot easier.

Four months after Google rejected businesses from its fledgling Google+ network, the world's most visited website has launched Google+ Pages.

Google+ Pages is open to all businesses, including law firms. But why get a Google+ Page, when you're already finding it hard enough to fill your Facebook and Twitter feeds?

Would You Even Know if Hackers Listened to Your Videoconference?

Your videoconference can be hacked. And it's surprisingly simple.

Hacker HD Moore works for security company Rapid7. He spent time looking into flaws in videoconferencing security. What he found was surprising.

Thousands of boardrooms across the nation are configured without safeguards. This means that confidential meetings may run the risk of harboring silent -- and unwanted -- listeners.

Moore was readily able to hack into many systems. He got into a lawyer-client meeting room inside a prison. He also found his way into a venture capital pitch meeting and an operating room in a university's medical center, according to The New York Times.

The Paxil Defense: Antidepressant Made Man Rob a Bank of America

Criminal defense lawyers know that the right strategy can make or break your client's case. Enter the "Paxil defense." Georgia attorney Peter Johnson is likely hoping this argument will help his client, Feliz Vega Jr.

Vega is accused of robbing a Bank of America branch in 2010. He donned a mask during the crime. He even threatened a teller with a paintball gun. Vega took off with $12,000 before he was tracked down by the police.

Now Johnson is arguing that his client couldn't have formed the requisite mental intent to commit the crime because of his anti-depressant medication, Paxil.

Super PACs are playing a huge role in the 2012 election, and some wealthy attorneys and law firms are helping to foot the bill.

Super political action committees, created in part by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, reported their activities for the last quarter of 2011 to the Federal Election Commission on Tuesday, The New York Times reports. The filings list the super PACs' major donors -- many of whom are attorneys and law firms.

As a reminder, individuals and corporations can donate unlimited amounts of money directly to a super PAC. But super PACs must name their direct donors.

Here's a quick look at the super PACs and some of their biggest attorney and law firm donors, according to FEC filings:

It sounds like the ultimate path to job security: Become a federal judge and serve for the rest of your life. So how best to prepare if you're eyeing a spot on the federal bench?

Let's start with the basics. Article III Federal judges include district court judges, appeals court judges, and Supreme Court justices, according to the Constitution. All federal judges are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate.

That means politics plays a pivotal role in securing a job as a federal judge. Here are three general tips on how to navigate the process:

Ex-Attorney Opts Out of Class Action, Defeats Honda in Small Claims Court

Thinking about ditching your legal career? A little bored with what you've been working on? Perhaps it's time to renew your passion for the law.

Take Heather Peters, for example. She recently opted out of a proposed Honda hybrid class action settlement and took the car manufacturer to small claims court. A California judge awarded her $9,867 -- a windfall in comparison to the $200 and nontransferable new car credit being offered by Honda.

Peters hasn't practiced law in 10 years, but now she's thinking about reactivating her license.

Lawyers Can Offer Groupon Deals, with Caveats: NY Ethics Opinion

Can you imagine your law firm on Groupon?

The daily deals site is a popular place for savvy shoppers. You can find offers for local restaurants, cafes, and spas. Soon you may even find legal services advertised on the site.

The South Carolina Bar issued an ethics opinion on the matter last year. It decided Groupon-like advertisements do not violate ethics rules. The New York Bar Association Committee on Ethics has issued a similar decision. Advertising on "deal of the day" websites is permissible -- with some caveats.

Attention small firm attorneys: The future of legal research is here. The new Thomson Reuters ProView app for iPad is custom-designed for lawyers, and could make clunky hardbound books and updates a thing of the past.

ProView is more powerful than other e-readers because it comes with a unique lawyerly feature: All of your notes and highlights will automatically transfer to later editions of your e-books, if you're signed up for updates.

The ProView app is free to download at Apple's App Store, and one e-book title -- McKinney's New York Rules of Court, Federal District -- is available for free in its entirety. But those aren't the only reasons to give ProView a trial run. Consider these advantages: