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July 2013 Archives

Most Annoying Part About Learning to Practice Law: Local Rules

Down in Southern California, when you entered the courtroom, you'd write your client's name on your business card, hand it to the bailiff or clerk, and wait for your case to be called. The procedure was similar in Alameda County criminal court, but with small pieces of paper instead. In Santa Clara County, at least in this one civil court room, there was a sign-up sheet.

None of those methods are particularly egregious. They all get the job done.

Here is another one that caught me by surprise yesterday: tentative rulings. Here, in this fine county, rulings are posted online between 2 and 3 p.m. If you wish to contest that tentative ruling, you have until 4 p.m. to notify both the opposing party and the court, and if you do, everyone gets to show up to court in the morning.

5 Big Tips For a Smaller, Cleaner Email Inbox

We all know that a messy desk or work environment often disrupts your productivity and your email inbox is no different.

There's nothing more headache-y than trying to get to an important email, only to have to sift through hundreds (or, sometimes, even thousands) of junky, stale emails. It happens. As an attorney, we sometimes get over hundreds of emails a day. Also, as an attorney, we have a tendency to want to keep most of them, "just in case."

In reality, though, while some of your emails are undoubtedly crucial, many of them are not and like that pair of outdated moccasins in the back your closet, will never really be needed ever again. So, here are 5 tips on how to shave off some of that clutter in your inbox (without needing to make things legal, as we so often do with everything else in our profession):

Clearing Claims: Negotiate ERISA Liens Before Finalizing Settlement

Congratulations. You've reached a settlement in your client's personal injury case ... almost. Have you considered all of the liens on the settlement amount? While many liens can be negotiated to smaller amounts, other liens are far more difficult to shrink.

Liens brought under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) can be quite difficult to reduce under federal law. If you don't take these liens seriously, your client could end up with little to no recovery, even when the initial settlement sounded promising. Before finalizing that settlement agreement, here are a few tips to tackle ERISA nightmares.

Firing employees isn’t easy. But, with so many talented people out of work, it’s hard to let the actions of your incompetent staff slide. Why pay people for subpar work when you can have some of the best and brightest working for you?

Whether you are overstaffed and need to lay people off, or want to surround yourself with a better team, there will come a day when you need to fire someone. Protect yourself, and your clients, by knowing how to fire someone not just legally, but intelligently.

Three Tools to Help the Rural Attorney

This morning, desperate to find a topic to write about, I stumbled upon the Solo in Colo blog. As you might expect, it’s a blog, which deals with solo practice, in Colorado. Great name though, right?

One of the more recent posts dealt with the issue of rural lawyering — a topic that has become increasingly intriguing, considering the glut of unemployed graduates and the dearth of legal services available in remote rural areas. Jeremy Hildebrand is a recent grad who made the leap from law school to rural practice, and seems to have no regrets.

Because we’re big admirers of the solo attorney, especially the Army veteran, jack-of-all-trades, rural, recent grad, solo attorney (he gets a lot of adjectives), we thought we’d brainstorm on tips, tech, and tools that could make his life (or yours, if you go rural) easier:

The American Bar Association’s 2013 Annual Meeting is just a few weeks away — are you coming to San Francisco? You’ll find over 200 CLE programs, the world’s largest legal EXPO, and of course a chance to network with lawyers and judges.

What’s that you say? You’d rather stay home under the covers than go to another (dreaded) networking event? We have talked about networking before on our blogs, but now might be a very good time to dust off a few more ideas. So, here are five easy networking tips for lawyers that work, because yes, we’ve been there, done that.

Yelp! Negative Reviews Require Professionalism, Ethics

Fact: at some point in your career as a practicing attorney, you will have a disgruntled client.

Your primary concern, years ago, would be a malpractice lawsuit and perhaps, a lost client or two in the community. Today, that one angry client can run amok on sites like Yelp!, leaving your online reputation tarnished in the eyes of prospective clients, most of whom will search for you online before contacting your office.

The two most common mistakes lawyers make in dealing with these reviews are to ignore them, or to argue online. Don’t argue with fools: over the Internet, it’s hard to tell who is who.

Should You Join Your Local Bar Association?

You've passed the bar! Huzzahs all around, and with any luck you have a job waiting for you as well.

But as the sparkles and warm fuzzies of bar passage fade, you'll enter the cold, unfeeling world of being in active practice, and you will be assaulted with emails about your local bar associations.

So, to the clear and present question: Are these local bar associations worth joining?

The Tactic That May Compromise DUI Cases in California, Elsewhere

A novel defense by a twice-convicted drunk driving law student may provide a template for DUI defense lawyers, and a massive headache for prosecutors. The window of opportunity, however, is closing fast.

The San Jose Mercury News reports on the case of Jaskaran Gill, a Santa Clara University law student and two-time offender. While he was on probation for his first offense, he was caught driving 100 mph on the interstate with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.14.

Normally, this sort of case would plead out. That wouldn’t work for Gill, however, as he was hoping to clear the character and fitness exam and someday practice law. His defense team instead tried a new tactic, one that had previously worked in Washington state courts: challenging the measure of uncertainty in the test itself.

In our new weekly series, "Clearing Claims," we share with you our tried and tested tips on negotiating various types of liens, as they arise in the context of personal injury cases. Last week, we shared tips on negotiating hospital liens. Now, we give you the inside track to negotiating medical pay lien claims.

First things first, we're going to call these medical pay lien claims what they are -- claims for reimbursement that arise by contract. The use of the term "lien" here would ignore the heart of the issue, subrogation and/or reimbursement.

So now that we have that settled, what's next?

Tips for Practicing Law Part-Time While Working a Day Job

For breakfast, I had a plea deal and four billable hours. For lunch and dinner, I'm having an eight-hour shift of blogging. Why do I do both? My day job allows me to watch Justice Scalia lose his mind and to express outrage at Georgia's attempts to execute a mentally disabled man with bootleg-ish lethal injection drugs. My law practice allows me to help people who otherwise couldn't afford counsel and gives me practice experience.

It has its drawbacks. When cases hit critical states, I can find myself working eighty hour weeks. Billing and collections can be a massive pain, though that is alleviated quite a bit by using modern cloud-practice management software.

If you're practicing for the right reasons, and your day job is amenable to the occasional schedule-shift, practicing part-time is completely feasible. Here are some tips I've learned along the way.

For years we've known that there's a pay gap between men and women, and recent studies by the National Association of Women Lawyers confirm this. Not only that, the number of women partners at the largest U.S. law firms remains at about 15% -- and there's been no increase since the last survey in 2006.

So with that information in hand, what should we do to make sure that we are paid the same as the guys? Let's start here: Negotiate.

Estate Planning: The Next 'Growth' Practice Area for Small Firms?

Way back in 2007, Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal cut its estate planning practice. Many industry-watchers speculated that other BigLaw firms would follow suit. Years later, it seems they were correct. Solo and Small Firm guru Carolyn Elefant predicted, both then and now, that solo and small forms stood to gain from the vacuum left behind. We couldn’t agree more.

BigLaw has left the game. Meanwhile, the baby boomer retirement wave is cresting. You know who cares most about estate planning? People with children and senior citizens with assets. Demand is rising just as the biggest firms are retreating.

What steps should you take if you’re thinking of expanding into, or starting, an estate planning practice?

Last week The Pew Forum released their findings of how certain professions are viewed by the public as contributing to society. Not surprisingly, lawyers were at the bottom of the list with 34% of people saying 'lawyers contribute not very much or nothing at all.'

How did we get such a bad reputation? More importantly, if that's how we're perceived by potential clients, what can we do to improve the perception of our own firms?

Community involvement may be one of the best, and easiest, ways to better the public's perception of not just your firm, but that of our occupation as a whole. Here are a few ideas on how to do just that.

In 2011, the State Bar of California began taking an aggressive approach to auditing lawyers for MCLE compliance. In 2012, 5% of lawyers, about 3,000 to 4,000, were audited and in 2013 10% will be audited -- between 7,000 and 8,000 lawyers.

You may, or may not, be in California, but regardless of where you live, if you are an attorney, you have MCLE responsibilities you must maintain in order to remain in practice.

The best way to survive and maybe even avoid an MCLE audit, of course, is to be in compliance with your requirements. Here are five tips which will help you get and stay compliant and might keep you out of the Bar's sights.

Clearing Claims: Negotiating Hospital Liens in P.I. Cases

You’re on the verge of settlement. The wayward driver’s insurance carrier has agreed to fork over funds to cover your client’s injuries, pain and suffering, lost wages, and, of course, his totaled Toyota. Now that you have an idea of what the recovery will be, the real work begins, by clearing the claims.

As you are well aware, there are a number of parties lining up to take their cut of the settlement. Obviously, you have to get paid. Then, there is the hospital, the emergency room doctors, insurance companies, and, oh wait, your dear injured client. There are a lot of claims to clear, mouths to feed, and debts to settle before your client will see even a fraction of the settlement that they’ve been hoping for.

Saturday night, a jury found George Zimmerman not guilty in the killing of Trayvon Martin. In tragic circumstances such as this, it’s easy to get carried away by emotions — especially when the case is highly publicized. That said, lawyers often view these cases differently because we understand the legal analysis. Or at least, we really try to.

The ability to watch trials on television allows us an inside look at the strategies employed by the prosecution and the defense. Here’s a look at some of the flaws so many are talking about in the execution of the prosecution’s case.

Online Lawyer Marketing and SEO: You Need a Proper Headshot

Confession time: I am a bit of a nerd. One of my pastimes includes skimming Search Engine Optimization blogs. Part of the motive is work-related (I do blog, after all), but it’s mostly curiosity about the interaction between behavioral psychology and Google’s content filtering through search engine results. What makes people click on one link, rather than another? And why does Google boost that website consistently in the results, and not the other, more well-written site?

As a practicing lawyer, you probably have better things to contemplate than SEO, such as client billing, case strategy, and how to fire that paralegal that may or may not be embezzling funds. That being said, you do need to be concerned with your online presence, as it will drive much of your client traffic.

This week’s quick tip for a quick fix: get a proper headshot.

Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In, has its merits, and the most important one may be the great debate that has stirred up at water coolers around the country. For every woman who wants to lean in, there's one that wants to lean out, and thus the latest iteration of the mommy wars continues.

Earlier this week, The New York Times published an article about Sara Uttech, a woman, mother, and employee, who is not so much concerned with "leaning in," as trying to have a good balance in her life. The snarky tone of the article insinuates that Sandberg is off-base by telling women to lean in, because according to a survey by the Families and Work Institute not everyone wants more responsibility. For working women that percentage is at 37.

What the article failed to grasp, however, is that the very acts they laud by Ms. Uttech, such as asking to work from home on Fridays, are actions that Sandberg would suggest. Not only that, had Uttech's female supervisors not leaned in, they may not have been amenable to her request for a flexible work schedule.

But we're not keeping score, right? Right?

Lawyer's Parking Lot Confrontation With Parents Gets Firm Fired

"There is a lawyer who is threatening a parent. We need someone here right away."

Whoops. And it was all downhill from there.

Christopher Kirby may currently be employed by Minerva & D'agostino, but he may not be for much longer. The associate attorney directed a profanity-laced tirade against a group of parents in a parking lot, and nearly came to blows with another parent, all because of an alleged smirking incident during the preceding school board meeting.

And, because it is 2013, the entire tirade (as well an earlier argument, and the smirk) were caught on tape:

Prioritize Your Firm's Social Media Schedule: A How-To Checklist

When it comes to managing a law firm’s social media schedule, prioritizing is key. From pokes and pins, to tweets and diggs, managing your social media presence can feel daunting — unless you have a solid checklist that outlines your social media activity.

In a new e-guide by Attorney at Work , author Gyi Tsakalakis thinks a schedule will give you a better feel for how much time to spend on social media.

Here’s a (modified) checklist on how Tsakalakis thinks it best to prioritize your online activities:

As lawyers we have ethical responsibilities to our clients — and our clients need to be able to trust our staff as well. Though certainly not a new phenomenon, two recent cases serve as a reminder that we need to be mindful of what our support staff are up to.

More filing, less embezzling please.

3 Big Reasons You Should Consider a Small Firm

Are you thinking about making the switch to a smaller or even solo firm? Maybe your BigLaw gig didn't turn out the way you expected it to, or you've just been thinking about a change. While it may not seem like it -- attorneys working in small firms are actually the majority.

So, should you join them?

Choosing to be a part of a small firm practice over a large firm has some advantages that you may not know about. While it may seem like being in a mega-giant firm is the ultimate pipe dream, you may be surprised to learn that a small firm could be more ideal for you, after all. Here are three big perks to working at a small law firm, that you may not know about.

Lessons From Zimmerman's Trial For the Rest of Us

Skype is good for many things, but, apparently as shown by the Zimmerman trial, it’s not so ideal for examining witnesses, reports the Daily Mail.

For those of us not living under a huge rock (though, with the holiday rapidly approaching, you can soon), the George Zimmerman murder trial for the shooting of Trayvon Martin is well underway. Today, however, it was thrown into a bit of a mess when the defense was cross- examining Zimmerman’s former professor, Gordon Pleasants, via Skype. Apparently, a number of incoming call boxes were continuously popping up on the screen, covering up Pleasants’ face, and interrupting his testimony with disruptive pinging noises.

Wendy Davis: From Single-Mom Waitress to Harvard to ... Governor?

In 1982, Wendy Davis was a 19-year-old, recently-divorced, single mother, living in a trailer park and working as a waitress. Remarkably, today, there are rumors that the Harvard Law-educated Texas State Senator may consider a run at the Governor’s seat or another high-profile position.

Let’s take a look at her run, from paralegal school to Ivy League law, the career that followed, and the future that awaits her.

Taking Time Off for the 4th? 3 Things to Do First

Vacation time? For many lawyers it is, because, yes, even attorneys deserve a vacation. With the weather getting undeniably warmer and the days much longer, vacation time is imminent for many.

If you're one of many attorneys who are looking into getting away for the upcoming July 4th to celebrate our beloved America, keep in mind that the more you plan out your time away and map out how the firm will survive without you (because, don't fret, they will), the more relaxed your vacation will be.

With that said, what are the 3 things you should do first, if you're taking time off for the upcoming holiday?