Anonymous Lawyer Revealed
This story's been heavily covered all around the blawg world: the unmasking of the formerly anonymous Anonymous Lawyer as Harvard Law Third Year Jeremy Blachman. You can learn all of the details from this New York Times article, Revealing the Soul of a Soulless Lawyer. Though Blachman never thought his hoax would last longer than a week, the blog's voice "stuck a nerve" amongst many many blawgers, lawyers, students who frequently posted comments at AL's site or linked to his postings.
While I always enjoyed AL, I personally never understood why the insights were considered so groundbreaking. For example, I thought that Cameron Stracher had covered much of the same ground, albeit from an associate's perspective. Perhaps the power of the blog enable AL to get more exposure or perhaps people really believed that a hiring partner was writing it and gave it a different type of authenticity. Whatever the reason, I'm glad that these kinds of views like AL's are so widely available both to law students who are currently making career choices and biglaw attorneys who may be looking for more but feel they're the only ones who feel that way. Maybe the end result will be a happier profession.
What's Common to Car Dealers, Ad Men and Lawyers?
Car dealers, advertisers and lawyers. Results of a recent survey present these professions as the most unethical and dishonest as perceived by respondents and reported in this article, No Respect, Asbury Park Press (12/27/04). By contrast, more than 70 percent of Americans gave nurses, grade school teachers, pharmacists and military officers high ethical marks.
Look Who's Talking - It Ain't a Biglaw Associate!
This article, Young Lawyer Builds Her Practice One New Gig at a Time (NYLJ - 12/22/04) reports on the budding TV commentator career of new solo Harjot "Ginny" Walia of San Francisco firm Puri and Walia. A chance meeting with a Fox News Channel Producer at the local courthouse lead to about a dozen appearances by Walia thereafter. Would an associate two years out of school get that kind of exposure at a large firm? (By the way, MyShingle's own Mark Sindler, a Pittsburgh solo has also appeared as a commentator on Court TV and Fox News)
Make Sure Your Expert Shows Up - Or Face Malpractice
If you're handling cases that require expert testimony, you may want to videotape expert testimony in advance or face possible malpractice if your expert fails to show. That's a lesson that the attorney in this article, Rare Suit Against Expert Witness Highlights Pitfall of Not Showing Up (NJLJ 12/23/04) almost learned the hard way. In this particular case, a plaintiff sued his expert witness who'd rendered a positive opinion but failed to show for trial, thus forcing the plaintiff's attorney to settle for far less than the plaintiff would have otherwise received with the expert taking the stand. The expert in turn sued the attorney claiming that the expert could have been available had the attorney made him aware of the need. Ultimately, the court absolved the attorney of malpractice, finding that applicable standards do not require attorneys to videotape deposition testimony in advance of trial. But that's after a three week trial and a possible appeal, so the attorneys are not out of the woods yet.
Don't let this happen to you. Plan ahead for the possibility that experts may skip town or be otherwise engaged in another trial when it comes time to call them to the stand. And plan accordingly.
Just Do It!
If you're dreaming of a solo practice, get busy making it happen! That's the crux of my latest Small Firm Business column entitled Make 2005 the Year You Start Your Firm. (by the way, my last two pieces have been heavily edited. Not sure whether I like the changes or not - so let me know what you think)
Can You Make Money from Handling Workers' Comp?
Few Lawyers Take on Workers' Comp Cases, Patrick Springer, The Forum (12/19/04) reports on the difficulty that North Dakota workers are having in finding affordable representation for workers comp cases. According to the article, in 1995, the state amended the works comp system to provide that workers' attorneys are paid only if they win and limits attorneys' fees to 20 percent of the award. The article reports:
The laws have succeeded in achieving two major goals: sharply lowering payments to workers' lawyers and reducing costly litigation. But workers and their advocates complain it has become much more difficult to hire legal help to obtain benefits, especially in complex cases.
Fees the bureau paid to workers' lawyers exceeded $1 million in 1995 and 1997, but have dropped steadily since that peak, to $207,976 in 2003.
Workers' requests for administrative hearings to contest denials or reductions in benefits also have plunged, from more than 980 in 1994 to 170 in fiscal year 2004.
The article has other interesting stats on workers comp as well:
A study by the National Council on Compensation Insurance presented to the North Dakota Legislature in 1995 found that attorney involvement in claims resulted in benefits payments that were significantly higher than those not represented by lawyers.
The average disability claim for workers represented with lawyers was $41,229, compared to an average of $33,501 for those without representation. The average attorney fee was 13 percent of the award.
Another inequity is that the lawyers that the Workers' Comp Bureau pays to defend its position in court are paid more than attorneys for claimants:
Then [after 1996] the bureau started hiring private insurance defense lawyers, in part to help eliminate the backlog of disputed claims under litigation. Officials and business leaders complained that the bureau was often forced to settle claims, regardless of their merits, because of the spiraling costs of fighting legal challenges.
Unlike fees paid to workers' lawyers, private lawyers representing the bureau are paid regardless of whether they win or lose, and aren't subject to any fee caps. They simply bill by the hour.
Also, senior lawyers who represent the bureau are paid $125 an hour, compared to $115 an hour for workers' lawyers.
Is this a lost cause? Or is there some business model than an enterprising attorney can develop to find a way to make money off workers' comp cases while providing a decent level of representation? And what are the experiences of readers in other states who practive workers' comp? Finally, if tort reform succeeds in capping attorneys' fees and recovery, would potential PI claimants have as much trouble as finding an affordable lawyer as workers' comp claimants in North Dakota?
More on the Flex Time Option
Arnie Herz of Legal Sanity (a great blog, by the way, if you're looking for more satisfaction as a lawyer) has a post about flex time options for attorneys and a link to this
article from the Wisconsin Bar Journal. I've always been a proponent of flexible schedules, particularly for attorneys with young children or other non-delegable family obligations - and that's one reason why I so strongly endorse the solo practice option. But as the article posted by Arnie describes, there are other flex time options as well.
Are You Committing Any of These Ethics Violations?
This article, High Court [of Kentucky] Disciplines Lawyers, AP, 12/17/04 reports on five recently sanctioned Kentucky attorneys but it also gives a pretty good overview of the types of violations that attorneys might be taken to task for. One attorney was temporarily suspended, pending initiation of a disciplinary action for misappopriating funds from clients unless she resigns from law practice. A second attorney, a repeat offender was suspended for five years for failing to keep clients up to date and failing to move their cases along. Two thirty day suspensions were imposed respectively on an attorney who failed to keep a client properly informed and one who failed to properly oversee a paralegal. Finally, one attorney received a reprimand for failing to properly pursue a client's case.
While the attorney who misappropriated funds is a hopeless cause, so many of the other cases, I'm certain could have been avoided. How? By a simple letter- even a form, giving clients a status update on a stale case. Not only does a letter inform a client, it's documentation that you've actually kept the informed. Even picking up the phone and giving a 30 second summary of the case would keep a disgruntled attorney from bringing an complaint. So little effort for so much potential gain.
The Secret to Successful Blogging Can Make A Firm Successful Too
There are two lessons I take away from blogs. First, find your niche and serve it and serve it well. Second, frequent updates.
That advice works equally well for law practice: finding a niche and keeping clients updated frequently about the progress of the case and new developments in the law.
The Bigger They Are, The Bigger the Ethics Breaches?
Via Ernie the Attorney, we've learned of this news item,
Alleged Embezzler Helps Feds Find Cash, Martha Carr, Times Picayune (12/15/04) that follows up on the arrest of former big firm partner Jame Perdigao for embezzling as much as $20 million from his law firm. According to the article, Perdigao's agreement to help investigators recover the money was a condition of his release from jail. Among other misdeeds, Perdigao pilfered from the law firm's trust accounts and overbilled clients.
Obviously, Perdigao's acts deserve not just disbarment but foremost, criminal punishment which he'll no doubt receive. And the firm will likely be held accountable as well for failing to safeguard trust accounts or keep closer watch on its errant partner. But I wonder whether Perdigao is the exception to the rule who just became so brazen that he got caught - or whether there are other attorneys at firms, large and small, who steal from clients and their fellow partners albeit in smaller increments. Love to hear the inside scoop from any readers.