My Shingle: Inspiring Solo and Small Firm Lawyers

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To Martindale or Not To Martindale?

When I started my practice back in 1993, I paid for a real listing in Martindale-Hubbell (as opposed to the cheapie listing in the front blue plages) that I kept for four years. By 1997, I'd not gotten so much as a phone call from the listing.  Looking forward, I realized that my website (that I developed myself and went live in late 1995) was already generating more visibility for me than the M-H listing - and so I declined to renew it.

Seems that I was right, as this posting from Wired GC bears out:

When I was at the offices of one of my outside counsel this week, I noticed part of the 2005 edition of Martindale-Hubbell sitting in two huge boxes in a conference room. Not this many but still a hefty set. They do look good on the shelf (often a required back-drop for lawyer interviews), but their days have to be numbered. M-H does offer CD and online versions, as well as search through lawyers.com.  All good information; but I haven’t used M-H in years.

A closed system used by Martindale-Hubbell doesn’t really work anymore. A9 is a threat, but the bigger challenge is a general counsel who calls a colleague for a referral, checks the firm website, and Googles them. Perhaps you check Martindale, but it’s no longer the gold standard.

(from The Wired GC)

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on January 30, 2005 at 06:21 PM in Marketing & Making Money | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

What's Coming...

In the past few months, we've acquired some new readers who may not be aware that this site has been around for two years, not just the two months that the archives would indicate.  I am still working on bringing the old site on line, but if you'd like to take a look at what we used to be like (still in testing mode, so it may not always work), click here.  If you want to access older postings, you can either search the site or go to the "Older Stuff" menu item in the upper left hand corner box.  Our online guide is still available there too.

Note, since the site is still in test mode not all of the internal links may function.  But this is what you have to look forward to.  What do you all think?

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on January 28, 2005 at 07:51 AM in MyShingle Solo | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

I Am A Maven!

I am a maven.   I'm not so sure that it's true, but it's very cool, nonetheless.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on January 25, 2005 at 06:49 PM in MyShingle Solo | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

A Sanction That's Deserved

As many of my readers know, I often find that the sanctions meted out by bar disciplinary committees to be either redundant or heavy-handed, such as punishing an attorney where he's already been ordered to pay monetary sanctions by the court or sactioning an attorney for failing to apologize for an overly harsh criticism of a judge.  But here's a sanction that actually find myself in agreement with - a thirty day suspension not simply for missing a court date, but for lying about it repeatedly.  See  Partner Suspended for 30 Days for Lying About Missing Court Date, New York Lawyer (January 25, 2005). 

Personally, one of my biggest peeves is lawyers who lie.  Partly because lying about missing a deadline or not paying a bill reflects an abrogation of responsibility that simply does not befit a professional.  And partly because lying sets the worst possible example for our clients.  I can live with lawyers who are, occasionally rude to judges (who after all, may deserve it) or even lawyers who don't return phone calls to clients who pester them several times a day or don't pay bills on time.  But there's simply no excuse for lying - to the court or to a client.  And that's why we shouldn't tolerate those lawyers who do.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on January 25, 2005 at 06:47 PM in Ethics & Malpractice Issues | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

A Law Firm That's Out of This World (at least, its fees are)

As lawyers, we all want our work to be regarded as "out of this world" - but just not in this way.   According to this article, South Gate Chases Legal Firms, LA Times (1/23/05),  a Los Angeles Superior Court judge, ruling that the law firm of Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton had overcharged its municipal client, described the firm's fees as:

were more than excessive and unreasonable, transcending beyond the stratosphere into deep outer space," Shook wrote in his opinion.

The city had already paid $551,837 to defend Robles, its former treasurer and the firm was seeking $445,087 more that it said it was due.  But the judge found that the city
should not have been charged more than $150,000 for the defense of Robles.
In October, another judge ruled that Sheppard had to repay the city $517,000 in legal fees related to defending Robles in a separate criminal investigation.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on January 25, 2005 at 06:36 PM in News | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Solo in Hawaii?

If you're thinking of going solo, why not try Hawaii?  According to this article from the Pacific Business News (1/24/05),  It's a good time to be a lawyer in Hawaii.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on January 25, 2005 at 06:26 PM in Trends | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

How Much Can You Rely on What Your Client Tells You?

Even if you don't practice criminal law, you should be interested in the U.S. Supreme Court's eventual ruling in Rompilla v. Beard concerning ineffective assistance of counsel which was argued before the Court yesterday. (for details, see Justices Debate Lawyer Diligence in Capital Case, Tony Mauro, Washington Legal Times (1/19/05)).  As with Florida v. Nixon, a Supreme Court case that dealt with an ineffective assistance of counsel claim where a client failed to expressly authorize his attorney's strategy (see our prior post ), the Romilla decision will likewise have implications for how we attorneys relate to our clients.

In Romilla, the petitioner claimed ineffective assistance of counsel in a capital case because his attorneys failed to review court files documenting petitioner's history of alcoholism and poverty, his low IQ and troubled childhood.  The petitioner argued that had this information been presented at trial, he would have avoided a death sentence.

Now granted, the attorney's conduct sounds pretty egregious until you read the briefs.  Both parties' briefs state that the petitioner's attorney had asked him about his background and petitioner - apparently on several occasions denied his alcoholic history and troubled past.  But even there, the attorney did not rely on his client's word alone - he also interviewed family relatives and sent the petitioner to experts in hopes of finding mitigating circumstances to spare him from death.

A court ruling finding the attorney rendered ineffective assistance won't just impact criminal practice - but will affect how all of us deal with our clients.  Essentially, such a ruling would require the court to find that we cannot take our clients at their word.  Now sure, attorneys have an obligation to diligently investigate a client's case - but that's more to determine whether the case is feasible rather than to continuously question what our clients have told us.  And when clients begin to realize that it doesn't matter what they say because attorneys can't take them at their word, the trust so integral to the attorney client relationship will diminish.

Moreover, I want to empower my clients, not coddle them.  Clients deserve as much.  So, I take my time to explain the applicable law, why my clients must provide me with certain pieces of information and why that information must be accurate.  But if we send a signal to clients that their input doesn't matter, and if they don't provide it, then the attorney and not the client will pay the price, we encourage them to remain  passive bystanders rather than active participants in the judicial process.  And that makes us attorneys caretakers rather than advocates.

I'm not defending the Romilla attorney's failure to check the court files.  I suppose he could have been more diligent.  But the reason that he wasn't was because his own client simply wasn't willing to provide his attorney with information that may have saved his life.  In those circumstances, I don't think that the fault ought to rest entirely with his attorney either.   

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on January 19, 2005 at 08:50 PM in Client Relations | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Tech Predictions for Solos and Small Firms

If Dennis Kennedy's legal tech predictions for 2005 are true, it's going to be a good year for solo and small firm lawyers to start taking advantage of legal technology, particularly those who aren't doing it already.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on January 19, 2005 at 08:06 PM in Tech & Web | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Westlaw is Free in Some Places - But Why Not Everywhere?

AJ Levy of http://www.outoftheboxlawyering.com lists a bunch of libraries in several states (AK, MN, NV, NJ, NY, OH, TX and WA) where you can access Westlaw for free.  I was happy to learn about this resource though clearly, it's cheaper for me to sign up for Westlaw on a per-search basis than to travel to New York to get it for free.  But even more, my same burning question remains:  why aren't LEXIS and Westlaw free in every single law library in the country?  It's not as if paying customers (like large law firms) will give up their LEXIS service because it's free at a law school library.  Most lawyers enjoy the convenience of LEXIS on their desktop too much to travel to get it free.  The only people who'd benefit from free LEXIS and Westlaw are attorneys who don't have the service to begin with - and the reason they don't is because they can't afford it. 

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on January 19, 2005 at 07:03 PM in Legal Research and Writing | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Ever Have A Case That Wouldn't End? It's Not Your Fault...

Imagine the joy of Maureen Graves, an Orange County attorney who works alone out of her garage when she learned this news.  (Fresno Bee, 1/17/05).  Seven years ago, Graves took a case on behalf of special education student Robert Moser for no fee because she thought it would be easily won or settled.  She was shocked that it ended up in federal court and took more than seven years of legal wrangling with the school district spending nearly $500,000 on a case that she once had been willing to settle for $8,000.

Of course, the reason for that were the school district's attorneys, Freseno law firm Lozano Smith and attorney Elaine Yama.  As reported here,  the firm and its attorney have been  have been sanctioned by a federal judge for lying, misrepresenting law and facts, and intentionally dragging out a case involving a school district and a special education student.  The article quotes the judge's ruling:

Wanger wrote that Yama's behavior in court "cannot be interpreted as anything other than a bad-faith attempt to mislead the court, obscure the real facts of the case, to obstruct and/or harass the plaintiff … either to wear down the plaintiff or to win a victory that was clearly unjustified by either the facts or the law."

The judge elaborated on Yama's actions: "Her presentation was carefully constructed to omit or minimize adverse facts. Portions of transcripts were cited out of context to support made-up facts. … She was reckless. She systematically distorted the record and repeatedly ignored plaintiff's objections and warnings that she was doing so."

He pointed out that Yama had been practicing for seven years — three of them in special education law at a firm that billed itself as a specialist in that area.

Wanger found that Yama was not the only one to blame, since three attorneys had signed "misleading pleadings" in the case and had actively worked on it, including Mike Smith, main counsel to Fresno Unified.

Wanger wrote, "While isolated errors or misstatements might be excused, given the size of the record, the sheer volume of misstatements … [the] only reasonable inference that can be drawn is that Ms. Yama and her law firm intended to obstruct at every step and stand education law on its head."

Wanger noted that Lozano Smith characterizes itself "as a recognized leader" and "major firm" in education law and conducts training for attorneys and school administrators on special education legal issues.

"It can only be hoped," Wanger wrote, "that these practices are not the standard mode of operation for Lozano Smith attorneys due to their potential to materially harm other special education plaintiffs."

So if you too find yourself buried in a case with no end in sight, with opposing counsel stalling and lying and obstructing any progress,  remember that sometimes justice does prevail.   It sure did, with a vengeance, in this case.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on January 18, 2005 at 10:53 AM in Ethics & Malpractice Issues | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack