My Shingle: Inspiring Solo and Small Firm Lawyers

Great Criminal Law Resource, and Why It Helps Solos

At Illinois Trial Lawyer , Evan Schaeffer shares a wonderfully valuable resource, The Center for Criminal Justice Advocacy.  The Center was formed as a free, non-partisan training resource to assist new lawyers in becoming competent criminal practitioners.  And one of the Center's missions is to provide newly licensed sole practitioners with materials to provide a structured analytical approach to planning and conducting a criminal trial.   The site is chocked full of resources, including sample opening statements, witness interview forms and even law office management tips for solos setting up a criminal practice.

The CCJA site will help far more solos than those who specialize in criminal work - and in fact, arguably provides a more significant service for those who don't necessarily seek to focus on criminal work.  In my view, whether you want to practice criminal law or not, handling criminal cases on a court appointed basis offers an excellent way for solos to build skills and make some money at the same time.  When I started my firm, I was adamant about getting into court so I signed up for DC's court appointed panel.  Within two years, I'd argued several suppression motions and had a couple of bench trials, two jury trials and sentencing hearings.  I earned some money (enough to pay rent, at least) and acquired the experience that I'd craved.  But I was fortunate:  the DC Public Defender's office offered a two day training program that taught new court appointed lawyers exactly what we needed to do from arraignment through appeals.  That course, combined with a $60 handbook on DC Criminal Practice and a couple of days of court-watching gave me enough of a foundation to actually procure pretty good results, considering my lack of experience.

The CCJA site provides much of the background that I received in my DC training course (though of course, the information is more general rather than jurisdiction specific).  Nevertheless, with a resource like this, new solos who want to sample criminal work either to make some money or get courtroom experience can do so more readily, while still serving clients with the level of competence they deserve.


Posted by Carolyn Elefant on April 12, 2007 at 11:59 AM in Criminal Law, Practice & Policy , Legal Research and Writing | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

More on the Joys of Law Libraries

Like Barry Kaufman, I'm a huge fan of the law library and recognize that it's an indispensable tool for solo practitioners.  Which is why I'm thrilled to be able to offer this Guest Post, Eight Reasons Solo Lawyers Should Use Law Libraries  from Mary Whisner, the assistant librarian for reference services at the Gallagher Law Library of the University of Washington School of Law.  Mary also runs Trial Ad Notes, a blog about trial advocacy. 

Eight Reasons Solo Lawyers Should Use Law Libraries

One. Librarians.

    * Libraries employ people whose job is to help you use the library and figure out your research puzzles. Law librarians specialize in legal materials and the needs of legal researchers. Many are legally trained. We keep up with new sources and techniques and can often save you hours in your research. What’s more important to you than your time?

    * Librarians also create online guides to help you with your research. See my library’s collection of guides, for instance. So we can help you with your research without ever meeting you – even at 2:00 a.m., if that’s when you’re looking for some research pointers.

Two: Books.

    * You’ve got a limited budget and limited office space, so you don’t buy every practice manual, looseleaf service, formbook, or treatise that might come in handy. Your local law library is a great resource. (If you find the book or set is really useful, then you can order it for your office collection.)

    * Even if you are very comfortable using online research, some sources are easier to use in print. Many people find it helpful to use annotated codes in print because of their layout. Sometimes you might use a database to find a source, but sit down with the print when it comes time to skim the whole chapter you need.

    * And remember that not everything is online (and certainly not everything is online free!).

Three. Databases.

    * Many public law libraries subscribe to databases that lawyers and often members of the public can use free. Say you subscribe to a thrifty Westlaw or LexisNexis package that gives you access to your own state’s laws and cases. When you need to research some other state’s law, wouldn’t it be great to be able to use the law library’s subscription?

          o Some law libraries make databases available without charge.
          o Others charge on a cost-recovery basis. (Usually that’s still a lot cheaper than getting your own subscription for occasional use.)

    * Some of the databases popular with the lawyers who use the law school library where I work are:

          o LegalTrac, an index of legal periodical articles, 1980-present.

          o Hein Online, a collection of pdf documents from a variety of sources. It includes hundreds of law journals (from the nineteenth century on!), Statutes at Large, the Federal Register, treaties, and federal legislative histories. 

          o KeyCite, the component of Westlaw that enables researchers to check the history of a case, statute, or other document and find citing references.

          o RIA CheckPoint, a rich source of tax and accounting material.

          o BNA, a wide range of newsletters and databases, including BNA publications in tax, labor, and health.

          o Nonlegal databases. Ever need economics, business, scientific, or medical information? The law library might have access. If not, your public library or local university library is a great source for nonlegal information.

    * You can test drive databases before you decide to subscribe.

Four. Audiovisual materials.

    * Want a DVD on cross-examination? How about an audiotape to review a subject while you’re in your car? Many law libraries have them.

    * Some law libraries (e.g., the State Law Library of Montana) maintain collections of AV materials you can use for CLE credit.

Five. Space.

    * One attraction of solo practice is getting to work in your own special space and wear your bathrobe while you’re drafting motions. But what if you want a change of scenery? The law library provides you with a fresh place to work – and maybe a fresh outlook.

    * Many county law libraries also have conference rooms that you can reserve for meetings with clients or colleagues. Pretty neat if you don’t want them to see your ironing board and that lunatic cat in your home office.

    * Location, location, location. Most county law libraries are right in the courthouse. What a great place to gather your thoughts before you argue your motion.

Six. Networking.

    * When you’re in a firm or a government agency, you often pick up a lot at the water cooler. You can bounce ideas off your colleagues and hear what projects they’re involved with. That’s a little harder for solo practitioners. But at the law library, you’ll run into law school classmates, former coworkers, and other acquaintances in the legal community.

    * Who knows? The contacts you keep up might even lead to referrals for you.

Seven. Services at a Distance.

    * Law libraries also offer other services when you’re away from the library, such as telephone or email reference (or even instant messaging reference). The law library can help you even when you’re in your office or on the road.

    * Many law libraries offer a document delivery service, and can send you copies of material for a fee. If it would take an hour of your time to drive here to get the document, it’s a bargain to pay $20 to have it faxed to you.

Eight. Training.

    * Many law libraries offer training, sometimes with CLE credits.
    * For instance, the King County Law Library offers classes on Casemaker, Loislaw, LexisNexis, Westlaw, Word, using the Internet for legal research, skip tracing, and more.

Where do you go?

    * Many counties have county law libraries whose mission is to serve the public and the bar. Generally, the bigger cities have bigger libraries with bigger staffs and more services.

    * Each state has a state law library (serving state agencies and courts, but often serving attorneys in the state as well).

    * Some federal court law libraries are open to attorneys or the public as a courtesy of the judges.

    * Some law school libraries (like mine) are open to the public.

    * Some law school libraries are open to attorneys or alumni of the school, sometimes for a membership fee.

    * Some cities are served by members-only (“subscription”) law libraries, such at the Social Law Library in Boston.

Follow the librarian credo: Just ask! You might be surprised what the public law library can do for you!

By the way, public law libraries welcome your support, financial and otherwise. If you benefit from your local law library, consider making a donation. If you decide to weed your shelves of some CLE materials and handbooks, make a call to see if the law library could use them.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on April 25, 2006 at 06:28 AM in Legal Research and Writing | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Not the Way to Win on Rehearing

David Swanner posts this excerpt from a rehearing petition that's likely to lose.  Read it and see if you can figure out why:

Statement of Issue Presented for Review: The Court of Appeals committed a major error in affirming the dismissal. The Court did not address the facts of the case. The Court has a warped perspective of the Rule of Law.

Conclusion: The Court Administration should have the case reviewed by competent individuals.

I had to read the post carefully to make sure it wasn't some kind of premature April Fool's joke, but it appears that the petition was actually filed.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on March 12, 2006 at 08:59 PM in Legal Research and Writing | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

New Mexico Joins Casemaker

Casemaker, a free legal research service included in participating state bar membership fees is a trend we've been following for a long time.  As this article fom (1/20/06) reports, New Mexico is the 23d state to join the Casemaker consortium.
New Mexico Bar joins legal research consortium, hich according to the article, now serves 424,000 American lawyers. 

I'm a member of the New York, Maryland and District of Columbia bars, none of which participate in Casemaker.  So I'm publicly asking why not?  And you should do the same if your bars haven't joined either.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on January 22, 2006 at 08:35 PM in Legal Research and Writing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Can You Recognize When A Court Opines, Asserts or Declares?

This article, Curb Your Editorial Urges When Describing a Court's Actions, Kenneth Oettle (NJLJ) (10/5/050)  finally clarified for me the subtle differences in verbs like recognized, observed, ruled, held and others that describe how a court acted.  As a general rule of thumb, here's how the author feels about some of these verbs:

    Affirmed -- double meaning

    * Asserted -- too forceful; Court has no need to assert

    * Averred -- word is rarely used

    * Declared -- grandiose

    * Explained -- didn't, really

    * Opined -- true, but probably too formal

    * Remarked -- too casual 

So, just another thing to obsess over in writing a brief.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on October 7, 2005 at 09:53 PM in Legal Research and Writing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Legal Writing Resources

Via Tom Mighell at Inter-alia comes a link to weblog that's been published since March 2005 but is new to me: Wayne Schiess' Legal Writing.  Wayne's site offers examples of poor legal drafting, tips on legal writing and a list of articles that he's written. 

What was most interesting to me though was that Wayne's photo looked awfully familiar - so when I took a look at his background, I learned that he was in the class behind me at Cornell Law School.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on September 10, 2005 at 09:19 AM in Legal Research and Writing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Cincinnati Law Library Adds New Benefits

This article, Law Library Offers Virtual Services (Cincinnati Business Journal 8/29/05) reports on some of the new, free computerized research services offered by the Cincinnati Law Library Association.  The services include computerized legal research by and a journal service, HeinOnline.  (as an aside, I've used Hein Online at the American University Pence Law Library and it's a fabulous tool for locating law review articles, including many that have been de-listed by LEXIS). 

So why do we at MyShingle care about what a midwest law library has to offer?  Fastcase's CEO Ed Walters said it best:

"The new offerings of the Cincinnati Law Library Association will truly level the playing field, giving smaller firms the kind of national, online access to the law that is usually reserved only for the largest law firms."

As I've said multiple times, access to affordable online legal research is one of the most important and least expensive steps that the bar can take to improve the quality of legal representation for all.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on August 31, 2005 at 08:31 PM in Legal Research and Writing | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Don't Overlook the Lowly Law School Library

With so many legal research tools available on line, most lawyers neglect the lowly law school library as a resource.  But in my view, there's nothing as valuable for research as a good law library.  In the jurisdiction where I practice, American University Washington College of Law Pence Law Library tops my list as an outstanding resource for practicing attorneys.   Here's why:

1)  Open Admission The Pence Library is open to the public without charge and at all times, except during law school exam periods.

2)  Resources  Obviously, the Pence Library, like all others, has many legal resources including treatises, journals and how to guides.  Most practitioners overlook these general sources of information which are frequently good shortcuts when researching a new area of law. 

Truth be told, the law library is not particularly strong on energy regulatory resources which is one of my practice focuses.  But it has research terminals where patrons can access Westlaw keycite and Hein Online (for law reviews) at no cost and those resources often make it worth the trip.

3) Location and Hours:  The Pence Library is a short fifteen minute hop from my home office and probably about the same distance from downtown.  But the library is open until midnight most weeknights as well as on the weekend, which means that I can access it afterhours.

Law schools are always coming up with fancy ways to meet pro bono obligations, what with law school clinics and mandatory pro bono requirements for graduating students.  If law school libraries just opened their doors to law practitioners whose clients often can't afford top of the line research tools, law schools would go a long way towards improving the quality of law for those in lower income brackets.

I'd like to put together a collection of law libraries or other libraries with great benefits, like free LEXIS or photocopying or anything else that a solo might find useful.  Send me your tips in comments below.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on August 21, 2005 at 12:45 PM in Legal Research and Writing | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Free Legal Research Hits Florida

Add Florida to the list of jurisdictions with free legal research services, as reported in this  article.  Florida is using Fast Case for its service which provides access to US Supreme Court Cases, Florida Supreme Court cases and Florida statutes and regulations.  I've always thought that free legal research is one of the most valuable tools that the bar can provide to improve the quality of legal service.   Isn't it time that all bars made some online legal research available for for free?

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on July 26, 2005 at 04:43 AM in Legal Research and Writing | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Free Legal Research For Louisiana

Ernie the Attorney reports that the Louisiana Bar is offering Fastcase, a legal research service, free to its members.  Louisiana thus joins the twenty other bar associations that offer Casemaker, another free research service.  What I noticed about Fastcase is that it includes access to district court decisions dating back to the 1950's.  This impressed me because district court cases are hard to locate online and thus, for fee services can usually charge a premium when they include them in their data bases.

Ironically, at the same time of Ernie's post, I also noticed that Lexisone is celebrating its fifth anniversary - though there's no mention that the primary reason for Lexisone's birth was that Lexis finally realized that the Internet might enable competitors to provide the same type of legal research service available for free.  Now, it looks like Lexisone might be right after all.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on July 8, 2005 at 07:44 PM in Legal Research and Writing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack