How Not to Find Clients: Avvo.com

January 23, 2012
Avvo -

"Give legal advice in areas of law that you don't know, in jurisdictions where you don't practice, for FREE! Get points! Look important!"

Received an interesting email in my inbox this morning: a response to my answer to someone’s Avvo question.

I occasionally answer a question or two in Pennsylvania when I feel that I might actually be able to point a person in the right direction, usually something like giving them the number to the local bar referral service, telling them where to go to file a PFA, or recommending that they may want to hire an attorney than ask for free advice on the internet.

Understand that I have no idea what answer this was sent in response to. All grammar and spelling left intact.

Dear Leo M Mulvihill Jr

Like the other guy….
you didnt actually answer the question!!!
but the typical lawyer is really good at being shart and uselsss!

You just responded in the typical zero sum game, knee jerk response
that has become a lawyers cliche

I dont have the time an energy to point out all the things wrong with your response including you ill informed understanding of the situation
Obviously you are not here to help anyone but yourself.
Way to go!!!!

Now that i have returned the favor of being dismissive and
contemptuous ( see how that feels) i can move forward

My point being…. All lawyers are taught not to ask (or anwer) any questions without know the answer first. Did you miss that day in lawschool also!!??!?!!? Why do you guys insist on doing that???
Did it ever occur to you for just a nano second, that I was writing based on speaking with firms on the phone and getting the typical lame ass response that is typical in both the legal and medical community. BTW after 1 in 20 i am getting to the right parties
with three or 4 good matches who are willing to proceed at the state
or federal level

I am a scientist. Scientists as a group deal in the raw data.
Not some lame attempt to spastically guess in some pointless need to gratify our egos!!!!

Now if you have something usefull to add so that the scam artist and thieves actually have battery backup lighting in the stairways
then respond

if not lets save the bits and bytes, so i can do something productive
like stop these people from being documented theives

Vexed

A client with a personality like this – I bet attorneys are lined up around the block to take his case. Why do I even bother to answer questions?

Note: I have been answering questions on Avvo.com since I was admitted. I used to think it was a helpful way to grow exposure and get client leads. All I’ve gotten so far is vindictive diatribes in emails and people calling me from another jurisdiction asking me for free legal advice. I think it’s time I gave up on Avvo.


Fishtown in the Wall Street Journal – Whoda Thunk?

January 21, 2012

Fishtown Market, a la Google Maps.

For what it’s worth, our neighborhood was compared to Boston’s Belmont in a recent WSJ article titled: “The New American Divide.

Bizarre seeing us compared to upperclass neighborhoods in both Boston and right on the Main Line too.

Not the mention that there’s a great shot of Fishtown Market in the article.


Snow: A Philly Primer (p.s. shovel your sidewalk).

January 21, 2012
The view out my window this morning.

Time to get the shovel.

[Ed. note Jan. 4, 2014 – If you’re coming here from Fishtown Neighbors Association‘s Facebook post, welcome! Leo originally wrote this back on January 22, 2012, but we’re pretty sure the same rules still apply.] 

Well, we finally got our first snow of the winter here in Philadelphia. And while it’s no blizzard, we nevertheless need to address the thorny issue of snow removal.

The Philadelphia City Code 10-720 – Snow Removal from Sidewalks.
As much of a PITA as it might be to get up out of your warm bed early in the morning, you should get that walk shoveled ASAP.

Under the city code, you have six hours from the time snow has stopped falling to get out there and clear a path three feet wide on your sidewalk.

If your sidewalk is less than three feet then you’re allowed to clear a path only a foot wide. If you’re a tenant in a single home, you probably have to clear the sidewalk yourself.

If you live in a multi-family building, it’s the landlord or management company’s responsibility to take care of show shoveling (though it’s likely your lease says that you’re supposed to shovel).

But  remember that you can’t just shovel it right into the street, either – that’s a no-no under the rules.

And if you neglect to shovel, you could face city fines between $50 and $300! What a way to ruin a snow day.

Finally, if you see an area that’s seriously impeding people getting around the city, you could always call the Streets Department Customer Affairs Unit at (215) 686-5560 to report a non-shoveler – though you might as well just be a good neighbor and shovel it yourself. Call it your good deed for the day.

Shoveling Out Your Spot – A Lesson in Etiquette.
Few things get a Philadelphian as hot under the collar as spending the time to shovel out a car, only to have someone else swoop in and steal the fruits of his labor. According to urban legend (and reputable news sources as well), the spot thief may suffer from any number of maladies, from bricks through the windshield, to slashed tires, to acute lead poisoning.

Though Philly parking spot etiquitte has been written about manymany times, lets distill it to three simple rules:

  1. If you take the time to shovel it, it’s rightfully “yours”, and you may place a parking chair there for a reasonable period of time while snow is still on the ground.
  2. Don’t steal the spot another person shoveled.
  3. If you leave a cone, lawn chair, or trash can in the street even after the snow has gone, people can and will remove the marker and park there. Serves you right for leaving your dammed parking chair in the street for so long.

Sure, the age-old tradition of saving spaces is actually illegal, as are vandalism or physical assault in retaliation.

But think about it from a Fred Rogers’ perspective: does a good neighbor take a spot that another took the time to shovel out?

Do I have to Worry About Slip & Fall Lawsuits?
As we’ve all learned through experience, ice and gravity aren’t a good combination. But do you have to worry about a lawsuit if someone falls on ice or snow in front of your property?

Pennsylvania law requires that where there’s a general accumulation of snow and ice, a court should apply the “hills and ridges” rule. This means that a plaintiff who slips and falls because of generally icy and snowy conditions must prove two things:

  1. There was some sort of defect in the walkway that the landowner previously knew or should have known about, and
  2. The defect, rather than the snowy and icy conditions alone, caused her fall.

This doctrine applies only in snowstorms or in generally icy conditions. As the Pennsylvania Supreme Court put it in Williams v. Schutz, 240 A.2d 812, 813-814 (Pa. 1968):

proof of hills and ridges is necessary only when it appears that the accident occurred at a time when general slippery conditions prevailed in the community as a result of recent precipitation… the law, wisely, does not require that such abutting owner keep the sidewalk free from snow and ice at all times: to hold otherwise would require the impossible in view of climatic conditions …

[T]hese formations are natural phenomena incidental to our climate … Since it is virtually impossible for a property owner to keep his sidewalk completely free of ice or snow when general slippery conditions exist, and since under these conditions a pedestrian is better prepared to exercise a greater degree of caution when traversing the ice or snow, courts have been reluctant to permit recovery without a showing of hills and ridges.

In plain English – Pedestrians: pay attention and walk carefully. Landowners: shovel and salt your walks.

Where a landowner can run into problems, though, is where he initially shovels and salts, only to have lower temperatures cause ice to re-freeze into a slippery mess:

[W]here a specific, localized, isolated patch of ice exists, it is comparatively easy for a property owner to take the necessary steps to alleviate the condition, while at the same time considerably more difficult for the pedestrian to avoid it even exercising the utmost care. Id.

Translated from legalese: if you see ice in front of your house that is somehow localized and not the pure result of natural forces, get rid of it pronto. Otherwise you might be on the hook if someone takes a spill in front of your house and hurts herself.

That’s it for a quick primer on rules of the snow here in the City of Brotherly Love. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to stop writing about it, get out of my pajamas, and go shovel my own walk.

***Note: I do not, in any way, endorse retaliation against anyone for spot stealing. While it might be considered rude, it’s no reason to escalate the situation to vandalism or violence. Really, just take the extra 20 minutes to shovel a new spot.


New Jersey Supreme Court decides that if you can express yourself in New York or Pennsylvania, it’s fine to restrict your speech in New Jersey

January 20, 2012

Al Bundy is devastated

There’s plenty to like about New Jersey:  Jon Bon Jovi.  Bruce Springsteen.  The Wegman’s in Cherry Hill, Total Wine, Newark’s Mayor Cory Booker, and the fact that there are so many rest stops on the Turnpike that it makes the first half of my commute to Bar Harbor Maine much more bearable.

Today, however, something in New Jersey is not to be liked, and it’s worse than jug handles or paying the troll toll when crossing the Betsy Ross Bridge to get back into Philadelphia.  The New Jersey Supreme Court issued a decision holding that a borough can restrict free speech because an adult business could potentially be operated in a neighboring state.

This is the story of Boro of Sayreville v. 35 Club, LLC.  35 Club, LLC runs Club XXXV on Route 35 in Sayreville.  Club XXXV is what Al Bundy would call “the nudie bar.”  ‘You know, “where the girlies dance, in their underpants” or “where a buck is enough to see their stuff?”

As a nudie bar, the Supreme Court held that XXXV Club meets what the New Jersey Legislature defines as a “sexually oriented business.” A “sexually oriented business” is a:

 (1)  A commercial establishment which as one of its principal business purposes offers for sale, rental, or display any of the following:

Books, magazines, periodicals or other printed material, or photographs, films, motion pictures, video cassettes, slides or other visual representations which depict or describe a “specified sexual activity” or “specified anatomical area”; or still or motion picture machines, projectors or other image-producing devices which show images to one person per machine at any one time, and where the images so displayed are characterized by the depiction of a “specified sexual activity” or “specified anatomical area”; or instruments, devices, or paraphernalia which are designed for use in connection with a “specified sexual activity”; or

(2)  A commercial establishment which regularly features live performances characterized by the exposure of a “specified anatomical area” or by a “specified sexual activity,” or which regularly shows films, motion pictures, video cassettes, slides, or other photographic representations which depict or describe a “specified sexual activity” or “specified anatomical area.”

c. “Specified anatomical area” means:

(1)  Less than completely and opaquely covered human genitals, pubic region, buttock or female breasts below a point immediately above the top of the areola; or

(2)  Human male genitals in a discernibly turgid state, even if covered.

d.  “Specified sexual activity” means:

(1)  The fondling or other erotic touching of covered or uncovered human genitals, pubic region, buttock or female breast; or

(2)  Any actual or simulated act of human masturbation, sexual intercourse or deviate sexual intercourse.

Heh.

When Club XXXV opened up in 2007, the Borough of Sayreville filed a lawsuit asking the court to shut it down, because New Jersey law dictates that you can’t have a “sexual oriented business”:

within 1,000 feet of any existing sexually oriented business, or any church, synagogue, temple or other place of public worship, or any elementary or secondary school or any school bus stop, or any municipal or county playground or place of public resort and recreation, or any hospital or any child care center, or within 1,000 feet of any area zoned for residential use.

Club XXXV argued that application of this statute violated its legal right to engage in free speech under the First Amendment, a concept that applies to corporations who want to donate as much as they want to SuperPACs.

Under New Jersey Law, the court has to make a determination of whether there are “adequate alternative channels of communication [for the protected activity] within the relevant market area.”  In other words, if you can take your business somewhere else, the statute isn’t overly restrictive on your First Amendment rights.

To support its position that that Club XXXV had other alternatives, the Borough called Susan S. Gruel, P.P., who, according to the opinion, “is a licensed professional planner with twenty five years of experience and an adjunct professor at Rutgers University.”  Among other things, Gruel testified that the “relevant market area” also consisted of Staten Island in New York.

Club XXXV called licensed professional planner Jason Kasler, P.P., as its expert.  He testified that there were no other real alternatives for the Club XXXV.  His analysis did not include Staten Island, presumably because New York is, you know, in a different state.  Initially the trial court found in favor of the borough.

Without getting into details, the decision to include testimony about whether Staten Island, New York, could be considered part of the “relevant market area” was appealed through the court system for awhile.  Eventually the Supreme Court of New Jersey decided to determine the sole issue of whether Staten Island could be considered part of the “relevant market area.”

The Supreme Court held that “relevant market area” does include other states.

In other words, if you can’t do it in New Jersey, but you can do it in New York or Pennsylvania, it’s not an unreasonable restriction on free speech.  The court explained that:

Our citizens regularly cross into our neighboring states for employment opportunities and entertainment of other kinds, making an analysis that would preclude any consideration of sites in those states unnecessarily restrictive in light of the behavior of our modern mobile populace.

(Although I’m pretty sure it’s technically illegal for us Pennsylvanians to drive into New Jersey to get alcohol.)

Justice Albin wrote a powerful dissent, focusing on the First Amendment:

Today, this Court becomes the first in the nation to suggest that a state can geographically restrict constitutionally permissive expression within its borders, in part, by offering a neighboring state as an alternative forum. A sexually oriented gentlemen’s club, although a disfavored form of expression by many, is nonetheless protected by both the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article 1, Paragraph 6 of the New Jersey Constitution.

Justice Albin then framed the issue brilliantly:

At issue is whether New Jersey can tell one of its citizens that a sexually oriented business cannot be operated in a particular location in the State because — as part of this Court’s equation — a neighboring state will accommodate its expressive activities.

Is “go do your dirty bidding in another state” a valid reason to tell someone they don’t have protection under the First Amendment? Then he gets right to the point:

In my view, New Jersey cannot under the federal or state constitution restrict the location of sexually oriented expression without providing that expression a safe haven somewhere within this State’s borders. A sexually oriented business cannot be restricted based on the notion that such constitutionally protected expressive activity is permitted in a nearby state.

New Jersey’s citizens have a federal and state constitutional right to express themselves in their State…”

One has to agree with the learned Justice Albin on this point.

How is it fair to pass speech that isn’t well liked by all, but is protected under the Constitution, onto other states?  The point of the First Amendment is that there will always be some forms of speech that aren’t liked by the majority of people.  That’s why the government is forbidden from unreasonably restricting it.  This decisions essentially allows New Jersey to push unpopular speech into other states.  As Justice Albin said, New Jersey citizens should have a right to express themselves in their own state.

In addition, think about the slippery slope this decision potentially creates.  You can write books, watch movies, and do a lot of things in Pennsylvania and New York…

35 Club, LLC is represented by First Amendment Champion Gregory Vella from The Law Firm of Collins, Vella & Casello, L.L.C.  Thanks to Mr. Vella, the club has operated continuously since 2007 while he continues to fight for their First Amdendment rights.  I therefore forgive Mr. Vella for being a Giants fan under the circumstances.

You can watch Mr. Vella in action here at the oral argument.  You can find a copy of the decision here.


Megaupload.com Shut Down?

January 19, 2012

Megaupload.com has been shut down by the Feds.

… but how is the Internet supposed to get its porn and latest episodes of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Breaking Bad?

Well, at least I know what to do if caught.

EDIT [20 Jan 2012,  10.40a]: Westlaw Insider has a nice look at the indictment and what it means. “The specific criminal charges in the indictment are two different counts of copyright infringement and three other related conspiracy charges: conspiracy to commit racketeering, to commit money laundering, and to commit copyright infringement.”

Note: I am not supporting internet piracy by any means. But the manner in which the feds simply pulled the plug and seized the assets of its alleged owners seems a bit dubious. Remember, it doesn’t necessarily follow that one supports an underlying alleged criminal enterprise simply because one supports due process rights. 


Social Media for Lawyers is Not (Entirely) a Waste

January 19, 2012

ImageEarlier this week, I read, with a certain degree of amusement, my colleague’s post on why Social Media for Lawyers is Kind of a Waste.

I want to relay a story of my own, as a small retort.

The year was 2010. I was about to graduate from a new TTT just a mile away from Jordan’s alma mater. Like many students in my class, my job prospects were dim. Luckily, I had taken notice of the distinct lack of response to the scores of resumes I’d sent out to any firm who was hiring, and realized that I might have to start preparing a plan B.

I’d spend the previous summer interning at a District Attorney’s office and reading Jay Foonberg’s How to Start and Build a Law Practice. And for my 3L year, I had applied and was lucky enough to be accepted into my school’s clinical with the Philadelphia Defenders Association, where training I was representing clients at preliminary hearings and municipal court trials. But now, just months before graduation, I realized there were things I didn’t know I didn’t know. At the recommendation of an article online, I joined ABA’s Solosez listserve.

Inundated with hundreds of messages a day (many curiously related to hamsters or various political rants), I found it difficult to keep up with it all. Luckily, though, one post caught my eye:

Hi. I am a young lawyer in Philadelphia thinking about opening up a new practice. I look forward to talking about running a practice and learning from you all.

Sincerely,

Jordan

Ahha! Here I was also a young soon-to-be lawyer in Philadelphia, and another young buck was right here thinking the same thing as me! In the same city! I had to learn more.

Dear Jordan:

I am a soon-to-be graduate of law school also in Phialdelphia. Where in the city are you?

Truly Yours,

Leo.

To which I received a response:

Leo,

I am in the Fishtown section of the city.

-Jordan.

And I responded:

No shit! Me too! Let’s get a drink!

In the series of emails that followed, I found out that Jordan and I lived on the same street, two blocks from each other, we both enjoyed the same beers, and frequented the same bars.

Now, two years later, we’re beginning a new law venture together, thanks to “social media”.

So while I agree that a lawyer may not need an iPadvideos on the firm site, or an exciting twitter account to bring in business, social media can be a valuable tool to introduce yourself to people you might not otherwise have met.

Who knows what could happen as a result?

Share this post on Twitter. I welcome all comments and criticism – @FishtownLawyer.


I was going to write a post about SOPA / PIPA…

January 18, 2012

But Scott Greenfield did it first, and pretty much summarizes how I feel about the law:

Unlike others, I am not a believer that information demands to be free, in the sense of copyright being an archaic concept and infringement an entitlement.  I believe that people who create content are entitled both to own it, monetize it and prevent others from stealing it.  Yes, stealing it.  If someone else created it, then it’s not yours to do with as you please, no matter how much you want to or think you ought to be allowed to.  If you want content, create your own.

But believing in the virtue of protecting the creation of content does not, by any stretch of the imagination, mean that these shockingly overbearing laws are the means by which enforcement of content ownership should be protected.  The internet has created innumerable problems with enforcement of copyright, with servers far away delivering content to any computer for the asking.  It’s inadequate to ask nicely that people not steal.

Yet the answer to this problem isn’t to wield a hammer so large and powerful that it will undermine the internet, shut down upon demand and without recourse any website, no matter how large and significant or small and inconsequential.  Worse still, the hammer is placed in hands so untrustworthy, so self-serving and manipulative, that the potential for damage to digital society is beyond anything imaginable.

Not much I can add to that.

Like it or not, piracy is theft.  It’s a problem.  And people aren’t going to stop stealing stuff just because we asked them nicely.  And if you’re a young lawyer reading this, you might also consider that piracy could be construed as theft by deception.  (I’m not aware of any lawyers getting into disciplinary trouble for downloading content illegally, but it wouldn’t shock me if it happened, either.)

That said, the answer isn’t giving the government unlimited power to censor the internet.