Should I Start a Law Practice? (Redux)—Retrospective, Dec. 31, 2014

December 31, 2014
The Author with an Author

Sometimes real lawyers agree to slum it with the likes of me.

The practice of law is about relationships“.
-Me (And Brian Tannebaum, and probably plenty of other people much smarter than I am).

About two and a half years ago, Jordan wrote a post called “Should I Start a Law Practice?” It remains one of our most-viewed articles on this blog. Because it’s the end of the year,  rather than being creative and thinking of a new and exciting topic, I decided, now concluding my fourth year of practice, and having started as a true solo fresh out of law school, to revisit the topic Jordan discussed back in 2012. I’d intended to write this follow-up to his post way back then, but simply never got around to it.

My perspective is different that Jordan’s—partly because I graduated in 2010, when the market had tanked—and partly because I did not work at a firm before I hung my shingle.

Here’s my point: You should start a practice if you want to, and if you understand that the practice of law is all about relationships—with your colleagues, with your mentors, and with your clients.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Appointment, Part 3.

December 29, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-11-08 at 10.55.39 AM

[Ed.- This is part three of an ongoing series. It won’t make a lot of sense unless you read parts one and two.]

It was 11.13am. We had 19 days to trial. Barnaby Jones sat across the conference table in my office, and he was indignant.

“Mr. Leo, it wasn’t me! I swear They got the wrong guy!”

We’d been talking about this case for the last half-hour or so, and he was still giving me the same story. Every defense lawyer has heard it a million times. “It wasn’t me!” In defense circles we call this the SODDI defense — “some other dude did it” (it even has a Wikipedia entry). Mr Jones wasn’t the first client to give me this line nor would he be the last. Naturally, I was skeptical, especially in light of the Commonwealth’s discovery I’d reviewed since ADA Shea sent it to me yesterday.

“I understand what you’re saying, Mr. Jones, but you’ve reviewed that discovery I gave you, right? We have some big problems here. First, the police sat on your block for four days. They say they were 25 feet away, using binoculars, and saw you sell drugs on four separate occasions to a confidential informant. Additionally, they say that each time the confidential informant came back to them with crack cocaine they saw you sell to him. That’s bad. You get that, right?”

“Yes, Mr. Leo, I get it.” My client nodded.

“Then, to make it worse, the police got a warrant and raided the house where they said they saw you. In that house, they found over sixty grams of crack cocaine, 50 jars of PCP, and over one hundred grams of weed. They also found a picture of you and two other guys, which they bagged as evidence. That’s worse. You get that, right? They are putting you in that house!”

“They’re wrong though! I wasn’t selling drugs that day, Mr. Leo. I was USING drugs! The guy they saw wasn’t me. And I am not the guy in that picture!”

I looked across the table at my client, in silence, for a minute. He wasn’t getting it. I took off my glasses, folded them, and placed them to my right. I signed deeply and rubbed my face with my hands in frustration. “This guy”, I thought to myself, “straight up case of denial”.

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Stop Snitching on Yourself.

November 14, 2014
My next cards are going to look like this.

My next cards are going to look like this.

There is a space on my potential client interview form that prompts me to ask my potential clients if they gave any statements to the police, whether on the scene where they’re arrested or back at the station.

I am considering removing it, because it is useless.

Invariably, when I first ask them this questions, 9/10 clients say “No, man, I know my rights”. Great! I love when my clients know their rights. It makes my job a lot easier.

Then I start talking with my clients about what happened when they got arrested, and that “No” becomes “well, I guess I said it wasn’t me”. Or “I told them I didn’t have any drugs on me because I wasn’t a dealer, I was a user”. Or, my favorite “Why are you arresting me? I didn’t shoot anyone!”. Or “I just wrote down everything that happened, and I apologized for taking all the money”.

Folks, I have four words for you: “Shut. The. Hell. Up.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Appointment, Part 1.

November 8, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-11-08 at 10.55.39 AM“Mr Mulvihill, you’re appointed”.

The sound of the judge’s voice speaking my name startled me from my stupor. I’d been sitting in the courtroom for an hour waiting for the District Attorney in my case to show up.

Until a moment ago, I had been bored. All criminal defense lawyers are familiar with the “hurry up and wait” endemic to the system, and today had been no different.

It was June 10 at 10.03am. I’d been in the courtroom since 8.59am, intermittently checking my phone while waiting to have my case called so I could get back to the office and address the approximately 372 things outstanding on my to-do list. With no secretary or staff, all my administrative work was my own, and it was piling up every second I waited for the DA.

“Yes, Your Honor?” Because I was too busy looking at LOLCAT memes, I hadn’t caught what the Judge said. I hoped he didn’t notice.

“You’re appointed in Commonwealth versus Barnaby Jones. Trial date to remain, July 20 for a three-day jury. Mr Mulvihill, you’re attached, and it’s must-be-tried”.

July 20th?

A month away?


I felt as if I’d swallowed a lead brick.

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Pa Superior Court: Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Scheme “Unconstitutional”

August 21, 2014

Appellant brings this appeal challenging the constitutionality of one of Pennsylvania’s mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 9712.1, following the United States Supreme Court’s holding in Alleyne v. United States, U.S. , 133 S.Ct. 2151 (2013). We find that Alleyne does indicate that the sentencing practice under Section 9712.1 is unconstitutional.

-Judge Ford Elliot, August 20, 2014, writing for an en banc Superior Court.

Just yesterday, the Pennsylvania Superior Court released an opinion in Commonwealth v. Newman, that seems to provide some direction to divided Pennsylvania Common Pleas Courts left to fend for their own in the wake of the United States Supreme Court Alleyne v. United States decision.

Let’s break this down simply. In Alleyne, the Supreme Court held that all facts that increase a mandatory minimum sentence must be submitted to a jury and found true beyond a reasonable doubt.

In many states, Pennsylvania included, mandatory minimum sentences could be imposed by a judge who found certain facts to be true only by a preponderance of the evidence at sentencing.

Alleyne held this scheme unconstitutional.

Prosecutors in Pennsylvania have been fighting to apply mandatory minimum sentences ever since. But one by one, counties across Pennsylvania have been finding mandatory minimum sentences unconstitutional.

What Happened in Newman?

In Commonwealth v. Newman, the defendant was arrested following several controlled drug buys at an apartment in Glenside, Pa. Based on those buys, the police got a search warrant for the property, and found a “large quantity” of crack cocaine, drug paraphernalia, and a handgun a few feet away from the drugs.

The defendant went to trial, where the jury found him guilty of possession with intent to deliver, among other crimes. The prosecutor filed a “Notice of Intent to Seek Mandatory Sentence” under Pennsylvania’s gun & drug law, 42 Pa. C.S. §9712.1, which means a mandatory 5-10 years for a person found in possession of a firearm and drugs. The defendant was sentenced overall to 5-10 years.

He appealed, and the Superior Court affirmed his sentence on June 12, 2013. But just days later, on June 17, 2013, the United States Supreme Court released its Alleyne opinion, so Newman filed a petition for reconsideration, which the Superior Court granted.

Skipping over the legalese, after a review of trial court opinions from the Courts of Common Pleas across Pennsylvania, the Superior Court  in Newman ultimately found that “the very trial courts entrusted with the imposition of mandatory minimum sentences after Alleyne have found Section 9712.1 as a whole to be no longer workable[.]” Specifically, the Court found that the mandatory minimum sentencing provision at issue were not severable, and that under the statutory construction rules of Pennsylvania (1 Pa. C.S. §1925, Constitutional construction of statutes) the statute therefore as a whole must fail.

The Court then ruled that §9712.1 was unconstitutional, vacated Newman’s judgment of sentence, and remanded the case for resentencing “without consideration of any mandatory minimum sentence provided by Section 9712.1”.

What Does this Mean for Me?

If you’re not currently facing charges where mandatory minimum sentences may apply, then nothing, really.

But if you or a loved one is facing a case with a potential mandatory minimum sentence, then things change a lot.

Just today, I filed my first motion to bar application of a mandatory minimum sentence under 42 Pa.C.S. §9712.1 under Commonwealth v. Newman, in expectation of a hearing scheduled tomorrow in a client’s case.

We don’t yet know if the Commonwealth (the prosecutors trying to keep people locked up) is going to petition the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for allocatur (aka ask them for permission to appeal the Superior Court’s judgment), but we’ll find out soon.

I’ll be paying close attention in the meantime.

Congrats to Patrick I. McMenamin, Jr. for this victory for the people of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.


Update 2014.8.22: The Judge granted my motion without even requiring argument.


Sometimes, our clients get ridiculous lawsuit threats…

August 1, 2014
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Sometimes, those ridiculous threats warrant an equally ridiculous response.

View this document on Scribd

Bagels, anyone? [Ed: “Liable Per Se”? What’s that?]

Read more here:


Of Unreasonable Searches and Seizures and Twitter fights.

April 2, 2013

Of Unreasonable Searches and Seizures and Twitter fights.

I get into a twitter fight over the illegality of Stop and Frisk as implemented by the PPD with the Philadelphia District Attorney, and next thing I know I’m on Philebrity.

Maybe Twitter is useful for more than sharing cat pictures.*

*Like sharing dog pictures.

P.S. Stop and frisk is still bullshit.


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