What Does the American Bar Association Actually Do?

February 9, 2016

When you think of the American Bar Association, you imagine an institution that focuses on lawyer things. I’ve always assumed that the role of the ABA was to function at the top of our profession, and to hand down things like the Model Rules for the rest of the states to incorporate. I remember studying the Model Rules of Professional Conduct in law school, which were drafted by the ABA and then adopted in full or in part by most of the states. As a small time practitioner, that’s what I’ve always assumed their role in the legal world was – to set legal policy at the highest level, which then trickles down into state law, and eventually finds itself on my desk in the form of the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct or Pennsylvania Rules of Evidence.

I was up last night reading Twitter when something from the American Bar Association popped up in my feed:Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 10.39.29 AM.png

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Why is Density a Four Letter Word?

January 10, 2016
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If you’re going to own a car in the city, go all out.

“Density.” Anyone who has ever attended a zoning community meeting or hearing before the Zoning Board of Adjustment has heard this word. The project is “too dense” or it’s “an over-utilization of the property.”

In English, this means someone feels a developer is trying to put too many units into too small a space. Typically, neighbors tend to disfavor residential multi-units because more residents means less parking. Many residents also assume that families want to live in traditional style row homes, while only college kids, renters, and “Section 8” want to live in smaller units. Frankly, I’ve seen a lot of stereotyping and prejudices expressed at zoning meetings, and often unfairly.

Economically, townhomes are more expensive to build, more expensive to sell, and generate less of a return for the developer. An average rowhome in Fishtown could sell for about $350k – $500k. That price is beyond the means of many people.

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Lawyers Represent Clients, Not Causes

January 10, 2016

Unbeknownst to most lay people, law students graduate law school woefully unprepared to do their job. Even when they graduate, most law students have never filed a lawsuit, taken a deposition, cross-examined a witness, or filed a motion. Rather, law school is focused on examining principles of case law, which in reality comprise about 20% of what practicing lawyers actually do. What’s worse is that law school is taught by academics, many of whom have never tried a case before a jury, deposed a witness, or worked in private practice. Nevertheless, law students do read actual case law – legal opinions written by courts. Those opinions are supposed to be grounded in logic, not feelings.

This means sometimes the law might be contrary to your ideals. For instance, as Scott Greenfield points out, “[t]here is no constitutionally protected right to equal dignity. There is no legally cognizable meaning to the phrase, “equal dignity.” It’s a lie that social justice poseurs tell themselves, argue to their choir, want so desperately to believe that they repeat it as much as possible in the desperate hope of making it so.”

In other words, sometimes big corporations prevail over the little guy, and sometimes the outcome is seemingly unfair. But that’s how the law works.

On a personal level, you might not like that. But as lawyers, our duty is to work within those confines to best serve our clients.

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10 Tips for Solo Practitioners

January 9, 2016
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I’d rather be in the woods

This is my fourth year in practice for myself, and I finished a first year as a true solo. I wrote a post back in 2012 about how to start a solo practice. I wrote this post about what it’s like to be a solo practitioner. And I wrote this piece about a day in the life of a young lawyer.

These are 10 practical tips I’ve tried to assimilate into my own practice. If I’ve found one thing it’s this – you are either running your law practice, or it’s running you.

I’ve had good months, bad months, and in between months. Borrowing a line from my former boss, all you can do is keep plugging away.

Here are some musings and reflections…

1. Stop giving clients your cell phone number. I stopped putting mine in my email signature. When you give your clients your cell, expect to get text messages on holidays, weekends, early in the morning, and all hours of the night. Expect your clients to get angry when you don’t respond to a text in two seconds, and court “isn’t a good excuse.” People nowadays expect instant communication, which simply isn’t possible as a lawyer. A conversation with my Uncle Jim, a successful commercial litigation attorney:

Me: “Man, it’s Christmas and I’m getting text messages. I thought technology was supposed to make things great…”
Jim: “I don’t do text messaging. I’m upfront with clients about that. If they send me one, I won’t respond, and I won’t check it. They can call the office, and I’ll call them back when I’m available.”
Me: “Really? Don’t they fire you?”
Jim: “Never. I return all the calls by the end of the day. But text messaging? That’s a recipe for disaster.”

I’m with Jim. Don’t do text messaging. Don’t do Facebook messenger. Don’t do SnapChat and all those other wacky things.

Instead, give clients your office number, and let clients leave voicemails when you’re busy. Schedule phone calls in advance, rather than take them off the cuff. Personally, I have the voicemails transcribed into an audio file and sent to my email via Nextiva. The only clients who have my cell phone are ones who I’m personally friends with, and yes, they still tend to abuse it. “Dude, real quick, I just need to know this one thing…”

Ever since I’ve stopped giving my cell out to clients, life has been much easier. I’ve had time to blog again, return calls, and write briefs.

And if a client doesn’t want to hire you because you’re not always immediately available? They’re not a client you want.

2.  Make time for office hours. As a solo, one of the things you have to do is plan strategically. Make sure you have at least two or three days a week where you’re in the office, and not in court, a deposition, or with a new client. You need to find time to write briefs, return emails, send letters, etc. It’s too easy for a solo to book up their week with court appearances, meetings, and new client interviews.

While I hate doing this, the best time for office hours is early in the morning around 5am. I’ve started getting to the office around 7am, which creates a three hour barrier before the phone starts ringing and emails start piling up.  Read the rest of this entry »


Rushie Law Happy Hour – January 28th at 5:30pm

January 9, 2016

Dear readers, if you’re in the Fishtown / Philadelphia area on January 28th at 5:30pm, please join Rushie Law for a happy hour. Food and drinks will be served. We’ll talk love, life, the internet, zoning, and perhaps the 1st and 2nd Amendment. Or maybe we’ll all just hang out and have a good time.

Flyer is courtesy of Vela. And since many of you have asked, the Rushie Law branding was done by True Hand Society.

HAPPY HOUR-3


A Guide on Defending Depositions

January 9, 2016

Believe it or not my most popular blog post is “How to Defend a Deposition.” It wasn’t meant to be a comprehensive guide on defending depositions, but mostly commentary. People looking for how to defend a deposition seem to find it, but it doesn’t contain a lot of practical or substantive information.

Over the last few years, I’ve developed a set of talking points and a checklist that I go over with my witness prior to being deposed. What I do is print out two copies, review it with the client, and then make them re-read it at home so they don’t forget what we’ve talked about.

It’s not a substitute for asking your client about the specific facts of the case and your ability to polish the testimony. However, it will give a client the basics. (For a more in-depth read on depositions, I recommend D. Shane Read’s “Winning At Deposition.”)

Without further ado – here ya go. How to Defend a Deposition.

Don’t say I never did anything nice for you.

Oh, and this is how not to defend a deposition…

 


Can Lawyers Get Away With Anything? Court Declares the Dragonetti Act Unconstitutional

December 26, 2015

Generally, Pennsylvania attorneys’ actions are governed by the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct. However, if an attorney abuses process by filing and maintaining a lawsuit that was either grossly negligent or without probable cause, the attorney can also be held liable in a civil court under what’s known as the Dragonetti Act, 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 8351.

The standard to hold an attorney liable is high. Not only does one have to file and maintain a lawsuit that was either grossly negligent or without probable cause, but it also has to terminate favorably on the merits. This means you can go through years of frivolous litigation with little to no recourse. More often than not, litigants get burned out from incurring legal fees, and simply settle the case rather than take a chance on recovering their fees in a Dragonetti Action.

Nevertheless, and despite it’s high burdens, the Dragonetti Act is particularly important because Pennsylvania does not have an anti-SLAPP statute.

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