Articles Posted in Practicing Law

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals issued an opinion in Seriou V. Baystate Properties last week that discusses some interesting issues regarding piercing the corporate veil and Maryland, and when a court can allow a lawyer to strike an appearance.

Under Maryland law, LLCs are normally protected from personal liability. There are, however, instances when a Maryland court will find that members can be personally liable in order to “prevent fraud or enforce a paramount equity.” This is called “piercing the corporate veil.”

In this case, the builder and the owner of the LLC entered into a contract. The builder was to build two houses on the owner’s property. Although the builder completed building the two houses, the builder was not paid for services.

The general statute of limitations in Maryland is three years, as set forth in Maryland Courts and Judicial Proceedings § 5-101. This is the “default” statute of limitations that applies unless another limitation period is applicable. Master Fin., Inc. v. Crowder, 409 Md. 51, 70, 972 A.2d 864, 875 (2009).

I’ve seen statistics that nearly a third of all legal malpractice claims arise out of personal injury lawyers blowing the statute of limitations. How is that? Some lawyers are so disorganized they just miss the statute. But I suspect this is the minority of cases. The main culprits are the most notable exceptions for Maryland personal injury lawyers of these general rules which either apply a different statute of limitations or require notice to bring a claim:

  • Maryland Local Government Tort Claims Act

I think this guy is completely insane. I think you want associates that are completely dedicated to your firm. I just don’t think the best associates are Patty Hearst brainwashed. But the article is full of the great advice you could not think up on your own. “Associates should always strive to provide the partner with perfect work.” Groundbreaking stuff.

This blogger agrees with me. Yet I really don’t agree with his post, either.

There’s less risk involved in not sticking to the conventional MO at the firm. After all, it’s unlikely you will last long there. It’s even more unlikely you will become partner. What is likely if you are a shrewd player is that you will learn about practicing law and career strategy/tactics to make it just about anywhere in law. That could range from a solo practice to a top government position.

This is a funny story (via Overlawyered, via the AP). A Portland, Oregon lawyer blamed his BMW 535xi for a speeding ticket, claiming that he couldn’t know that he was speeding.

C. Akin Blitz said he was just trying to get ahead of a line of cars following a motorhome over a mountain pass on U.S. Highway 26 — that he had no idea his BMW 535xi was going 76 mph in a 55 mph zone because of its handling characteristics.

Funny, right? But the funnier part is that he made a PowerPoint presentation and offered expert testimony from a mechanic. Now that is funny. Just the same, the judge found him guilty and ordered him to pay a fine.

Tricia Bishop has an article in the Baltimore Sun on how lawyers stereotype jurors in Maryland. The title of the article is “Stereotypes Confound Jury Selection” and the subtitle is “Bias assumptions seldom right; juror’s experiences called the best indicator.”

I disagree with the subtitle. I don’t think assumptions are “seldom right” but “usually right.” But usually, it is not 99%, it is more like 60%.

The bigger point that the article misses is that while juror experiences are the best indicator, Maryland has what is probably the least probative voir dire in the country, according to retired Howard County Judge Dennis M. Sweeney. So Maryland personal injury lawyers picking a jury have very limited means to determine juror experiences which leaves most Maryland lawyers making assumptions based on stereotypes that have varying degrees of accuracy depending on the stereotype. Of course, lawyers on both sides of the v are equally handicapped by this minimalist voir dire approach.

The Maryland Daily Record reports DLA Piper is eliminating its two-tiered partnership structure in favor of a new arrangement where all partners are equity owners of the law firm with 18 tiers on the equity partner ladder. According to joint CEO Frank Burch, DLA Piper says it made theexternall decision to reduce Piper’s outside borrowing and give income partners an ownership interest in the firm. “From now on, you’re a partner, or you’re not a partner,” Burch said.

Burch said DLA Piper did not make the change because it has financial problems or having trouble obtaining credit. “The firm has excellent, excellent relationships with our banks and a very, very favorable credit facility, almost too favorable,” Burch said. No explanation was given as to what “almost too favorable” means.

How Partnerships Like DLA Piper Work

“The Maryland Lawyer” section of the Maryland Daily Record today has an interesting article on the impact of the economic slowdown on Maryland lawyers and the fears of law students looking for a job. The article reports that a number of law firms nationally are “axing” lawyers, including Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP, Dechert LLP, Clifford Chance LLP, and Thelen, Reid, Brown, Raysman & Steiner LLP. (I had originally included McKee Nelson LLP on the list because they were included in the Daily Record article. I have since been corrected by email by them that “McKee Nelson conducted a voluntary program last October through which a number of capital markets lawyers volunteered to take partially paid sabbaticals to work for not-for-profits, transfer to other areas of practice, take buyouts, or seek jobs with our clients.”) Other firms such as Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP are limiting their summer associates and Sonnenschein, Nath & Rosenthal LLP has taken back job offers, presumably to incoming lawyers.

To really scare big firm lawyers, the article mentions the 1992 dissolution of the Baltimore mega law firm of Frank, Bernstein, Conaway & Goldman.You can always gauge the legal market in Maryland by the reaction to the mention of the Frank, Bernstein, Conaway & Goldman breakup. In the best of times, the mention of that ghost brings on “That could never happen to us” chuckles. During a bad legal market in Baltimore, any mention of that dissolved firm evokes some response in a self-conscious “That could not happen to us. Right? Right?” tone.

The prospect of the collapse of one of Baltimore’s major law firms would be very unlikely because today big law firms are run more like a real business than they were in 1992. As this article points out, Frank Bernstein probably could have been saved if they had terminated partners, an unseemly practice in 1992 but de jour today. The old days of making partner and becoming a “made man” are long gone, which makes a lot more economic sense for a law firm facing a downturn in the market.

The Maryland Daily Record has an article in its Maryland Lawyer section this morning on associate retention in Baltimore law firms. It amazed me to read that one lawyer, who is on his third job, expressed dismay that his two previous law firms never asked him about the work he wanted to do. He says he was told, “Here are the cases we have, here are the clients we have and we’ll give you the work.” He complained that no one ever asked him, “What do you want to do?’” he said.

Tragically, these law firms only gave him the work that it had, not the work he wanted. Our law firm handles only personal injury cases. But if we had a lawyer who said, “Hey, I don’t want to handle personal injury work, I want to do mergers and acquisitions,” we would run out and immediately pick up JP Morgan or Bear Stearns as clients. Are you telling me every law firm does not operate this way?

These cold sweatshop law firms that do not allow you to pick the work and the clients you want to do are the same kinds of law firms that expect you to come to work on rainy days like today. The inhumanity!

The Maryland Daily Record’s Blog reports that DLA Piper and Venable, the two Baltimore mega firms, have raised their associate starting salaries in Baltimore to $160,000.

I remember in 1995 when I was making $57,500 coming out of law school at a litigation defense firm in Baltimore that, at that time, was only a half notch below Piper and Venable in starting salary. Because other than being a law clerk, my next best paying job in life had been as a camp counselor making minimum wage, I thought I was a millionaire. (In a related story, I was still living at home.)

The Daily Record Blog asks if these young associates are worth 160K a year. The answer is clearly no. But three years from now, when they have quality experience and are billing out at $450 an hour while working approximately 28.7 hours a day, the answer becomes a resounding yes. It is not dissimilar to the Oakland Raiders signing JaMarcus Russell to a six-year, $68 million contract even when they did not think he would be an asset to them in the first year of his contract (they were right).