Articles Posted in Practicing Law

Apparently, laptops help law students, according to this study. At this point, almost everybody seems to have one. The study’s conclusion might be flawed: perhaps there is a relationship between going through the trouble of getting a laptop and bringing it to class and how seriously you take law school. Still, this is an interesting study.

If you are a student of mine and you think I don’t know that many of you are texting your friends and surfing the Internet while pretending to type away, you would be wrong. Sometimes, I roam around when I’m teaching and there are always a few students shuffling around with the “you walked in on me while I was looking at porn” expression on their faces when I get an angle on their computers.

The Maryland Association for Justice’s Auto Negligence Section has its next dinner meeting on January 7, 2009. The speaker will be Miller & Zois’ own Rod Gaston on the topic of defense medical examinations.

The dinner is at:

That’s Amore Restaurant

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. DLA Piper says it made the unusual decision to reduce Piper’s outside borrowing and give income partners an ownership interest in the firm, according to joint CEO Frank Burch. “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. Burch also expressed a concern that he was too good looking and too charming. (Okay, I made that part up.)

The first chapter of Malcolm Gladwell’s amazing new book Outliers talks about the town of Roseto, Pennsylvania, and what an incredible impact the town’s strong sense of community had in dramatically decreasing the rate of heart disease in Roseto. Eighteen partner tiers sound like the ultimate, never-ending rat race. There has always been a de facto demarcation among partners because they are paid differently. But formalizing that with an 18 tier ladder just has to add stress to many lawyers who are already feeling plenty of stress. This may lead to an anti-Roseto effect: my detailed statistical analysis predicts that this system will take 1.8 years off the life of the average DLA Piper partner. (Of course, I made that up too. But you get the point.)

I got scores of hits for Maryland Bar exam related searches last night. If you just finished the bar exam and you are Googling this, you really need to relax. It’s all good. The exam is over. Statistically speaking, the chances are that you passed and you will be a lawyer in December. Most people that think they failed are wrong. You worked hard (well, most of you) so relax and enjoy yourself for a while before you worry about your job (or the job market).

The Maryland Daily Record also reports today that a Maryland lawyer defended himself yesterday in New York against charges by a federal judge that the fees in the settlements the lawyer negotiated on behalf of the families of four Pentagon workers killed were “unfair” and “unreasonable.”

Specifically, the judge alleged something that will have every mass tort lawyer involved in cases with multiple defendants nodding their heads: that the lawyers’ strategy “seems to have been to coast on the work of others and to wait for the last position” before settling. This is familiar to mass tort products liability lawyers because if you have ten defendants, there are usually about three law firms working like crazy with the other seven firms riding on their coattails. (When I defended drug companies, I played both roles at different times.)

I remember about a zillion lawyers volunteering to handle these cases pro bono, so I’m not sure what happened there or how these clients found these lawyers. I’m also not in a position to judge what these lawyers did. But a lot of Maryland lawyers were looking quite good with their volunteer efforts. Regardless of the facts, this debacle gives every Maryland lawyer – including defense lawyers, by the way – a black eye.

The Winter 2008 edition of the Maryland Trial Lawyers Associations’ journal the Trial Reporter was dedicated to “Family Law & the Child.” I never read it because the universe of my family law knowledge comes from Arnie Becker on L.A. Law and I would like to keep in that way. But stumbling on it last night, I found a quick article on courthouse technology from our friend John Cord at Janet, Jenner & Suggs who makes a list of all the courthouses in Maryland where camera capable cell phones are prohibited: Cecil County, Harford County, Howard County, Prince George’s County, Queen Anne’s County, Somerset County, Washington County, Wicomico County (Salisbury), and Worcester County. Carroll County and Kent prohibit any type of cell phone. The inhumanity!

I think I walked in the Prince George’s County Courthouse in Upper Marlboro about five times when I got my first camera phone before I got the idea. Never a fun walk back to the car. Now, they have changed the rule back to allowing cell phones.

“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!

In my Insurance Law class at the University of Baltimore last week, somehow the topic of the bar application came up. One student complained about how detailed and arduous the application process is to complete. I mused that I didn’t know why they make you jump through these hoops when they let just about every non-felon in, anyway.

I was dead wrong. The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled last week in a 23 page opinion that a bar applicant, never accused of any crime, was unfit to practice law for two reasons: (1) bad credit history that the applicant lied about, and (2) an inappropriate relationship with a 15-year-old girl.

You can guess as to the bad credit history problem. He had bad credit, tried to fix it right before he made the bar application, and then lied about it. The situation with the girl sounds like something out of a TV movie. The girl—now a 22-year-old woman – apparently went to the Character Committee—via a letter from her mother – and told them about the relationship. When she testified, the woman recanted much of what she told the investigators. It was also revealed that she had committed acts of vandalism and violence against the bar applicant and apparently had threatened suicide when he threatened to break up with her.

Like many of us, I have followed closely the Eliot Spitzer saga with sadness, fascination, and amazement. My quick two cents: I think what Eliot Spitzer did was awful and I think he no longer has the moral authority to lead New York. The hypocrisy is just stunning. The irony is I don’t think most Americans believe what Eliot Spitzer did should send him to jail, but he does (oh, unless Eliot Spitzer is the defendant.)

But I think it is also insane to suggest, as the Associated Press reported some are, that Spitzer should be disbarred or his license to practice law should be suspended. The standard to be governor of the state of New York differs from the ability to take part in the livelihood of practicing law.

Lawyers who commit (relatively) victimless crimes should be prosecuted because, as Eliot Spitzer knows full well, you cannot pick the laws that you choose to follow (at least the ones that are not unconscionable, which includes every enforced law in this country). But they ought to be allowed to keep their jobs. It is also worth noting that no one would suggest that a doctor should no longer practice medicine for sleeping with a prostitute.