A Bit Of Comic Relief

We wanted to share a bit of comic relief this week.  As you can see from the imbedded YouTube video, 80-year old Dolores Sheinis was before the court on a bond hearing for resisting arrest and violating a protective order to stay away from her ex-husband.  The exchange between Ms. Sheinis and Boward County, Florida Judge John Hurley is entertaining, and his response is an excellent example of good judicial temperament.

Screen shot 2015-02-21 at 3.33.07 PMMs. Sheinis got quite familiar with the judge, who rather than admonish her, chose to see the humor in her comments.  In fact, toward the end of their banter, the judge asked how he had done as a judge.  Ms. Sheinis response: “Not bad, but you could do better.”

LPR applauds Judge Hurley for having the kindness and humility to treat Ms. Sheinis with respect.  We hope judges everywhere are watching.

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New Technology For Legal Consumers

Imagine if you could go to the iTunes store and download a free app that would allow you to prepare a living will, designate a health care proxy, and transmit it to your healthcare provider or to a hospital.  Well, if you are a Massachusetts resident, you can.  Massachusetts attorney William Palin developed an app called PaperHealth that does just that, and it is available for free on iTunes.  The app is described as follows:

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PaperHealth on iTunes

With PaperHealth anyone can quickly and efficiently assign a HealthCare Proxy or create a ‘Living Will’ in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The app allows you to fill out, sign, save and share your important documents directly from your iPhone or iTouch.

PaperHealth is a powerful yet simple tool for the residents of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In addition if you are connected to a AirPrint enabled printer you can print your documents directly from the device.

Mr. Palin, with his PaperHealth app, was the winner of the first ABA Journal Hackcess to Justice Event in 2014.  According to the ABA Journal, a second such event will be held in New Orleans on March 21-22, sponsored by the ABA Journal and the Louisiana State Bar Association.  The event is expected to attract legal advocates, including legal aid representatives, to develop technological solutions to help legal consumers as they navigate the justice system.

LPR applauds Mr. Palin, the ABA and the Louisiana Bar Association for their efforts to make the legal system more accessible to legal consumers.  This could be a giant step for legal reform.

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Pulling Back The Curtain On BigLaw – And Many Smaller Firms Too

We’ve all seen or heard about the high-end law firms, the ones with the well-appointed offices and the high billable hour fees.  Large or small, some of these firms are harboring a secret – one that can affect how they treat and bill their clients.  Now, Edwin Reeser, a California business lawyer, has pulled back the curtain in his February 4, 2015 article for the ABA Journal titled, 9 ways to change the carnivorous partnership model and save BigLaw firms.

Edwin B. Reeser

Edwin B. Reeser

In his article, Mr. Reeser poignantly describes what really goes on in some law firms.  He touches on incoming associates’ “blind faith” in the system, the “competitive” nature of making partner, the “attrition” problem that inevitably follows, and the costs to the firms of this supposed “search for excellence,” including the loss of some of the “best and brightest.”

For legal consumers, the article provides a peek into what really goes on behind those law firm doors.  And while that information is enlightening, Mr. Reeser is also disclosing who really pays for this “game” – the clients.  It is the clients who “subsidize” this industry practice in the form of inflated fees.  After all, when the cost of doing business is “unnecessarily” high, the cost of the products and services will be too.

Hopefully those law firms will heed Mr. Reeser’s advice and change the decades-old “carnivorous partnership model.”  It would be a win for the partners, a win for the associates, and most importantly, a win for the clients.

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Have Or Need A Will? Here’s A Great Resource

We were looking through the ABA Journal’s 8th Annual Blawg 100, in which 100 legal blogs are highlighted, and a blog called Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog caught our eye. Gerry W. Beyer, the Governor Preston E. Smith Regents Professor of Law at Texas Tech University School of Law, is the blog’s editor and frequent contributor.

Gerry W. Beyer

Gerry W. Beyer

The blog addresses a number of issues facing trust and estate attorneys, including ethical and legal issues that arise.  These postings can be very enlightening for legal consumers who have or need a will.  Recent posts include information about powers of attorney, competency issues, gift tax issues, young adult estate planning, and an estate planning to-do list, to name a few.  A pull down menu reveals a number of relevant categories of blog posts, including Estate Administration, Estate Tax, and Non-Probate Assets.

There are also posts imparting cautionary tales from current events, and posts about “green burials and cremations” – biodegradable coffins, organic flagstone grave markers, and no embalming fluids or concrete fortresses.  There is even a post titled “Finding Forever After Death” – apparently you can have your ashes pressed into a vinyl record, made into a diamond, or mixed with seeds and planted to become a tree.

There is a wealth of information for legal consumers who plan to go it alone or hire an attorney.  And when it comes to wills, trusts and estates, Professor Beyer’s blog is a great resource.

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Attorney Tip #11 – Lessons From An Attorney Who Coaches Beauty Queens

The ABA Journal recently ran a story about an Alabama attorney who moonlights coaching beauty queens and others needing interview preparation.  In an December 1, 2014 article titled, Want to be the next Miss America? Then you might want to hire this lawyer, Lauren Etter wrote about Bill Alverson of Alverson & Alverson in Andalusia, Alabama and his unusual consulting practice.

56Attorneys could learn quite a bit from the theories behind Mr. Alverson’s consulting practice, including the following gem:

When you prepare a client for court, you’re supposed to anticipate what the other side will do. In any legal situation we have that logical analysis. You have to always be relatable not only to your client but to a judge. The key thing for pageants, and also for being a successful attorney, is you have to develop trust.  They’ve got to know that you can do the job.

You have to take those burdens off of them.

But it’s the last question and answer that we believe all lawyers should take to heart.  Ms. Etter asked Mr. Alverson what he learned in law school that he has found most useful. This was his response:

Pride cometh before a fall.  An arrogant person is subject to defeat by the exercise of his or her own self-made superiority.

So our tip to attorneys is to heed the lessons of this beauty queen consultant.  Develop your client’s trust, and don’t fall victim to your own arrogance.  Wise words indeed.

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Legal Consumer Tip #9 – Have An Estate Plan? Get It In Writing!

So you’ve had a will prepared, and maybe included a trust or two, with the intent of making the process of distributing your estate as smooth as possible for your heirs after you pass.  Maybe your intent is to limit or eliminate estate taxes and/or provide for immediate distribution of your estate without probate.  But what if you, or the person with your power of attorney, didn’t know, remember or understand some small technical detail, and something occurred that frustrated your intent?

imagesOur tip to legal consumers?  GET IT IN WRITING.

Have your estate attorney spell out how your estate planning instrument(s) is/are intended to operate after your death, including any actions or legal issues during your lifetime or after your death that could frustrate your intent.  The attorney’s written explanation can be an invaluable resource that should be reviewed periodically by you and any person(s) designated in your estate documents, especially if there is a change in your mental, physical or financial condition.  And, after you pass, it can be a roadmap for the administrator of your estate (and your heirs), saving them time and attorney fees trying to gain an understanding of your intent and the applicable law and procedure.

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Wevorce – A New Way To Divorce

The American Bar Association named Michelle Crosby as one of its 2014 Legal Rebels for her innovative divorce model that removes the cost, length, and adversarial nature from divorce.  According to the ABA article on Ms. Crosby, titled Wevorce CEO Michelle Crosby is shaking up the adversarial divorce process, after enduring her parents’ highly contentious divorce, including taking the witness stand at nine years old, she decided to reform the divorce process.

wevorceThe Wevorce model utilizes attorneys as mediators once the divorcing couple is classified as one of 18 family archetypes. The article describes two of the archetypes: one archetype is when one spouse handled the finances, the other spouse is given information and educational materials to level the playing field; and another archetype is when one spouse is blindsided by the divorce, the other spouse will likely be more emotional.

This model uses “technology, neuroscience, psychology and pattern recognition,” putting the focus on the unique aspects of each divorce.  Common divorce steps are automated, saving about 60 percent of the normal cost of divorce.  And, according to its website, Wevorce has a flat fee structure and a five-step process:

Five steps to a better divorce.

Wevorce’s five-step process ensures kids come first, costs remain affordable and everyone stays out of court. It’s a whole new way of approaching divorce.

  • Foundation building
  • Parenting planning
  • Financial mapping
  • Document prepping
  • Final review

Before starting Wevorce, Ms. Crosby developed and applied her model to her divorce clients.  Only one of 100 couples ended up in court.

LPR applauds Ms. Crosby for her efforts to reform divorce practices.  We hope that she successfully gets the word out and that lengthy, costly and contentious divorces will someday soon be a thing of the past.

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New Year’s Resolutions For Attorneys

No matter how smart, savvy or successful you are as an attorney, a truly great attorney is first and foremost an adept service provider.  Begin 2015 by resolving to be the best provider of legal services you can be with these resolutions for the new year:

  1. Always remember that you provide a service to the client, and that the client deserves your respect in addition to your best efforts.
  2. Let your clients know what to expect before taking their case, including all possible outcomes, the probabilities of those outcomes, and the costs involved.
  3. Communicate, communicate, communicate.  Keep your clients informed about all aspects of their cases in a timely manner.  Give them all of the information they need to make informed decisions about their matters.
  4. Bill honestly and fairly.

We at LPR wish all attorneys and their clients a pleasant and fulfilling attorney/client relationship in the new year.

 

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A Special Thanks From LPR

On behalf of LPR, I want to personally thank you, our loyal readers, for your interest and support this past year.  If we all believe, spread the word and work together, we can effect legal reform.

JOYI wish you and yours a joyous holiday season and all the best in the new year.

- Elisa Eisenberg

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SAILS Project – A Senior Lawyer/Pro Bono Client Win-Win

Senior attorneys at the end of their careers doing pro bono work?  Sounds like a win-win for the senior attorneys and the pro bono clients.

WINFor a long time the legal profession has sought for all attorneys to voluntarily do pro bono work, but many young attorneys and those building their careers find it difficult to make time for pro bono work between time-consuming careers and family obligations (children and elderly parents). But generally, senior attorneys at the end of their careers facing retirement, possibly with no small children or elderly parents to care for, have the time and expertise to make a difference in the community.

In Washington, D.C., for example, the SAILS (Senior Attorney Initiative For Legal Services) Project, a joint initiative of the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Program and D.C. Access to Justice Commission, “seeks to harness the experience and talent of senior law firm attorneys to assist thinly stretched legal services organizations.”  According to the D.C. Bar website, SAILS accomplishes the following:

  • Participating SAILS law firms institutionalize a structure and culture that encourages and supports their senior lawyers to undertake pro bono work as a central focus of the next phase of their careers.
  • Though the firms establish a paradigm that is appropriate to their individual setting, the goal of SAILS is to reduce barriers and create incentives for senior lawyers to consider a “pro bono path” as they transition from full–time billable work.
  • SAILS develops resources, including sample policies, to help law firms institutionalize a project that ensures senior lawyers who choose this path are supported by their firms.
  • SAILS works very closely with the legal services community to develop pro bono projects appropriate for senior lawyers that significantly expand urgently needed resources and make a rapid and palpable impact on the availability of legal help for the most vulnerable members of our community.

LPR applauds the D.C. Bar and the D.C. Access to Justice Commission for imagining and implementing the SAILS Project.  And to all of the senior attorneys who volunteer their time to SAILS (and the law firms that support them), LPR says bravo!

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