Friday, March 27, 2009

Apparently, Bigger is Best

My latest posting for the New York State Bar Association is entitled, Apparently, Bigger is Best. Law.Com has a website called Small Firm Business. More like small firm funny-business, if you ask me. But you didn't ask, so I'm gonna tell you anyway.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Change of Scenery

The New York State Bar Association invited me to blog for their website. I've accepted. Heck, they have a bigger soap-box and maybe I can score some free CLE credits.

My new digs: Smallfirmville ("Smallville" was taken and I wasn't about to get punched in the face by the man of steel.)

I hope you know that I'll miss and cherish the good times we've had. The last three weeks have just flown by. It definitely felt more like two weeks. Or even a week and a half.

My new Editor seems to have a good sense of humor. She did, however, make a point of mentioning that some of her colleagues were concerned about me ticking off the Office of Court Administration. She used the word colleagues much in the same way a kid who's been caught shoplifting tells his dad, "I have this friend who is in a lot of trouble."

I'd try to keep this blog up and running but I can barely keep myself up and running. I'm cursed with a metablolism that only operates on fear and coffee.

Lest I should ultimately tick someone off at the Office of Court Administration, don't delete me from your Internet Explorer favorites. In the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger in his first five or six takes, "I might be back".

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Idiot's Guide to Getting Out of Jury Duty


If I had a dollar for every person who asked me how to get out of jury duty, I'd have about, well, forty dollars. Not coincidentally, this is what jurors get paid per day to serve jury duty in New York State.

I mention this at the outset for the benefit of the staggering 8.1% of you who are unemployed: Do not try to get out of jury duty. Forty bucks is forty bucks and, heck, maybe you'll make some new, unemployed friends to pal around with. Skip the rest of this article and go sign on for a high-profile murder trial.

Getting back to those of you still gainfully employed, there are numerous articles on the web explaining how to get out of jury duty. Here's a bunch:

WikiHow: How to Get out of Jury Duty

Ezine Articles: Get out of Jury Duty - Find the Perfect Excuse

FullDuplex.Org: How to Get out of Jury Duty

AssociatedContent.Com: Valid Excuses to Get out of Jury Duty

Print them out but do not read them.

Place them under your dog's arse or use them for your kid's next papier mache project. You don't need these articles to know that you can get out of jury duty if you are a Marine stationed in Iraq or are about to undergo emergency triple bypass.

So how does one get out jury duty? Well, as they say in the porn industry, here's the money-shot:

You have to say, "I cannot be fair and impartial."

Sing along this time!

"I cannot be fair and impartial."

Once again, this time with a little more enthusiasm!

"I cannot be fair and impartial."

Easy, right? It's like when you discovered you could solve Rubik's cube by plucking the plastic colored pieces off and reattaching them in the correct order.

Do not falter when you say ICBFI! You must be strong. Whispering, "um, er, I'm not so sure if I can be fair and impartial" is like crying on your first day in prison. The attorneys will latch on like angry Dobermans. They'll say things to you like, "Well, nobody's sure they could jump out of a burning building but they tend to feel differently once their asses catch fire." Before long, you'll be listening to opening statements.

Of course, ICBFI does not work in a vacuum. You can't just walk into the courthouse like Rainman repeating ICBFI robotically to anyone in your path. First, you need something that you can't be fair and impartial about.

Let's say, for example, you are on the panel of a criminal case and you have a not-so-distant relative who is a traffic cop. You will be asked if you can temporarily set aside what you've heard from your not-so-distant relative, listen to all of the evidence in the case at hand and render a fair and impartial decision.

If, and only if, you feel this way, you should say, "Oh, no, I cannot put what I've heard aside. Nobody just 'gets arrested'. That person had to have done something wrong." Then comes the moment of truth; the moment for you to shine.

All together now!

"I cannot be fair and impartial."

Nicely done.

Shortly thereafter, you will be returned to central jury. Rinse and repeat as needed until your mandatory service is over. (Usually three days).

Congratulations. You have gotten yourself out of jury duty.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Exclusive Interview with Mrs. Billable Hour

Director: Lights, Cue Applause, Recording....

Marshall: (Monologue) People love to make a mountain out of a mole hill. They just can't leave well enough alone! Remember Y2K? Or how about the flesh-eating virus? I'm starting to believe the Rocky Mountains aren't a natural phenomenon but were born out of the interminable bitching and whining of Los Angeleans.

Today's mole hill is "the billable hour."

To give us better perspective on this raging controversy, I've invited a very special guest to our show. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Mrs. Billable Hour.

(Applause; Cat-Calls)

Marshall: First let me say that I would've liked to have had your husband on the show. I understand, however, that he was forcibly removed by security from Cravath Swaine and Moore and chased home by a torch-wielding mob which is currently holding vigil on your front lawn.

Mrs. Billable Hour: (Crying) That's right, Marshall. It's despicable. My husband is such a good guy. He has always been straight-forward and fair. Unfortunately, he became very popular, very fast. People always hate the popular guy. Suddenly, this economic crisis hit and he's become the scapegoat for problems that were truly created by the policies of the partners at the big law firms. Everyone's turned on him. It's heartbreaking.

Marshall: Sounds like what happened to Sarah Palin. The GOP cherry-picked her for her charm and simplicity. They dolled her up, put her on display and now that Obama's in, they're pointing the finger at her for losing the election.

Mrs. Billable Hour: Precisely.

Marshall: So what do you believe lead to your husband's downfall?

Mrs. Billable Hour: It's hard to say. It was probably that Judas, Scott Turow. His article in the 2007 ABA Journal created quite a stir. Whatever comes out of a celebrity's mouth is gospel. Tom Cruise says the earth was created by Xenu, ruler of the Galactic Confederacy, and suddenly everyone in Beverly Hills is a Scientologist.

Marshall: Have you overheard any rumors about who is on the short-list to replace your husband?

Mrs. Billable Hour: I've heard that Success-Based Fees has thrown his hat in the ring. Project Billing is another likely candidate.

Marshall: What are your thoughts on those two?

Mrs. Billable Hour: I can't imagine either of them working out. Neither has an ounce of experience. Governor Patterson's selection of Caroline Kennedy for Senate would have been a safer bet.

Marshall: Well, what do you know about them?

Mrs. Billable Hour: Even though he denies it, everyone knows that Success-Based Fees has a gambling problem.

(Audience Gasps)

Mrs. Billable Hour: He'll convert all the managing partners into bookies. I envision meetings sounding something like this, "Word on the street is the spread against our Client is up from $1 million to 3.5, we should move to be relieved before we lose the farm!....Settle? Are you crazy? We drew a five and six! We've got to double-down!"

Marshall: And what about Project-Based?

Mrs. Billable Hour: She's such a bitch! I've tried to reach out to her but she doesn't return my calls.

Marshall: That's probably because she can't bill for phone calls!

Mrs. Billable: I suppose.

Marshall: Any predictions as to what will happen to your husband?

Mrs. Billable: Oh, he's not going anywhere. He'll continue to work for responsible attorneys like yourself who offer reasonable hourly fees, who don't charge to hear themselves speak on the phone and who forego purchasing mansions and yachts in favor of keeping hard-working associates employed.

Marshall: That's very kind of you. Anyway, my Real Law Practice is signaling that we're out of time. It was great having you on our show today, Mrs. Billable. Hopefully this hysteria will die down soon and lawyers and clients will recognize that your husband's the best man for the job even though he's not always perfect.

Marshall: Please join us for next week's topic: "Higher retention rates at the accident scene: Conscious versus unconscious." Auf wiedersehen!

(Fade to black)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Solo Practice, Just Add Water!

On March 2, 2009, the National Law Journal posted an on-line article entitled, Layoff Option No. 1: Start Your Own Firm.

I read the article carefully and then clicked "comment" and gently informed NLJ that I thought the article was a complete and utter piece of crap. I made sure to explain why. Not surprisingly, the comment was never published. Hence, this post.

Now let me be clear: There is nothing wrong with going solo. I went solo seven years ago. It was the single greatest decision I've made. What irks me is that Staff Reporter, Karen Sloan, wholly oversimplified, even glorified, the process of going solo without any objectivity whatsoever.

According to Ms. Sloan, experts say it's a good time for laid-off, large-firm attorneys to go solo. But who are these "experts"?

The one and only expert Ms. Sloan quotes is Susan Cartier Liebel. Ms. Cartier Liebel is the founder of Build a Solo Practice, LLC. Her tagline is, "Teaching Lawyers How to Create and Grow Their Solo Legal Practice." This year, Ms. Cartier Liebel plans to open a new on-line business called Solo Practice University.

I have a full and thorough respect for Ms. Cartier Liebel. I follow her on Twitter (and I am finicky as to whom I follow). She was a successful solo and I think her business concept is brilliant. What I take umbrage with is that Ms. Cartier Liebel's biases were entirely lost on Reporter Sloan. Ms. Cartier-Leibel wasn't so much providing an expert opinion as making a sales-pitch.

Turning back to the article, Ms. Sloan introduces us to three recently laid-off attorneys who we are lead to believe have been successful in going solo. Two of these appear smiling blissfully in photographs atop the body of the article. Ms. Sloan indicates only in passing, however, that one of the three returned to the corporate world after a brief two-year solo stint and another still has serious misgivings about her decision.

Permit me to set the record straight: Starting your own firm is not Layoff Option #1. To the contrary, it's not a very viable option for big firm lawyers at all.

First, starting a practice involves an enormous outlay of cash. A full year of salary is a good rule of thumb. How many lawyers have that type of money just lying around? If they don't, how are they going to get it amidst this credit-crunch?

Secondly, most Biglaw attorneys simply don't have the skill-set necessary to handle small firm cases. They may be smart enough but it takes years, if not decades of practice, to swim with the sharks who grew up in and now infest the waters of matrimonial, personal injury and construction law. (On second thought, perhaps I should be encouraging former biglawyers to take on these types of cases and then convert my practice to a lawyer malpractice boutique.)

Lastly, Ms. Sloan cites as one of the benefits of going solo that, "cost-conscious clients are more willing than ever to retain smaller outfits that offer lower rates." Wrong. Typical big-firm clients like Ford and Microsoft aren't going to elope with a laid-off associate or even a junior partner. If anything, these companies will pressure their firms to lower prices or will jump to the next highest bidder. To make matters even more difficult, many states have strict anti-solicitation laws which prevent attorneys from directly or even indirectly contacting persons with potential cases.

All said and done, starting a small law firm is not a realistic option for most former big firm attorneys. The National Law Journal wields tremendous power of pursuation and should have been more responsible in the message it delivered. The big firms are going under. I'd hate to see a whole new crop of solos following suit.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

We can Save Porto Velho!

There is a small town in Brazil named Porto Velho. Its rainforest is nearly depleted. The trees all but gone. Young Munduruku Indian couples have nowhere left to carve their initials. Dogs have limited places to pee. Little leaguers' hands constantly sting because they are relegated to using aluminum baseball bats.

But we can save it. We, the civil litigators of New York, can save Porto Velho!

"How?" you ask quizzically.


We eliminate the Verified Bill of Particulars.

(Dramatic pause)

We pull a gun on 3041. We deep-six questions one through 26 (or whatever random number of questions a given firm asks). We will call our operation, Operation "Kill Bill."

So as not to cause rioting and chaos, we will implement in stages.

Stage one: No more verification. Has any judge ever truly tossed a case for a BP with no verification? Okay, okay, don't Westlaw me on that. I'm just saying.

Oh glory! I can see the first bud of a Bertholletia Excelsa bursting through the soil already!

Stage two: We start using interrogatories...instead. And they'll be green interrogatories! There will be no definition or instruction manual. We will take the great leap of faith and assume that attorneys understand that the word "person" also means "individual", "business entity", "man", "woman", or "sapient extraterrestrial".

Stage three: We steal a page from New Jersey's rules. We create a CPLR section which sets forth 25 mandatory and standard interrogatories for personal injury cases. As compensation for the aforementioned copyright infringement, we give Staten Island to New Jersey plus a player to be named later.

In only a few years, Porto Velho will be returned to its original state of flora and General Motors will be saved because there won't be anymore guilt associated with owning a big old Cadillac.