March 21st, 2013

10 Signs The New Matter is a Dog (Before you even consider the merits)

TuckerTheDog-794626I’d been thinking of writing this post for awhile, and then Max Kennerly went and did a similar one, putting a fuse under my butt to get it done. His subject was Five Case Selection Tips for New Plaintiff’s Lawyers.

But while his was about the types of cases to reject, mine is more about the people that call. After being a lawyer for awhile, it becomes pretty easy to spot which cases are dogs…before you even consider the merits. Since the personal injury bar gets paid on contingency, vetting the case is pretty darn important.

We have a name for lawyers that don’t do a good job screening cases: Bankrupt.

So, without further ado, my ten quick and dirty rules for determining the case isn’t worth taking, regardless of its facts, and the potential client most likely shouldn’t be allowed in the door:

1. The call comes on Thanksgiving Friday, a real holiday, or some other time outside normal business hours. While that might be normal for criminal defense, for obvious reasons, it isn’t for personal injury law. If it isn’t important enough for the potential client to call when someone is likely to be around, the case isn’t likely to be any good.

2. The person refuses to speak to a paralegal. This means the potential client is familiar with law office procedures because the matter has been rejected many times before.

3. The potential client already has the medical records. This means the matter has been reviewed by others and rejected (though, in all fairness, you should find out who did the rejecting).

4. The request comes via email, but is not addressed to me with any salutation. This means the matter has been emailed to numerous lawyers.

5.  The request is a manifesto. It usually comes in Word format, single spaced, many pages, and rambles all over creation. You are neither the first, nor the last, to get this screed. You will not make it past the first paragraph, as it is utterly unreadable. If there’s a point, you’ll never find it.

6. The person who demands to know right away what the case is worth. The answer is nothing.

7. The person who guarantees the defendant will settle quickly. No, they won’t, as the caller is ill-informed (or delusional) about litigation. (Kennerly has this one also.)

8. The person who won’t answer your questions when you interrupt to solicit important information, and plows ahead to tell the story the same way it’s been told to the last 20 lawyers.

9. The quarrelsome caller. When you hit them with the claims the defense will make, they argue with you in a manner that indicates they’ve heard these issues before.

10.  The statute of limitations is about to expire. This means the potential client knew what the deadline was, and delayed. Even if the case has merit, this client will delay everything else once you get started. Don’t get started; the case isn’t as important to this person as you think it is.

Is it possible that there is a real case lurking within this list? Sure, anything is possible. But that’s not the way to bet.


December 11th, 2012

The Holiday Card. With a Twist.

We are accustomed at this time of year to holiday cards finding their way to our doors and email boxes. Invariably, they present gauzy Christmas or winter themes of trees, snowfall or visions of peace.

And then United Process Service sent one to me. As you can see at right, the cover of the card doesn’t present elves, sleds, stars or toys. It presents devastation from Hurricane Sandy.

This is not, quite obviously, what people expect to see in a holiday card.

Each Christmas season Above the Law has a card contest that features a variety of innovative ways for law firms to send their greetings to the world, usually in electronic form since it expands the possibilities of creativeness. They are looking for clever, for funny, for cool.

Here’s a nice selection from 2010, including an electronic twinkly one from Gordon & Rees. As the WSJ Law Blog notes, Pillsbury Winthrop did a cute little stab at legal disclaimers in 2008. You can find lots of other fun little cards on those pages, as well as in other year’s contests.

Above the Law announced yesterday its fourth iteration of the contest, with highlights of some past cards. As one of its rules, the card has to be an e-card. The United Process came to me snail mail.

So United Process is not going to win this contest with their card. Nor do I think they were trying. Nor do I think they care. That hardly seems to be the point. It is not funny, or clever, or cool. It fails every test of what a holiday card should be.

But sometimes a card comes along and clubs you over the head and says, in polite terms, “Go count your blessings, dammit.” This is that card.

And this is the greeting on the inside — it will not win any awards for prose, but it makes its point crystal clear:



November 21st, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

Last year at this time I wished one and all a Happy Thanksgiving as I celebrated my fifth year blogging. And dressed up in a turkey suit for a local race.

I dressed once again in that turkey suit this past weekend, but have nothing new to add to my Thanksgiving wishes.

So read last year’s message and change “fifth”  year to “sixth” year.

But one last thing to add: Please stay the hell away from shopping and spend time with the family.

You’re welcome.


July 17th, 2012

Taking the Oath

While I was away on vacation, something happened to a friend of mine.

This friend came to our shores over 10 years ago. Her documentation was not, shall we say, in order. Many keyboards have been pounded in other corners of the internet on such immigrants.

She came here to work and make a better life for her family. She babysat, cleaned homes and worked as a nanny. A very, very, good nanny. So good, in fact, that one family offered to sponsor her for labor certification, a first step down the road to green card status. And bank accounts, social security number, driver’s license, and the ability to leave this country to visit family and safely return here. She would no longer be in the shadows.

And she said something to me many years ago that no one had ever said before, when I told her that she would have to pay taxes if she became “official” and went on the books. She said, “But I want to pay taxes.” She knew, perhaps better than those who were born here and take citizenship for granted, what it means to be a member of a society.

About a week ago she paid a visit to Federal Plaza in New York. At this great big building new citizens are born. The time had finally arrived to pledge allegiance to the United States. Not because a teacher in a classroom told her to stand with the rest of the class, look at a flag and robotically recite a pledge. School children can’t possibly understand the significance of those words, unless perhaps, they are war refugees who know what the other side of the fence looks like.

My friend pledged her allegiance, promising to “protect and defend the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” because it meant something to her. She will vote for the first time this November. She takes her place beside you and I, with the sole door that is closed to her being that of the office of the presidency. All others are open.

I thought about including her name in this short piece, and my association with her. But it occurs to me that while her story is unique, it has played out in countless other iterations over the generations in so many other places.

I’m two weeks late with an Independence Day post. But I think this will suffice.

And I hope that, perhaps, my dear readers will spend an extra moment or two when encountering an immigrant, thinking about what their stories might tell.


June 17th, 2012

Watergate, 40 Years Ago Today (And Some History In My Office)

H.R.Haldeman on the witness stand. Judge John Sirica on the bench.

It was 40 years ago that an apartment complex in Washington DC became famous for a burglary. And since then, media types have tried to attach -gate to any potential scandal. The purpose today is not to write about the scandal itself…a quick look at the Wikipedia entry I linked to will give viewers a refresher course — but to its significance to me.

As it happens, I have a small piece of that history hanging in my office. They are four sketches from the trial of White House aides H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman and former attorney general John Mitchell, two of which you see here. The others are at my website.

I acquired them from the grateful widow of the artist, John D. Hart, after trying his medical malpractice case to verdict 20 years ago. Back in the day, Mr. Hart was an accomplished artist whose works are in the permanent collections of a couple museums.

And each day I look at these drawings, and each day appreciate the concept of governmental abuse of power and the arrogance of so many that hold positions within it. But also, I appreciate the power of the jury to hold the people involved accountable.

Six jurors listening to the Watergate tapes