Malpractice

Most days, I’m proud of owning my own small law firm. And while technically, I’m not a solo — I’ve had an assistant for over eight years now as well as a revolving crew of of counsel, part-time associates and independent contractors — many of my colleagues lump me and most very small law firms into that category nonetheless. So when other solos act foolishly or unprofessionally, it reflects poorly on the rest of us.

Understand, I’m not picking on solos.  Let’s face it — large law firms are hardly paragons of upstanding conduct; one needn’t look further than the recent Dewey & LeBoeuf scandal as proof. But for whatever reason, when Biglaw behaves badly, that conduct doesn’t diminish the reputation of Biglaw in the eyes of judges and other lawyers as it does for solos.  

So that’s why it bugs me when solos do stupid — and often avoidable — things. Here are my top three peeves:

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* Two Biglaw firms and their even bigger revenue meltdowns: Patton Boggs and Bingham McCutcheon have posted the most dramatic revenue declines revealed thus far by Am Law. [Wall Street Journal (sub. req.)]

* Dewey know why this malpractice case is being brought against an ex-LeBoeuf Lamb partner? You know your case is screwed if one of the questions the judge asks you is “[W]hy are you here?” [Am Law Daily]

* Those who remain at Heenan Blaikie, the imploding Canadian Biglaw firm, are pretty “pissed off” they haven’t received word on their severance packages. So much for that “orderly wind down,” eh. [Law Times]

* Career alternatives for former Biglaw attorneys now allegedly include breaking and entering and assaulting state delegate’s wives. We’ll probably have more information on this juicy story later today. [NBC29 WVIR]

* If you’re in the process of applying to law school and you’re taking all of your advice from online forums, then you’ll probably get in everywhere you apply. [Law Admissions Lowdown / U.S. News & World Report]

When I started my law firm twenty years ago, there were just five things that I knew.

I knew I didn’t have any clients. I knew that my husband and I could scarcely afford the loss of my paycheck, let alone come up capital for me to invest in my practice. I knew that I was way too mortified at having been laid off from my former firm to share the real reason for starting my own firm.  I knew that when I finally opened for business, in truth, I was just putting on a game face every day, biding my time until something else came along or until I got pregnant and could, like some of my other law school classmates, gracefully exit the law.  But I also knew, somewhere deep down, that I had it in me to be a good lawyer.

Those five things are all that I knew for sure when I started my law firm. Clearly I had a lot to learn.  And while there was plenty of information on the black-letter, nuts-and-bolts aspects of starting a firm, the kind of advice that I really wanted to know to jump-start my practice — specifically, whether the solo option was actually feasible — was in short supply.  Moreover, as an attorney with a traditionally big-firm practice (energy regulatory law and litigation), I was even worse off because attorneys familiar with my field and doing what I hoped to were particularly rare.

So to spare those of you starting out from what I went through, here are five things that I wish someone would have told me when I started out:

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Are partners just puppets of their law firms’ clients?

Mr. Armstrong sat at the controls of Morgan Stanley, which employed and paid Blank Rome millions of dollars in fees, thus allowing Blank Rome to be the ultimate ‘puppet master,’ as Blank Rome could control Ms. Armstrong’s divorce litigation in a manner designed to protect Morgan Stanley.

Jonathan Sack, counsel to Kristina Armstrong, in a malpractice lawsuit that Armstrong just filed against her former divorce lawyers at Blank Rome.

(More about Armstrong’s allegations, after the jump.)

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For lawyers considering opening up their own shop, malpractice insurance is one of those areas where you’re probably clueless. So you’ll rely on your friend’s recommendation for a carrier, or you’ll just call a few companies who advertise in the Bar publications and see if you can “get the best deal.”

As usual, I’m here to make your life easier with truthful information that you can actually use. No no, don’t thank me. I feel your appreciation.

For purposes of this post, I interviewed Sam Cohen of Attorneys First. Sam is a Florida-based broker. He is licensed in Georgia and has access to other brokers throughout the United States. Now before you gutter dwellers down there in the comment section start hypothesizing (I think that’s the biggest word I’ve used here) about my relationship with Sam, let me burst your conspiracy bubble.

Sam and I are long-time friends and have never done business together.

Some years ago, I was referred to Sam when my policy was up for renewal. He went out and got quotes from a half dozen companies, compared them to my policy, and determined that what I had was the best. So he made zero dollars, and based on his against-his-financial-interest honesty, I refer everyone to him. (There’s a lesson in there somewhere).

Here’s the interview….

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Do you remember those Viagra commercials where they tell you to seek medical attention if you’ve had an erection for more than four hours? That seems like a logical course of action — after all, it’s sometimes possible to have too much of a good thing. But what happens when you’re not taking an erectile dysfunction medication, and you’ve been standing at attention for an entire day or more? What should you do then?

Well, most men would take to WebMD in a heartbeat if they knew that their junk was at stake. Most men would immediately seek medical attention, regardless of a potentially long wait time at the hospital, because most men are fairly attached to their penises.

But not this man — he waited politely and patiently to find out that his penis was ruined….

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It’s easy and popular to criticize America’s tendency towards over-litigiousness. You can talk and argue all day over abstract ideas, but have you seen the numbers all laid out in a handy-dandy infographic? No? Well, we have a special treat for you….

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Be forewarned: I’m citing case law here, so if that scares you, stop reading now.

There are two things lawyers are doing wrong when it comes to scope of representation, as in, “What is your obligation to this client?”

The failure to comprehend this critical concept begins when you are retained, and rears its head again when the representation is over.

So let’s talk about the dumbass things you are doing to complicate your life, and how to fix them.

First, understand that there are few things more important than a “scope of representation” clause in your retainer agreement….

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* The TSA must be stopped. They’re now leaving creepy notes when they spy personal items in your luggage. [Not So Private Parts / Forbes]

* Law students, trust me, there’s nothing on your Facebook page that three more points on the LSAT won’t fix. [WSJ Law Blog]

* Berkeley Law 1Ls are playing an awesome game of assassin. Man, I miss college. I mean law school. [Nuts & Boalts]

* Would there even be medical malpractice if libertarians ruled the world? [Overlawyered]

* The Casey Anthony jurors are probably dying for a closeup. [Huffington Post]

* The future of Law and Economics. [Truth on the Market]

A wise man once said: “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

I think of this whenever there are claims of attorneys royally screwing up e-discovery. It’s easy to indulge in some schadenfreude and say, “What suckers!” But truthfully, many firms — even the big, prestigious ones — are more vulnerable than they’d like to admit.

This month, McDermott Will & Emery ended up in the bright, unpleasant spotlight, because a former client sued the firm for malpractice.

Why, you might ask? The firm allegedly botched a client’s e-discovery.

Keep reading to see how the Am Law 100 firm became the e-discovery dunce du jour….

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