Plaintiffs’ lawyers

Quick! I’m an in-house lawyer! How are my legal skills?

Admit it: You just thought to yourself, “So-so. The guy couldn’t hack it at a law firm and wanted a 9 to 5 lifestyle, so he took his mediocre skills and moved in-house. I’ll try not to be transparently condescending when I talk to him on the phone.”

I believed that, too, until I went in-house. (That was a joke. How do you put a smiley face on a blog post?)

A moment’s thought reveals that I’m a bundle of legal prejudices, and I suspected that others were, too. So I did a Rorschach test of some lawyer-friends. I named categories of lawyers, and I asked my friends to give their immediate reactions to those categories.

So what are our legal prejudices?

Quick! I’m a partner at a big firm! What do you think of me?

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Last week, I headed downtown to meet with Stephen A. Weiss and Eric Jaso, partners at the Seeger Weiss litigation boutique. Weiss co-founded the firm with Christopher Seeger in 1999. Jaso, who just joined the firm from Stone & Magnanini, is a friend and former colleague of mine from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. They kindly agreed to be interviewed about what it’s like to work at an elite, plaintiff-side litigation firm.

Here at Above the Law, we’ve always had strong coverage of the large, defense-oriented firms that collectively constitute Biglaw. In the past few years, however, we have dramatically expanded our offerings related to smaller law firms. We currently have three columnists — Brian Tannebaum, Tom Wallerstein, and Valerie Katz — writing in this space, in addition to the small-firm coverage generated by our other writers.

Consistent with this editorial expansion, I was eager to meet with Weiss and Jaso and hear about Seeger Weiss (which is relatively large for a plaintiffs’ firm, but small compared to a Biglaw firm). I’ve always wondered why more law school graduates don’t go into plaintiffs’ work and why we don’t hear about this side of practice as much. It can represent a chance to do well while also doing good, by vindicating victims’ rights or blowing the whistle on misconduct — especially in the qui tam practice area, a focus of Seeger Weiss.

Here’s what Weiss and Jaso had to say….

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Folks go out there and say, ‘I’m mad at the plaintiffs,’ and ‘I see the same names,’ and ‘Let’s go bash the plaintiffs’ attorneys.’ I don’t mind that, but the law has been there, don’t kid yourself.

Martin J. Coleman, defending the barrage of Americans with Disabilities Act suits that he and other plaintiffs’ attorneys have filed in New York City.

(Coleman also had more choice words for his detractors. Check them out, as well as the other side of the ADA suit debate, after the jump.)

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History is littered with examples of Aussies sticking it to the Brits: from early convict rebellions to the time Rupert Murdoch bought our favourite tabloid newspaper, The Sun, and had a photo of a topless woman placed on its inside page each day — a tradition that continues to this day (semi-NSFW link).

Last week they were at it again when Australian law firm Slater & Gordon used some of the millions generated from its 2007 public listing — the first ever for a law firm — to snap up the large British personal injury firm Russell Jones & Walker (RJW), in an unprecedented £54m ($85 million) cash and shares deal. Once again, the people of the U.K. were left shaking their heads.

Of course, we should have seen it coming. British lawyers have been talking about the deregulatory provisions of the U.K. Legal Services Act (LSA) for years now. And it’s not as if we haven’t been watching the rapid growth of Slater & Gordon — where turnover, staff numbers and office locations have nearly tripled since the firm responded to Australia’s enactment of a similar law by going public — with eyebrow-raised interest from afar.

For some reason, though, we failed to put the two together….

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Gerald Ung (left) and Edward DiDonato Jr. (right)

This shouldn’t come as a shock; we predicted it last February, when the criminal case ended in acquittal. But Eddie DiDonato Jr., a former lacrosse star at Villanova and the son of a prominent partner at the Fox Rothschild law firm, has filed a civil lawsuit against Gerald Ung, the Temple Law School student who shot DiDonato in January 2010 in the Old City section of Philadelphia.

Gerald Ung isn’t the only defendant. DiDonato is suing a half dozen other parties, relying on various theories of liability. Let’s think of this as a Torts final exam: Who else might DiDonato be suing besides Ung? What causes of action can you see?

Let’s take a closer look at the lawsuit, filed on behalf of DiDonato by one of Pennsylvania’s leading personal injury lawyers….

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Cops learn to hate people. Basically everyone they encounter is a criminal, so cops soon come to believe that everyone is a criminal.

Litigators — or perhaps litigators who are repeat players in a particular field — learn to hate people. Personal injury insurance defense counsel come to believe that all plaintiffs are lying fakers. Personal injury plaintiffs’ lawyers come to believe that all insurance defense counsel are tightfisted jerks who never pay a claim.

Maybe this is natural. If you spend eight hours every day repeatedly doing the same thing over the course of many years, you become what you do. It’s hard to break out of your role.

But this can cause trouble for in-house litigators. If you become what you do, consider who in-house litigators learn to hate . . .

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Last week in Non-Sequiturs, we pointed you to a photo essay of some of the sketchiest lawyer billboards out there. From dogs, to eye patches, to crazy nicknames, these billboards are the epitome of what makes local lawyer advertising so painfully bad.

It’s tough to say which is worse — these misguided attempts at originality, or the overly earnest types who make lofty promises to fight for you and protect your rights. The serious advertisements are equally subject to mockery.

One Florida solo practitioner may have discovered the perfect approach. No over-the-top gimmicks, no vows to fight injustice. Just the simple, honest truth….

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Last week, more than a dozen high-profile mass torts attorneys lost a San Francisco jury trial against a small technology company. The jury decided the attorneys had illegally breached a document review contract during the high-profile Chinese drywall class-action litigation.

On September 19, the 14 defendants in Cataphora Inc. v Parker were ordered to pay $317,113 to the technology company in lost profits, plus attorneys’ fees.

“These guys are the worst of hypocrites that you can possibly find,” said Roger Chadderdon, technology counsel at Cataphora. “They claim to be trying to help the little guy, but what they’re doing is trying to put more money in their own pockets. Everybody knows that, but this is a case that illustrates it beyond what I have ever seen.”

Clearly, tempers are still running hot. We’ve got more from both sides of the dispute, and a quick refresher on Chinese drywall, after the jump….

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I recently met Ray Zolekhian at a wedding. He went to Harvard Law School, worked as an associate at Skadden in Los Angeles, and started his own law firm with a friend, Robin Hanasab.

As soon as I heard Zolekhian’s background, I immediately guessed that he started a personal injury firm. Isn’t that the most natural progression?

Apparently so. Founded in July 2009, Hanasab & Zolekhian, LLP began as a firm specializing in restructuring commercial real estate loans. The firm then transitioned to personal injury litigation, because the founding partners found the work interesting and lucrative. But Zolekhian had no background in personal injury; according to Zolekhian, the pair was “thrown into the fire.” They were not devoid of help, however, and benefited enormously from the resources and mentoring given by other attorneys in the close-knit plaintiffs’ bar.

What does Zolekhian like most about his practice?

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment of Size Matters, one of Above the Law’s new columns for small-firm lawyers.

When I was in sixth grade, my teacher, Mrs. Johnson, asked all of her students to write an essay on who we admired most. My best friend Marni wrote about President George Bush, Sr. She loved America. I wrote about my dad. I loved my family. A classmate named Jay wrote about Ted Turner. He loved money.

Apparently, Jay is not the only person to love money. In fact, I am told that some lawyers chose the profession because they too love money.

Those lawyers work at Am Law 100 firms, right? Not all of them. Not the country’s richest practicing attorney….

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