Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Opposing Counsel

If there's one thing I've learned so far practicing law, it's this: the attorney on the other side of a case has everything to do with what you can get done.

Really, it makes all the difference.  The interactions between opposing counselors sets the tone for the case, affects the attitudes that the clients have, and has a huge bearing on one's ability to get things done.  I can't tell you how many clients I have right now who just keep checking in with me to see if anything is going on.  "No," I tell them, "I'm still waiting to hear back from opposing counsel."

And that's frustrating for me and for my clients.  We make it a hallmark of our work to be responsive and act quickly.  It would be nice to get the same in return.  And sometimes we do!  But all too often, it's more of the same: "I'll let you know when I hear something."

Monday, November 28, 2011

More on GPS

Some time ago, I wrote about cases involving warrantless GPS tracking of automobiles; those cases were bound to be appealed.  Now one of them has been. (You can read the original posts here, here, and here.)  NPR recaps the situation nicely:

In the case against Antoine Jones (discussed in the second link, above), a conviction relying heavily on the use of a warrantless GPS tracking device was thrown out by the Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia.  The question for the Supreme Court is this: do police need to get a warrant from a judge before attaching GPS device?

The government argues that there is no expectation of privacy regarding the location of one's vehicle on public roads; the Fourth Amendment only applies to the interior spaces, such as a glove box, locked drawer, etc.  The defense points out that GPS tracking might be okay . . . if it's supported by a warrant, which in this case, it wasn't.

Stay tuned for the final ruling!

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Friday, September 16, 2011

Making It On Your Own

On her My Shingle blog, Carolyn Elefant recently posted a question she got from a reader about how to grow a practice and succeed as a solo. One commenter specifically asked for suggestions from solos making at least six figures on a consistent basis.

I'm not going to lie to you: that's not me.  I'm a new lawyer still finding my way.  Further, I'm not a solo, but I do work at a small place - three attorneys, one assistant.

Given those disclaimers, I'll start out by responding to the comment posted by Leanna, all of which are things I've done, am doing, or have considered.  Leanna suggests the following steps (my comments in white):

1. Getting really good and comfortable talking about money, asking for money, not giving free consults, and not negotiating on price.  This is key....  This is a skill I'm still learning, but already I can see the importance of it.  For me, it's all about expectation management.  I try to give potential clients a realistic estimate of what their case will cost if we're billing hourly, or tell them up front what a flat fee of x-dollars will cover.  We also handle our "retainers" (though we don't call them that) a bit differently than most firms.  Look for an article about our process in the future!

2. Sending out a paper newsletter to all past clients and contacts....  We've done one postcard mailing (although it was before I started here), and it was hugely unsuccessful.  All the calls we got were from people with imaginary issues or people with real issues who wanted a free lawyer.  A newsletter is actually something I'd like to do, but I'm not sure of the best way to go about it and don't want it to be a huge time- and money-drain.  Suggestions?

3. Networking in person. Not desperately, but to fill up to the hours when you'd just be sitting in your office reading [S]olo[S]ez or tweeting....  I'm sure Leanna is right that when she says that meeting people is better than sitting on your own.  But where I run into trouble is in converting those meetings to actual useful contacts of some kind. 

4. Cultivate your existing referral sources. These are the people who already know, like and trust you. Send them a thank you card for their past support of your business, remind them you are taking new clients in particular areas and think about what you might be able to refer to them.  We don't really do the professional networking thing.  We go to events, meet people, etc., but don't set up referral chains.  Most of our referrals come from former clients, which is something we're proud of.  Our clients are satisfied with the work we did, and feel that we gave them value for their money.  What more can you ask for, besides more clients?

5. Clean your office and shine your shoes.... Funny you should mention that!  I'm getting some bids right now on redecorating my office!

6. Screen your potential clients better[].... I think we do a pretty good job of screening clients.  We ask them some questions when they call for an appointment so we can give them a good idea of what to expect.  Some people will hear and estimated fee and decide they need to "think about it," and others will decide to come in for an initial consultation.  And at least when they do, they know what to expect.

LegalTypist's comment that you just need to get involved in your community is probably the next suggestion I'd like to reiterate, and I'd like to stress the community aspect of it rather than the networking aspect of it.  See, at most networking events, I tend to meet people who do something similar to what I do.  Referrals from those folks will be few and far between.  But when people at my local bookstore or teammates on a rec sports team hear that I'm a lawyer...well, there might actually be some business there!

And I'll follow that up by saying that you want to get involved in the type of community activities that will include people you'd like to have as clients.  If you do IP work, get involved in some cultural activities - arts, music, and the like.  If you do a lot of business law, maybe get involved with your local chamber of commerce.  Seek out the people you want!

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Benefits of a Simple Car Loan

The loan may be simple; the process is not.  But read on to find out how one dedicated team of people turned life around with a new car for this divorced mom.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Patent Wars

We don't do patent work, but there was a fascinating episode of This American Life a couple of weeks ago called "When Patents Attack."  It's all about how the patent program, which was designed to spur innovation, has been subverted since its inception, and now hinders it.  Patents are being used as both offensive and defensive weapons in a litigation war of mutually assured destruction.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


Check out the Summer 2011 issue of Universitas -- page 14 of the .pdf, on the right-hand side (which is page 25 of the magazine)!  There we are!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


The New York Times published an article last month about a company called LawyerUp.  The company promises an attorney will begin work within 15 minutes of your emergency call to the company's operator.

I have to say, I'm a little surprised that someone didn't think of this sooner.  Whether it's a good idea or not, I'm not sure, but it appears to be a money-maker, and that seems to trump quality of the idea in all cases.

Having said that, this seems rife with ethical problems.  As one example, the system works like this: you can either pay a monthly rate to have the one hour of service available as soon as you call, or you can "pay in a pinch," which is $100 for the dispatcher and the full $250 for one hour of legal services.  But that's all you get: one hour.

I admit, I'm not sure what the rules are in New York, but I'd be hesitant to take on a client, especially one who had just been arrested or needed assistance immediately, if I knew I was going to cut them off at 60 minutes.  Once you take someone on as a client, you owe them certain obligations, and sometimes those exist whether or not you're being paid; sometimes you can't just stop working, and it seems like that's what the business model is at LawyerUp.

And that's just the first one that comes to mind.  What about pesky little things like conflicts?  Do you have time to think about that if you're only doing an hour of work?

I'll be interested to hear how this turns out.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Collision Over Traffic Cameras

As the City of St. Louis and surrounding municipalities are installing red light cameras, debate on whether they should be used continues to intensify locally.  Check out one example of the opposition.

But apparently it's not just us.  An article in last week's New York Times by the same name as this post looks - briefly - with a wider lens at the different opinions.  Bottom line: they can be good and work well, but that happens all too rarely.

What do you think?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Glut of Attorneys

EMSI, a company that does employment and economic data analysis, recently crunched the numbers on demand for (and wages of) attorneys in the 50 states and District of Columbia. The story was reported by the New York Times, and is available here.  Turns out that only two states (Nebraska and Wisconsin) as well as D.C. are experiencing a shortage of attorneys.

Too bad for the rest of us.  New York tops the list, but Missouri comes in at a not-too-shabby (or perhaps all-too-shabby) 10th place.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Crying Foul

The LA Times just published a pair of articles (first, second) which illustrate with painful clarity how wrong things can go in a custody case.

The articles are long, but worth the read.  Just in case you don't have time, I'll do my best to summarize, and add some commentary at the end:

The story is about Louis Gonzalez III, who three years on, has established that he was trying to do nothing but be a good father whenever the court would let him.  His ex-girlfriend Tracy West had taken their son from Nevada, where Louis lived, and moved to California.  One weekend, when he was in California to see his son's new school and spend the weekend with him, Tracy accused him of a brutal kidnapping, assault, and rape.  She had clearly been the victim. Louis was arrested.

He was held for over a month in the Ventura County jail before his alibi could be fully corroborated.  Police officers concluded he did not have the time or equipment to commit the crimes she accused him of.  His only snippets of unaccounted-for time were small - six minutes here, five minutes there.  He could not have done it.  He was released.  His record was expunged.  He eventually received a declaration of factual innocence from the court, which is a very rare thing; it doesn't say "we didn't have enough evidence to convict you," it says "you didn't do it."

That wasn't the end of it though.  Louis was still fighting for custody, which had been severely limited or cut off completely due to the criminal charges.  Eventually, after further investigation into Tracy's psychiatric condition, Louis was granted custody, but Tracy retains visitation rights.  She moved back to Nevada to be closer to her son.

So far, Tracy's only punishment for fabricating the accusations against Louis was a court order to reimburse Louis for $55,000 worth of attorneys fees spent in the custody battle.  No telling how much more than that he actually paid during the criminal trial and ongoing custody hearings.  Shortly after the order, she filed for bankruptcy; it's unlikely he'll ever see a penny.

My thoughts:

Something has gone horribly wrong here.  Actually, many things have gone horribly wrong.

First, there is nothing that can be done to compensate Louis Gonzalez for his time in jail, the time he lost with his son, and the lingering damage to his reputation.  He can be compensated monetarily, but Tracy West probably will not be the source of much recovery.

Second, what has this world come to, that we resort to accusations of serious criminal behavior - crimes potentially carrying five (five!) back-to-back life sentences - before we can work out a reasonable agreement with someone?

Third, obviously we have to be careful where sexual violence is concerned.  The police were right to get Louis off the street right away.  If he really had done such a horrible thing, jail was where he needed to be.  And to his credit, Louis does not fault the police department for his detainment.  They were just doing their job, and eventually the lead detective concluded that Louis did not do what Tracy accused him of.  He refused to testify against Louis in court.

However, when it is as clear as it is in this case that the complaining victim not only lied, but either brutalized herself or had someone else participate, filed a false police report, cost the county and the court system untold numbers of dollars, withheld visitation time with a child, and nearly destroyed someone's life, she deserves to be punished.

Exactly how or what the proper punishment is?  I have no idea.  But the idea that someone can game the system like this merely for personal gain and suffer nothing but self-inflicted wounds is revolting.

Louis filed a civil suit against Tracy and her then- (still-?) husband Timothy Geiges for malicious prosecution, although it appears from the very limited docket notes on the Ventura County Superior Court website that nothing came of it.  Perhaps they reached a confidential settlement.

Even Tracy's lawyers don't like her.  An article in the Ventura County Star cites a motion filed by one of her attorneys who withdrew from representation, stating that "Ms. West insists upon taking actions that [her attorney] considers repugnant and with which there exists a fundamental disagreement between Ms. West and [her attorney]."

Monday, June 27, 2011

Marketing Update

A few months back, I wrote about a marketing contest for small law firms sponsored by LexisNexis. Recently, the marketing experts - they make the magic happen - hosted a follow-up webinar last week.  Larry Bodine, who was also a webinar participant, posted a great summary on his blog, which you can find here.

Again, huge thank-yous to everyone involved!  This has been an amazing experience!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Getting Divorced or Separated? 7 Financial Mistakes Not to Make

AOL News recently published a list of "7 Financial Mistakes Not to Make."  Most of the advice is good, but I do have a few comments to add, both in general and about our firm in particular (in gray; quotations from the article are in black):

1. Thinking that a mediator will protect your financial interests.
. . . [A]lthough lots of couples do experience very bitter divorces, it's also true that when many people break up, one party in the relationship will try everything possible to avoid unnecessary drama . . . For these people, retaining a divorce mediator or arbitrator is one way to accomplish a less combative divorce . . . But be warned: Hiring a mediator just for the sake of "impartiality" or in an attempt to "keep the peace" is usually a bad financial move – a really bad one – particularly if you assume that a mediator will look out for your best interests. "The primary goal of the mediator is to get a settlement. And any settlement means the mediator has done his or her job," says Susan Carlisle, a Los Angeles area CPA who specializes in family law. "Although the best mediators do their [best] to get the settlement as equitable as possible, it's your job to negotiate well for what you need and want. The mediator can't do that for you."  That's why the best mediators always recommend that each party in a divorce also have their own consulting attorney.

It's true that hiring a mediator may reduce costs, but that is not necessarily so.  Often, hiring a mediator is actually more cost effective if the divorce has already become contentious - although you also have to be particularly careful at this stage to look out for your own interests - because you may be able to work through some of your differences prior to getting an attorney involved.  This can seem paradoxical, but here's the reasoning:

In Missouri (even if you work out a settlement with a mediator), one or both of you will typically hire an attorney to actually move the paperwork through the court system.  It is unethical in most circumstances for a mediator, even if he or she is an attorney, to represent either or both of you in this proceeding after he or she helped you work out the settlement agreement.  Therefore, an outside attorney will be required, and some of the discussions with your attorney may be duplicative of those you had with the mediator.  If you've used the mediator to work through most of the contentious issues by this point and the mediator has prepared accurate documentation of your settlement agreement, costs can be kept to a minimum.  However, if there were no (or few) contentious issues to begin with, it is likely that you will have paid as much for the mediator as you would have paid for an attorney, and then you'll just have to do much of the same work over again once you secure representation.

2. Hiring the "best" lawyer that money can buy
Just because you should hire an attorney to handle your divorce doesn't mean it should cost you and arm and a leg. "People generally think that the more expensive a lawyer is, the better they must be. This is not always the case," says Jonathan Blumenthal, a certified financial planner . . . Others want to bring out the all-star legal power in order to get back at a spouse, prolong the process or simply "win" at all costs. "That strategy works really well for the big gun [attorney] but not well for the person getting divorced," says Carlisle. "Unfortunately, lawyers make a living off people's insecurity, pain and desire for revenge. But it almost never works." . . . So what's the best alternative to getting a mediator or hiring a high-priced attorney? The solution may lie in "collaborative law," a process that lies somewhere between mediation and litigation. It's where two attorneys and the couple are committed to not going to court, but you each have a lawyer that looks out for your best interests.

People have asked us whether we practice "collaborative law."  It took us a while to even figure out what they were talking about, but it turns out that we have been practicing a type of collaborative law for years.

Contrary to the author's statement, not all attorneys are out to "make a living off people's insecurity, pain and desire for revenge."  Ouch.  Are there a few of those?  Sure, there are bad apples in every bunch.  But most of the lawyers we have worked with are friendly, hardworking, and trying to do the best for their client (which includes not running up exorbitant and unnecessary costs).

Unlike collaborative law, I can't say we are "committed to not going to court" - we won't hesitate to do so if the case requires it, and I think the same is true of most attorneys in the area.  It's just that most cases don't require it; typically, a lot of money can be saved by settling a case.  Clients often don't realize how expensive it is to go to trial, and - quite the opposite of what the author implies - we find ourselves talking the client out of trial rather than pushing them into a long, drawn-out battle.

3. Keeping joint credit cards and loans
Once you call it quits in a relationship, you need to separate your finances ASAP . . . One reason to close joint credit cards and loans is that each of you will be 100% financially liable for debts incurred – even if the other person racked up the bills . . . Additionally, says Blumenthal, "even if your divorce starts out cordial, things can change quickly when people go into survival mode." You don't want a cash-strapped or bitter ex-spouse to start running up credit card debt, suddenly stop paying bills, or begin incurring financial obligations for which you could be held responsible.

This is generally good advice, although you have to be careful not to run afoul of court rules when what you do will affect the finances of the other party to a dissolution case.  In St. Louis County, Local Court Rule 68.3; specifically see section (2), subsections (E) through (G) regarding what the author mentions here.

4. Insisting on hanging on to the family home
Hanging on to the family home can be a mistake both financially and mentally, experts say . . . [M]any divorcing people, especially women, are adamant about keeping the family home. It's often a misguided effort to provide stability for the kids. "But kids are flexible," says Carlisle . . . "It's important to try to keep the kids in the neighborhood where their friends are and where their school is," she advises. "But that doesn't mean keeping up an expensive home you can't afford."

Again, generally good advice, but incomplete.  If one party does feel strongly about keeping the family home, that person needs to sit down and take a good, hard look at their finances.  What will be coming in - income, maintenance, child support?  What will be going out - regular expenses, tuition, emergencies?  Often these conversations should involve a financial planner.  If there is enough money - and often there is - then you can keep your house.  The question of whether "mentally" it is healthy is a more difficult one to answer.

5. Trying to maintain the exact same lifestyle
. . . In your post divorce, life, . . . you'd be wise to accept a simple truth and break it gently to your children: You and the kids can't do everything you previously did. "There are now two households to support," Carlisle says, which will greatly impact the family's finances . . .

A great point, and something that often gets lost in translation; it's always going to be more expensive to run two households than to run one.  However, statistics show that a significant percentage of custodial mothers experience a decline in their financial status after a divorce, whereas their non-custodial-father counterparts experience an increase in their status.  What can be done about this?  Really, it has to be handled on a case-by-case basis, and it's the attorney's job to look out for your best interests, which includes financial interests now and in the future.

6. Having a weak property settlement agreement
A divorce agreement . . . is an all-important document that acts as a kind of blueprint to what's going to happen in your post-divorce world financially and otherwise . . . Problems erupt, however, when your agreement fails to account for any host of potential issues that not only may arise but are almost guaranteed to come up. For instance, if there's a "change of circumstances" – say, the kids' needs change dramatically, or one party makes a lot more or a lot less money – in most states, either side can go back into court and ask to either receive more financial support or pay less financial support.  If your marital settlement agreement doesn't plan ahead for such contingencies, expect to endure a lot of back-and-forth and potential legal wrangling with your ex down the road. Indeed, the ink is barely dried on many divorce agreements, says Carlisle, "before someone is back in court, demanding a change to the agreement."

Regarding maintenance: It's true that in Missouri, either side can go back to court and ask to change the amount of maintenance paid or received, but they have to have a good reason for doing so in order for a judge to grant a change.  And for as long as a judge is on the family court bench, you'll keep going back to that same judge, so it's best not to file frivolous suits.

Regarding future events: there are some events which really should be accounted for: college expenses, provisions for sale of the family home, settlement of joint debts, etc.  But there are other things - winning the lottery, losing a job, a debilitating car accident - which either are unlikely enough as to be unimportant or cannot be provided for by court rule.  For example, a judge cannot order maintenance payments to terminate at a date certain, because he does not know what the situation will be for the family in the future.  If the situation changes and you think that the change warrants termination of the maintenance payments, it is incumbent upon you and the payor (or, less frequently, the payee) to go to court and ask for the judge's blessing.

In the case of extremely unlikely events, you may spend more time and money hashing out a settlement agreement which covers every possible contingency than you would revisiting the issue if and when it ever arises. 

7. Failing to change your will and insurance policies
Sometimes, people simply forget to change these documents. Other times, they think "I'll get around to doing it later" or "What could it hurt for now?"  Well, it can cause plenty of problems if one spouse remarries – and Carlisle says divorcing men typically remarry within two years – and then that person passes away. The first wife, or previous spouse, gets all the money, and the new spouse might be left in the cold. Not exactly what most people would want to happen after their death.  "When you go through a divorce, you need to make sure you go back and change all your beneficiary information on all accounts and policies," advises Blumenthal. "Regardless of what you have in your will, if your ex is still the beneficiary of your IRA, for example, that will supersede your updated will."

This information is not all true for litigants in Missouri.  By operation of law, a divorce causes the probate court (which handles the distribution of assets bequeathed in someones will) to treat the divorced spouse as though they had already died.  It's easier with names: Bob and Sue get divorced.  Sue forgets to change her will, which leaves everything to Bob.  Sue then dies.  Despite Bob being listed as Sue's beneficiary, the probate court will pretend as though Bob had already died.

Now, this doesn't necessarily mean that the resulting distribution (with Bob out of the picture) is what Sue would have wanted.  Therefore, it is certainly a good idea to go back and examine all legal documents and other assets, especially insurance policies and financial accounts of various types, with beneficiary designations.

Going through a divorce can be one of the most traumatic things that you can go through in life.  Having a good attorney - someone you trust and who will advocate on your behalf - is probably the easiest and most foolproof decision you can make.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Red Light Cameras

There has been a lot of debate over the presence of red light cameras in the City of St. Louis, as well as other municipalities.  A recent decision by Judge Mark Neill in the 22nd Judicial Circuit Court struck down the ordinance which allowed the cameras to be mounted to monitor traffic in the city.

So will the cameras be removed? It's too soon to tell, but keep your eyes peeled at city intersections!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Facebook Users, Beware!

I'm not on Facebook (although our firm is).  The more I hear about Facebook in the news, the more satisfied I am with my decision to abstain from use of the social networking site.  Facebook isn't the only culprit; it's just the most ubiquitous.

The prevalence of social media has many benefits: we can keep in touch with our friends, get updates about sales at our favorite stores, and monitor the real-time progress of our hometown teams.  Even start revolutions.  But for all the information we take in, we also seem very free to put information about ourselves out there for others.

This "Facebook effect" has been growing as the popularity of social media in general has grown; for example, there was a story published in The Telegraph about Facebook and the divorce rate in the UK almost a year and a half ago to this effect.  There was one published in Time magazine nearly two years ago.  But those were just the tip of the iceberg.

As social media have proliferated, we're finding a whole new host of ways to get ourselves in trouble.  According to an erroneously attributed Loyola University study and press release (cited here), Facebook is now being implicated in 1 in 5 divorces in the US (although the Wall Street Journal's Numbers Guy disputes that number).  The situation is similar elsewhere; it's become the "virtual third party" according to a more recent article in Britain's Telegraph.  If fact, St. Louis's very own Alisse Camazine was interviewed for a story by KSDK on the rise of social media in divorce cases.

Does Facebook really cause all these divorces?  And whether it does or doesn't, what do you do with all this information?  Here are my thoughts:

Facebook doesn't cause divorce.  It may cause, or maybe enable is a better word, a lack of attention to one's spouse, the rekindling of an old flame, meeting new people (friends of friends), "harmless" flirting, and even affairs.  Actually, enable may not be quite right either; all those things have been obstacles in the past.  I think it's just that Facebook and other social media make doing them so much easier.  Whereas before, people may have resisted because there was just too much inertia, now all it takes is a few clicks of the mouse.  Since we're at our computers all day anyway, it doesn't seem like we're really doing anything wrong or scandalous or immoral or even questionable.

That, I think, is the real problem: our standards of behavior have not kept up with the changing technology.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

More Legal Humor

Maybe it's the season: things are warming up a bit, the days are longer, spring is in the air.  And I'm in a good mood.  And so I (hope to) bring you so more chuckles.  This is not remotely the best-designed website I've ever seen, but it sure is funny.  Props to these attorneys for not being so darned serious all the time!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Friday, February 11, 2011

Give the Recovery a Chance!

A story on NPR's Morning Edition yesterday discussed the link between the recovery from recession and a rebound in the divorce rate.

Divorces are expensive, no question about it. Conventional wisdom and CBS News say theorize that when finances are especially tight (for example, during a recession) the divorce rate drops.  The corollary to that appears to be this: when finances become more manageable again, all those divorces that had been put off will come pouring through the court system.  I hope everyone's ready.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Case, Rajnoha & Boudreau, LLP wins Online Marketing Contest

Case, Rajnoha & Boudreau, LLP, is thrilled to announce that we have been selected as the winner of LexisNexis's Ultimate Law Firm Marketing Makeover Contest!

CRB was announced as the winner at LexisNexis's Small Law dinner held in New York City on January 30.   Photos from the event are available here.

We are excited to begin work with Lexis's marketing makeover team: Len Gilbert, Carlton Dyce, Andrew Unsworth, and Ruth Davis.  They will provide services including website design, video design and production, practice management tools, search engine optimization, and online profile management.  We were lucky enough to meet all the members of the makeover team in New York, and it's clear that their expertise will mean big changes for us.

The two-part contest application process began in October, and required applicants to submit written answers to two questions focusing on how online marketing could benefit the applicant’s firm. Based on those submissions, received from all over the country, five finalists were selected to participate in a video interview process.

The panel of five judges included David Palmieri and Carol Everson of LexisNexis, David Lat, Larry Bodine, and Carolyn Elefant.

Thank you to all the judges, the makeover team, and everyone at LexisNexis for this opportunity!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Dangers of Texting While Walking; or Frivolous Lawsuits

Did you see the news story about the Fountain Lady?  If you didn't, watch the video.  Then listen to Anderson Cooper, who sums up my feelings about the Fountain Lady's lawsuit perfectly.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Top of the Market

Earlier this month I wrote a post about the controversy which has been brewing for some time surrounding the law school numbers game.  Are we at the top of the market?  The end of the line?  The peak of our pride (which, as we all know, goeth before the fall)?

An article posted on the New York Times website two days ago indicates that "America’s love affair with law school finally seems to be waning."  Application numbers are down (12.5% from a year ago), the article says, as are LSAT numbers (10 or 16.5%, depending upon your point of comparison).

Could it be true?  Are we going to have trouble finding interns in the coming years?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Jury Duty

News sources including NPR, the Daily Mail, and the New York Daily News have recently reported on Sal Esposito, who was recently summoned to appear for jury duty in Suffolk (Boston) Superior Crown Court.  Sal, however, is a cat.

Sal's owners objected to the summons and requested Sal's dismissal on the ground that Sal is "unable to speak and understand English," and also included with their request a letter from their veterinarian stating that Sal is, in fact, a feline.

The Superior Court rejected Sal's request for dismissal and Sal is currently expected to appear in court on March 23.

I wonder what the security guards will think when Sal shows up.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Quote of the Day

"Instead of getting married again, I'm going to find a woman I don't like and just give her a house."
  -- Louis Grizzard

Thursday, January 13, 2011

"Law school is a pie-eating contest where the first prize is more pie"

Consensus seems to be building, and it's not in favor of the law schools.  Many reports have been issued lately from a variety of sources, but they all make the same point: law schools sucker kids, charge too much, and don't produce results.

Graduate school appears to be a common solution to a slow economy.  Since you can't find a job and make any money, why not borrow money and go into debt?  Seems logical.  The Law School Admissions Council and the American Bar Association reported recently that the number of hopefuls who took the Law School Admissions Test in October 2010 was the second-highest number of takers ever.

At the same time, law schools are raising enrollment and raking in ever more money in tuition, while finessing employment-after-graduation figures which mislead incoming and potential students, or so says columnist David Segal, who published a long and scathing critique of the whole system in the New York Times last week.  It includes interviews with former students, professors, deans and other administrators, and representatives from the ABA and US News & World Report (famous for its controversial rankings).  He accuses law schools and administrators of (among other things) being completely incapable of policing themselves, which is not a good sign in a profession that - ironically - relies primarily on self-policing for regulation and detection of ethics violations.

In a lot of ways, I think he's right.  The rankings are a game, and administrators fudge the numbers so they can up their stats.  But at the same time, anyone who enters a three-year graduate program knowing tuition is $40,000 per year has to know that they're going to graduate with at least - at least - $120,000 in debt.  It's not rocket science.  And that $120,000 figure is assuming the students' other costs (shelter, food, books, car payments, health insurance, etc.) are covered by someone else.  If that's not the case, you can probably tack another $100,000 or so onto the total amount due, assuming they are wise enough to live like a frugal student for the duration.

Where I think Segal's argument falls a little short is in discussing the financial responsibility of the students.  Most student loans are 10-year loans.  If you take out $120,000 in loans with a 10-year repayment plan and 6.8% interest, any online loan calculator (they are available here, here, here, here, here, and here, among other sites) can tell you that your monthly payment will be $1,380.96.  No kidding here, folks; that is a substantial payment.  But I figured out that number in about 30 seconds.  Now, it's true that if you're taking out multiple federal and private loans, the total monthly payment for all of them is harder to calculate.  One might need a pencil and paper to record some of the numbers, so that you can add up the totals at the end.  But really, this isn't that complicated.  If I can do the math, anyone can.

I think the point Segal makes well, though, is that the schools allegedly led all the students think they'd all be making $200,000 per year.  If that were true, $17,000 going to pay down loans every year wouldn't seem so bad.  But when you're making $30,000 per year - or worse, when you're unemployed - $17,000 per year is a whole lot of cash.  Maybe financial advisors should be required sit down with each and every incoming student and say "the lower end salary for someone graduating is $30,000 per year.  Do you have sufficient other resources that you can afford to pay about half of that salary towards your loans?"  If they answer is no, ask them to come back in a year when they've successfully passed the intervening time having spent not a penny over $13,000.  If they've proven their mettle by succeeding at that challenge, welcome them to law school with open arms.  If not, show them the door.  But that's just my recommendation.

Perhaps what all newly-minted lawyers struggling to make loan payments will get out of this fiasco is a healthy dose of cynicism.  Here's hoping they can impart their hard-learned lessons on the next generation.

[A blog post summarizing other responses to Segal's Times column is here.]

Friday, January 7, 2011

Press Release

LexisNexis started a small firm marketing contest, the Ultimate Law Firm Marketing Makeover.  The first round of submissions was due in December, and I decided to enter our firm.  We made it to the group of five finalists, and are anxiously awaiting the results!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Happy Emancipation Day

Taxpayers, it's your lucky day!  Due to the April 15th celebration of Emancipation Day, you get three extra days to file your 2010 tax returns!