Friday, October 14, 2011

How Do I Prepare for a Deposition?

I've spent a significant amount of time this week working with a client who is preparing for his deposition.  It should be a relatively short deposition in a small business litigation case (one small business suing the other over the theft of trade secrets).  There are not a lot of documents, there is not a lot of money at stake, but for the client, this is of course the biggest event to come into his world in a long time.

The preparation has included reviewing the documents in the case multiple times, and as most of the documents were generated by him, the client is very well-versed in their contents.  But even though they are his documents, he still feels nervous that opposing counsel will "get one over on him" or "trick" him into answering things incorrectly.

The most important thing for him to understand, which is often tough for most clients to understand, is that they are actually an expert when it comes to a deposition.  The opposing lawyer didn't live through the last few years of the business, didn't draft the documents, didn't talk to the customers on a daily basis and generally only knows what he knows about the documents he has been provided and the information he received from his clients.  But for some reason, the clients always believe that an attorney can "trick" them into wrong answers at a deposition or on cross-examination at trial.

The deposition also serves as a great way for the client to get accustomed to the style of the opposing attorney, how they speak, how they react, their general tenor and demeanor.  Although most cases settle before trial, clients who have been deposed tend to be much more comfortable at trial if they have been deposed previously in the case by the attorney.  They feel they have some insight into what the opposing attorney will act like and ask and will feel more comfortable with them.

For my clients, it's important to realize that they, not the other attorney, are the expert when it comes to their own testimony.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

What's The Point of a "Paperless" Office

Rather than going out and enjoying my Columbus Day, I was in my office putting together a motion for New Jersey state court.  Despite the advances of the various court systems (especially federal courts), the rules in New Jersey still require that reams of paper are used for motions.

For me, the irony is that all of the documents are prepared on the computer, electronically stored and all I am doing is hitting the Print button on a host of .pdf documents.  There were so many of them that my printer took a break in the middle of the day to cool down.  And after all that printing, I don't even have a hard copy of the papers in my office, my electronic copy suffices just fine for me.

But for the courts, I get to send down 2 copies of my Notice of Motion, 3 copies of my Proposed Order, 2 copies of my client's certification and 2 copies of my certification in support of an award of counsel fees.  Then I get to add a second package to the court that includes a courtesy copy of the papers for the judge who will hear the case.  After all that, another 2 copies are sent to my adversary.  Thankfully, my client is relatively tech savvy, so his copy is just emailed to him for his files and then shared with him via our extranet.

After all the copies, the binding, the exhibit tabs, cover letters and other papers are stuffed in the Federal Express envelopes and I finally enjoyed a few minutes of my Columbus Day.  That enjoyment lasted less than I would have liked because the next day, I got a call from the Court that they had received the Judge's courtesy copy in the clerk's office and apparently the original, with fees and ancillary filings, was sent to the Judge's chambers by accident.

All that paper and misdirection, which could have been simply resolved by a little e-filing.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Devil Is In The Details

It's interesting for all the money that clients pay their lawyers, it is sometimes the most basic details that go overlooked.  I have a case in state court where I've now twice received documents that have the wrong caption on them.  Now obviously, the client has paid their attorney money to prepare documents, the first one was relatively short at 5 pages, and the second one was longer, at 12 pages long, but both of them containing a caption that was for a related case that was decided two years ago (the parties were reversed in that case, i.e., Plaintiff was Defendant in the old case).

Now I understand that the attorney worked on that case a couple years ago, but I would think that at some point they would take a second to notice that they were using a backwards caption at the top of their documents.  For people who have been involved with the case for a few years, I guess they take the caption for granted and just open the same template over and over again when drafting new documents.

The interesting twist came when we got to court and the judge was trying to figure out what the documents actually related to.  In a case where the parties were reversed, the judge was confused and I actually watched as the attorney sat there and re-wrote the caption and case numbers in hand on the documents before handing them to the court.

Probably the most interesting thing to observe was the look on the client's face as this was all happening.  Instead of a fast court appearance, we spent nearly half an hour trying to figure out the source of this document confusion and waited for the papers to be "corrected" by hand.  I'm sure in the client's head, they were seeing the extra costs they were paying in billable hours to correct a simple mistake that was not their fault.

Since it happened, I've been wondering what the attorney did as far as collecting on those fees, if at all.  I know if I was the client, I would be asking for a discount on the preparation of an incorrect document as well as all the wasted time in court.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

You're An Attorney, Like George Clooney

The other day I had an entertaining encounter with another individual in the courthouse.  The gentleman came up to me and to paraphrase:

Gentleman:  Are you a lawyer?

Me:  Yes, I am.

Gentleman:  Like George Clooney in that one movie?  Mark Clayton?

Me:  Michael Clayton.  I'm a lawyer, but what he did was different than what I do.

Gentleman:  Yeah, and you don't look like him either.

At that point he walked away and I wasn't sure what to say next.  I mean, I know I don't look like George Clooney, but was that really necessary?  It did put a big smile on my face before I went in to see the judge...

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Paperless Law Office

As you read the news, blogs and other information sources these days, the trend is for companies, and law firms specifically, to move towards the "Paperless Office" concept, with all of your important paperwork being converted to electronic format and stored digitally.  Despite this supposedly unifying theme, it seems like everyone does it in a different way.

For me, the workflow is simple and I've been slowly working on it for a few years now to the point where almost all of the documents that come across my desk are already in electronic format.  Emails?  Obviously, already in electronic format and there's no need to print them out.  Facsimiles?  Using an electronic fax service, I don't have a fax machine, but rather, all of my faxes are converted directly into Adobe .pdf format and are emailed to me.  Voicemail messages?  No need for those old message pads anymore, voicemails are converted to .mp3 and emailed to me.  Sensing a trend yet?

The only real document that comes into the office in a "hard" format are letters or other documents from the client.  Those documents are quickly digitized through a Fujitsu scanner (either desktop or portable version) and can be given right back to the client or just shredded if it's a letter from an opposing counsel.  When it comes to discovery, all that needs to be done is to take the digitized files, place them on a CD-ROM, and send them off to the opposing attorney.

The motivation for this posting?  I was in court the other day with my ipad and was reviewing documents for my case and then sat down with opposing counsel to discuss the matter.  Opposing counsel looked at my ipad and then immediately declared that she runs a "Paperless Office" and prefers to work electronically on her cases.  Sounds great to me, we're both in the same boat.  But then she proceeds to remove a very large file of papers from a very large briefcase and spends a bunch of time looking for a document that she swears is in there somewhere (apparently it wasn't, it was on her secretary's desk according to her).

When we appeared before the judge, the entire courtroom was treated to the elevator music in our heads as we all waited for the attorney to locate a document her client had given her (which, ironically, supported my client's position in the end).  After watching my adversary clutter up an entire counsel table and then spend time trying to put everything back together, I'm still wondering what part of her office is actually "Paperless" or virtual.

The largest hurdle to going to a paperless office is the self-confidence to appear in court with your tablet or laptop and trust that it will work and you will have all of your information with you.  For me, I still sometimes appear with a "safety net" in the form of my argument notes printed out or copies of the important documents or orders in the case in my bag. 

After years of appearing in court, I still cling to this outdated notion that I need them with me, but am hoping to finally conquer that hurdle soon.  I take solace knowing that I no longer need to drag a large bag from courthouse to courthouse...

Friday, September 30, 2011

Showing Up Is 90% of the Battle

One of the most common questions I get from clients is whether they have to appear in court for court appearances, and, if so, why do they have to appear?  Some courts and types of cases require the clients to appear for all appearances (family cases, criminal cases).  Other cases tend to only require the clients to show up for trials and settlement conferences to ensure that the client is truly engaged with what is going on.  But I've found that regardless of the type of case, it's always important for the client to appear at least one time to see what happens, to watch their attorney and the opposing attorney and the judge and what is going on.  Even a little time in court can go a long way to truly understanding what the case is about, what they are being billed for and how they can participate.

My friend had a very low level criminal case that he had to drive 3 hours to appear for today (he's not an attorney, he's actually a college student).  For the past week or so, he and I have been talking on the phone about what to expect, who to talk to and generally what he could expect to happen when he got to court.  Since it was such a minor offense, it didn't make economic sense for him to hire an attorney, but he was happy to keep me "in the wings" in case he needed someone to help out if things got out of hand.

Just as we had discussed, things went smoothly and he agreed to pay a fine even lower than what we had discussed as a reasonable way to resolve the case.  The reason?  He showed up to court, engaged with the court personnel, explaining to the court officer why he was there and who he wanted to speak to.  When he was directed to the prosecutor, they appeared to be surprised that a pro se ("self-represented") litigant approached them to discuss the case.  They discussed their proposed fine and fees and he was concerned it was too much.

The case was apparently called and the judge and prosecutor did their part and my friend indicated that he wanted to accept an offer, but could not pay the fine they were requesting as he was a college student.  The judge directed my friend and the prosecutor to step outside and discuss their offer.  They agreed to a lower fine and when they re-entered the courtroom, they called the case again and my friend was done and on his way, while most of the others in the courtroom looked on in wonder.  He was one of the first people to get his case finished for the morning.

Quite simply, my friend showed up, engaged the various actors in the courthouse, and was able to arrange for a suitable resolution to his case.  Just as in life in general, showing up is often the hardest, but most rewarding, part of any lawsuit.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Reasonableness and Your First Court Appearance

This week I had a court appearance with an attorney who was doing his first court appearance and seemed a bit over-confident all around.  Luckily for me, my client had most of the leverage going into the court appearance, and it was a matter of memorializing a quick settlement and everyone goes home.

Despite our first conversations, which seemed positive, the other attorney went and spoke to his client and immediately the mood changed with him.  On a first appearance, it is usually helpful (at least in this case) to be a little reasonable so that the parties can reach an actual settlement.  But once the other party began to get involved, he decided to push back and test my client's leverage.  In doing so, he was neglecting to share very pertinent information with his own attorney.  So when the attorney came back with a counter-offer that was offensively insulting (to put it mildly), I was forced to pull out my files and show him a few documents that blew up his client's claims.

It was surprising to watch an attorney be lied to repeatedly by his own client, and even when confronted with documents proving it to be false, the attorney just shrugged it off and kept saying that he believed his client and that maybe we should let the judge decide.  This position was ponderous to me as the other attorney had no documents and I wasn't sure how a judge could even decide in his client's favor.  But I digress.

When it finally appeared we had a settlement, it was already lunchtime and the court told us to come back in the afternoon.  Not shockingly, when we came back from lunch, the other client decided he was pulling back from some of the points of our agreement.  Normally I would have been more upset, but in doing so, the opposing client left the door wide open for himself to be sanctioned and have significant problems in the future.  It was an odd course to take, but it left me wondering whether this attorney, making his first court appearance, was a genius who put on a show to create a mountain of legal fees for his firm or if he really didn't know any better and was content to spend a day being blatantly lied to by his own client.

Either way, it made for an entertaining day in the courthouse.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Court Appearance or Wrestling Pay Per View?

It's been a crazy few weeks as things are starting to get busy here at the firm.  It's been nice to see an uptick in business after Labor Day, but with that also comes a bit of the absurd.

Exhibit A for the fall was last week's court appearance.  I appeared with my client in court and the opposing client showed up without their attorney, who was actually engaged in another matter apparently.  Despite being represented by counsel, the opposing client took it upon themselves to begin to verbally berate me and my client for showing up when their attorney would not be present.  The irony of this position being that if we had not appeared, the opposing client would have taken the opportunity to request a default against my client.

Even after I advised the opposing client that I would not speak to them because they were represented, they continued to harang me outside the courtroom, including claiming that they had called me the prior day to tell me not to show up (which they had not done).  When I offered to check my call log, the opposing client became even angrier and changed their claim that their attorney had called and I had been rude to them.  I guess I was rude in the sense that I was in a meeting when the other attorney called and the call went to voicemail.

After we were finally called by the court, the court simply adjourned the matter and put it on for a hearing in the future.  My client and I left and proceeded with our respective days.  The next morning, I received an email from the opposing client (the downside of having your email listed on your website I guess) claiming that I had hit them with a chair and that they would be filing a report against me.  Supposedly, in front of a judge, her clerk and a court officer, I summoned my inner Hulk Hogan and grabbed a chair and attacked the opposing client.  But for reasons unbeknownst to anyone, nobody did a thing about it and let me swing the chair around like I was at Wrestlemania.

I guess it's just part of the joys of dealing with an opposing client who has mental health issues that remain untreated.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Turning Tweets Into Capital

This week's Wall Street Journal Report discusses using twitter to land investors in your small business.  Emily Glazer writes in "Finding New Investors, In 140 Characters or Less" about how New Orleans' own Naked Pizza's use of Twitter led to more than 8,000 investment inquiries.  They also note a pretty effective conversion rate of nearly 25% of those inquiries turning into some kind of investment.

The owners of the company don't design their social media messages to speak directly to potential investors, but rather, they aim to start "a conversation in which like minds will engage", which ends up being investors at times.  In the post-Katrina era of New Orleans, Naked Pizza took their frustrations at being unable to expand and began to use social media to address those concerns.  But as Josh Bernoff of Forrestor Research Inc. noted to Ms. Glazer, trying to get investors through social media is "sort of like putting up a poster on a telephone pole: 'Invest in my company' ... You might reach a lot of people, but you don't know who they are to begin with."

In my work with small businesses, it has always been the most creative companies and individuals that are able to leverage emerging technology to grow their business.  I do not claim to have that same level of creativity, and am often envious of those clients who do something that makes me smack my forehead and ask myself why I didn't think of that first. 

So while it may be that "social media" is the current trendy wave to market a new business, I'm sure there is something else out there right now that someone is doing that will make us all smack our foreheads in a few years and ask why we didn't think of it first.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

On Earthquakes and File Backup

I am sure that after yesterday's earthquake on the east coast (and apparently another one in Colorado yesterday as well), the internet and blogs will be aflutter with stories of what everyone went through yesterday.  For my end, I was at my desk and thought that it was yet another large truck bounding by on the highway, which for some reason shakes my building at times.  As the shaking lasted longer than usual, I realized that it was something else and sure enough, mere minutes later the radio was full of stories about the earthquake that just hit us.

As the building shook, I was thinking of the need for backup systems for my client files and what would happen if something happened to our office building.  The building was quickly evacuated, but not before I (and most of the others in the building) grabbed our most important pieces of technology.  For me, it was my iPad, which contains access to my client files so that I have access to my files wherever I go.  I observed others grabbing external hard drives, which I assume contained their backups as well.

But all of this shaking also reinforced the importance of having a "cloud" or other "off-site" backup of all of your files.  Especially when an event such as an earthquake affects such a large area, more so than just the destruction of your office building, it's important to have off-site backups.

Years ago, a firm I worked for had a tape backup that ran each day and the office manager was supposed to take it home with her so that a backup was stored offsite (she invariably never took the tape home and it was a particularly ineffective backup system in that regard).  So if you don't want to use tapes, what do you use these days?

For my end, I use a variety of online backups and systems to keep access to my firm files in a variety of locations.  In addition to the iPad, I also have an external hard drive that backs up the files weekly, a cloud-based syncing software and a cloud-based backup as well.

From the various programs I've been to and the ads I've seen and heard, it sounds like the leaders in the online backup field are Carbonite, Mozy and Zmanda.  Each one provides relatively similar pricing, and it's probably a matter of which interface works best for your individual needs, but without a doubt, yesterday's earthquake reminded us of the importance of backing up your files.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Simplicity of Complexity

While on vacation, I finally had a chance to catch up on some reading that had been building up for months, including the May 2011 issue of Discover magazine.  In a sidebar peace, Valerie Ross discusses research regarding the satisfaction we get from listening to music, and how it "can activate the same reward circuits in the brain as food and sex."  The study also looked at the compression of music and found that great works of music "seem complicated but can be distilled to surprisingly basic terms."

For years, I have been unable to work without at least some background music playing (it probably comes from my college days when I was the music director at the radio station and was inundated weekly with new music).  But even these days, a quiet office without some music drives me nuts.  If they had let me, I would have brought headphones with music to the bar exam.  The silence in those rooms was so distracting that I'm surprised I was able to pass the exams.

Ms. Ross also notes a lesson about songs that can be applied to law and our daily lives - even complicated matters can often be distilled into more basic ones.  When approaching a litigation, often a "core message" that is properly tailored to a client's desired outcome can survive an entire case, which can last years, and tie together the entire controversy at trial's end.  Staying on that core message can lead to a coherent strategy and a focused, determined client at trial.

Indeed, just like an orchestra leader conducting a symphony, when all of the beautiful, complex music blends as one, the outcome is truly music to our ears.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A One-Sided Battle?

According to Friday's Wall Street Journal, the so-called "Tablet War" is more like a drubbing, and while people have purchased nearly 29 million iPads, meanwhile Motorola has sold a whopping 690,000 tablets and RIM has sold approximately 500,000 tablets (HP didn't say how many they had sold, but are apparently already cutting the price of their TouchPad).  As the Journal points out, "Rivals discuss how many tablets they are shipping, but don't disclose how many units are actually being purchased by customers."

Traveling around New York (and beyond), I often encounter other people with iPads, but have yet to see one of the competitors in the hands of anyone else.  It seems that each time you read about a new tablet, it's compared to the iPad and its inferiorities are highlighted.

When I purchased my iPad, I was still working at a law firm that was not particularly technology forward.  There were no real opportunities to incorporate it into my practice and daily life.  However, since starting my own law firm, I have been able to integrate the many applications already created for iOS into my practice, including many beyond the simple contact management (i.e. email, calendar, contacts).

For all of my client meetings, I no longer have to grab a large briefcase and bring all kinds of files and paper with me.  Everything is accessible through my iPad, including Practice Management Software (GoClio), which allows for the creation of a client extranet.  When going into court with clients, it's an added bonus to have everything in one place, especially with the free wi-fi available in courthouses.

In the end, I never considered a different tablet (the only that even raised my eyebrow was the RIM Playbook, but only because I've been  a Blackberry aficionado for so many years) and I haven't seen anything in the press or otherwise to make me question that decision.

Friday, August 12, 2011

A Little Vacation Reading

As my vacation winds down, I finally made it around to starting Edmund Morris' Colonel Roosevelt (if you haven't checked out the first two books, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt and Theodore Rex, I highly recommend them both), which was given to me around the holidays.

Each chapter begins with poetry from Edwin Arlington Robinson, who won three Pulitzer prizes.  The first chapter had one that keeps resonating in my head,

Equipped with unobscured intent
He smiles with lions at the gate,
Acknowledging the compliment
Like one familiar with his fate.


Enjoy the weekend and it's back to the grind next week!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Not The Best Weekend to be From New York Law School

It's been a busy weekend around here in Brooklyn, especially with the big feature on my alma mater, New York Law School in the weekend New York Times (here).  This was piggy-backed on the recent study that New York has more than 7,000 more lawyers than available legal jobs (7,687 last year to be exact).  The next closest state?  California at 2,951.

Normally, I don't think too many of my friends read the New York Times (or atleast they don't dump links to stories on me), but this weekend I got the story about New York Law School emailed to me more than a dozen times.  It had been a weird couple of months for me in relation to NYLS and I recently received the infamous email from the outgoing dean that he was stepping down from his position.  For a few weeks now, we've been wondering what was about to come out, why would he step down at such a time that the school seemed to be enjoying such success?  Maybe this article had been in the works for longer than we knew.

Since starting my own firm, I've been congratulated by friends and colleagues on making such a big move, especially in this job market.  Now, after reading all this negative recent press, I'm staving off the inclination to get nervous.

Atleast I have some issues to work out with Time Warner to keep my mind distracted...

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Dear Time Warner Cable

A short divergence from the usual fare of this blog...


July 15, 2011

Via Certified Mail
Time Warner Cable
Attn: VP of Customer Care
5520 Whipple Avenue NW
North Canton, Ohio 44720

            Re:      Account # 815XXXXXXXXXXXXX

Dear Sir/Madam:

Today I was scheduled to have a service appointment to replace our cable box, which was not recognizing our service according to your technicians.  As a history, our cable stopped working on July 11, 2011.  When I called, I was told that your company had done system upgrades, and that some cable boxes needed to be replaced.  I was given an appointment for July 18, 2011, but was told that I could bring my cable box in to a service center to switch it out and thus alleviate the need for the appointment.

On July 14, 2011, I went to the service center on East 23rd Street in Manhattan and was given a new cable box.  When I got home, the new cable box did not work.  When I called your company, I was told that they could move up my appointment to today, July 15, 2011, between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m.  As that was sooner than July 18 2011, I agreed.

Today, I was home throughout the day and no technician showed up or called.  At 6:07 p.m., I called your customer service phone number and spoke to Marybell.  She looked into the details of the appointment and told me that the technician had been to my apartment at 5:10 p.m. and had called the telephone numbers I had given the company when setting up the appointment.  I was told that the next available appointment was July 22, 2011, a week from today.
 
After hanging up with your customer service department, I spoke to my neighbor, Carol, who was outside of our building all afternoon starting at 4:00 p.m.  Indeed, I confirmed with her that she and I were outside talking to each other at 5:10 p.m. and my phone did not ring and no technician from your company appeared at the building to provide service.

I returned to my apartment and called your customer service again at 6:26 p.m. and when I got a representative on the phone, I requested to file a complaint about what had happened.  The representative offered to find a “supervisor” and put the call on hold.  I waited approximately 27 minutes without any “supervisor” or any other individual picking up the phone.  In disgust, I hung up the phone and left to meet my family for dinner.

The treatment I received by your company today is absolutely appalling.  That I pay for my service in full each month and have been a customer for nearly a decade clearly does not factor into your calculations or business models.  A simple telephone call today that the technician was “running late” or needed to “reschedule” would have been satisfactory and evidence of a modicum of respect for my time as a professional.  Instead, your technician blatantly lied, likely to allow him to avoid work on a Friday afternoon.  That your customer service representatives refuse to even document a complaint is just plain offensive to the notion of a “customer service” business.

While I would appreciate the simple courtesy of a reply to this letter, I will operate under the assumption that my treatment by your company will not improve at any time and that I offer no value to your business.

Friday, July 15, 2011

In New Jersey, Don't Use GPS to Find Your Mistress

In one of the first cases to allow such evidence to be used, the New Jersey Appellate Division last week allowed the use of data from a man's GPS device to be used in his divorce case.

The Appellate Division in Villanova v. Innovative Investigations, Inc., dismissed Mr. Villanova's claim of a violation of his right of privacy by a private investigator who suggested that Villanova's wife install a GPS device in a family vehicle to help track Villanova's travels.

As the Appellate Division noted, to track Mr. Villanova, his wife installed a GPS device in the glove compartment of the car that he frequently drove.  Mr. Villanova claimed, unsuccessfully, that he also used the car for his professional use as a corrections officer, which was discounted by the Appellate Division.  When his wife admitted to placing the GPS in his car, Mr. Villanova amended his divorce complaint to include the private investigator as a party to their divorce action.  When the divorce matter was finally resolved, the action against Mrs. Villanova for an invasion of his right of privacy was waived, but he retained his rights to sue the private investigator.

In his suit against the private investigator, Mr. Villanova claimed that the GPS intruded upon his "solitude and seclusion" and thus violated his right of privacy.  The private investigator's report detailed their actions, including surveillance of Mr. Villanova, attempts to find his alleged mistress at an address they had on file and following him and a female while they were driving in his car.  The Appellate Division noted that everything in the report occurred on "public roads" and not, as Mr. Villanova argued, in secluded places, and upheld the summary judgment dismissal of the claims against the private investigator.

The Appellate Division specifically held that
  • We hold that the placement of a GPS device in plaintiff's vehicle without his knowledge, but in the absence of evidence that he drove the vehicle into a private or secluded location that was out of public view and in which he had a legitimate expectation of privacy, does not constitute the tort of invasion of privacy.
In the end, it seems like Mrs. Villanova went a long way to attempt to prove that her husband was cheating on her.  It almost seems like a movie script, where the invisible GPS tracker is attached to the underside of a car so that James Bond can track down the bad guys.  But if courts are going to allow this kind of evidence to be submitted in cases, it will open up a whole new avenue for private investigators in a variety of matters.

This is reminiscent of back in 2001 when rental car companies hit the news with claims that they were utilizing the GPS in the rental cars to impose fines on drivers.  The data returned by the GPS indicated that the renters had been speeding and the rental car companies charged them for violations of their rental car agreements.

It seems like only a matter of time before the GPS chips in our cell phones are turned against us in the same way, especially since Apple seems to have already started the process.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

My (Un)Healthy Obsession With Technology

When I started my own firm, I was convinced that it would be simple to just sign up for different technology programs, login, and they would all just work together without any glitches.  You would think that these days, with all this information stored in the "cloud" and the readily available technology options, it would be simple.  And you, like me, would be wrong.  But the good news is, that with enough work, you can actually get everything to work together.

I recently had lunch with an old friend, who's had a solo practice for years, and most of the time was spent talking about the technology set up and how it lets me service clients in a more constructive and effective manner.

Hardware

My first challenge was deciding what hardware would be needed to keep me mobile, nimble and accessible to clients.  With all of my hardware in place, it was just a matter of getting a Windows 7 desktop, a MacBook, a WindowsXP Netbook, an iPad and a Blackberry to work together - raise any eyebrows yet?

Software

The next challenge, working with software that would be able to operate across all of these platforms so that I can grab whatever technology I need on my way out the door to meet with clients.  I began with GoogleApps to host my email, get my website up and running and manage my contacts, calendar and other tasks that it loves to help with.  To work with Google, I did some research and found a handy practice management software, GoClio, that integrated my calendar and contacts directly from my Google account.  I have found it easy to use and intuitive, but I have had clients who have worried about setting up another account on the web to connect through their service, and I'm waiting for more reactions from clients.

Telephones/Faxes

This actually turned out to be even easier than I anticipated, with a nice VOIP system that allows my calls to be routed to wherever I am and forwards all of my faxes to me as .pdf files.  In setting this up, I'm available to my clients at more times than just 9 - 5, in a manner that is unobtrusive to my home life (if a client calls and I'm with my family, I just hit a button, it goes to voicemail and I can retrieve the message and call them back if it's an emergency).

The Result

After a few tries, I think I've finally been able to get all of my technology to play nice together and allow me access to my practice on a variety of devices.  The biggest challenge, and it was a big challenge, was getting the Blackberry, Google and iPad to work together - in my earliest attempts, every time they attempted to synchronize, they would create duplicates in my calendar and contacts and my files became unwieldy!

Going forward I'm going to continue to try new applications, especially for the iPad, to try to optimize my practice through all of the glorious technology that is now available.  If I find something I like, it'll find its way onto this blog.

Monday, July 11, 2011

High Profile Cases and the Cocktail Party

I doubt I have to mention which "high profile" case was all the talk at the parties this past weekend (and on principle I refuse to even type her name and give her or her attorney more publicity).  It is when these wonderful cases are decided that our attendance at law school makes us the immediate expert on all things whenever we meet anyone new at a social occasion.

This past weekend, the constant query was how in the world did the jury find the woman not guilty.  Everyone I spoke to seemed to think there's a special ring of hell waiting for her after what the media told them she had done to her daughter.  The juror who was all over the news poignantly said that they didn't vote for her "innocence" but rather, they couldn't find her guilty behind a reasonable doubt.  I spent my time attempting to defend the legal system and the processes we all go through.

The interesting divergence came when I spoke to attorneys, who really weren't shocked about the verdicts, but rather, were amazed that an attorney with no experience could bungle his way through a trial where his client was facing the death penalty and emerged unscathed (so far).  Despite all of the statements from the judge about how upset he was from the antics of the attorneys involved, it doesn't appear that there will be any sanctions leveled.  Even more appalling to my fellow lawyers were the reports of "champagne fueled parties" and how excited her attorney was that his career was on the rise, that good things were going to happen and his hiring of an agent to represent him.

I had to admit to many that I really didn't follow the trial closely - in fact, the last real coverage I watched was years ago when my wife watched the Today Show each morning and they seemed to have a daily feature on the case while the beautiful little girl was missing.  It was a tragic case, regardless of who was at fault, what crazy stories were presented at trial and all of the media hype around it.  In the end, a young life was ended under suspicious circumstances and our system may never be able to attach a criminal conviction to that travesty.

So I may be naive, but I hope that this past weekend is the last time I'll have to spend my time at a party discussing this case and we can all find more entertaining pleasantries to occupy our time.  It is my sincere hope that the woman, her attorney and the entire case just disappear from our collective conscious and let them fade back into the obscurity from whence they came so that I can actually look forward to social interactions again.

Friday, July 8, 2011

A "Bucket List" of Documents

This past weekend, the Wall Street Journal featured a great article by Saabira Chaudhuri in their Weekend Investor Section on "The 25 Documents You Need Before You Die" and how they can impact you and your estate after you're gone.

They broke the documents into 6 categories
  • The Essentials
  • Proof of Ownership
  • Bank Accounts
  • Health-Care Confidential
  • Life Insurance and Retirement
  • Marriage and Divorce
The Essentials included the documents that most people are likely to have, their Will, Letter of Instruction and Trust documents (which of course, all of us have, right?).  Especially after major life events (i.e. marriage, birth of a child, divorce), it is important to review these documents and update them as necessary.  I am always amazed when in a client consultation, I am told that the prospective client has a will, from about 20 years ago, which was before they got married, had a couple of kids, maybe even got divorced, and that they never thought to update it.

Proof of Ownership also included documents that we all deal with as we acquire major property and things throughout our life (housing documents, vehicle title, loans, investments, tax returns).  The article points out the importance of having these documents and identification of assets and liabilities available to ease the distribution of your estate after you are gone.

I was a bit concerned about the suggestion of providing a "list of all user names and passwords" in connection with your bank accounts, especially in this age of online security threats and unauthorized access to supposedly secure data.  While it's important that your heirs have access to this information at some point, make sure there is an understood protocol and system to safeguard any document that would contain such information.

The health care documents are one area that I find myself clearly at fault for not having everything together at this time.  Even at my last checkup with my dermatologist, I realized how little I knew about the health history of those in my family and the impact that genetics may play in our overall health and illnesses.

Most people probably have a folder in their desk or file cabinet for their life insurance and retirement account information.  You get your monthly statements, file them away (maybe even scan them into digital format and destroy them?) and never really think about them again.  But what happens after you are gone and your perfect little filing system is incomprehensible to those who are trying to administer your estate?  Time to update that system?

Finally, the Marriage and Divorce documents (marriage license, divorce papers) are ones that people seem to underestimate the importance of.  True, your marriage license probably won't be needed for many things beyond a name-change on your accounts, but your divorce papers seem to be needed everywhere.  These days, Judgments of Divorce are readily available from the Courthouse where your divorce was granted (prices vary for "certified" copies, which are often required) and it's usually a good idea to pay for a few copies at the time of your divorce and keep them handy.  Normally you won't need them, but what else are you going to do when your ex-spouse's creditor pops up on your doorstep and tries to hold you liable for some debts that the ex ran up?  Surprisingly, they won't take your word for it and will probably need more proof from you.

Overall, this was an excellent article that is worth a read to get your mental house in order as you plan for the future.  You can generate many of the documents yourself, file away the ones that you have lying around, but most importantly, contact your attorney or financial planner if it's been a while since you've thought about your Will, Trusts, Health Care documents and retirement accounts.  What may have been the right choices for you 20 years ago may be quite a headache for your family these days.