Tag Archive: Management
Two changes are about to occur in the lives of “want to be lawyers.”
First, to appease their conscience, the Board of Trustees of the California State Bar considers requiring law students to take on one more obligation before graduating, 50 hours of free or low-cost legal services for the “needy” within a year of passing the bar examination. What is the issue? Is it to address the concern that so many people cannot afford to hire an attorney? Or is it to provide additional and needed training for newly minted lawyers?
If it is the latter, law schools to be accredited by either the state or the American Bar Association should include the client representation process in the curriculum before granting the degree. If it is the former, all lawyers should be required to provide “legal aid” or low-cost services or a percentage of their gross revenue to legal aid organizations.
If either of these alternatives were implemented, two powerful entities would rebel. Law schools with their prestigious alumni would howl; and all lawyers would consider a percentage of their gross revenue to be an additional tax and anathema.
The second change is the reduction of California’s three-day bar examination to two days. Whether the complaint is that three days is more arduous than two days, which it is, or whether the more than $800,000 savings to the Bar is the motivation is not clear. Somehow, it just does not seem that saving money is of major concern to the “powers that be.” It is also clear that educating its members – attorneys – is also not a major concern. Over 70 percent of the annual State Bar budget is directed toward the disciplinary system. Of the matters within that system, over 50 percent relate to management issues. Educating lawyers to be more effective in managing their business and dealing with their clients (unrelated to theft of client trust funds) would result in a significant reduction of expenses to the Bar, and increase more effective service to clients and, oh perhaps even a reduction of annual dues to lawyers.
But then, LawBiz® has been whistling in the wind about this issue for decades.
A customer challenge and how to create customer ill will:
I sent two framed pieces of art, one of them a print by Salvador Dali, to my son in New York. I’m in Los Angeles. The representative at the counter of the Marina del Rey FedEx store assured me that FedEx packaging the prints would guarantee a) that they would be packaged well, b) if there were any damage, FedEx would not assert a claim of improper packaging. I paid extra for this service and was given a $1,000 insurance policy at no extra charge.
The prints arrived in New York … with the cover glass broken and the outside packaging ripped. I filed a claim with the company as requested, with photos and a claim estimate from a frame company. After what seemed like more time than it should have taken, I received a letter denying the claim…. because the prints were improperly packaged. I called to inquire further but was told that the person who denied the claim, the person whose name is on the letter of denial, had to be the person to talk with me. I called several times, leaving my name and number, requesting a return call. Still …. no response.
I called the local (point of shipment) office. They again assured me that they were responsible for packaging … and proof of FedEx packaging is both in the pictures (they used blue packaging tape) and on the invoice issued by FedEx. But, I was told, they have no authority to settle a claim. Apparently, neither does the New York (locus of delivery) office.
Several calls to the claims department of FedEx in the East have not been returned. Yet, another department of the company is now threatening me with a collection letter.
This denial and silence breeds ill-will among customers/clients. I read a marketing statistic that suggests that for every good service experience, you tell one person; for every bad service experience, you tell 20 people. This amplification is not what any responsible company wants to experience.
Moral to my audience: Make it easy to reach you; don’t hide behind complex web site walls. Return calls and resolve disputes … that’s how you create goodwill.
As we begin to look at how the profession will change in 2015 and beyond, we must look at the Australian market. Here, large accounting firms are adding major law practice components to their stable of professionals. In at least two instances, more than 100 lawyers were engaged by accounting firms. Multi-disciplinary connections are back on the table. While this will not happen overnight in the U.S., it’s clear that we cannot ignore these changes outside of our borders. This is especially true for the larger law firms that want to compete in the Asia-Pacific market; I’m sure there will also be a ripple impact here.
Most prosecutors will negotiate with accused offenders. Obviously, this is done to move the trial court calendar along, eliminate the need to tie up resources that could be used elsewhere, truly not needed when the defendant is willing to change a plea. Even in civil matters, parties negotiate settlements in order to achieve reasonable business outcomes and reduce the cost of litigation.
In at least one civil instance, an insurance company said they will not settle any case, large or small, that everything had to go to trial. This clearly delays the outcomes … and enables the insurance carrier to withhold payment for some time. I’ve not seen any studies about the merits of such activities from the carrier’s perspective. It does, however, frustrate plaintiffs. Frustration without economic benefit is hardly a good business outcome. And the carrier has since reversed this policy.
Now, we have a new version. The State Bar of California has announced that it will refuse to accept “no contest” pleas from lawyers accused of ethics violations. The issue here is not one of criminal liability, but rather of retaining one’s license to practice law. One has to ask what more can be given to the Bar once the lawyer-accused has agreed to take his/her punishment?
The Office of Trial Counsel maintains that accused lawyers are not accepting responsibility for their actions unless they are tried and convicted or accept a guilty plea. That is why they will not accept a nolo contendere plea. Other than civil damages, the effect of a nolo plea is the same … and punishment is no less. Criminal prosecutors understand this. But, the Bar wants its “pound of flesh.” It is questionable whether this is a question of morality.
This is just one more example of the California State Bar’s new adversarial attitude toward its members … Although the legislative directive to the State Bar is that its primary, if not sole, function is to protect the public (not help its members who pay all the expenses of the Bar), one has to wonder how the public is being better helped by this new approach.
The conduct of lawyers, not just litigators, continues to go “south.” Why is this? Have the teachings of our mothers and fathers gone unheeded? Or, in this more litigious world, and the greater incidence of divorce (most of which is with great conflict), do manners, good taste and just plain “niceness” go out the window?
For many years, bar associations have been wringing their hands over how to improve the reputation of the legal community. Clearly, the lack of civil behavior does nothing to enhance our profession’s reputation or regard from among the lay public.
Recently, the State Bar of California modified the lawyer’s oath of office. It is a court rule (9.4), not a rule of professional conduct. And, there does not seem to be any consequences to a violation of the new oath that does not already exist with the judge in a given matter. The language, specifically, includes the words “dignity, courtesy and integrity.” As it stands now, this seems to be a subjective standard and does not increase the power of the court to impose sanctions on any lawyer activity.
When California Chrome did not win the Belmont Stakes this last weekend, its owner went berserk and complained that the race was not fair. He suggested that all horses run under the same rules. In other words, any horse eligible for the Triple Crown should be run in all three races, the Kentucky Derby, the the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes. Taken in the abstract, his criticism might be correct. The point, however, is where and how he said it. In other words, he didn’t play by the “rules” of genteel civility.
There may be other reasons why California Chrome did not win at Belmont. One such reason is that he appears to have stumbled coming out of the gate, injuring himself; another, his post position was not to the liking of his team. Whatever other reasons there may be, the ultimate conclusion is that California Chrome ran three races to the single race of the winner of Belmont. The words of the owner will be an asterisk or afterthought to the history of this horse. And, if the rules of horse racing are modified in the future, perhaps his outburst was appropriate.
When lawyers are uncivil, or lack civility, in dealing with one another, no one receives a benefit. Lack of civility is not seen as a strength, but merely as an annoyance. Civility does not make one weak. Nor, in most instances, do our clients appreciate the added expense that oftentimes results from having to overcome one’s adversaries’ lack of civility. Yes, there is a difference between horse racing and the practice of law. But, in both scenarios, as my mother used to say, “one can get more with honey than with vinegar.” Equally important for lawyers, our clients do not believe this is better lawyering. On the contrary, they tend to disrespect us for not being civil and causing them increased expense.
An ABA task force recently found that only 56% of recent law school graduates achieve full-time employment as an attorney within twelve months of graduation, over the last five years, applicants to law schools have declined by roughly 50% from approximately 100,000 to approximately 50,000 per year.
This will have a dramatic impact on the availability of lawyers for the American public. And couple this statistic with the more than 400,000 lawyers who will retire in the next 10 years, and you will see a dramatic change in the legal landscape.
For those who complain that there are too many lawyers, this should satisfy their desire to thin the ranks of lawyers. For those who want to better serve those currently under-served Americans, this will add yet another challenge to the system. And for lawyers, the likelihood increases that the Bar will add yet another requirement of pro bono service and added cost to doing business as a lawyer.
The Department of Justice has accused more than one bar association of violating the Americans With Disabilities Act.Louisiana and Vermont licensure systems inquired as to the mental health of applicants. Apparently, some of the same questions of which the complaint by DOJ is registered are asked in a standard national Conference of Bar Examiners questionnaire.
The Bar is not qualified to conduct a mental health diagnosis or treatment, according to the DOJ. Past behavior … conduct … can be reviewed, but not one’s state of mind or status.
I wonder how this analysis will resonate with those who complain that one’s competency to act as an attorney can be judged by one’s age. Shouldn’t conduct be the standard? Aren’t you presumed innocent (i.e., competent) until proven otherwise? That would be ageism … a status I think that is also protected by law.
The IRS lost its appeal to institute competency exams for as many as 700,000 paid tax preparers. The federal court said the IRS lacked the authority to impose the new rules without congressional authorization. While this argument would not likely hold water as concerns additional licensing requirements for lawyers, the arguments used rang a bell.
For example, i) the proposed regulations were onerous; ii) the proposed regulations would have put thousands of mom-and-pop tax preparers out of business. On the other side of the coin, the IRS needed to weed out ill-trained and incompetent tax preparers.
Paid tax preparers fill out 60% of all U.S. tax returns and the government has found significant problems over the years by the work done by this group.
The arguments are all to familiar and can be super-imposed on the legal profession where more than 60% of the practitioners are solo.
The question always is "how good does good have to be?" What would these people do if they couldn’t find a tax preparer (substitute attorney) at a price they could afford to pay for work that was substantially correct,even if not perfect?
I would like perfection … but even the best lawyers from major law schools (in my experience) are not perfect … are always at a price that most of us can’t afford to pay. As one of my mentors has said, don’t shoot for perfection; when you’re 80% good, go!
Related to this, though by a stretch, I listened to an NPR program in the last couple of days that talked about teenage suicide, a growing epidemic. The psychologists maintain that the stress caused by our current generation seeking perfection, and then realizing they can’t reach that goal, is the catalyst for many suicide attempts.
To the IRS and to the Bar: Define "competence" so our professionals can attain the standard and the average American citizen can afford to engage professional assistance.
New rules relating to the issuance of 1099 forms are in place that impact even funds in one’s IOLTA account. If you have oversight and management of the funds such as selecting the expert witnesses or investigators in a personal injury matter, you may have sufficient dominance to be required to issue a 1099.
See Priv. Ltr. Rul 97-44-02 (1997) and 91-02-013. See also Rev Rul 93-70, 1993-2 CD 294.
The threshold amount if $600. Beyond that, consider the consequences of filing/not filing. And if you’re a co-recipient of a settlement draft with your client where a portion of the draft is for attorney’s fees, you will still have to report and/or attach an explanation to your tax return.
Moral of the story: These laws are complex. Consult your tax adviser.
According to the ABA, only 56 percent of nearly 46,000 law school graduates had a job in 2012 requiring bar passage nine months after graduation. And less than 1 in 5 of the legal problems experienced by low-income people are addressed by a private attorney or a legal aid lawyer.
The president of the ABA told the House of Delegates that “‘There are so many examples of real, monumental life issues that could be alleviated with the help of a lawyer…And there is a pool of newly minted lawyers waiting for the chance to help.’”
This is the same problem or challenge that faced the legal profession in 1965 when I became a member. Bar leaders were wringing their hands, then, saying "oh my, oh my, what should we do?" One would think that the brilliance of lawyers, both before and since, could have found a solution to this challenge posed by the laws of economics, supply and demand. Well, the answer is they have.
The ABA president suggested that we should look at programs on the national, state and local levels, citing as examples New York’s legal incubator program aimed at helping new practitioners and South Dakota’s rural practice project, which provides financial incentives to lawyers willing to practice in rural areas. These are not new; examples exist from Coast to Coast. And no new regulations and no involuntary service is required to face and meet the challenges.
But there is no political will to embrace them and expand these options. Perhaps the established Bar is fearful of the results and the impact on the economics of those who have "made it."