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Law Blog Week in Review: Judges Reading on Tablets, the Death of the Homepage, and Ethics in the Cloud

Sat, 05/24/2014 - 16:40

This holiday weekend law blog roundup is just a quickie.

The Drawbacks of Reading On a Screen

We read differently when we read something on a screen. The Legal Skills Prof Blog calls those differences drawbacks, but I’m not sure that’s right. Regardless, here’s what one study of K-12 students found: “people seem to reflexively skim the surface of texts in search of specific information, rather than dive in deeply in order to draw inferences, construct complex arguments, or make connections to their own experiences.”

Replace people with judges and you might think about changing the way you write for the court. After all, tablets are becoming more and more common in chambers for reading briefs — even at the Supreme Court. [Legal Skills Prof Blog]

The Death of the Homepage

One of the most striking things in the New York Times’s innovation report was its acknowledgement that its homepage is diminishing in value. Increasingly, people go straight to an article from a link shared via Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn. Kevin O’Keefe says law firm websites: “it will be more important to work on your social media presence than to work on your website.” [Real Lawyers Have Blogs]

A List of State Ethics Opinions on the Cloud

This week Bob Ambrogi put together a list of all (he thinks) of the state ethics opinions concerning lawyers’ use of the cloud. [LawSites Blog]

Work Hard, Stay Small

Carolyn Elefant takes on Seth Godin, observing that doing hard work may not be the solo’s path to prosperity. The problem is that doing hard work takes really good lawyers — which aren’t growing on trees. Choosing to do the difficult work may still be worthwhile, but if you want to get big, pick something you can build an assembly line around. [MyShingle]

Featured image: “Young boy watching Holiday parade” from Shutterstock.

Law Blog Week in Review: Judges Reading on Tablets, the Death of the Homepage, and Ethics in the Cloud is a post from Lawyerist.com. The original content in this feed is © 2013 Lawyerist Media, LLC. This feed is provided for private use only and may not be re-published.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

5 Ways To Keep Your Client Occupied During Mediation Downtime

Mon, 05/19/2014 - 09:27

Sam Glover tipped me off to this piece about how to entertain your clients during the long empty spaces that are the hallmark of a mediation session. That article is lovely and includes solid pieces of advice like “chat up the mediator” and “get to know your client.” No disrespect to the gentlemen solicitor authors (wait, does Canada have solicitors or lawyers?) but people, we need more.

What if the mediator doesn’t make that many visits? What if your client is a terrible bore? Let’s spice things up with some much better ways to pass the time when you’re locked in a room with someone (with whom you may only have a nodding acquaintance personally) for hours at a time.

5 Ways To Keep Your Client Occupied During Mediation Downtime is a post from Lawyerist.com. The original content in this feed is © 2013 Lawyerist Media, LLC. This feed is provided for private use only and may not be re-published.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Law Blog Week In Review: School Lunches, Ted Olson’s Hourly Rate, and Free Speech for Robots

Sat, 05/17/2014 - 11:24
Testing Access to Justice

Bob Ambrogi reports that Massachusetts will be the first state with a bar exam that includes questions in the “field of Access to Justice.” The new questions will cover legal problems like this sample essay question:

In a real estate transaction the contract calls for delivery of the property free of tenants, but a tenant reports that there are conditions in need of repair in her apartment and she has a rent subsidy to assist her with the rent.

[LawSites]

Social Media Hype

The PR Lawyer seems a bit surprised that corporations pay attention to what people say about them on social media. What that means, though, is that right now, you are apparently more likely to get what you want by making a stink on Twitter than by just calling customer service. It reminds me of this Vox piece explaining that reruns of Big Bang Theory are roughly twice as popular as the most-watched episode of Game of Thrones, despite the impression you might get from social media. [The PR Lawyer]

The Politics of Tomato Sauce

Congress getting involved in school lunch reform is a terrifying thought, especially when you add lobbyists to the mix. I assume that’s how tomato sauce gets classified as a “vegetable,” as reported by the Ag & Food Law Blog. (1. Tomato is a fruit. 2. Tomato sauce is usually loaded with sugar or high fructose corn syrup.) [Ag & Food Law Blog]

How Long Would it Take 280 Billion Ted Olsons to Bill $2 Undecillion?

Forever, basically, even if Ted Olson were immortal or a zombie. What If?‘s Randall Munro tried to put the ridiculous lawsuit against Au Bon Pain in perspective, and tried to answer Underhill’s question:

If Au Bon Pain hired every Ted Olson in the galaxy to defend them in this case, and had them all work 80-hour weeks, 52 weeks a year, for a thousand generations … it would still cost them less than if they lost.

Two great blogs teaming up to answer life’s great questions. [Lowering the Bar]

Breaking the Silence About Depression

When Dan Lukasik told his law partners about depression, they weren’t particularly understanding. When he decided he wanted to go public with it, a judge told him it was a bad idea because “there are also a lot of other lawyers out there who will try to hurt you with this.” When he published an article about it, one of his partners asked him “Who is going to hire you now, Dan? A mentally ill lawyer?”

Lawyers suffer from alcoholism and drug abuse and depression in greater numbers than the population at large, and it’s no wonder if this is how we treat colleagues who admit it. [Everyday Health]

Free Speech for C-3PO

At Slate, John Weaver writes that robots and AIs are entitled to free speech:

A literal reading of the text of the First Amendment suggests that it does: It simply states that the government “shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” Nothing there specifically suggests freedom of speech is limited to people. (In contrast, U.S. copyright and patent laws clearly indicate that only human beings qualify as authors and inventors.)

Does this matter? Well, it might. People are starting to build robots that create art. Art has a tendency to offend people, and the sort of people who are offended by art have a tendency to shout at local legislators until things get banned. What about drones operated by news media — do they have a First Amendment right to transmit their signal, or can the government jam their transmissions? What if AIs are writing articles instead of human reporters? [Future Tense]

Featured image from What If?

Law Blog Week In Review: School Lunches, Ted Olson’s Hourly Rate, and Free Speech for Robots is a post from Lawyerist.com. The original content in this feed is © 2013 Lawyerist Media, LLC. This feed is provided for private use only and may not be re-published.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Inbox Zero for Lawyers

Fri, 05/16/2014 - 13:30

Inboxes are meant to be emptied, not used for long-term storage. That goes double for your email inbox, which is far more useful if you empty it on a regular basis.

If you allow things to pile up in your inboxes — physical or virtual — they become a constant reminder of all the stuff you think you have to do. Besides being a distraction, a pile of paper and a bursting email inbox are a pretty ineffective way to figure out what you ought to be working on.

When it comes to email, you can empty your inbox regularly by sorting its contents into action-oriented folders and ruthlessly archiving or deleting anything you don’t need to see again. If this sounds suspiciously like Getting Things Done, you’re not far off. But you don’t need to know a thing about GTD in order to practice Inbox Zero.

Inbox Zero is the brainchild of Merlin Mann, who adapted the Getting Things Done system to email. He did not invent the concept, though. Well before I ever heard of Merlin Mann or Inbox Zero, I read a Time Matters white paper recommending much the same system.1 You can (and should) watch his “Inbox Zero” talk at Google here:

It’s a one-hour video, but you should make time for it. Inbox Zero, like GTD, is basically “advanced common sense.” When you watch Mann’s presentation, I think it will click for you, and you might even get excited about sorting your email, of all things.

The video is all you need to learn the system, but Mann’s posts about Inbox Zero are available on his website, 43 Folders

The basic idea is to create four folders for your email:2

  • Do Now
  • Later
  • Waiting
  • To Read

At least once a day, sort everything in your email inbox into those folders. Don’t open an email without sorting it into a folder. While you are at it, ruthlessly archive or delete anything you don’t need to keep staring at when you open your email.

Processing Your Inbox

Inbox Zero is about figuring out what you have to do and sorting the rest into useful places. You don’t have to explicitly follow Merlin Mann’s framework, but it is a useful starting point. After years of practicing Inbox Zero, here is the most-efficient way I have found to process your inbox.

Archiving and Deleting

Archiving or deleting is the most important part of processing your email inbox. The majority of most email is unimportant, and there is no reason to save it. So delete it.

Anything that you need or want to hold onto, but that you don’t have to act on, you can archive. In Outlook or any other mail software, just create an Archive folder. In Gmail, just use the Archive button.

If you want to use a folder for each client or matter, you can. These folders are still part of your archives. So are folders like bills & receipts or save3

You can do this, but I think sorting into multiple archive folders is a waste of time. If you need something from your archives, it is easier to search for it. Periodically or when you close a file, just search for all the names and email addresses linked to the file, and convert everything to a PDF you can save to the file (or print out, if you like wasting paper).

And if you do decide to sort your messages into client-specific folders, make sure you do it with your sent messages, too.

Turning Emails Into Tasks

Instead of Mann’s four labels, you really just need two: _do now and _waiting (underscores make the folders or labels sort to the top of your list). Things to do later or tasks with deadlines should get moved to your task manager, whether that is Remember the Milk, a work plan, Microsoft Outlook, or whatever you prefer to use. Keep a someday list somewhere, too, for things you don’t want to forget but don’t want to do now. You can use your task manager or Evernote or a piece of paper in your desk drawer. It doesn’t really matter.

The do now folder4 is for anything you can start working on immediately (even if you are not going to). In GTD, do now just means stuff you could do right now, not stuff you have to do right away. It functions as your email to-do list.

If you wanted to, you could skip the do now folder entirely and create a task in your task manager for each email you need to act on. It is often easier to just work from your do now folder, though, so you don’t have to go looking for the emails associated with your to-do items. But if the task does not involve email directly, you can move it to your regular task list.

If you are waiting on a response or you have delegated a message to someone else, file it in the waiting folder. About once a week, go through this folder and send reminders when appropriate.

In Gmail, you can use the multiple inboxes add-on to see your inbox, starred (do now) messages, and waiting messages at the same time. Otherwise, just keep an eye on those folders.

Workflow

When you sit down to check your mail, process it right then and there.

Start by looking at the list of messages without opening anything, and delete everything you don’t even need to see. It’s fine to open messages in order to unsubscribe from newsletters you no longer want to receive.

Next, if anything looks like something you can do immediately in less than a minute or so, go ahead and do it. Just get it out of the way. As you do this, and as you get through any additional messages you encounter, sort stuff to where it belongs. Sort the messages that represent something you can start working on immediately (whether or not you are actually going to do them now, and move them to your do now folder or star and archive them.5

Your emphasis now should be on sorting, not doing, but if you can move a message along with a quick reply or forward, go ahead and do it, then sort the message thread into the appropriate folder or archive it. For example, a client may be looking for an update, and all you need to respond is something along the lines of “nothing to report; I’ll let you know when I have news.” After that response, you can archive the message thread. Or you might decide to forward that email to your junior associate to draft a response. After you forward it, move the thread to your waiting folder.

If a message requires more than a minute or so of your attention and you don’t need to get to it right now, move it to your do now folder.

If a message represents something you need to do later, add a to-do item with a due date in your task manager, and archive the message.6

Getting Started

Let’s say Merlin Mann and I have convinced you that Inbox Zero is worthwhile. Right now, you probably have hundreds or thousands of messages sitting in your inbox. Here is how to get from thousands of messages to zero messages.

If you are like most people, you probably have a few things in your inbox that represent things you can do now, a few things in progress, and a lot of other stuff. You could sift through all that other stuff and file it all carefully, but I don’t recomment it.

Start by getting the do now and waiting items where they belong. Then, do a quick Ctrl A (or Cmd A for Mac users), and archive everything else.

Done. If you want to go through your archive later, go ahead. But don’t waste time sifting slowly through everything. Get to Inbox Zero as quickly as possible, and make it your daily (at least) discipline from now on.

Featured image: “close up of an email program screen on a computer monitor ” from Shutterstock.

  1. I couldn’t find the actual white paper, but here is a reference to keeping your Time Matters inbox clear. 

  2. Mann uses different labels — delegate, respond, defer, do — but they amount to basically the same thing. I use do now in place of do and respond, since I don’t see a good reason to separate them. I use do later in place of defer since it is a more helpful label to me. Waiting contains messages I have delegated to someone else, along messages for which I am waiting on a response. To read contains messages I need to read or consider carefully before I can act on them or archive them. 

  3. Google Apps lets you set an auto-delete timeline. For example, you can automatically delete all messages older than 10 years. You can also exempt a label (save, for example) from auto-deletion. 

  4. In Gmail, you could just use the starred items folder for this, since you can easily add and remove stars right from the inbox. 

  5. In Gmail, archived messages will still show up in any label, including the Starred label. You can also find them under All Mail

  6. In Outlook, you could also just flag the message for later, which amounts to creating a task with the email attached. 

Inbox Zero for Lawyers is a post from Lawyerist.com. The original content in this feed is © 2013 Lawyerist Media, LLC. This feed is provided for private use only and may not be re-published.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

MyCase Law Practice Management Software

Wed, 05/14/2014 - 14:31

When MyCase launched, it called itself “social” practice management software, because of the way it is designed from the ground up to facilitate secure communication between lawyers and clients. Communication remains a primary focus even though MyCase has dropped social from its tag line. MyCase’s mobile apps, for example, are not just for lawyers. Clients can also use the apps to communicate with you and keep tabs on their case.

Here’s what you need to know about MyCase, from getting started to using the mobile apps with your clients.

IndexGetting Started with MyCase

All you need to get started with MyCase is your email address. Visit the login page and you can be up and running and using the software in moments.

The way to add your first case or contact or appointment should be obvious:

Migrating to MyCase

You can import matters and contacts into MyCase, though you will pretty much have to do it yourself. Don’t worry, though. MyCase has several step-by-step data migration guides, and you can always email or call MyCase’s support staff for extra help.

The data migration options are limited, but should be enough to help you get started if you are transitioning from another software package.

Using MyCase

MyCase’s tabbed user interface should feel familiar to anyone who has used web-based software, and the dashboard contains shortcuts (see above for a screenshot) for most common tasks.

The dashboard also features a feed of recent activity, in case you want to keep tabs on what the rest of the firm is doing, and widgets for upcoming tasks and appointments, pulled from your task list and calendar, respectively.

One thing that’s not immediately obvious on dashboard is MyCase’s Workflows feature. In MyCase, Workflows are really well-implemented, easy-to-use templates for tasks and appointments.

Sync and Integrations

MyCase comes with several integrations you can choose to use. You can sync contacts and calendars with Outlook, and you can sync your calendars with Google Calendar. MyCase email integration is simple. You can forward emails to a private email address, then associate them with your cases back in MyCase. (You could probably even automate this using filters in Gmail or Outlook.)

There is just one other integration, a $99 QuickBooks sync add-on that reportedly works quite well — until it doesn’t. At least one MyCase user I talked to said the QuickBooks integration stopped working all of a sudden. This seems to be a problem with QuickBooks, however, not with MyCase. The popular accounting software is not built to play well with other software. If QuickBooks integration is important to you, I think you have to expect that it might be unreliable.

So that’s it. As of this writing, MyCase is pretty shallow when it comes to sync and integrations. That seems to be by design. MyCase is focusing on adding features rather than relying on third-party software and services to fill in. So while MyCase will probably integrate with Dropbox at some point, it will probably beef up its own document management, first.

Mobile Apps

MyCase just released its Android app. Together with its iOS app, that means most lawyers and clients can use the apps.

With the app, lawyers get most of the functionality of MyCase in the browser, in a touch-friendly package. Both apps are universal, meaning they work on both phones and tablets. The iOS app has not yet been update for iOS 7, but an update has to be coming soon now that MyCase has launched its new Android app.

While most law practice management apps are just for lawyers, the MyCase apps are also for clients. Clients obviously don’t get to see all the information you do. They only get to see what you have shared with them, which mostly means documents and communications, but can include appointments, tasks, invoices, and anything else you can share in MyCase (i.e., most things).

Security

Like all responsible cloud-based software, MyCase uses “bank-grade” security. This means it secures your connection to MyCase’s servers with SSL, and stores your information, encrypted, on those servers. MyCase also offers two-factor authentication, which you should turn on. For (a bit) more information, check out the security summary on MyCase’s website.

So that’s the back-end security. But now that we know emails can be intercepted by just about anyone, security on the front end makes a lot of sense. A secure client portal — like MyCase — for sending messages and sharing documents is a really good idea, whether you just use it for just some messages or for all attorney-client communications.

When you send a message or share a file within MyCase, the system sends out a notice by email, but not the substance of the communication itself:

The client then has to log into MyCase to get the message or document. This makes the client portal a bit more of a hassle to use than email, obviously, but it is essential. If MyCase included the message in the notification email, there goes the security.

Remembering a username and password may be just enough of an obstacle that clients won’t want to use it, in fact. I have talked to a couple of MyCase users whose clients have shown no interest in the client portal.

Increasing security usually adds complication, but it may be worthwhile, anyway. In this case, communicating through MyCase is far more secure than communicating through email. If your clients use the apps, they can get at their communications much more easily (though you should probably caution clients against using the MyCase apps on an employer-provided smartphone).

Backing Up Your MyCase Data

Backing up your data from MyCase is simple. Just go to Settings > Import / Export > Full Backup and download a .zip file with all your data. It doesn’t get much easier than that. According to the MyCase knowledgebase, you can only do this once per day, but that should be more than enough.

Of course, MyCase also backs up your data regularly, but you should definitely take advantage of the option to download your own copy regularly.

Evaluating MyCase for Your Practice

There is only one way to find out if MyCase is right for your law practice: sign up for the free trial and give it a try. The best way to do it is probably to pick one or two willing clients to act as guinea pigs and try it with you.

However, it doesn’t hurt to see what others have to say. Here is a non-comprehensive list of MyCase reviews. I have included the dates, because anything more than a few months old is probably too far out of date.

Price

At just $39/user/month (and just $29/user/month for staff), MyCase is the least-expensive of the “big three” cloud-based law practice management software packages. More importantly, you can try it free for 30 days, so you might as well.

MyCase Law Practice Management Software is a post from Lawyerist.com. The original content in this feed is © 2013 Lawyerist Media, LLC. This feed is provided for private use only and may not be re-published.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

How to Lose Your Case

Mon, 05/12/2014 - 21:11

In litigation, you have to persuade judges that your client’s position is correct, but don’t forget about the gatekeepers. Your motions and briefs will probably be reviewed by a law clerk before it reaches the judge’s desk. Clerks for federal judges say they have reviewed many motions and briefs where it appeared that the attorneys didn’t care whether their clients prevailed.

I didn’t realize that attorneys would prefer to lose, not win, their case. But if your goal is losing, this article is for you. Be sure to incorporate these ideas from my law clerk friends into your motions and briefs — if you want to lose your case.

Don’t Cite Authority

If you want to lose, you don’t need to support your arguments with authority. Your judge has hired law clerks to research authority and to figure out whether it is relevant to the disputed issues. And your court has already paid for a subscription to LexisNexis or Westlaw. As an economics major, I highly value efficient research and understand why you wouldn’t want to duplicate the efforts of the clerks. After all, efficiency beats winning any day.

Argue What the Law Ought to Be, Not What It Is

Instead of citing authority, tell your judge what the law ought to be. Judges care much more about your beliefs than the plain language of a statute or the holding of a higher court. All judges and law clerks want to know whether you agree with the underlying policies of a statute — not whether the defendant violated the statute.

Trial judges especially prefer policy arguments. If you represent the state, argue that a ruling for the defendant will hinder police investigations; if you represent a defendant, state that a conviction would trample the defendant’s constitutional rights. To be sure that the judge knows that your arguments are merely opinions, hedge each argument with “I believe” or “I think” (and don’t cite a supporting case).

And you might throw in “I feel” a few times, because judges and law clerks are very emotional beings.

Cite Only Non-Binding and Unpublished Cases

If you do cite authority in your motion or brief, you can save it from winning by making sure the only authority you cite is not binding on the court. One way to do this in federal court is to cite only unpublished opinions, which “are not binding precedent.” Or if you are in state court on a federal constitutional issue, only cite cases from courts within that state.

Your judge should expect his or her law clerks to do the work researching binding cases from the United States Supreme Court. Again, efficiency trumps winning.

Discuss the Facts and Holding of Every Single Case You Have Read

Economists follow the principle of non-satiation, where more of a good is preferred to less of the good. The same is true for judges and law clerks. To ensure you lose, include more cases and lengthy discussions of each case. In fact, you should probably discuss each case that you have read during your research.

Judges and clerks are more impressed with the sheer number of cases that you discuss than the actual relevance of each case. They are also impressed when the facts and holdings of the cited cases are misstated. And after you include pages and pages of case discussions in your motion, make sure it doesn’t explain how the cases apply to your issues and facts.

When Applying the Law to Your Facts, Don’t Provide Context

Judges have only a few cases each month, allowing them to spend hours and hours scrutinizing your motion. Indeed, they often have the luxury of reading parties’ motions while lounging on the beach. As a result, you can assume that your judge has carefully read — and memorized — your statement of facts. Thus, in your argument section, you should identify the parties by name (not by defendant, plaintiff, or their legal significance) and assume that the judge recalls who did what when and to whom. Here is a good example:

Dansby presented a threat to Virginia (also called Ginny). Dansby found out where Virginia lived by accessing the computer of Vicki. The police officer stopped and searched the vehicle and found a weapon. The weapon is admissible because the search was lawful. The stop was necessary to prevent harm to Ginny.

The above example is an effective way to lose because it does not even indicate who is the defendant, whose vehicle was stopped, or why Dansby was a threat.

Don’t Use Section Headings or Topic Sentences

Section headings and a corresponding table of contents orient the reader and outlines the arguments that will be addressed in a motion or brief. Similarly, topic sentences orient the reader and state the point of a paragraph. So if you want to lose, it is better to let judges and their clerks get lost; they don’t want to see your arguments in context or understand the point of your paragraphs. They read dispositive motions like novels, hoping to be surprised by each paragraph and each page. For example, judges and clerks expect the point of a paragraph to be stated at the end, like this one by counsel for a defendant:

The government relies on Segura v. United States, 468 U.S. 796 (1984). In Segura, the first search of defendant’s apartment was illegal, but the second search of the apartment was legal and based on a valid warrant. The second search and warrant was not based on evidence seized during the first search. See id. at 800-01. Here, the evidence seized by the officers was a direct result of their initial illegal entry into defendant’s home. There was no second search. Thus, Segura is factually distinguishable.

When Including Section Headings, Make Them Ambiguous

Say you disregard my prior advice on how to confuse judges and insist on including section headings. When you draft headings, make them broad and non-descriptive, such as “Defendant’s Due Process Rights” or “Constitutional Violation.” And ignore Professor Sarah Ricks’s advice in Effective Brief Writing Despite High Volume Practice where she directs attorneys to write headings that affirmatively state the conclusion you want the court to reach. Thus, don’t write a heading similar to the one below — it might provide too much clarity to the reader.

Defendant Smith’s Due Process Rights Were Violated When She Was Fired as a Teacher Without Notice or a Hearing.

Raise Only One Argument Supporting Your Position

Even if you have three valid grounds for appealing the trial court’s decision, you should address only one. First, if you raise three issues, you will have to conduct research and draft arguments for all three issues. That would take time away from your more important tasks, such as scrolling through Facebook newsfeeds. Second, only risk-adverse attorneys raise alternative arguments. Because you love taking risks, you should base your entire case on just one argument — especially when losing means that your client will go to jail.

Argue Issues That Are Undisputed or Don’t Legally Matter

After you decide what one issue your motion or brief will address, spend multiple pages discussing inconsequential issues. Instead of discussing the merits of your one issue, you should point out opposing counsel’s typographical, grammatical, and citation errors. For good measure, you should also inform the court of opposing counsel’s prior “misconduct,” including any technical (but harmless) violations of the discovery rules. Additionally, even if your opponent concedes a legal point, spend at least one page on why your judge should agree with that concession.

Ignore the Applicable Legal Standard

If you ignore the relevant standard in your motion, then you would be free to raise irrelevant arguments. For instance, in your Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, you should not concede that well-pleaded facts are assumed true. Instead, you should challenge the factual allegations or contend that the evidence does not support plaintiff’s claims. Because most federal clerks are recent graduates, you might convince them to weigh the evidence and recommend a favorable decision. Or in your motion for summary judgment, disregard the rule that there must be no genuine issues of material fact. If you do, then you can rely on disputed facts that support your client.

Ignoring the standard of review on appeal is also an effective strategy — for losing. For example, appellate courts generally affirm factual findings, unless the lower court abused its discretion. Such a high level of deference would greatly hinder your ability to prevail when appealing a trial judge’s factual findings. Rather than proving that the lower court abused its discretion, pretend that the standard of review doesn’t exist, just like you would for a monetary debt that you could not pay.

Of course, if you want to win, do just the opposite.

Featured image: “Closeup portrait of young woman displaying loser sign” from Shutterstock.

How to Lose Your Case is a post from Lawyerist.com. The original content in this feed is © 2013 Lawyerist Media, LLC. This feed is provided for private use only and may not be re-published.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Watch the Only Good Lawyer Ads We Could Find

Sun, 05/11/2014 - 21:25

Is there anything more fraught with both possibility and potential for disaster than a lawyer doing a television/YouTube advertisement? We come from a profession that has only allowed advertising for a shade over 40 years and one that now deals with a near-continuous battle over what is actually permissible.

Additionally, a good deal of lawyer business isn’t actually the kind that is enhanced by television marketing. Your mergers-and-acquisitions practice probably isn’t going to be helped by a 30-second YouTube video. Because of that, legal marketing spots tend to be focused on those types of practices — criminal law, divorce, personal injury — where direct marketing to individuals might prove successful, and for some unfathomable reason, most of those things lead to truly terrible law firm ads.

Right now, there’s an arms race of sorts, where some lawyers are actually trying to make the most ridiculous and over-the-top ads, which got us to wondering whether we could find ten lawyer ads that were actually good (not “oh god that’s so bad it is hilarious” good).

Spoiler alert: we totally couldn’t. The portion of the Internet that is not entirely occupied by pictures of cats is apparently populated only by intentionally cheesy or accidentally awful lawyer ads. Lawyer ads are so bad that the ABA Law Practice Management section decided to create a Law Video Award back in 2011 and has abandoned the effort entirely going forward. We’ll likely do the same.

Watch the Only Good Lawyer Ads We Could Find is a post from Lawyerist.com. The original content in this feed is © 2013 Lawyerist Media, LLC. This feed is provided for private use only and may not be re-published.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Law Firm Finances: A Lawyerist Survival Guide

Sun, 05/11/2014 - 07:11

Law Firm Finances: A Lawyerist Survival Guide is a detailed how-to manual for solos and small firms. It covers setting up accounts, managing cash flow and credit, paying taxes and managing income, and forecasting income. These are critical skills that are not taught in law school, and many lawyers struggle to stay on top of their firm finances.

Law Firm Finances is a must-read for anyone who manages a law firm’s finances or is even thinking about starting one.

Here is a preview of the table of contents:

  • Getting Started
  • Cash Flow and Lines of Credit
  • Paying Taxes and Managing Income
  • Forecasting Income and Balance Sheets
  • It Gets Easier

Law Firm Finances: A Lawyerist Survival Guide is available for Kindle (both the device and the app) right now on Amazon for $2.99.

Buy it Now!

Law Firm Finances: A Lawyerist Survival Guide is a post from Lawyerist.com. The original content in this feed is © 2013 Lawyerist Media, LLC. This feed is provided for private use only and may not be re-published.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Law Blog Week in Review: Viral Racists, Poor Lawyers, and a Pervert Blogger

Sat, 05/10/2014 - 07:11

Each weekend, I will be rounding up the best law blog posts I find lying around the blawgosphere. You can help by sending me links using the link-submission form in the sidebar, starting discussions in the Lab, or tweeting the link to @lawyerist.

Quick Takes from the Lawyerist Sites Network

These posts come from the legal blogs hosted by Lawyerist Sites.

Viral Racists

Should LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling have been punished for being a terrible human being on his own time? What about short-lived Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich, whose tenure was just 10 days due to his $1,000 donation towards the cause to outlaw same-sex marriage in California?

According to employment lawyer Robin Shea, nobody should be under the misconception that off-duty behavior is off-limits when it comes to employment decisions. Spreading unpopular views around is not a great career plan, but above all, she says, don’t go viral. [Employment & Labor Insider]

File Bankruptcy, Update Facebook, Land in Jail

Facebook is not private, contrary to the belief of many clients. At a minimum, your “friends” can see what you post. But not very many people know who can see what they post on Facebook, and sometimes that might be a problem. Like when you post a picture of the classic car you “neglected” to include in your bankruptcy petition.

North Carolina bankruptcy lawyer Damon Duncan observes that — Surprise! — trustees know how to use Facebook, too. [Duncan Law]

The Productization of Law

I don’t argue with Marty Smith’s characterization of some legal services as basically products. Plenty of legal services can be product-ish. But when he starts talking about how great this is, I’ve got a problem. Justice is not served by mediocre legal forms, whether or not they are products. “[B]roader distribution of general legal knowledge” is not a good thing if that legal knowledge is wrong. And many of the stock legal forms peddled in office-supply stores and by consumer websites are mediocre at best, if not outright wrong.

That’s the problem with law as a product. Marty is on the right track when he wishes for “standardization of common legal documents.” To the extent we can standardize, we should. But not if the result is a collection of legal documents that serve nobody’s needs. [Legal Refresh]

Revenge Porn and a Pervert Blogger

Let’s see if I can bring you up to speed on the whole revenge porn thing in a few words.

Terrible human beings like Hunter Moore created websites for posting naked pictures of exes. Porn as a vehicle for revenge, in other words.

Soon, the websites turned into places to post naked pictures of anyone — women, mostly — without their consent. Moore wound up in jail for the sort-of-related crime of paying a hacker to steal naked pictures, and actual revenge porn ceded the spotlight to the crusade to criminalize revenge porn, led by University of Miami law professor Mary Anne Franks, who was profiled in the Daily Dot.

Now revenge porn goes to Washington, and at Simple Justice, “pervert blogger” (according to Franks, due to a provocatively-titled post) Scott Greenfield points out that the proposed law is surprisingly overbroad, and may reach well beyond its intended purpose. Mark Bennett did the same thing a while back, in quite a bit of detail.

Franks disagrees:

Blogger who tried to solicit #revengeporn very upset at being called a "pervert" @misogyny_online @EndRevengePorn pic.twitter.com/RN316ZzQTj

— Mary Anne Franks (@ma_franks) May 7, 2014

[Simple Justice]

Update: After I published this post, Professor Franks emailed me with some context. The point Greenfield was making in his provocatively-titled blog post, as I understand it, was that the proposed revenge porn laws could criminalize the publishing of newsworthy photos like Anthony Weiner’s selfie, since Weiner obviously did not consent to its publication. Or, as explicitly suggested by Greenfield’s title, selfies of Franks.

It turns out that people actually are threatening Franks with Photoshopped “selfies.” They are also threatening her with rape, murder, kidnapping, and more. In this context, it makes Greenfield’s title more than provocative, regardless what he intended. It’s certainly possible that Greenfield’s title is even inspiring some of that conduct. It is definitely getting in the way of a substantive discussion. At the risk of sounding like Glenn Beck interviewing Keith Ellison, I don’t think Greenfield intended for Franks to receive such threats, but given the similarity between some of those threats and his title, I would think Greenfield would want to condemn that behavior.

I hope he will. Maybe then everyone will stop the name-calling and finger-pointing so we can figure out if Greenfield’s point is valid.

The World Needs More Poor Lawyers

Elie Mystal succinctly sums up the state of legal education, the legal job market, and access to justice:

We don’t have too many lawyers, we have too many clients who can’t pay.

And the problem isn’t that all these lawyers out there are “greedy.” The problem is that all of these lawyers have massive educational debts that can’t be serviced through poor clients.

Accord. [Above the Law Redline]

Did I miss a great law blog post? Leave a comment or help me out next week by submitting a link using the form in the sidebar, starting a discussion in the Lab, or tweeting the link to @lawyerist.

Featured image: “Kansas Longhorn Cattle Trail Drive” from Shutterstock.

Law Blog Week in Review: Viral Racists, Poor Lawyers, and a Pervert Blogger is a post from Lawyerist.com. The original content in this feed is © 2013 Lawyerist Media, LLC. This feed is provided for private use only and may not be re-published.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Get It In Writing: Freelance Attorney Work Agreement

Wed, 05/07/2014 - 23:13

The question of whether the work of a freelance attorney requires a written agreement seems obvious at first glance — “get it in writing” is the golden rule, after all. In practice it is not always that simple. There may be situations, depending on the client, project, or timetable, where getting a written freelance work agreement is not possible or necessary. If a hiring attorney is looking for last-minute emergency assistance, there may not be time to negotiate an agreement. Or the hiring attorney and freelance attorney may have an existing relationship and are comfortable working without a formal agreement.

In these situations, it still benefits both sides to set forth basic project terms in an email, at least. Ultimately, the freelance attorney is responsible for defining the business relationship and running his or her own freelance law practice.

Contents of a Written Freelance Work Agreement

A written freelance work agreement should clearly define the project terms for everyone involved, including ethical and legal considerations, as well as protect the interests of both the freelance attorney and the hiring attorney. But the written agreement does not have to be complicated or lengthy. In most cases, a simple two- or three-page agreement will suffice. The seven basic components of a freelance work agreement include:

  1. Scope and duration of the project
  2. Compensation
  3. Employment relationship status
  4. Confidentiality and preserving the attorney-client privilege
  5. Conflict checking
  6. Malpractice insurance coverage
  7. Work product ownership
1. Scope and Duration of Project

The first basic component of a freelance work agreement is setting forth the parameters of the project to be completed by the freelance attorney for the hiring attorney. Most projects could be described by a word or phrase, such as “legal research,” “document review,” or “motion in limine.” But a project in a freelance work agreement should never be defined by a single word or phrase. Instead, all material or important aspects of the project should be included, such as the name of the case or client and the ultimate deadline for the project.

If the hiring attorney wants the freelance attorney to follow a specific timeline when completing pieces of a larger project, the timeline should be outlined in the freelance work agreement. If there are any major parts of the project that the freelance attorney is not going to handle, those should be noted as well. Ultimately, the freelance work agreement needs to have a thorough scope-of-project description. The more information, the better it is for both parties.

2. Compensation

The second basic component of a freelance work agreement is compensation. Freelance attorneys and hiring attorneys can work out a variety of compensation structures, such as a straight hourly rate, an hourly rate with a cap, or a flat fee per project. Billing structure is usually driven by the type of project and how the hiring attorney is billing the direct client.

In the freelance work agreement, the type of billing structure for the project should be fully outlined and detailed, including how the hiring attorney will be invoiced by the freelance attorney, the due date for payment, and how compensation will be handled in the event the work agreement is terminated prior to completion. In most cases, payment will not depend on the hiring attorney receiving funds from the direct client. The freelance attorney has no control over the direct client’s billing and payment, including no power to effectuate a collection if the direct client does not pay. Therefore, expectations regarding payment need to be clearly set forth in the freelance work agreement.

3. Employment Relationship Status

The third basic component of a freelance work agreement is defining the terms of the employment relationship between the freelance attorney and the hiring attorney, law firm, or legal entity. Under most circumstances, freelance attorneys will be independent contractors, which benefits both sides — the hiring attorney is not required to pay employment taxes or benefits, and the freelance attorney maintains control over where, when, and how the project is completed.

In order to preserve the independent contractor status and avoid potential misunderstandings, the freelance work agreement should cover the major aspects of the employment relationship, including payment of applicable taxes and payment of related business expenses. In addition, the type of legal entity should be specified for the freelance attorney (sole proprietorship or business entity) along with reference to a social security or tax ID number. If the freelance attorney expects a 1099 at year end, that should be specified as well.

4. Confidentiality and Preserving the Attorney-Client Privilege

The fourth basic component of a freelance work agreement is outlining confidentiality terms and ensuring preservation of the attorney-client privilege. Both the hiring attorney and the freelance attorney have professional obligations related to confidentiality and the attorney-client privilege, and the freelance work agreement is the most logical place to set forth related considerations and concerns.

For example, the agreement should clearly outline the confidential nature of any and all client information used by the freelance attorney. The agreement should also recognize that no attorney-client relationship will be established between the freelance attorney and the hiring attorney’s direct client. The hiring attorney is obligated to exercise its independent professional judgment and make all final decisions regarding the case and client. Upon completion of the project, the freelance attorney should agree to return all property belonging to the firm or information related to the firm’s clients.

5. Conflict Checking

The fifth basic component of a freelance work agreement is a discussion of conflict checking. Both hiring attorneys and freelance attorneys must monitor conflicts of interest related to the project. The hiring attorney needs to be mindful that the freelance attorney works on projects for multiple attorneys, law firms, and legal entities.

It is very unlikely that conflicts will be imputed if the freelance attorney is working on a single project or client file. However, to avoid the possibility of imputed conflicts, the hiring attorney should limit the freelance attorney’s access to confidential client files and to matters other than the project at hand. The agreement should discuss conflict checking and make obligations by the freelance attorney clear.

6. Malpractice Insurance Coverage

The sixth basic component of a freelance work agreement is addressing professional liability concerns. Although not required, malpractice insurance is strongly recommended for freelance attorneys. A freelance attorney should verify that the hiring attorney carries current and sufficient malpractice insurance to cover the project being worked on. However, in the event an issue arises, there exists the possibility of indemnification by the hiring attorney’s insurer if a malpractice claim is filed.

Whether or not the freelance attorney will be held liable is a separate issue, but handling the cost of defending against the malpractice claim is not something any freelance attorney should risk. In addition, carrying a malpractice insurance policy increases the reputability of a freelance attorney’s practice, showing hiring attorneys that the freelance attorney is a professional ready to do business the right way. The freelance work agreement should clearly address whether the freelance attorney has malpractice insurance coverage, and whether the hiring attorney has coverage for the project.

7. Work Product Ownership

The final basic component of a freelance work agreement is addressing the work product generated by the freelance attorney during the project. In hiring a freelance attorney to work on a component of a case or transaction, the hiring attorney is paying for the freelance attorney’s time and work product. Therefore, upon project completion, the hiring attorney owns the work product.

The hiring attorney must retain ultimate responsibility for the file and ensure the client is competently and ethically represented, even when part of the work is done by the freelance attorney. The freelance work agreement should specify that the hiring attorney has the exclusive authority to make decisions in representing the client, retains sole responsibility for the matter, and has complete discretion whether and how to use the freelance attorney’s work on the client’s behalf.

Sample Freelance Work Agreement

Here is a basic sample freelance work agreement, which should be modified to conform to any jurisdiction-specific ethical and legal rules, as well as the necessary parameters of the specific law practice and freelance project.

Freelance Legal Work Agreement

This agreement is entered into between [name of hiring law firm] (“Law Firm”) and [name of freelance attorney], the undersigned freelance attorney (“Freelance Attorney”).

Project. Freelance Attorney agrees to complete [name or title of project] on a contract project basis for Law Firm. The scope of the project includes [describe scope of work to be done on project, including name of case and deadline]. Freelance Attorney and Law Firm will routinely consult and agree on the logistics and other details of the performance of this Agreement, as needed.

Employment relationship. Freelance Attorney shall be engaged by Law Firm as an independent contractor. Freelance Attorney is not an employee of Law Firm and is therefore not entitled to any benefits afforded to employees or partners of Law Firm. As an independent contractor, Freelance Attorney will determine when, where, and how the above-referenced project will be completed. This Agreement shall not be construed to create any relationship of partnership or joint venture.Freelance Attorney operates as a [type of entity and how payment should be recorded via tax ID number or social security number]. Freelance Attorney shall be responsible for paying any applicable taxes, including income tax. Freelance Attorney shall also be responsible for paying any business expenses in the normal course of project completion; unexpected expenses will be subject to further negotiation between Freelance Attorney and Law Firm.

Conflicts of Interest. Freelance Attorney is a licensed attorney in good standing in [jurisdiction(s)]. Law Firm recognizes that Freelance Attorney enters into freelance work agreements with other attorneys, law firms, and legal entities. Freelance Attorney agrees to check for conflicts of interest and to honor professional obligations under the applicable Rules of Professional Conduct.

Malpractice Insurance. Freelance Attorney maintains professional liability insurance coverage through [name of insurer]. By signing this Agreement, Law Firm represents that it has current professional liability insurance to cover the project outlined in this Agreement.

Confidentiality. Freelance Attorney shall keep all client information confidential, including client documents disclosed by Law Firm. The parties agree that client information provided by Law Firm shall be limited to only that which is necessary to complete the work contemplated by this Agreement.

No Attorney-Client Relationship. This Agreement shall not be construed to create an attorney-client relationship between Freelance Attorney and Law Firm’s clients, or between Freelance Attorney and Law Firm. At all times, Law Firm will exercise its independent professional judgment and make all final decisions regarding its cases and clients.

Work Product. Law Firm shall own all rights to any work product generated by Freelance Attorney while completing the project described in this Agreement. Law Firm may modify any work product prepared by Freelance Attorney. Ultimately, Law Firm is responsible for supervising the work of Freelance Attorney, and for the content of pleadings or other material submitted on behalf of its clients.

Compensation. [HOURLY RATE OPTION] Freelance Attorney shall be paid for legal services rendered under this Agreement at the hourly rate of $[amount]. [FLAT RATE OPTION] Freelance Attorney shall be paid for legal services rendered under this Agreement at the flat rate of $[amount]. Freelance Attorney shall submit an invoice to Law Firm, and payment shall be made within thirty (30) days of the submission of the invoice. Freelance Attorney acknowledges and agrees that Law Firm may bill its clients for the amounts due to Freelance Attorney at whatever rate or in whatever manner it deems appropriate and consistent with its own billing practices. All payments made by the Law Firm to Freelance Attorney will immediately become property of Freelance Attorney and will not be placed in an attorney trust account.

Severability. All provisions of the Agreement are severable. The determination that any particular provision or term is illegal or unenforceable shall have no effect upon the remaining terms of the Agreement.

Assignment. Neither party may assign its duties or rights under the Agreement without prior written approval of the other party.

Modification to Agreement. Any modification of this Agreement will be governed effective only if it is in writing and signed by both parties.

Termination. Either party shall have the right to terminate this Agreement with reasonable cause, effective immediately upon giving written notice. In the event of termination, Law Firm shall pay Freelance Attorney for work done up to the point of termination.

 

______________________________________
Freelance Attorney

 

______________________________________
Law Firm

Featured image: “Businesswoman sitting at office desk signing a contract” from Shutterstock.

Get It In Writing: Freelance Attorney Work Agreement is a post from Lawyerist.com. The original content in this feed is © 2013 Lawyerist Media, LLC. This feed is provided for private use only and may not be re-published.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

The Beaches Are Always Sunny In San Diego (2014 Short-Fiction Contest Winner)

Mon, 05/05/2014 - 21:11

Jason Steed’s short-story, “The Beaches Are Always Sunny In San Diego,” is the winner of the first annual Lawyerist Short-Fiction Contest.

Butts clenches his teeth and works his fists around the steering wheel when he thinks about staying at Clayton’s. Fitz had called and said, “C’mon, Buttsy. He’s the only one who still lives there,” and Butts had said, “I hate Clayton, man. I’d rather sleep in my car.”

“Butts, seriously—we’re talkin’ about one lousy night,” Fitz had said. “And it’s homecoming—twenty years, for crying out loud.”

Butts clicks his eyeteeth together. He checks in the rearview mirror for the bag on the backseat—the old green duffel bag that Tracy won’t possibly miss. In it there is just enough for overnight: underwear, his Blazers T-shirt, a new toothbrush from the pantry.

Tracy will start wondering where he is in an hour. He should be coming home from work, but he hasn’t been to the firm in days. Tracy doesn’t know that he’s been leaving early for weeks, to go watch matinees. He hates his partners. He hates his clients. His clients are always the men and they’re always cheaters. When he isn’t leaving early or skipping work entirely, he’s supposed to help these men not to lose everything to their snarling wives. He’s never told Tracy how much he hates everything.

A pickup with an orange flag atop its antenna rushes by, doing ninety at least, and Butts falls in behind, matching its speed. He watches the Gorge go by on I-84, and he refocuses his hatred.

Bodie Clayton. The way he always hung his thumbs in his beltloops. Hadn’t Clayton been the first one, in third grade, to call him Joe Butthead? And there’s what he did to Sabrina Fairchild their senior year.

Butts remembers a conversation with Sabrina Fairchild when they were sophomores. Beautiful Sabrina. She had asked if he liked Woody Allen. “My dad loves Woody Allen,” she’d said. “I like him too, I guess.” This was before all the creepy stuff, obviously. Butts hadn’t heard of Woody Allen back then, and remembers thinking he was a folksinger. Later, in college, he had broken up with a girl after two months and for two weeks he had raided six video stores for every Woody Allen movie he could find. Their junior year in high school, Sabrina went on a student exchange to Spain and had asked Butts to write to her, but for some reason he’d never gotten around to it. She came back their senior year and started dating Bodie Clayton.

Sabrina. Those narrow hands, the gnawed fingernails. The twisted braids, horseback-brown.

Clayton had thrown Sabrina into a desk that was sitting outside a classroom, on an afternoon when the light was slanting in rectangles across the school’s red-carpeted hallway. Clayton and Sabrina had been going together for about a month. They were arguing and later Clayton said he hadn’t meant to push her so hard. Butts had seen it happen as he came out of Biology. When Sabrina landed Butts was the first on the scene, the first to kneel and to touch her wrist, to ask if it was tender—“Here? What about here?” He had offered to go with her to the hospital, but then the other girls had arrived in shrieks, amassing themselves with the whites of their eyes. Tracy—Butts’s Tracy, long before she became his Tracy—was among them, tall and square-shouldered. Her sharkfin nose was the hub of their circle. Butts was expectorated. He stood aside, watching Sabrina in her glory as she said, “It’s okay you guys—you guys—I said I’m all right.”

And she was all right. No tears. She held her wrist above her shoulder as she and Tracy walked out the school doors to the ambulance.

When Tracy returned she went to Mr. Donnell and told him it was Clayton. Everyone watched her—so tall—as she extended her long finger at Clayton, who stood with his thumbs in his beltloops and his weight on one foot, his head cocked to one side like someone getting the raw end of a deal. Mr. Donnell suspended him and made him apologize.

Clayton came back from his suspension and Lammers shook his head as Clayton approached them. “Man,” Lammers said. “Clayton, what are you doing? What were you thinking?”

Clayton laughed and held out his hands and said, “What?”

But that was it—it was the only thing any of them ever said about it. Each of them signed Sabrina’s cast with a different colored marker.

***

Butts locks his elbows against the steering wheel. Twenty years. He feels the clench in his throat. Staying at Clayton’s! Fitz had promised that Lammers and Scotty and Adelman would all be there. He said there could be others.

And what about Sabrina? Sabrina used to tell Tracy that she looked radiant. Butts would see them greet each other in the mornings, and Tracy would say, “Hi, darling,” and Sabrina would say, “Oh, Tracy, you look simply radiant!”

“Your married now,” Butts tells himself. He says it out loud, into the empty car. “C’mon man,” he says. “You’re married now. To her best friend.”

It’s like talking into an empty bucket, alone in the car, and it’s liberating. The sky hangs low, gray and heavy, and on his right the Columbia rolls like liquid lead. Butts takes off his sweater and stuffs it behind his back. He smiles and says—again out loud, his voice delightful inside the bucket—“Lammers. Laaaa-mers,” he says, making his mouth wide and chewing the r.

Then, like a bark: “Scotty!”

Butts does this—says names, talks out loud. He plays travel games, still holding onto a hint of his hatred while finding letters of the alphabet on license plates and road signs. He says each letter with a funny voice. Exiting out the south end of Portland, onto I-5, he mentally choreographs a fistfight with Clayton.

He pictures it happening at the football game, under the stadium lights. Clayton and those cocky eyes, that Aryan hair. Clayton would chest up to him. And Butts would make a face that says, Give me a break. Then Clayton shoves him, two-handed. Butts takes it and sustains his smirk, and when Clayton tries to shove him again, Butts sweeps the arms aside with his left hand (Wax on!) and steps in with his right (Wax off!). He comes down hard on the hinge of Clayton’s jaw and Clayton careens to the ground. It ends with Butts standing over him, looking regretful—he hadn’t wanted to fight! The others understand that his hand had been forced.

He recreates the scene with variations until a yellow VW bus pulls onto the freeway in front of him and he has to break cruise control. Something flares inside him and he wants to yell at the kid in the VW—to put bumper to bumper. But the moment passes. He looks up for rain. When he checks his watch he is pleased the time has gone so fast. A green sign lists the exits for Salem. He wonders if Tracy has called anyone looking for him. He feels surprisingly good about being alone in the car and on the road. And he checks again for his bag in the mirror. For a moment he thinks he could keep driving. The beaches are always sunny in San Diego.

***

He cuts through Salem. On 99 he passes the Polk County Fairgrounds. When he comes into Hinkley he takes a right at the stoplight. Hinkley looks the same—the Ben Franklin, The Market Place. A bike shop has opened up across from Zirker’s. Butts parks on the street and steps out, and far away, in the direction of the ocean, there is a flash of lightning.

Zirker’s is packed with college students. Butts hears his name and sees Fitz standing at a far booth. Butts waves and sidesteps his way through the Friday-night crowd. The lights are harsh. They seem to amplify the clamor.

“How’s it going, Buttsyboy?” says Fitz, all smiles, the space between his front teeth like a bookmark. “It’s a good thing you made it, man—for a while I was starting to think it was just me and Clayton.”

Clayton sits in the booth with his hands on the table, and Butts avoids looking at him. His throat clenches.

Clayton says, “Hey Buttsy.”

Fitz slides over for Butts to sit, but Butts remains standing, a panicky feeling in his chest. “Where’s Lammers?” he says. “Where is everyone?”—but is voice is no longer commanding, outside the car. He isn’t sure if Fitz can hear what he’s saying.

The jukebox starts up and Fitz puts his head back against the booth. “Man,” he says. “Lammers called up last minute and said he had to work, and Scotty’s going to Vegas. I never got ahold of Adelman.”

Butts looks at his shoes on the checkerboard linoleum. “They’re not coming?”

Fitz shakes his head. “Nope.”

Butts clicks his eyeteeth and clenches his fists. This is the part, he knows, where Tracy would suspend her anger to laugh at him. It makes him sick and furious and he tries to relax his shoulders. To one side a guy and his date are having a good-natured argument, and Butts hears the guy say, “No, no—come ontell me it’s not the same,” as some other kid yells over the crowd, “OH YEAH, BABY!”

“Now Butts,” Fitz says. “Now shutup,” he says. “Seriously. You’re havin’ a good time—it doesn’t matter.” Fitz is holding up one hand to signal a halt to Butts’s fury. Fitz says, “It’s homecoming. Twenty years, man! Seriously. Sit down. It’s not that big a deal.”

Butts sits. Clayton watches all this with his eyebrows raised. Fitz yells to a waitress for three orange juices, keeping his eyes on Butts, and Clayton slaps the table and says, “Orange juice all around!”

The waitress, a pretty college girl with purple-painted nails, brings three glasses of orange juice. She leans over to set them down and Clayton makes himself obvious, craning his neck at the girl’s v-neck sweater. She curls her upper lip and says, “Did ya get a good look, doughboy?”

The waitress glances at Butts, assuming he will share her disgust, but it takes a moment for Butts to register her remark and to notice Clayton’s chins. He hadn’t really looked at Clayton until now. He can’t believe he hadn’t noticed. Clayton is not only fat—at least fifty or sixty pounds overweight—but he’s also gone bald.

The cliché-ness of it all is striking—but it doesn’t dampen Butts’s feelings of triumph. He re-envisions the fight scene, this time his fist mashing deep into Clayton’s gelatinous jowls.

But Clayton doesn’t gloat over the peek he’s just copped off the waitress, as he would have in the past. The doughboy remark cut him a little. His smile is only half-mouthed. And suddenly Butts is tired, and sorry he came. It’s a three-hour drive back home again. Or eighteen hours to San Diego.

Fitz pulls a bota bag from under the table and squirts what must be vodka into the orange juices. He drinks half his glass and turns to Butts with a mustache of orange pulp, trolling for laughs, and Butts offers a small grin. The song on the jukebox is over.

“Hey,” Fitz says, eyes wide. “Guess who I saw last night at The Market Place.”

Clayton’s smile goes wet. He says, “The dairy girl,” as though he’s been waiting for an excuse to say it.

Fitz closes his eyes and repeats the words: “The dairy girl.”

“Dude, do you remember her?” says Clayton.

Butts looks at the two of them. The dairy girl was two years ahead of them in high school. Guys called her that because she had big breasts. Butts imagines Clayton as a client, laughing and putting out his hands and saying, What?

“No, seriously,” Fitz says. He looks at Butts. “Sabrina Fairchild,” he says.

“What’re you looking at me for,” Butts says. “I’m married, remember?”

“So?” says Clayton.

“That’s right I keep forgetting,” says Fitz.

“So what?” Clayton says again.

“She was getting a cake,” says Fitz. “I think she’s living here—back in graduate school or something.”

Butts says, “You didn’t say anything to her?”

“Who cares if you’re married—what does that matter?” says Clayton.

“Naw, she didn’t see me,” says Fitz. “She was checking out already.”

Butts takes his first drink of the vodka and orange juice and thinks about The Market Place. He runs his hand over the table. The kids in the booth across from them get up to leave.

Fitz says, “Forget it, Buttsy. You’re married now—give it up already.”

“Who gives a crap if he’s married?” Clayton says, getting louder.

“Man, will you shutup already?” says Fitz.

Butts shakes his head. “I haven’t seen Sabrina since, like, a year or so after high school.”

Fitz shrugs. “She looked pretty much the same, except maybe a little more makeup. She had a baseball hat on.”

Dude,” says Clayton, leaning forward over the table, his drink in both hands.

Butts looks at him. His wisps of Aryan hair like cornsilk on a cancer patient.

“What’s it like?” Clayton says, eyes glittering, attempting the same cocky edge they once held. “Seriously,” he says.

Fitz snorts and says, “Man, let it go.”

“What’s it like?” Clayton says, keeping his eyes on Butterfield.

Butts shakes his head. He wants to leave. The jukebox starts up again.

“C’mon, dude,” says Clayton. “Tell us about it.”

Butts feels like he could crack a tooth. He lifts his shoulders and lets them fall. Fitz had said on the phone that Clayton had moved into the trailer park on the other side of town, and that he’s working at Mezzo’s Pizza across from the high school. Butts starts to think he might actually feel sorry for the guy.

“Doesn’t it suck?” Clayton says. “Being married to the Queen Bitch? Don’t you hate it?”

Butts’s glare is broken by the movement of the v-necked waitress crossing behind Clayton. Clayton looks over his shoulder and—seeing the waitress—he grins and says, “Yeah, dude.” It’s a guttural noise, full of phlegm. “I see how it is,” he says. And he drinks from his orange juice.

“Clayton,” says Butts—but there’s nothing. He feels like he;s breathing through a straw. He has never hated anyone so much.

“Clayton,” says Fitz. “You’re such an asshole.”

Clayton stretches back in his seat, his grin faltering. His eyes grow dull and shallow, and he signals for a refill.

***

The three of them leave Zirker’s and cut through the University campus, watching cars full of high school students roll by, horns blaring. From where Church Street starts up again they can see the stadium at the foot of the hill. The vodka doesn’t sit well in Butts’s stomach.

Clayton stops on the sidewalk where students’ names have been traced into the cement. He locks his knees against the alcohol and reads signatures. Fitz and Butts pass on either side of him. He spins and calls—“Come lookit this one! Guys! This one’s got a phone number—Lorraine s-s-something. Should we call it?”

Fitz and Butts keep walking. Across from the football field the University has put up a new P.E. building, and several skaters click and glance off the brick fountain, under the glow from the stadium. One of them leans too far and shoots his board into the street, landing on his hip, and the others guffaw. Butts watches them and wishes again that he’d kept driving. He could’ve stopped somewhere for more clothes. He feels the chill of the rain coming and imagines San Diego.

Fitz gives the tickets to the woman in the booth, and inside Butts extends his chin, trying to get a look at everyone. Jumbled lines at the snackbar, people carrying square seat cushions and blankets into the bleachers. Fitz smiles, gap-toothed, and says, “Hey man, check it out.”

There’s a group of kids horsing around, in line for the snackbar. One of them, a lanky redhead in a denim jacket, calls out to the skaters from the P.E. building, who are entering the gate: “Hey, hardcore guys. You guys are a lot cooler than we are.”

The kids in line are older than the skaters—juniors and freshmen, Butts guesses. Only three of the skaters have come to the game, and they laugh and approach the redhead.

“What’re you talking about, Piper?” says one of them.

“Those shorts,” says the redhead. “Good thing you wore those shorts, it’s so hot out here—at night—in October—in the frigging winter.”

Fitz looks at Butts and smiles. The redhead, Piper, could be Lammers twenty years ago. A Latino kid, also wearing a denim jacket, stands next to Piper.

The skater shoves Piper and tells him to shutup. Butts can tell one of the skaters is brothers with one of the older kids.

Then Clayton arrives at the gate, yelling at Fitz for his ticket, his voice like a duckcall. “Guys, guys,” he quacks. “C’mon, guys—lemme in!” To the lady in the booth he says, “C’mon, lady, I swear. See that guy—right there!—he’s got my ticket, if ya don’t believe me.”

“Aw, hell,” says Fitz. “I thought we lost him.”

Butts watches Piper and the skaters, who have turned to watch Clayton.

Fitz clears Clayton through the booth and the two rejoin Butts, who has inadvertently joined the line behind Piper and his posse.

“Where’d you guys go, dude?” says Clayton. He is practically yelling, and Butts can feel his throat clenching. Clayton wavers where he stands. His face is bloated and his breath smells like vomit.

Fitz fans the air. “Oh, man—what’d you do?” he says.

Clayton smiles proudly. “I—”

“No—don’t talk, man—shutup! Seriously!” Fitz contorts himself, fanning his hands. Butts smiles. It’s a performance for Piper and the boys.

Clayton, smiling with unsteady pride, sways into one of the skaters, who is in line just ahead of him.

The skater turns, lip curled like the waitress at Zirker’s, and says, “You need a little more space there, big guy?” He is the younger brother and the shortest of them all, with stringy blonde bangs parted down the middle. His voice is high and surprisingly confident.

Clayton doesn’t seem to hear him. But when he sways again it is with a stiffness—with direction.

Hey,” says the skater. “Hey big man!”

Clayton doesn’t turn. Instead he steps backward, into the skater’s voice.

The skater steps out of the way. “Look,” he says, to Clayton’s back, “I know you’re real big and everything. Did you wanna maybe give me a hug or something?”

Piper and his posse are cracking up. Fitz and Butts smile at each other. Clayton turns and puffs his chest and—making his voice less drunk—says, “You got a problem, kid?”

Clayton’s motion works an alignment in the boys, so that they all now stand facing him: the three skaters, Piper, the Latino, the older brother, and three others. The skater—Clayton’s target—raises his hands like it’s a holdup, his face in mock-terror. He says, “N-no p-p-problem here, t-t-t-toughguy!” And another skater, even less intimidated, chimes in: “We’re okay here, y’ fat bastard!”

Fitz chuckles and says, “C’mon, Clayton,” but Clayton is intent on exerting some authority over the situation.

People shuffle past and Butts steps to the side, into a profile view of Clayton and the skater, and an intense awareness grips him—locks him into the moment. He is keenly aware that the fight scene he’d choreographed might be realized, but with different contestants.

Clayton snatches the skater’s sweatshirt and swears at him, the slur returning to his lips, but the kid looks like he might spit in Clayton’s face. Then Piper steps forward.

“Hey,” Piper says, “it’s not like you’re bigger than all of us, toughguy.”

Clayton looks away from the skater for the first time and Piper lifts his eyebrows in mock-sincerity: “We don’t mean to be disrespectful, mister, cuz you’re way too tough for us—and plus don’t forget, you’re really, really big.”

Clayton lets go of the skater and steps toward Piper, who is skinny but taller.

Fitz, still smiling, says, “Clayton, seriously man—just leave it alone.”

Clayton bumps Piper with his chest and quacks, “Dude, you’re lucky you’re a kid or I’d kick your scrawny ass.”

Piper feigns concern. “You look like you could use a drink,” he says. The Latino kid—who is wearing his game face—moves in behind Piper.

Then Clayton brings one arm up, loose-fisted. It is a slow, clumsy move, and Butts sees it coming long before it comes. And then he is moving, swooping forward from his fenceline position, his body buzzing, and there is a dull chock when his knuckles hit the side of Clayton’s skull, just above the ear. And a breaking pain shoots up Butts’s wrist and pools in his triceps. And the blow sends Clayton into a drunken squaredance, as he trips over crowded feet and skids to the asphalt.

***

Butts regains some clarity outside the chainlink fence, on the signatured sidewalk across from the P.E. building. Fitz is saying, “Joe. Butts. Joe, buddy. Man, are you okay?”

The pain in his wrist is like little red earthquakes, and there’s velvet in his ears. He remembers vaguely the way Clayton went down, and the shouts from the kids, and trying to get out past the ticket booth. He feels the weight settle onto his legs again.

“You look a little shaky, man. Seriously,” says Fitz.

Butts takes in a breath. His stomach muscles are jumpy.

“I’m okay,” he says. “I think I broke my hand, or my wrist or something.”

“Oh man,” Fitz says, looking down at it. “You need to go to the hospital?”

The arm is swollen, and Fitz puts his hand at Butts’s shoulder and turns him toward Zirker’s, and his car.

On the way, Fitz tells Butts about Clayton, back at the stadium, cussing his head off and having trouble standing. “You leveled him, Buttsyboy!” Fitz says. “You seriously leveled him!” Fitz tells how the guys—Piper and his posse—thought it was hilarious, and how they kept asking where Butts had run off to. “But that sucks about your wrist, though,” Fitz says.

They cross the lawn behind the library, Butts cradling his arm, and Fitz says, “We hardly got to see anybody, man. I saw Sabrina just as we were leaving.”

Butts stops on the grass. “Sabrina was at the game?”

Fitz stops and smiles and shakes his head. “She was with a guy, man. Give it up already.” Butts stares at the gap in Fitz’s teeth. He wants to know what the guy looked like. He wants to know what she looked like. He wants to know if she saw him level Bodie Clayton. He starts walking again. He wishes he could take Sabrina in the car to California.

***

The rain comes just as they reach the car. Fitz helps Butts into the passenger side. They drive and Fitz says, “Salem hospital?” and Butts says, “Corvallis.”

“Corvallis is in the opposite direction,” Fitz says.

Butts says, “We always went to Corvallis growing up.” He twists to look over his shoulder. His green bag is still in the backseat.

Fitz turns into The Market Place. “You gotta call Tracy, man.” He pulls the car into a parking space and looks at Butts. Butts winces. The clock over the door of The Market Place says almost eight o’clock: he’s been gone for nearly six hours and missing for three.

“You gotta call her, Butts,” Fitz says. “Seriously, man.”

The rain is fat and sparse on the windshield, but growing sharper.

“You want me to do it?” Fitz says.

Again Butts looks at him. The right side of his body feels numb, paralyzed. “She doesn’t even know I’m here,” he says.

Fitz snorts. “What do you mean?”

“Just tell her it was an accident.”

Fitz’s smile dissipates and he watches the wipers. He seems to be thinking of something. Butts waits for him to say something important. But Fitz shakes his head and smiles again, and climbs out of the car and into the rain.

Butts watches him cross to the payphone and pick up the receiver. He pokes the phone, then jams his hand into his pocket and waits. His head bobs and his mouth starts moving, and Butts turns up the wipers to keep the windshield clear. He tries to imagine what Tracy is saying.

He closes his eyes and tries by controlled breathing to make the throbbing in his arm subside, and he pictures Piper and his posse at the stadium—a whole twenty years lying ahead of them—and he wonders about their Sabrina, and what she might look like, and if their Sabrina has a Tracy, and if their Tracy will eventually marry the skater’s older brother.

He opens his eyes and Fitz has turned his back on the car. Butts tries to make a fist with his hand. The shards of pain make his stomach spasm. Tears well in his eyes and he blinks against them.

Fitz turns and hangs up and ducks across the parking lot again.

“Seriously,” he says, getting in and shaking the water from his hair.

“She’s pissed, huh,” says Butts.

Fitz hesitates. “No,” he says. “Not really. Actually, she was practically hysterical. Seriously, I could hardly talk to her, man.”

He starts the car. “You guys have insurance for this?” he says.

“What do you mean, hysterical?” says Butts. “She was worried?” He clicks his eyeteeth. “You mean she was crazy mad,” he says.

“Mmm, I don’t know,” Fitz says. “C’mon, man—are you serious? You think she’s going to be mad at you for breaking your wrist?”

“I mean about me coming down here and everything.”

“Nah—well, I mean she was upset. But I’m pretty sure it was more in a worried way. Seriously, I think it’s all right.”

Fitz turns left at the stoplight, northbound on 99. The highway is fuzzy in the rain. The throbbing in Butts’s arm has boiled down to a soft carbonation in his fingertips. Fitz is taking him to Salem, but Butts doesn’t say anything. He can always head south later.

***

Sometime next week, Fitz will be the one the authorities will call. The authorities will be the Hinkley Police Department. They will find Fitz’s number on Clayton’s refrigerator, and an officer will tell Fitz over the phone about how Clayton walked out the back door of his trailer in the early morning hours, after the game that night—walked right out his back door and into the river. Fitz will imagine Clayton staggering to the trees to take a piss in the dark, and stumbling down the bank and into the water, but the officer will say something and Fitz will say, disbelievingly, “Killed himself?”—and the officer will say, “Well, we’re still investigating.” And Fitz will sit in a chair for nearly an hour before calling Butts to tell him about it.

But Butts won’t be at home the first time Fitz calls, or the second time. The third time Fitz calls, he will leave a message saying, “Joe, man, you gotta call me—seriously. It’s important.”

But that is in the future. Right now, it is still Friday night. Fitz and Butts are driving in the rain, and Fitz says, “Man, seriously. Tracy’s a piece of work, isn’t she.” He breathes hard out his nose, then whistles through the gap in his teeth. “Good ol’ Tracy,” Fitz says, and he shakes his head. “Good old Tracy.”

Headlights flash past them. The windshield wipers swa-click, swa-click. They pass the fairgrounds where the sign says “ABC Rally This Friday,” and Butts brightens. The letters make him feel better. Like the start of a new game.

He says the letters aloud—“A, B, C”—in a funny, quacking voice.

Fitz laughs, thinking it’s an imitation, and he pounds the steering wheel and says, “Ho, you sure did level ol’ Clayton, man. You leveled him.”

“Yeah,” Butts says, and he smiles, cradling his wrist. He lays his head back against the seat and watches the rain on the windshield. He tries to reconstruct the fight as it might have looked to Piper and his posse, and he feels a sense of deep pleasure. He makes a face as if to say, apologetically, The guy asked for it. This was never my intention.

Fitz is still shaking his head and smiling. Then he says, as though the thought has just occurred to him, “Hey—why didn’t you just bring Tracy to the game? You mean you didn’t tell her anything about it?”

Fitz takes his eyes from the road to look at Butts, and Butts says, “Nope.”

“Why not?”

The wipers swa-click, swa-click.

And Butts looks out his window into the rain and thinks about the sunny beaches in California, where Lammers lives. Fitz pesters him but Butts is no longer paying attention. Instead, something begins to bother him. A nagging memory—no, something he can’t remember. He wants to retain the pleasure he was feeling over leveling Bodie Clayton, but this new thing won’t let him. It’s that Woody Allen movie. The one with the Hemingway actress. Butts looks out his window into the rain and touches his thumb to his index finger, teasing the tenderness of his broken wrist and trying to remember the title of that movie. That was his favorite one. The one with that beautiful Hemingway girl. The girl who looked so beautiful and perfect in black and white. So radiant. What was the name of that movie? He imagines he will find it and watch it in San Diego.

The Beaches Are Always Sunny In San Diego (2014 Short-Fiction Contest Winner) is a post from Lawyerist.com. The original content in this feed is © 2013 Lawyerist Media, LLC. This feed is provided for private use only and may not be re-published.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Barely Legal (2014 Short-Fiction Contest Runner-Up)

Mon, 05/05/2014 - 21:10

James Ly’s short-story, “Barely Legal” is the runner-up in the first annual Lawyerist Short-Fiction Contest.

Fresh out of NYU. My first real job. I had just been hired to be a clerk for a mid-size law firm in New York. It was my opportunity to observe attorneys at work before deciding whether I too wanted to take on more school loans to go to law school. Barely into my first day, the managing partner calls me into his corner office.

“What attorneys sell is time. And since you’re a part of the firm now, you also sell time. So keep a record of everything you do for the clients since you’ll be billing them your time,” he said.

Sidney Goodman was known in the legal community as “Sid Vicious” for his aggressive personality on the legal field.

“Dre, one of my associates, will show you what your project will be for the next month. I just wanted to welcome you to the firm,” Sidney said with a smile.

Dre poked his head in and said, “Let’s take the elevator to the batcave. That’s where we are keeping the files you’ll be working on, Harry.”

“I actually like being called Harold,” I corrected him as we step into the elevator.

He gave a shrug, “I want people to call me Dr. Dre but that guy from Compton put out a record before I could.”

Dre told me that he spent his weekends making rap songs about his father’s 80s Mercedes. “I bet you none of the tight asses at Cravath does that in their spare time,” he said with pride. He explained the song was about the difficulty of picking up women in a car that had no power steering or power windows. He also boasted that he was involved in a riot in college. He had no fear of volunteering that fact freely since the statute of limitations had long since expired. I realized that Dre was the frat brother I never had, nor wanted. Dre was his last name. No one called him by his first name except for his mother.

“So a law firm is like the military. There is a chain of command here to keep some order amongst the 40 or so attorneys in this office. I am going to explain it to you in very simple terms because I understand that not everyone grew up in a military family like me,” Dre said.

“My roommate was just commissioned as an Ensign in the Navy”, I said.

“Cool. My father was a naval officer. So was my grandfather before him.”

“You never thought of continuing the family tradition?”

“Hell no. I would have made too many ‘What’s long, hard, and full of seaman’ jokes. They would have thrown me out on suspicion of being gay. I’m not gay, by the way, I just think they’re funny.”

“Right….”, I replied sarcastically.

Dre gave me a look. I had responded to his joke with a sarcastic remark of my own. I had shown him that I did not find his jokes and demeanor inappropriate. “Anyway, a law firm is like the military. Sidney, the managing partner of our New Jersey office, would be considered as a four star general.”

“Don’t you call them admirals in the navy? Sorry, go on.”

Dre looked annoyed and moved on, “And then you have the senior partners like Jack McNulty who would be considered as the colonel. And then you have the new associates like me who would be considered as the newly commissioned lieutenants. So Jack answers to Sidney, I answer to Jack, and you answer to me. That’s the chain of command.”

“So what military rank do I hold in your analogy?”

“You, buddy, would be the expendable infantry. Or expendable seaman to keep it in line with your Navy theme,” Dre laughed.

He laughed for what seemed like an eternity, then finally gasped for breath while loosening up his tie. He then turned to me and said with an apologetic face, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. I probably just created a hostile work environment on your very first day.” It was a very awkward elevator ride down to the Batcave.

The elevator doors finally opened up to a room with no windows. Rows after rows of shelves containing bankers boxes.

“So this entire section right here contains files from a case we’re currently working on. We’re representing ARW Logistics, which is being sued by Morgan Network Solutions for breach of contract. You heard of Morgan Network Solutions right?”, Dre asked as he pointed to rows of boxes.

“Yes,” I replied.

Morgan Network Solutions was one of the largest information technology companies in the New York metropolitan area. Though they were considered a small-cap company, they were nonetheless listed on the NASDAQ exchange. They had established themselves during the dot.com boom, setting up computers and networks for the various municipalities, investment banks, and fortune 500 companies.

Dre explains that it was common in large IT projects for a large company such as Morgan Network Solutions to subcontract their projects to smaller companies like ARW Logistics. ARW Logistics had walked off a major project that Morgan Network Solutions had subcontracted to them. The complaint was very simple and routine: that by walking off the project, ARW Logistics had breached its contract to perform, causing 2 million dollars in damages.

ARW Logistic’s cross-complaint against Morgan Network Solutions was a little less vanilla. Their complaint included fraud, unfair competition, and misappropriation of trade secrets, amongst a battery of other claims.

Like their complaint, the story behind ARW Logistic’s was a little more nuanced. The owners of ARW Logistics and Morgan Network Solutions were actually friends. Adam Ross Wilheim, the ARW in ARW Logistics, had been friends with David Morgan, the Morgan in Morgan Network Solutions, for over 20 years. They celebrated Christmas together and vacationed together.

It had started when David approached Adam and asked him about hiring Carl, his eldest son. David explained that while Carl was a good worker, his personality had rubbed the employees of Morgan Network Solutions the wrong way. David said that his son was a bit like himself, a very aggressive forceful personality. His managerial style got results but had rubbed his employees the wrong way. There was no longer a place in the company for him since the employees refused to work on any project managed by Carl. Besides, the throne had gone to his younger brother, Conrad, who was a rising star in the company. Conrad was everything that Carl wasn’t. Conrad had graduated from college, then from MBA school, and was currently the CFO of the company. Carl was a high school dropout. Conrad was a church-going family man. He had a wife and kids. Carl was still a bachelor with a string of unimpressive girlfriends and flings. He was allegedly addicted to cocaine and alcohol in the past.

Whether David knew his son was still addicted to cocaine was the multi-million dollar question of the case. The fraud claim was based upon a conversation the two owners had about bringing Carl into ARW Logistics. Adam had expressed concern to David about rumors he heard about Carl: it wasn’t his personality that lead to his exile but rather his substance abuse. He had heard rumors of Carl stealing equipment from his father’s company to pay for his drugs.

According to Adam, David assured Adam that it was simply untrue rumors. Though he admitted that his son could drink a little less, the rumors of the drugs and the stealing to pay for the drugs were just rumors made up by employees who had an axe to grind. Based on David’s reassurance, Adam hired Carl to be a project manager, subject to only Adam’s oversight.

It wasn’t long until Adam received a phone call from Carl at 3 AM in the morning. Carl told Adam that he was in the city jail for an altercation at a bar. He assured David that it was a misunderstanding but that he was wondering if Adam could bail him out. He would call his father but didn’t want to awaken his father’s temper. Adam, having been friends with Carl’s father for over 20 years, was well aware of David’s quick temper. Feeling sympathy for the boy, he arranged for his bail.

Adam thought his act of kindness was going to be rewarded with loyalty and hard work from Carl. He was wrong. Carl’s work ethic, non-existent to begin with, only deteriorated after he was bailed out of jail. He showed up to work late, often exhausted. Furthermore, Adam began to suspect Carl was stealing from him. One of Carl’s responsibilities was to transport metric tons of old computer equipment down to the recycling plant where the plant would pay for the old equipment. Adam suspected that Carl was pocketing the money the recycling plant paid for the computer equipment. Carl always had some excuse for failing to promptly transfer the full amount over to the ARW Logistics. Carl had left the money in his car. He had left it at his house. The recycling plant mistakenly gave him the wrong amount. What Adam received was always a day late and a dollar short.

Carl resigned before Adam had a chance to confront him about the money. Adam was surprised to find Carl back in the employ of Morgan Network Solutions a few weeks later. David had represented to him that Carl no longer had a place there yet there he was back in his father’s employ. His surprise turned to dismay when he discovers a few weeks later that several of his clients had switched over to Morgan Network Solutions. These were clients from project which Carl had no part in. But clients that Carl would be able to gleam off ARW Logistic’s client list since he was a project manager. Angry at being betrayed by the Morgans, Adam walked off a Morgan project where his company was the subcontractor.

“So these boxes are all the documents generated from this case. You’re job is to just organize them. Adam actually hired some big law firm to take his case before he came to us. The case was going nowhere with the big law firm so that’s why he fired them. And when they transferred the documents over to us, the files were in disarray,” Dre explained.

I picked out a random document from inside the bankers boxes. It was a letter from Morgan Network Solutions. On the letterhead was the company name. Underneath the company name was their mascot, an aggressive looking warthog wearing combat gear. Their motto read “Rapid Mobilization for your Base of Operations.”

“Their mascot looks like their pigs from that video game ‘Hogs of War,’” I observed.

Dre give me a blank look.

“You know, the one where you run around as a pig in battle gear. It was on the Playstation. It’s a role-playing game.” I explained to him.

“Okay, we’re going to have a don’t ask, don’t tell policy regarding your video games and any other geeky hobbies you engage in. I’m not going to ask about them, and you’re not going to tell me about them, alright?”, Dre said with a smirk. “Alright, I will leave you down here to organize all this. Keep an ear out if the phone rings in the room at the end of the hall. Some of our past clerks have failed to hear that phone ring since it’s a bit far away.”

“You can call me on my cell phone instead,” I suggested.

“Cell phone reception is spotty down here. We’re underground. There’s a reason I call it the batcave.”

“This is more like the Fortress of Solitude if cell phones don’t work down here.”

“The fortress of what?”

“You know, Superman’s version of the batcave in desolate Antarctica. Where he goes to retreat from the outside world.”

“Ughh, I may have just violated the don’t ask, don’t tell policy by asking you about your comic books. Anyways, you’re not Superman so we’re still calling this the Batcave.”

“So I’m Batman then. I’m playing detective trying to piece all these documents together.”

“Hell no, I’m Batman. You’re the butler who serves Batman,” Dre said as he stepped onto the elevator to go back to his office.

I spent the next couple weeks in the batcave trying to put the documents in some logical order. I decided to start with the depositions first. They were already bound with no loose paper and easy to recognize. I began to read some of them. The former law firm that Adam hired had deposed Katie Wilheim, who was Adam’s college-age daughter. While Adam had no sons, he did have a daughter who worked for him as a receptionist during her college summers.

Katie testified about her working relationship with Carl in her deposition. She described him as a bit weird, always leering at her. She once accepted his invitations to hang with him and his friends at an exclusive club in the meat-packing district in Manhattan. He said they had reserved bottle service, which included a secluded booth and a hostess to pour the drinks. Carl had invited all his boys to party with him that night. She described them as obnoxious and became even more so when they started snorting lines of cocaine. The hostess’ name was Allie. She later became his ex-girlfriend.

I didn’t think too much of Katie’s testimony. Carl was just the male version of Lindsay Lohan, but without the fame or wasted talent. Unlike Lohan, I concluded Carl never had talent to begin with, so how can you waste what you don’t have? I thought it was an interesting story, but with no bearing on the case and left it at that.

It’s Sunday night. I receive a phone call from Dre. I wonder if he wants to play another late night game of basketball. He asks if I can come down to the office with my key card. He had locked himself out of the office. The security guard wasn’t there to let him back in. I tell him I will be there in a few minutes. I pull up to the building and enter the lobby to find him in his boxers, a white tank top with a splatter of food stains, and bunny slippers.

“Dude, where are your pants?” I asked.

“Oh, I had my sweat pants on in the office but I took them off. If I have to work on a Sunday night, I am going to treat the office like my living room. Did you bring the key card?”

“Yeah, I got it”, I said as I pulled out my key card to authorize the elevator to take us up to the office.

“Thank you. You’re a life saver. I really appreciate this, Harry. I was thinking about calling my secretary to let me in but it’ll probably lead to an awkward situation if she comes into the lobby and sees me without my pants on. I’ll probably receive an HR complaint or something tomorrow.”

“And you don’t consider the current situation awkward?”

“No. Not really.”

“Okay then. Well, you’re in now. I’m off.”

“Thanks again!”, Dre called out as I took the elevator down back to the lobby.

The next day, Dre walks up to me and ask, “Harry, what are you doing for lunch today?” Before I could answer, he said, “Let me buy you lunch to show you my appreciation for yesterday.”

“So are you still thinking about going to law school? As you saw last night, we sometimes need to work Sunday nights,” he said as we sit down for lunch.

“Eh, it’s interesting work though. Where else can you find such interesting stories in your jobs? For most people, work is a thing you dread, where you clock in and out, doing the same thing every day. But here, it’s interesting. It’s a bit different every day. Like I was reading this deposition where Adam’s daughter was talking about how Carl was doing lines of coke at this club -”

Dre interjected, “Wait, what? We have a deposition of someone witnessing him snorting cocaine while he was with ARW?”

“Yeah, it was Adam’s daughter who saw it. It’s listed on the index of documents that I haven’t send to you guys since I still need to add a few more documents to the index.”

“Never mind the index. Show that deposition transcript to me when we get back.”

Dre and I proceeded straight down to the batcave after lunch. I retrieved the deposition transcript from the shelf and point to the pertinent page.

“Come with me. We need to show this to the partners.”

Sidney and Jack McNulty, the senior partner, were ecstatic. What I thought was just an interesting testimony was actually an important component to the case. It was evidence that Carl had done drugs while in the employ of ARW Logistics, contradicting David’s assertion that his son didn’t do drugs. Evidence of David’s knowledge would have to be established later, but the attorneys wanted to build a component at a time. The partners told Dre to draft a deposition subpoena for Allie. It was helpful to corroborate Katie’s testimony, who while gave no indication of being dishonest in her testimony, was nevertheless a witness with an axe to grind in the case since it involved her father’s company.

Allie’s deposition was held in the office conference room. Allie was seated with her lawyer next to her. Jack would be taking her deposition, but with Dre as second chair. Also in the room was the court reporters, who transcribed the testimony on her computer as well as video camera to record the session.

Jack sat across from Allie and began speaking, “Hi, my name is Jack McNulty. I am the attorney for ARW Logistics. You have been subpoena today to appear in a deposition for this this case. A deposition is simply where I, the attorney, am able to ask the deponent, which would be you, questions relating to this case. While you are not testifying in a court of law, your testimony is under oath and any perjury will be met with the same repercussions as if you had lied in court. Do you understand your duty to answer my questions truthfully?”

Allie nodded her head.

“Another thing is I need to you to answer the question verbally. A yes, a no, or I don’t know. Our court reporter, which is Erin over there with her machine, cannot transcribe your nodding of your head in her transcript. So you’re going to have to answer verbally and clearly for her. Do you understand?”

Allie answered with a verbal “Yes.”

“Now during this deposition, your attorney will probably object to several of my questions. He is just preserving his objection for the record. You still need to answer my question unless you attorney instructs you not to. For example, if I were to ask something that falls under attorney-client privilege – “

“It’s like we talked about yesterday, Allie. You don’t have to talk about your discussion with me yesterday regarding our thoughts about this case,” chimed in Bill Lynch, Allie’s attorney.

“I think you just violated your own attorney-client privilege, Bill,” Jack laughed. Bill sheepishly ignored him.

Jack started by asking series of background questions: her full name, her current occupation, current residence before getting to the topic in question. “So what is your relationship to Carl Morgan?”

“He was my boyfriend.”

“So you two are no longer together?”

“Yes.”

“How did you meet?”

“We met at Blur, a club where I was working at the time.”

“What was your job at Blur?”

“I was a hostess.”

“If you can please explain to me what that entails exactly…It’s be at least a decade since I been to a club.”

“I was mainly responsible for pouring drinks for parties who had reserve a table for bottle service. I guess I was to hang out with whoever reserved the table, pour their drinks, and just have a good time with them.”

“Now one of the younger associates at my firm tells me that bottle service can easily be half a grand and above. Is that true?”

“Yes, easily, depending on how many bottles and chasers you buy. But the markup is not for the alcohol. It’s paying for the exclusive use to a table and a cordoned off area for you and your friends.”

“Do you have any other responsibilities besides pouring drinks and accompanying the party?”

“I’m not sure if I understand your question.”

“That’s fine. And thanks for letting me know. I guess what I’m asking is were you required to do anything else as part of your responsibilities at Blur.”

“You’re not going to answer that. She’s going to plead the 5th on that,” Bill cut in.

“I think I’m going to do the 5th thing that my attorney said,” said Allie meekly.

“She’s going to exercise her right to 5th amendment. We’re going to go off the record here,” Bill said, motioning to the court reporter to stop typing.

“I don’t know what you’re trying to get at Jack but neither I nor my client is amused by this,” Bill said.

“I think it’s very revealing that you’re getting a fit over this. It was an innocuous question. It wasn’t designed to lead to an incriminating statement.”

“Don’t feed me that bullshit. You prefaced the question by asking how much it cost to get my client to appear at the bottle service table.”

“I thought she said the payment was for the table and the cordoned-off exclusive area. Not for her. Are you telling me something else now?”

“I’m not going to get into this with you Jack. She’s not answering it.”

“She’s answering. The 5th Amendment doesn’t apply to civil cases, only criminal cases.”

“It does in some civil cases. And this is one of those cases”

“Well, thankfully, you’re not the arbitrator of that. We can stop this deposition today and bring this matter in front of the judge if your client doesn’t answer.”

“Hold on, let me call my office and see what they think about this.”

Jack motioned me over, “Harold, let’s go into my office and have a chat.” We go out of the conference room and down the end of the hall into his office.

“So how are you liking your first deposition?” he asked.

“Looks like the attorney is more nervous than his client.”

“God, he is such an idiot. I wasn’t trying to establish she was a hooker or anything. It doesn’t help nor hurt the case. And even if she did admit it, it’s not like I’m going to run to the D.A. with my arms flapping in the air with this stuff. They have more pressing matters to attend to here in Manhattan.”

The deposition resumed. Bill announced that his client would not be answering the question.

“Alright, we’ll deal with that issue later. But let’s move on since you’re already here,” said Jack, “How did you meet Carl?”

“I met him when I was working for Blur. I was the hostess at his table.”

“And he later became your boyfriend?”

“Yes.”

“Were you also friends with Katie Wilhelm?”

“I wouldn’t say friends but she was there that night. We talked for a bit.”

“Katie testified in her deposition that she saw Carl and his friends snort cocaine that night at Blur. Do you witness this as well?”

“Yes.”

“So Carl snorted cocaine at Blur that night?”

“Yes.”

“Can you elaborate?”

“Well, he poured the cocaine on the table and yelled out, ‘it’s snowing.’” And then he started separating the cocaine into lines with his credit card, or business card, or something like that. And then he snorted it and his friends joined in too.”

“And you were able to see him snort it even if the club is a little dark?”

“Yes. I was sitting in the booth next to him and I saw him go like this.” Allie put her face down toward the table, move her head from right to left, and make a sniffing sound.

Her attorney grimaced in discomfort. Jack, however, was trying to hold in his laughter.

“Now, this a video deposition so I believe the camera recorded what you just did there. But for the purpose of the transcript, am I correct in saying that you just demonstrated a motion where you put your nose to the table and sniffed some imaginary cocaine?”

“Yeah, I am just trying to show what Carl did that night.”

“Did he ever do cocaine in your presence on any other occasion?”

“Yes.”

“How many times?”

“At least 30 times.”

“And was this when he was working for ARW Logistics?”

“Is that the company Katie work for?”

“Yeah, that’s her dad’s company.”

“Then yes, because I stopped by several times to meet him for lunch and I would chat with Katie while waiting for him to finish something up.”

“And you’re no longer together today?”

“Yes. He was too crazy and out-of-control. I think some of it came from the cocaine.”

“Well, as the great poet Rick James said, cocaine is one hella of a drug,” Jack commented.

The firm continued the case by building the fraud claim one piece at a time. They had established that Carl was a cocaine user. Next, they were going to try to establish that David knew his son was an addict yet made misrepresentations, which Adam relied upon in hiring Carl.

But the focus of the case shifted. While looking through documents provided in discovery, Jack discovered that Conrad Morgan, rather than his father, was the license holder for the company. In filling out his application for the business license, Conrad had sworn under oath that he had taken the prerequisite classes in network security, which allowed him to be certified to install networks for government entities that handle sensitive and classified information. Private companies also relied upon this certification in choosing companies to set up secured networks that would protect their closely guarded trade secrets. The issue was that Conrad was supposedly taking these classes the same time he was in his 1st year of MBA school.

“No way he was taking both classes in the same year. You can log onto the school’s website right now and read about how they design these programs. The way these dual-degree programs are structured is that you do MBA School one year, then do the other computer security program the next year,” said Jack.

“Forget the fraud that David committed on Adam when he said his son didn’t have a drug problem. The company was defrauding thousands of clients for years since they weren’t even qualified to set up a secure network. This kid started his computer security program but never finished. This is like trying to find a smoking gun but stumbling onto a WMD,” Sidney said with glee.

A deposition subpoena was sent out to Conrad. He and his attorney squirmed through the deposition. Conrad left the deposition looking dejected. He knew we knew.

Sidney emerged from the conference room with his usual stoic demeanor. As soon as the elevator door closed on Conrad and his lawyer, Sidney dropped his poker face and smiled. “You should have seen their faces. They were obviously in pain. But they haven’t truly felt pain yet. Jack, draft up a motion for a writ of attachment. Then, they’ll know what pain really is. We’re going to cut them off, literally.”

Seeing the confused look on my face, Sidney explained, “A motion for an attachment is basically asking the judge to freeze a company’s bank account. You have to show that you’re likely to be successful in obtaining this money. But more importantly, you have to show that the money is likely to disappear and therefore, the judge needs to step in and freeze the account to keep the status quo. And since we have proof of fraud in this case, we’re definitely going to freeze their bank accounts. And no business can rely solely on their lines of credit to run a business in the long run. They’ll be begging us to settle soon enough.”

Sidney was right. Morgan Network Solutions was willing to settle. They were willing to accept $500,000 out of their initial $2 million demand. And ARW had agreed to it.

“Wait, the Morgans committed fraud yet Adam is going to pay them?,” I asked.

“Well, Adam should have never walked off the job in the first place. He did breach his contract. And the counter-claims stemming from Conrad’s theft of property and trade secrets would have only offset the damages by so much. And I think Adam is getting some satisfaction that this entire thing was started over Carl, but it ended up implicating his father and brother, and nearly lead to the downfall of the entire family company. Adam said he doesn’t mind being banned from the Morgan’s Christmas party anymore because it must be a depressing event to attend,” said Jack.

Dre chimed in, “Think of the case this way, Harry. I was once speeding and got into an accident. It was my fault. You could hear the police sirens heading towards us. And the driver I hit gets out of his car all freaked out. I asked him if he was alright and he said he shouldn’t be here when the cops came. He said he had a felony warrant out for his arrest. I simply told him that if I was him, I wouldn’t want to be here either. So he took off on foot in the opposite direction. And the best part is the police and insurance said he was at fault since he committed a hit and run. So just think of this case that way.”

Sidney and Jack looked at Dre with a curious stare. They then turned to me. “What you should also get from that story is that if there is if you two have to drive anywhere, you shouldn’t let him drive. You’re in the driver’s seat now,” Sidney said while giving me a pat on the back.

THE END

Featured image: “portrait of an unhappy man with fast food in a kitchen” from Shutterstock.

Barely Legal (2014 Short-Fiction Contest Runner-Up) is a post from Lawyerist.com. The original content in this feed is © 2013 Lawyerist Media, LLC. This feed is provided for private use only and may not be re-published.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

8 Great iOS Apps That Have Nothing To Do With Practicing Law

Mon, 05/05/2014 - 08:56

Most posts about iOS apps are about helping you lifehack your way to work success: to-do lists, cloud storage, timekeeping, etc. But all work and no play makes lawyers dull, and your family and friends have likely tired of you explaining how Remember the Milk changed your life. Your iPhone and/or iPad has plenty of storage, relatively speaking, and you have plenty of time to be a world-beater during the work day with your sleek ScannerPro-to-Evernote integration, so why not add a few apps that are just there for some me time?

8 Great iOS Apps That Have Nothing To Do With Practicing Law is a post from Lawyerist.com. The original content in this feed is © 2013 Lawyerist Media, LLC. This feed is provided for private use only and may not be re-published.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Three Apps to Make the Internet Less Creepy

Fri, 05/02/2014 - 09:13

You probably already know this, but lots of people are tracking your activity online. Advertisers, social networks, content providers, the NSA. It’s actually kind of creepy how many people know what you are doing.

Fortunately, you can block a lot of it. There are a few apps that help you keep third-party tracking to a minimum, if not eliminate it entirely. But first, you can always try to ask politely.

Do Not Track

Before we get to the apps, you will want to turn on Do Not Track in your browser. This is a request that advertisers are free to ignore if they are jerks, but it does take care of some tracking.

  • In Chrome, go to Settings, click on “show advanced settings,” and scroll down to Privacy where you can check the box next to “Send a ‘Do Not Track’ request.” (You may need to do this separately in Chrome on your phone and tablet.)
  • Do Not Track is enabled in Firefox by default, but the setting is located in Tools > Options… > Privacy.
  • Do Not Track is enabled in Internet Explorer by default, but the setting is located in Settings > Safety > Tracking Protection.
  • In Safari, go to Preferences > Privacy, and check the box next to “Ask websites not to track me.”

Just remember that enabling Do Not Track is not enough on its own. Some third-party trackers just ignore it. To get them to back off, you’ll need some extra help.

Privacy Badger

Today the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit defender of civil liberties online, announced its Privacy Badger browser plugin. Privacy Badger keeps an eye out for third-party content (i.e., not from the website you are looking at) that is tracking you without your permission. Some common perpetrators include ad networks, social networks, embedded video, etc.

Sometimes that third-party content is important to the page, like fonts or embedded videos. In that case, Privacy Badger will attempt to let the content through but block the tracking scripts. But sometimes this means you just won’t see the content (ads, generally).

EFF’s goal is to convince companies to obey Do Not Track, so it “rewards” them by only blocking third-party trackers if they do not obey Do Not Track requests. In other words, if you have not enabled Do Not Track, Privacy Badger will let third parties track you.

Privacy Badger is available for the Chrome and Firefox browsers. To install it, just visit the website and click the big INSTALL button.

Fair warning: Privacy Badger is in alpha, which means it still has some bugs to work out.

Disconnect

Disconnect is a B corporation that happens to have been co-founded by Casey Oppenheim one of my law-school classmates. Its open-source browser plugin is available for Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari, and Opera. There is also a Disconnect search plugin so you can keep your searches to yourself, and an app for kids for iOS that stops third-party information from leaving your iOS device.

Additionally, Disconnect gives you a ton of information about third-party trackers. You can see who is tracking you, find out how much bandwidth they take up, and individually whitelist trackers when you want to.

Disconnect is a much more robust tool than Privacy Badger, since it has been around longer. In fact, I have been using it on and off for years. Also, it doesn’t have anything to do with Do Not Track (which few people probably know about). It blocks all third-party trackers unless you specifically opt in.

Ghostery

After I published this post, David Zaffran recommended another app, Ghostery. Like Disconnect, it is available as a browser plugin for Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Opera, but not Internet Explorer. There are also apps for iOS and the Android version of Firefox.

Featured image: “curious businessman with glass leaning against the wall ” from Shutterstock.

Three Apps to Make the Internet Less Creepy is a post from Lawyerist.com. The original content in this feed is © 2013 Lawyerist Media, LLC. This feed is provided for private use only and may not be re-published.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Law Firm Finances: Everything You Need to Know

Wed, 04/30/2014 - 00:16

This is a detailed how-to manual for setting up accounts, managing cash flow and credit, paying taxes and managing income, and forecasting income. These are critical skills that are not taught in law school, and many lawyers struggle to stay on top of their firm finances.

This is a must-read for anyone who manages a law firm’s finances or is even thinking about starting one.

IndexGetting Started

When you go solo, you are responsible for everything from client intake to marketing to dealing with opposing counsel. And you are running a business, which is a whole other can of worms.

The financial aspects of running a law practice can be complicated, stressful, and time-consuming. Here is how to get started.

Open At Least Two Accounts

You probably need at least two accounts: a business checking and an IOLTA trust account. You will obviously need to put money into the checking account, at least. (If you don’t currently have money, please stop reading and reconsider your plans to start a law firm.)

You will need a checking account for day-to-day expenses. You could actually pay for nearly everything with a credit card and rack up benefits, but be careful. You definitely don’t want to get hit with huge interest fees every month. Even if you use a credit card for most expenses, you still need a firm checking account.

If you handle client funds, you also need an IOLTA account. Your IOLTA account contains your clients’ funds, not yours. Almost any bank is capable of setting up a trust account, but you need to check the rules to see if your state has additional requirements.

Opening Deposits

The amount of money you need depends on what type of cases you want to handle. Assuming that you are paying rent, malpractice insurance, and buying office supplies, I would suggest starting with $3–5,000.

It is a good idea to plan not to make much money for at least the first three months, even though you will need to cover expenses. Make sure you have that money in the beginning so you have one less thing to worry about in month two when you are still waiting on your first payment.

For the trust account, check the requirements in your jurisdiction. Although your IOLTA account cannot be your operating account, some jurisdictions allow you to deposit a nominal amount of money into your IOLTA account to cover service fees. Otherwise, those fees would come out of client funds, which is not good. Check your local rules to see what you can keep in the IOLTA account, if anything.

Choose the Right Bank

There are plenty of factors to consider when choosing a bank. One: if you already have accounts at a bank, you may want to open your business accounts there as well. It might streamline the application process. More importantly, it is usually easier to transfer money between your business and personal accounts. When you need to pay yourself, having all your accounts in the same place is usually a breeze.

Two: location, location, location. Especially when you first start your practice, there will likely be some hiccups during the startup phase. For example, you might deposit money but the bank deposits it to the wrong account. Or the bank erroneously charges a service fee to your trust account. Going into the bank to deal with these issues in person is more time-consuming, but it is usually more effective than trying to fix problems over the phone.

Depending on your practice area, you may need to make frequent deposits. Some banks now allow you to make deposits from a smartphone. Others are quick at handling transactions through the mail. I’m not a fan of either option. When I get a check, I drive to the bank and make a deposit. That may not be the most economic use of my time, but my bank is less than half a mile from my office, and I usually just stop in on the way to or from work.

Three, and not to be underestimated: customer service. As mentioned above, you will inevitably have some hiccups at the beginning of your relationship with your bank. If the bank’s customer service comes up short, take your business elsewhere. Even if you end up paying slightly more in service charges, you need a bank that can handle your needs. When you are running a firm, you have ten million concerns. The right bank will give you more time to focus on the non-banking ones.

Cash Flow and Lines of Credit

Once you have made the initial financial arrangements for your firm, you are ready for step two: dealing with cash flow and lines of credit.

Cash Flow is Different than Generating Receivables

Cash flow is money coming in your door and available for you to deposit and spend. That is very different than generating receivables and billing time. The quicker you can wrap your head around the difference, the better, because cash flow is critical.

For example, on contingent-fee cases, I don’t get paid unless I am successful and until I actually receive a check from the defendants. Some cases don’t resolve for months or over a year, while others resolve relatively quickly. Either way, it doesn’t mean much until the check arrives. This can create a major cash flow crunch at certain times.

I also defend consumers in debt collection lawsuits. For those cases, I require up-front payment — I get paid prior to completing the work. Most of these cases involve a limited-scope representation — unbundled services — like drafting an answer, discovery responses, or negotiating a settlement. They don’t generate as much revenue, but they do generate cash flow.

Figure Out Your Monthly Budget — Including What You Need to Pay Yourself

If you are running a small firm or work as a solo attorney, you are likely handling your own bookkeeping. You should also know what your firm’s expenses are every month. They will vary from month to month, of course, but you should have a good idea of the average.

Your monthly budget is your break-even point. In other words, you have to bring in at least enough to cover your expenses. That may sound obvious, but lots of new attorneys somehow forget about expenses (and taxes — keep reading).

Once you know your budget, now you need to figure out what you need to pay yourself every month. Yes, most people like to get paid, but many solo attorneys are fortunate enough to have another income-earner in the household. For them, income from their practice may not be critical to supporting their household. They may be able to pay themselves significantly less — or even not get paid at all. That flexibility can certainly make things easier.

Assuming you need to pay yourself, figure out how much you need. Not how much you want to make, or how much you think you can make, but how much you need to make in order to make your practice work. If you don’t have a household budget, now is the time to figure it out and determine your magic number.

Once you have that number, add it to your expenses. That total monthly budget is now much bigger than you probably expected, and you may be experiencing the following side effects: nausea, heart palpitations, nervousness, and second-guessing your plan to start a law practice. If you are experiencing of those side effects, congratulations! You are perfectly normal, healthy, and ready to start a law practice.

That number is probably scary, but it’s also probably workable. Knowing that number will guide you, motivate you, and help you run a successful small firm.

Using Credit to Alleviate Cash Flow Problems

Credit cards and lines of credit can be a great way to create temporary solutions to cash flow issues. Note the use of the words can be and temporary. Paying yourself (or your expenses) with a credit card or a line of credit is simply delaying the due date on those expenses. It is not a magic wand.

Think of it this way: you need to pay yourself $3,000, but you don’t have $3,000 right now. In two weeks, however, you will receive $5,000 from a settlement. In that scenario, using a line of credit or credit card to pay your salary might not be a bad move. If you cannot count on getting paid in two weeks, advancing yourself money isn’t quite as smart.

Lines of Credit

Lines of credit are nice because you can usually transfer funds instantaneously from your line of credit to another account. If you need some instant cash in your operating account, it is just a few clicks away. However, there are two major downsides.

One: interest starts accruing immediately and daily. Credit cards usually give you a 21–28 day grace period — if you pay the bill in full during that time, you pay no interest. It doesn’t work that way with lines of credit. You start paying interest immediately, even if you pay back the loan in two days. Under certain scenarios, it might make sense to pay the interest, but spending money just to get money is generally a losing proposition.

Two: most lines of credit require a personal guarantee. If your business has a $12,000 line of credit and you exhaust it and then default, the bank will come after you personally. In addition, you probably agreed to pay their collection costs, interest, and you may have waived your right to a jury trial. In other words, you are in big trouble if your firm defaults.

If you want a security blanket, lines of credit are nice, but only if you can exercise restraint and use your line of credit only when it is absolutely necessary. If you simply want access to a big chunk of money and don’t understand cash flow, do not get a line of credit.

Credit Cards

Credit cards are nice because you can get your firm name on a piece of plastic. I guarantee it will make you feel more legitimate. Credit cards also usually have lower balance limits, offer fraud protection, and offer a grace period to pay off your balance without charging interest.

The lack of interest is a huge issue. That means you can pay expenses now on credit, and pay it back within weeks without having to pay interest. If you use it correctly, you can use a credit card to bridge gaps in cash flow and make your life much easier.

Fraud protection, travel insurance, and extended warranties are other bonuses for using credit cards. If you have ever had your identity stolen, then you know how important that can be. Unfortunately, like a line of credit, a credit card will usually require a personal guarantee. In my humble opinion, a credit card is superior to a line of a credit.

Paying Taxes and Managing Income

The next step is what I consider a good problem: what to do when you make money. Make sure you withhold for taxes and stuff some cash under a mattress for the inevitable bad month.

Yes, You Have to Pay Taxes

In case you didn’t already know this, I’ve got some bad news: small business owners have to withhold and pay their own taxes. You need to pay estimated taxes throughout the year or take a penalty and write a bigger check at the end of the year (disclaimer: I am not an accountant or a tax attorney; I just pay taxes).

I know lots of solos, and exactly none of them use a payroll service to pay themselves. That means they are responsible for withholding and paying their own taxes. Some of them are better at it than others. For many attorneys, settling a big case means it’s time to go buy a new car, a new computer, or a new suit. In other words, spend everything and assume you can withhold enough for taxes later. Last time I checked, some of those attorneys were making installment payments to the IRS. I’d suggest avoiding that.

Here’s an easy way to avoid it: open a separate bank account that only contains money for taxes. When your firm receives money, set aside about a third for taxes. In all likelihood, that is an excessive amount. When you do your taxes (or when an accountant does them), you can pay yourself a nice bonus because you have an excess. The alternative is to guess low and end up having to cough up some extra cash to pay your taxes. I’d rather err on the side of caution, but depending on your financial situation, that may not be possible.

The reason to keep the money in a separate account is to ensure it doesn’t get spent, and to make it easier to track. If you simply put everything into your operating account, it will be harder to know how much money is set aside for taxes. If you are withholding a third of your revenue and transferring it into a special account for that purpose, you should get any fees waived, as well.

Open Another Account for Excess Revenue

Cash flow is like a roller coaster, but less predictable and less safe. Depending on your practice area, you might go months without generating much income. One month you might make $15,000, but the next two might result in $2,500, total. I’m not pulling those numbers out of thin air — that is based on real-life experience.

During a great month, I don’t buy a new car, a new computer, or a new suit. I pay myself the same salary that I make when my income for the month is just $50. The only reason I can do that is because I stick all the excess into my fourth account, my excess account. I call it the “rainy day” account. Or, practically speaking, the “I can pay myself out of this account when I have a month that sucks” account.

You will have bad months. If you still want to pay yourself during those months, create an excess account. Even if you just need to float some cash to pay part of your salary, an excess account is perfect for that. Psychologically speaking, having an account with a few extra months of paychecks in it is worth ten times the actual balance. Even if you cannot afford to put much in an excess account, make contributions when you can.

Until you get used to the ups and downs of cash flow, just knowing you have a safety net is useful, even if you never touch it. Unfortunately, chances are you will probably need to dig into your excess, but hopefully not to the point of draining it.

Forecasting Income and Balance Sheets

Some attorneys spend inordinate amounts of time doing their works and paralyzed by the constant fear of not making money. The fear never goes away, but it does get better.

After a few months, take a look at your balance sheet and consider forecasting income to help maintain your financial sanity.

Spend Quality Time with Your Income Statement

So you’re making money, you think you will continue to do so, and you are even paying yourself a modest amount. Why is that amount so modest? If you are doing your accounting correctly, your income statement sheet should provide answers.

If you have a bookkeeper, then ask them to generate you a detailed income statement every couple of months. Otherwise, use your accounting software to generate it yourself.

Your income statement will show you income, expenses, and what your firm has actually made. I previously talked about making a monthly budget and the importance of knowing what it takes to run your firm every month.

Looking at your income statement will help you catch changes in those numbers and help you decide if your expenses are worth it. I know lots of attorneys who are constantly surprised at how much they spend. That’s not a good thing.

Your income statement should also give you helpful feedback on how your firm is making money, if you separate your revenue sources. Knowing whether divorces or criminal defense are your bread and butter can help you tweak your advertising, your intake, and maybe even your rates.

Don’t Count Your Chickens before They Hatch — Most of the Time

It’s dangerous to rely on any revenue that is not actually in your possession and control. Whether you bill clients monthly or do contingency work, it can be easy to spend money you don’t have by looking at what “should be” coming in soon. If you take anything from this post, it should be to exercise financial responsibility — don’t spend money that you do not have.

However, you may find yourself working your butt off but freaking out about cash flow if you have gone a while without getting paid. That is a major downside of contingency work, especially. Until the case settles and the settlement check rolls in, you do not make a dime. When this happens, I pull out my legal pad, list all my cases, and make a conservative projection of what the cases will settle for, and when. I still might not see any money for months, but it provides reassurance that there will be a payoff down the road from busting my butt.

Again, there’s no guarantee of getting anything until I actually receive the check and it clears. Psychologically speaking, however, doing a projection can help put your mind at ease — at least for a couple of days. When it happens again, do another projection.

Good Times to Buy Equipment

If you withhold money for taxes, stash away cash for a rainy day, and still have money left over, it’s a good time to upgrade your equipment. If you need a new desk, new client chairs, or a new computer, make them when you have extra money.

Don’t wait until the chair breaks or your hard drive fizzles out. Just upgrade now. Otherwise, there is a decent chance your computer will just happen to go kaput during a really bad month. You cannot plan for the unexpected, but the right time to make business purchases is when you have the cash on hand.

I would still be careful about going overboard, but spend the money when you have it, not when you are praying for it to come in the door. It’s also a nice tangible and physical reminder that you made money (and will likely continue to do so). Another nice side effect if are buying something for your business is that it should be deductible. Yes, you are still spending the money, but it should offset some of your income and in theory lower your taxes. That doesn’t mean the purchases are free, but you get the idea.

It Gets Easier

Running your own firm is not easy. Chances are good it will actually be much harder than you anticipated. Fortunately, the longer you do it, the easier it gets. Hang in there and reach out to other resources (tax attorneys, accountants, other attorneys) when you need help. And never forget that your IOLTA account is only for client funds!

Featured image: “Little Girl Playing with Colorful Abacus Beads” from Shutterstock.

Law Firm Finances: Everything You Need to Know is a post from Lawyerist.com. The original content in this feed is © 2013 Lawyerist Media, LLC. This feed is provided for private use only and may not be re-published.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Update Now: Internet Explorer Security Flaw Can Be Exploited by Malicious Websites

Mon, 04/28/2014 - 10:26

On Saturday, Microsoft announced a zero-day1 security flaw that affects all versions of Internet Explorer. Here’s how it works:

The vulnerability is a remote code execution vulnerability. The vulnerability exists in the way that Internet Explorer accesses an object in memory that has been deleted or has not been properly allocated. The vulnerability may corrupt memory in a way that could allow an attacker to execute arbitrary code in the context of the current user within Internet Explorer. An attacker could host a specially crafted website that is designed to exploit this vulnerability through Internet Explorer and then convince a user to view the website.

2014-05-01 Microsoft has released security update MS14-021 to fix the flaw. Get it by running Microsoft Update now.

In other words, if you visit a website designed to take advantage of the vulnerability, it could run code within IE that gives the attacker control of the victim’s computer.

Related“Why use a standard user account instead of an administrator account?”
Microsoft.com

There is no patch, yet, but you can avoid the flaw by not clicking suspicious links on websites or in emails. Also, ensure you are logged into your computer as a standard user, not an administrator. An attacker can do less damage if your account does not have administrative permissions. Better yet, don’t use IE until Microsoft issues a patch. Use Chrome, Firefox, or Safari instead.

Fortunately, Lawyerist users are a tech-savvy bunch compared to the Internet at large. Only about 16% of our visitors are using Internet Explorer. According to NetMarketShare’s data, about 26% 56% of Internet users are still on IE.

(h/t Buzzfeed)

  1. Zero day means you will not have advance warning of an attack. 

Update Now: Internet Explorer Security Flaw Can Be Exploited by Malicious Websites is a post from Lawyerist.com. The original content in this feed is © 2013 Lawyerist Media, LLC. This feed is provided for private use only and may not be re-published.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Clio Law Practice Management Software

Mon, 04/28/2014 - 00:05

Clio was one of the first cloud-based practice management software options, and it has been improving steadily. The focus on user experience and integrations means you can use Clio with an increasing array of other software (like Dropbox, Xero, and Google Apps, to name just a few). Starting with its iPhone app, soon to be joined by an Android app, Clio is working to become available on all your devices.

Clio users say using Clio saves them, on average, eight hours a week. Clio calls it a “Clioday,” and has even built a promotion around the idea. Eight hours a week might be a tad optimistic, but good productivity software definitely ought to save time. And Clio is definitely good productivity software for lawyers.

Here is what you need to know about Clio, from signing up to backing up your data.

IndexGetting Started with Clio

As with most cloud software, getting up and running on Clio is pretty simple. Just visit the signup page and walk through the signup process. You will have a fresh new account in no time.

Migrating to Clio

If you already use practice management software, Clio will help you migrate your data from your old software. Of course, the quality of the migration depends as much on the source (your old software) as the destination (Clio). When you contact Clio’s account migration team (open a new support ticket after you sign up), they will give you a good idea of what sort of results you can expect.

No matter what you use, Clio will not migrate certain things. These include historical accounting and billing information or documents stored in your old software. However, you can migrate your accounts receivable, and Clio’s bulk document uploader should be able to help with getting old documents into the new system. If you have a lot of accounting data in an old system, it probably makes sense to migrate to Clio at the beginning of a new year to minimize the time you spend on setting up your books. (Clio can handle opening balances, of course.)

Clio has a migration FAQ if you have more questions.

Using Clio

Finding your way around Clio’s great-looking interface is pretty straightforward. To add your first matter, for example, just click on Matters, then New Matter. Clio has made the new-matter page self-contained, meaning you do not have to leave to create new contacts or add practice areas. If the client is a new contact, you can create a basic contact record right there, and fill in details later.

Everything else works similarly. The calendar will be familiar to anyone who has used Google Calendar. Tasks are what you would expect, although there are no recurring tasks, yet. Contacts can be associated with matters and companies, and timekeeping is aggregated under Activities.

Clio also has basic billing and accounting (including trust accounting). These are definitely basic. They may be adequate for some first, but most will probably want to use Clio alongside more sophisticated billing and accounting software like Xero or QuickBooks.

Likewise, Clio has basic document assembly. You can create your own templates using merge fields from Clio matters and contacts. This makes it pretty easy to automate the documents you create every day. There are much more advanced document assembly packages out there, but Clio will meet most lawyers’ basic needs.

There is only one big thing Clio leaves out, and that is email. Although with the release of its Gmail extension for Chrome (see below), this is less of an omission — at least for lawyers who use Gmail and Chrome. Instead, Clio offers a client portal, Clio Connect, for securely communicating and sharing documents (including bills) with clients. Clio is definitely not as communication-oriented as, say, MyCase, but Clio Connect gets the job done.

If checking your email from within your practice management software is important to you, Clio probably will not work for you. However, if what you want is to be able to get your client-related emails into Clio easily, that is pretty easy to do, either with the Gmail extension or with the Email Maildrop feature. If you create an email contact for each matter using the Maildrop address, it is easy to forward communications directly to Clio.

Mobile Apps and Extensions

If Clio was a bit slower to release an iPhone app than its competitors, the beautiful, easy-to-use app was probably worth the wait. There is no app for iPad or Android, yet, but rest assured that Clio is working on them. In fact, if you want a preview of the Android app, Jeff Taylor recently posted screenshots and a review after playing with an early version at ABA TechShow this year.

Clio now has a Gmail extension for Chrome that lets you save emails to Clio with attachments, add tasks, and bill time. Clio plays well with Google Apps in general, syncing calendars, contacts, and files from Drive. You can also hook up your Dropbox, Box, or NetDocuments account to access your client files without specifically uploading them to Clio.

In addition, Clio hides a lot of extra features in the settings panel. You can sync Clio with Google Apps or Outlook, create text snippets for more efficient time (or anything else) entry, create groups of users and manage permissions, and much more.

Security

Clio uses SSL to secure your session whenever you are logged into Clio.1 This is comparable to the level of security your bank uses. Additionally, you can secure your account with two-factor authentication and require all users to use strong passwords.

Clients (and anyone else you add to Clio Connect) get that same level of security when logging into Clio Connect to access documents or communications.

Backing Up Your Clio Data

In case you are nervous about trusting Clio to keep your account backed up (this is an appropriate level of paranoia, FYI), Clio makes it relatively easy to back up your data to Amazon S3 with its Data Escrow feature. This sounds way more complicated than it is, and Clio’s step-by-step instructions will get you set up with Data Escrow pretty quickly and easily.

If you sign up for Clio, you should absolutely set up Data Escrow. Whether or not you trust Clio in general, you can never be too redundant when it comes to backup.

It is not backup, but Clio’s Recovery Bin functions as a short-term “undo” option in case you accidentally delete something and want it back.

Evaluating Clio for Your Practice

When reading reviews of Clio — or any software — the most important thing is to try to get a feel for whether you and the reviewer are looking for the same sorts of things in practice management software. There is no such thing as one-size-fits-all practice management software. What works for one reviewer might not work for you and your firm.

Here is a good example. Lawyerist reader and Lab member Avi Frisch got pretty specific in his criticisms of Clio in a report he wrote for LegalTypist in February 2014.2 In his report, he described Clio as “a simple product that is more of a basic project management database with some legal specific nomenclature.” To Frisch, that is a bad thing. But project management software with legal features is exactly what I would want to manage my clients.

That’s not to say Frisch’s criticisms are invalid. They are perfectly valid if you are looking for the same qualities in practice management software as he is. While some of his criticisms are objectively a problem for anyone considering Clio, many are just an indication that Clio is probably wrong for him, but it may be right for you.

Here is a non-comprehensive list of other Clio reviews, together with the date of the review. (Assume anything more than a few months old may not accurately represent Clio as it is today.)

Price

Clio recently raised its price to $65/user/month (billed annually; it is $72/user/month if you way to pay monthly).3 There is no way around it: that is expensive. In fact, Clio seems to be the most expensive cloud-based practice management software on the market — that includes the offerings from Lexis (Firm Manager) and Westlaw (Firm Central).4 By contrast, one of Clio’s main competitors, MyCase, is just $39/user/month (and just $29/user/month for staff). So is Clio worth an extra $312/year?

On the one hand, $312 is not trivial, especially if you are paying for multiple users. On the other, if Clio is a better fit for your practice, $312 probably should not stop you from using it.

The important part is that you can try Clio for free to find out for yourself whether you think it is worth the price.

Updates

Here’s where we keep track of changes to this post. You can also follow our latest posts about Clio.

2014-04-29. Clarified that Clio will migrate AR and has a bulk document uploader.

  1. Clio was affected by the Heartbleed exploit, but patched its servers within two days, and published this blog post along with an email sent to all users. 

  2. Sidenote: Frisch’s observation that “Clio had stopped improving” probably isn’t fair. As you can see from its product updates log, Clio is pumping out updates pretty frequently. The updates just aren’t the things Frisch wants to see from Clio. 

  3. Existing users will not have to pay the new rate, however. 

  4. In fairness, Firm Central starts at $35/user/month, but it is another $25/user/month for timekeeping and billing. 

Clio Law Practice Management Software is a post from Lawyerist.com. The original content in this feed is © 2013 Lawyerist Media, LLC. This feed is provided for private use only and may not be re-published.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

How to Offer Subscription Fees

Thu, 04/24/2014 - 02:15

Flat fees have become nearly synonymous with alternative billing, but they are not the only alternative to the billable hour. Subscription fees can also be a great fit for legal services, depending on your practice area and whether your clients have ongoing legal needs. Recurring fees are revenue you can count on, and clients who sign up for a subscription can become your best, longest-lasting clients.

Related“Pro/Con: Flat Fees”

The current concept of subscription pricing is inspired by the movement from software as a product to software as a service. As the cloud matured and broadband became ubiquitous, it started to make sense to move software from the personal computer to the cloud. Now, almost everyone uses cloud software.

Software as a product was sold in boxes. You might buy version 2.0, then get free updates to that version until the software vendor — arbitrarily — decided to assign version 3.0 to an update. Then you would have to go buy another box.

Software as a service is different. Typically, but not always, software as a service means web apps like Gmail or QuickBooks Online. You pay monthly for access to the software, whether or not it is upgraded (although upgrades typically come fast and frequently). Some software as a service includes local software — the kind of thing you used to buy in a box and install from discs. Office 365, for example, includes up-to-date versions of the Microsoft Office software packages.

With software as a service, the software vendor can stop worrying about pumping out new features to persuade you to upgrade to a new version. You pay for upgrades as well as the cost of maintaining and supporting the software every time you pay your subscription fee. It is good for the user, too, especially for software that is complicated to install, configure, and keep up-to-date.

At some point, a lawyer (I first remember hearing it from Matt Homann, who used it in his own law practice) started wondering if it might make sense to sell legal services like software services. And it does. Or at least, it can.

Structuring Subscriptions

There is no One Way to structure subscription fees, but there is at least one important decision to make: whether your fees will come primarily from the subscription or from additional services.

Some clients have predictable, regular legal needs. For example, maybe a title company wants you to handle all its closings, which are generally between 5 and 10 a month. For these clients, a subscription fee makes so much sense that your client may even be the one to suggest it. When the work is regular and predictable, it is usually easy enough to come up with an average and set a monthly fee, almost like negotiating a salary.

Those clients are easy, as long as your retainer agreement carefully describes the scope of the services you are providing.

But far more clients have regular needs that are not so predictable. Consider a small business that might want to talk to a lawyer a couple of times a month, and occasionally needs more legal work in bigger chunks. Or families, which may need to keep their estate plan up to date over many years.

It takes a bit more creativity to structure subscription fees for these clients, but it can work as well or better, in the long run. And you can usually re-use the same subscription-fee arrangement for most of your clients instead of having to quote a different fee structure for everyone who walks in the door.

Less for Less

You might be tempted to try to offer more value for more money, like throwing in bundles of documents or weekly check-ins, but you must not promise more than you can deliver. For one thing, that would probably make your fee unreasonable and therefore unethical. For another thing, your clients are not likely to stick around if they aren’t happy with the arrangement.

Plus, you should be careful to tailor your subscription plans to your clients’ needs. If you just try to stuff your plan full of “value,” it won’t be long before your clients realize they aren’t able to take advantage of it.

The most sustainable way to offer subscription fees is probably to offer limited valuable services for a limited monthly fee. If your clients like what they are getting, they are less likely to decide they aren’t getting the value of your fee. For example, if you represent businesses, offer unlimited phone calls and build a set of documents your subscription-fee clients can use for no additional charge.

If you represent startups, you may even want to allow (and encourage) your clients to use your conference room if they need a nice place to meet with investors or hold board meetings. This will help you stay in the loop with your clients’ businesses, give you the chance to network, and help out your clients.

Everything else, though, is a separate fee. The services you offer for your subscription fee must be real and valuable to your clients, but you don’t need to rely on the subscription fee to sustain you. Even if your clients are paying you $99/month, that amount guarantees they will come back to you whenever they need help. If anything, subscriber-clients will come back to you more often. After all, that is what they are paying you for. And at least some of the times they come back to you, they will need work that goes above and beyond their subscription.

Maintain Your Client Relationships

Above all, make sure to keep up the relationship with your subscriber-clients. Buy them coffee at least a few times a year. Or start a members-only whisky club or organize a monthly happy hour. Those meetings are opportunities to get to know your clients better — but also to find out if there is any other work they should be paying you to do.

Finally, make sure you don’t try to fit every client into a subscription-fee arrangement. Just as with flat fees, subscription fees are a tool that can help you serve your clients better. When that is not the case, use another arrangement.

Featured image: “newspaper” from Shutterstock.

How to Offer Subscription Fees is a post from Lawyerist.com. The original content in this feed is © 2013 Lawyerist Media, LLC. This feed is provided for private use only and may not be re-published.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

The Best And The Worst Onscreen Cross Examinations

Tue, 04/22/2014 - 22:56

All lawyers groan knowingly and nod sagely at the TV while watching courtroom dramas because we know there will always going to be something ridiculous. No witness will spontaneously confess. No judge will look kindly on you if you come up with last-minute evidence.

However, we won’t be deterred from watching by something as minor as histrionics and absurdity. And, to be fair, television and movie courtroom escapades have often favorably shaped the ways other people think of our profession. Certainly your friends and neighbors think you lead a much more dramatic life than you actually do. So let’s give in to the guilty pleasure of figuring out what the best and worst cross-examination moments in television and movies are.

Let’s do this. We’ll do the best three first so that you feel fortified to deal with the worst three.

The Best And The Worst Onscreen Cross Examinations is a post from Lawyerist.com. The original content in this feed is © 2013 Lawyerist Media, LLC. This feed is provided for private use only and may not be re-published.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

NeatConnect Cloud Scanner Review

Mon, 04/21/2014 - 16:40

The NeatConnect “cloud scanner” from Neat is built for the “post-PC era.” In other words, you don’t even need a PC to use the NeatConnect — though it works just fine if you do have one.

Over the years, we have heaped accolades on Fujitsu’s excellent line of ScanSnap document scanners. And they deserve every bit of it. But none of the ScanSnaps have enabled users to cut the cord and go all-cloud, all the time. That’s the promise, at least, of the NeatConnect.

What is a “Cloud Scanner?”

Neat calls the NeatConnect a “cloud scanner,” and it explains what it means in its slick marketing video for the NeatConnect:

Basically, according to Neat, a cloud scanner is a scanner that sends your documents straight to the cloud-based file storage instead of going through your computer. For a cloud scanner, no computer is necessary — the NeatConnect even encourages you to leave the USB cable in the box. There is a label covering the USB port on the scanner, and “optional” appears everywhere the USB cable is mentioned in the packaging. All the NeatConnect needs is a wireless Internet connection.

A regular document scanner, on the other hand, is meant to scan to your computer or mobile device. The ScanSnaps, for example, need a computer, smartphone, or tablet to scan to. It is easy to get your scanned documents into the cloud from there, but not straight from the scanner itself.

In the end, you can accomplish the same things on both. The NeatConnect works great as a desktop scanner, and the ScanSnap has no trouble uploading documents to the cloud. But the strengths of each are pretty clear when you use them.

Setting Up the NeatConnect

One of the nice things about a cloud scanner is that you do not need to plug it into your computer at all. Just plug in the power cord and use the scanner’s touchscreen to set it up. The screen will walk you through setup, and it’s very straightforward.

In fact, the only difficult part of setting up the NeatConnect is the onscreen keyboard, which you have to use to enter your wi-fi password and either sign into your NeatCloud account or create a new one (I did not see an option to skip this, even if you do not want to use NeatCloud). Typing on the NeatConnect’s keyboard is a bit of a challenge. It may look exactly like an iPhone keyboard, but it does not respond like one. I mis-typed just about every other letter, even after I thought I was getting the hang of it. Fortunately, the keyboard is primarily for setting up the scanner. After you complete setup, you may never use it again, and the rest of the buttons in the interface are nice and big and easy to hit.

Scanning with the NeatConnect

Scanning is simple: put paper in the scanner, select the options you want, and touch the big orange SCAN button on the touchscreen. You can tweak all the scanning settings right from the touchscreen, like whether you want to scan in color or grayscale, and decide where you want to send the document. The NeatConnect can do all the tricks you would expect a good document scanner to do, like scanning documents of different size, removing blank pages (essential for duplex scanning), and not jamming (granted, it’s a new scanner, but I didn’t experience a single paper jam).

The NeatConnect is not quite as fast as the ScanSnap iX500 (24 pages per minute for the NeatConnect versus 25 ppm for the iX500), but it is close enough, and plenty quick. Once the scan finishes, the scanner will assemble the PDF (or TIFF, if you prefer) and wait for you to confirm the destination. Shortly after the upload completes, you will see the new file in your cloud storage.

There is one problem, unfortunately. While you can combine multiple pages into a single PDF while you scan, you have to scan those pages all at once. There is no option that I can find to keep scanning more pages to the same file after the NeatConnect finishes the scan in its feeder. That means you are effectively limited to scanning 50-page sections of longer documents. The Neat software is no help, either. It does not support merging documents. You can use your own PDF software for that, of course, but it would be nice if you didn’t have to.

If you regularly need to scan documents of more than 50 pages, this may become an annoying hassle. If it does not come up very often, you probably won’t mind at all.

By the way, the NeatConnect supports TWAIN, which you will want if you also want to use the NeatConnect for scanning to your desktop scanner. That’s because NeatCloud and the Neat desktop software (the “digital filing system”) just aren’t very good.

Using NeatCloud, the Neat Desktop Software, and the NeatMobile App

Neat didn’t figure out how to make better scanning software; it just made the software unnecessary.

NeatCloud is sort of like Dropbox, but clunkier. The Neat desktop software is basically the same. If you don’t decide to use another web service like Dropbox, your files will end up going to NeatCloud by default, to one of the five (pointless) subfolders in the inbox:

  1. From Email
  2. From NeatConnect®
  3. From NeatMobile®
  4. From NeatScan®
  5. From Web Import

All those folders are silly, and feel like they are just an excuse to push the brands in front of the user. I can’t think of a single reason why segmenting an inbox by which kind of scanner, app, or input method you used would be relevant.

The software does try to help you organize your receipts and business cards, and it does a decent job if that’s what you want it for. The desktop software is essentially identical to the cloud software. Everything syncs up quickly and easily. But it doesn’t add any of the functionality you would want from desktop software.

There is also a NeaMobile app for iOS and Android that lets you browse your documents and “scan” documents using your smartphone’s camera. Using your smartphone as a scanner is a neat trick, but there are other apps, like Scanner Pro, that do a much better job of it.

If you want it, though, NeatCloud starts at $59.88/year, which is especially reasonable considering there don’t seem to be any limits on how much data you can store. Although you will have to bump up to $119.88/year if you want the mobile app, too.

If you want to use the Neat to scan to your computer, you should probably look at third-party scanning software like PaperPort. Neat didn’t figure out how to make better scanning software; it just made the software unnecessary. But if you want to scan to the cloud — just not NeatCloud — the NeatConnect gives you options. Fortunately, it does not see to care whether you use NeatCloud or not.

Using Other Web Services with the NeatConnect

The cool thing about the NeatConnect, and the part that transforms it from a neat toy for SkyMall shoppers into a neat scanner for anyone, is that you can connect it to other cloud services, including OneDrive, Box, Dropbox, Evernote, Google Drive, OneNote, email, and FTP. You can even remove NeatCloud as a destination, if you don’t want to use it at all (I did).

I could not connect the NeatConnect to my Dropbox account. I suspect that’s because I have two-factor authentication turned on for Dropbox, because I didn’t have any trouble adding my Box account (I don’t really use it except for testing, so I don’t have two-factor authentication turned on for Box).

The only downside I noticed if you want to use a different file storage service is that the NeatConnect does not perform OCR on your documents before uploading them. I’m guessing NeatCloud handles the OCR processing, so that if you don’t use NeatCloud, you don’t get OCR. I can think of some ways around this, but none as convenient as built-in OCR would be.

OCR aside, there is just one option I think is missing from the NeatConnect’s support of third-party web services: the ability to select a folder for my scans to be uploaded to. The NeatConnect just drops them in a From NeatConnect directory in each cloud service, which is a little bit clunky. I can live with that, but I would prefer to be able to choose the destination folder.

Who Should Buy the NeatConnect.

I was not a fan of the NeatDesk, so I’m a little surprised to say that I really like the NeatConnect. I actually wish I could keep the review unit. I don’t love NeatCloud or the Neat software, but I am impressed that Neat does not lock the user into its own ecosystem. If you don’t want to use NeatCloud, you don’t have to, and it won’t even bug you about it.

Most will want to know if I would recommend the NeatConnect over the ScanSnap iX500. And actually, the answer is maybe, for some.

First, if you are a Windows user and you do not already have an up-to-date copy of Acrobat, I think the ScanSnap has the advantage. The included copy of Acrobat Standard means the ScanSnap is just a better deal. But if you already have a newer copy of Acrobat, or if you use a Mac, it’s a closer call.

If you are not a heavy cloud user, I would get the ScanSnap. That means you are primarily using your scanner while sitting at your desk, plugged in, to scan straight to your computer. For that, the ScanSnap is slightly better. The ScanSnap Manager software is just way better than the Neat desktop software.

If you are a heavy cloud user, though, I would favor the NeatConnect. That means most or all of the things you scan will end up in the cloud, anyway, and you like to work from a smartphone and tablet as well as a laptop or desktop PC. Users like this would be perfectly happy with the ScanSnap iX500, but I think they would also be delighted with the NeatConnect.

Summary

The NeatConnect is an excellent document scanner for heavy cloud users, and a pretty good scanner for everyone else, too.

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

NeatConnect, reviewed by Sam Glover on April 21, 2014.Updates

2014-04-28 Neat added OneNote as a cloud destination, and scans are now saved in a From NeatConnect folder in each cloud service instead of just dropped in the root directory.

NeatConnect Cloud Scanner Review is a post from Lawyerist.com. The original content in this feed is © 2013 Lawyerist Media, LLC. This feed is provided for private use only and may not be re-published.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs