Tag Archives: ABA

Legal Competition To Rise After ABA Considers Foreign Accreditation

The economy for job-seeking lawyers is already dire. Now, it’s about to get worse.

Today, at the annual ABA meeting in Chicago, the Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar is ready to review whether or not to begin accreditation of overseas law schools, reports the National Law Journal.

A panel of law professors, deans, judges, and attorneys already recommended that the council expand its accreditation power to those foreign schools following the U.S. model.

One such university—the Peking University in China—aims to be the first to seek accreditation by the U.S. The university wrote a letter to the council that read, “The decision the Council will make is of great importance not only to [the Peking University]…”

“It will determine whether American legal education can be a global model or whether other countries will turn elsewhere.”

Peking Law classes are conducted in English and in Chinese, which was part of the university founder’s plan—former University of Michigan Law School dean, Jeffrey Lehman—to bring American-style legal education abroad. And, Peking Law is not alone.

But, these schools seeking accreditation are not alone in the debate, either. In addition to ample support, the idea has garnered much disapproval from U.S. law students, deans, judges, and bar officials.

After the ABA surveyed 645 relevant professionals, it found that most critics worried that (1) the developing accreditation standards and monitoring overseas wouldn’t be stringent or financially possible; (2) foreign legal education would not include the ethical and cultural nuances of the American system necessary for accreditation; and (3) ABA resources would be reallocated away from U.S. law schools.

“In addition, many respondents, primarily students, raised concerns about the impact of expansion of the Accreditation Project would have on the employment opportunities for U.S. law graduates,” wrote an executive summary of the public responses, according to the National Law Journal.

In the past, lawyers only had to compete nationally for jobs. Now, it seems attorneys may need to watch out for overseas resumes bringing tumultuous competition to an already stormy industry market.

The question for law firms is: Will this have an impact on your hiring practices?

Do you consider it an asset to have an American-trained, but native Chinese speaker represent your law firm during our increasingly globalized world of corporate litigation?

The economic recession has already made it clear that the U.S. market for law is supersaturated with qualified attorneys. What happens to the market for post-grads when foreign law schools are accredited?

Luckily for American lawyers, this issue has been debated since 2008 and a council decision twice delayed. So, while it may be a valid issue, it’s just not one that seems to be on the ABA’s priority list…. yet.

-WB

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Sick of New Year’s Resolutions? Add The ABA Power Of Attorney Health Care Guide To Your 2012

Sick of New Year’s resolutions yet?

This time of year, suggestions for lifestyle changes toward a healthier, happier home compose the majority of individuals’ New Year’s resolutions. Losing weight, getting fit, and joining a gym are among a person’s top ten goals for 2012.

Unfortunately, fewer than half of people stick to these resolutions.

It may explain why obesity is still prevalent in the U.S. And, why one survey, according to the CDC, found that around 30 percent of adults are sleep deprived—getting six or less hours of sleep at night—which can cause a variety of health problems. For lawyers, this is certainly not news.

In the ideal world, 2012 would be filled with joy and good health. Sadly, life and illness can be unpredictable.

That’s why—just in time for the holiday season—the American Bar Association (ABA) Commission on Law and Aging released a new publication that provides a simple, durable power of attorney for health care. This free publication meets the legal requirements of all but five U.S States.

The nuances of State laws make it difficult to create an overarching handbook, but the ABA’s guidelines are surprisingly applicable to every State except Indiana, New Hampshire, Ohio, Texas and Wisconsin.

“The ‘bare bones’ approach provides solely for the appointment of a health care agent with broad decision-making authority,” explains the ABA.

The publication, titled, Giving Someone a Power of Attorney for Your Health Care: A Guide with an Easy-to-Use Legal Form for All Adults, is available in English and Spanish.

The new guide gives individuals three, simple directives:

1. Think carefully about whom you want as your health care agent;
2. Provide guidance for the agent to make treatment decisions for you; and
3.Fill out the form and sign in the presence of two witnesses.

So, this year, instead of celebrating with chocolate and champagne, ring in the New Year at your law firm with a more responsible handout. Advise your employees to complete the ABA’s new form, available here online.

The publication may be “bare bones,” but there’s no need to also attach a skull and cross bones. Thinking about your health shouldn’t ruin your holiday spirit. As law firm administrator, give your employees a discount to the neighborhood gym or a gift card to a natural foods grocery store in addition to the ABA guide.

Giving someone a Power of Attorney for health care should be both a chilling reality and cheerful source of positive energy.

Have a happy, healthy New Year!

-WB

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How To Do Your Online Shopping Due Diligence

­Black Friday came and went. For those people who did not fulfill their gift list, the next few weeks will be dedicated to window browsing, valet parking lines at shopping malls, and waiting in long, hectic holiday queues.

Or, for time-pressed lawyers, online shopping during their lunch hour.

In fact, the number of people who shop online has been steadily increasing. At least 38 percent of consumers shop online at least once a month, according to J.P. Morgan senior analyst Imran Kahn and his annual report (via TechCrunch). With the upcoming holidays, this number will undoubtedly grow.

According to Kahn’s forecasts, e-commerce revenue will grow to $680 billion worldwide, and increase of 18.9 percent from 2010. Online retail commerce in the U.S. alone will grow 13.2 percent to $187 billion, according to the same report.

In light of these trends, consumer law experts at the ABA have put together a list of safety tips for buying products online. It’s especially important to practice safe online shopping to avoid viruses when installing software, to prevent identity theft, and to protect yourself when making e-payments.

The ABA’s tips include the following:

Passwords. Your passwords should be unique for each site you frequent. Create passwords that consist of a mix of at least five letters, numbers and punctuation marks, and avoid obvious combinations such as your name and birthday.”

This is a good reminder to keep a unique password for your computer and phone. Be sure that you use different passwords for each online shopping site and gadget; in the event one gets compromised, you won’t have to worry about all of them.

Also, do not keep a list of all your different passwords on your computer. If you must, write them down on a piece of paper and keep them in a safe at your home.

Online Shopping. Verify that the shopping site is safe.  Look for at least one of the following:

  • An icon of an unbroken key or closed lock in your browser window.
  • Either one indicates that security is operative.
  • A broken key or open lock indicates that the site is not secure.
  • A web address beginning with “https” on the page that asks for your credit card information, instead of ‘http.’
  • The words “Secure Sockets Layer” or a pop-up box indicating that you are entering a secure area.”

These days, a person can hack into your computer remotely. It’s important to pay attention to the site on which you are surfing. Because a good portion of online shopping may occur form a work computer, any breach of security during an online shopping session may have profound negative consequences in terms of confidentiality breaches for the firm.

Firm administrators should ensure its IT Department has tightly honed its security measures this month, in anticipation of online shopping cheer and to avoid holiday workplace tears.

Telephone Shopping. If you give your credit card information to a store representative over the phone, write down the name and work ID of the person you spoke with, the phone number you called, the time of the conversation and the name of the company.”

Online shopping is no different than gathering facts for a legal case. The more information gathered, the more rock-hard the evidence. So don’t be afraid to keep a folder at work or at home with print-out receipts of all transactions. And, write down the date and time for each purchase. Check that your credit card statements match your notes at the end of the month.

Doing your due diligence during the holidays is as important to your own well-being as to your firm’s.

To read more tips from the ABA, go here.

-WB

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Value Billing Saves Lawyers and Clients Headaches and Overheads

The problem with federal and state budget cuts within the legal system is that these measures eliminate not only the costs associated with court systems, but also the much-needed justice that comes with them.

Today, Thomson Reuters reports on some alarming statistics: During the past three years, 42 states have cut their judicial budgets, with some decreasing budgets by as much as 12 percent. Over two-thirds of states have fired court employees and even more aren’t hiring to fill clerk vacancies. Finally, an astounding 23 states have curtailed their court operating hours,reports Joseph Schuman for Thomson Reuters (TR).

As a result of these disturbing trends, the ABA has set up aTask Force on the Preservation of the Justice System led by David Boies and Theodore Olson.

“There has not been a natural constituency for the justice system,” David Boies, managing partner with Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP, explained to the Times (via TR).

“We are now at the point where funding failures are notmerely causing inconvenience, annoyances and burdens; the current funding failures are resulting in the failure to deliver basic justice.”

The other half of the court system—lawyers and their firm—is facing similar funding failures and all the inconveniences, annoyances, and burdens that come with it. Within firms, budget deficiencies threaten the foundation on which lawyers have based their practice—seeking justice forthe common man, winning cases as well as the respect of their peers andclients.

Instead of justice, attorneys fees have become the center of attorney-client relationships. Hourly billing during a recession has caused firmmanagers daily headaches, with clients pushing for lower legal fees and firms fighting to keep higher profit margins.

Attorneys spend a noticeable amount of time fixing their timesheets and writing work descriptions in order to stay accountable to new, more stringent requirements by their clients. Even then, hours are cut to please courts and clients alike.

“[I remember when] lawyers had relationships with clients: If there was an issue with the bill, we’d sit down and talk about it,” ABA President Stephen N. Zack said to the ABA Now.

Today, too many attorney-client disagreements result from confusion over billing. “Both in-house and outside counsel hate the billable hour. It hurts relationships,” lamented Joseph K. West, associate generalcounsel, Walmart, to the ABA Now.

Budget cuts and economic inefficiency caused the Morrow County Municipal Court in Ohio—just one of many courts—to limit its hours to a four-day workweek, reported TR. Firms may be the next cog to collapse within the legal system. So, instead of shutting down under fiscal pressure, law firms should start looking to the past and adapt.

“I remember when lawyers billed for legal services rendered,” Zack exaplained to the ABA Now. And that’s exactly what firms are re-initiation today.

Fixed fees, flat fees, and success fees, are just a few names for what is known as “value billing.” Value billing is a flat rate forwork for the year. This billing scheme frees lawyers and firms from recording billable hours and allows attorneys to go back to the basics, focusing on client relationships, winning cases, and making meaningful impacts on the industry of law.

“We became lawyers because we’re passionate about justice,we want to be liked and respected, and we enjoy winning,” Boies said to the ABA Now.  “Value billing feeds all of those reasons.”

The ABA points out that value billing also provides anopportunity for firms to gain expertise in areas in which they may not be know n s specialists. For example, “If a corporation has a flat fee for a year, a firm can go the company and say, ‘You’re already paying us, you might as well use us,’” explained Boies to the ABA Now.

When a client is tempted to hire another firm for specialized services, value billing keeps that business in-house. Corporations won’t lose a dime with a flat-fee structure, and your firm is given the opportunity to show off and develop its diversified services.

Finally, flat fee arrangements allow lawyers to recalibrate their priorities and return to a love of the law and a passion for justice.

Don’t let 10-minute increments of billable time lead to the demise of a firm you worked 10 years or more to build.

-WB

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Will A Question Mark in Your Law Review Article Title Get It Published?

A lot of cyberbuzz is stirring today about an article written in The Guardian regarding the format of academic journal article titles and whether or not certain punctuation leads to more downloads and citations of the writing (read here and here).

A recent study shows that the titles of academic papers do, in fact, impact their rate of citation and download.

There are three major findings to the study, published in Scientometrics:

  • Articles with question marks in the titles tended to be downloaded more but cited less.
  • Articles with longer titles were downloaded slightly less than the articles with shorter titles.
  • Article with long titles containing a colon had fewer downloads and fewer citations.   

A lawyer can certainly extrapolate reasons for why these conclusions may hold true. For example, articles with question marks in the titles may be more provocative, leading to more downloads. But, perhaps articles with question marks in the title are also more editorial in nature, leading to less citation.

Lincoln Was Self-Taught . . . So Why Go To Law School?” is an interesting title leading to a controversial article of limited scientific fact, for example.

In addition, article titles that are more succinct reveal their subject matter more readily, thus appeal to inquiring minds. So, it is understandable that articles with shorter titles would be downloaded at higher rates.

While the study certainly sheds light on strategies to increase the readership of an attorney’s academic writing, lawyers looking to publish work in Law Reviews or similar legal journals should read another message between the printed lines.

Successful legal writers have done significant legal reading.

That is to say, if you want to be an expert at a task—whether that be research, analysis, or writing—it’s vital to put in the time and practice.

So, renew that subscription to the Administrative Law Review or even the ABA Journal. These publications are essential for a continued, comprehensive knowledge of your practice area. But, also, these academic sources (and their over-punctuated titles) mark the first step toward publishing pertinent research of your own.

The best way to have an article published, read, and cited, is to have 10,000-hours of expertise and to be familiar with the competition.

-WB

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Beware Of Blogging: Virginia State Bar’s Message To Attorneys Via Surprising Misconduct Charge

Considering a blog site for your law firm? Perhaps you should check with your State Bar first.

In one of the first cases of its kind, the Virginia State Bar has brought a misconduct charge against a criminal defense attorney in the state for blogging about cases on which he has worked.

The State Bar alleges that Richmond criminal defense attorney Horace Hunter is using his firm’s blog site for advertising, read the full charge here. Hunter counter-argues that his articles consist of news and commentary, read his blog here.

Does Virginia’s charge violate Hunter’s rights to free speech? Or, are lawyers using firm blogs to get around the ethical and legal requirements of advertising?

In light of the economic recession, lawyers are looking to improve their practice and attract new clients through a variety of social media. Articles advising firms to open Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, and blog sites are abound.

And, for good reason.

In 2011, four out of five American businesses with 100 or more employees use social media marketing, according to research conducted by eMarketer. That’s a significant increase from 2008 when a mere 42 percent of companies marketed via social media, reports the same source.

So, businesses are using social media, like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Blogger, both to seek customers and to also find appropriate legal representation. Law firms, for their turn, are competing with one another to sign as many corporate clients as possible.  

Standing out in a technology-driven crowd can be difficult for law firms. Impossible for those behind the digital times.

But, at least one State Bar is sending a message to its attorneys that ethical and legal rules about advertising your firm still apply in the blogosphere, reports The Washington Post.

Except discussing cases—even your own—has been a longstanding tradition for lawyers nationwide. Usually it’s done in speeches, post-courtroom press talks, or newspaper interviews.

Are blog posts any different?

“If the Virginia Bar believes that blogs that discuss news and commentary should have stringent disclaimers that precede the content because they are deemed to be advertisements, then the Virginia Bar may have to require that every blog post, blog comments on other blogs and other user-generated content by an attorney to contain a strict disclaimer,” Brad Shear, a Bethesda attorney specializing in social media law, said to The Washington Post.

“It becomes a slippery slope.”

 

Whatever your opinion on this matter, it’s important to understand the risks of creating a blog for your firm.

If you decided to do so, protect your firm via the following four steps:

  1. Create a disclaimer on the “About” page or at the end of each post; 
  2. Get written consent from your clients to discuss their cases on the blog;
  3. Implement an internal Social Media Policy for your firm; and 
  4. Remember Nicole Black, attorney and author of Social Media for Lawyers: The Next Frontier, a good rule of thumb is “if you can’t do it off-line, you can’t do it online.”

-WB

 

For more information, attend C4CM’s course, “Social Media Policy Dos and Don’ts: Employees, Networking Sites and the Law.”

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Deregulating The Law Industry: Pros, Cons & Free Market Economics

Law blogs, like this one, spend a large amount of time pushing for legal service innovation

Creativity, FLEX time, investment capital, reverse auctions, social media–these are all ways by which law firms are told to innovate to provide more efficient services to their clients and to increase profitability among their partners.

But instead of forcing innovation on existing law firms, perhaps innovation should be brought upon the industry via increased competition.

It’s not the first time that the practice of law has been called a monopoly. Clifford Winston, Robert W. Crandall, and Vikram Maheshri of the Brookings Institute argue in their publication, First Thing We Do, Let’s Deregulate All the Lawyers, that entry barriers and restrictions combined with government-induced demand for lawyers drives up the prices for legal services. 

The authors further purport that this economic inefficiency draws significant social costs, hampers innovation, misallocates the nation’s labor resources, and creates socially perverse incentives.

This week, Winston and Crandall contributed an op-ed to the Wall Street Journal calling for the immediate deregulation of the legal industry. They write:

“The reality is that many more people could offer various forms of legal services today at far lower prices if the American Bar Association (ABA) did not artificially restrict the number of lawyers through its accreditation of law schools—most states require individuals to graduate from such a school to take their bar exam—and by inducing states to bar legal services by non-lawyer-owned entities. It would be better to deregulate the provision of legal services. This would lower prices for clients and lead to more jobs.”

Amid countless lawsuits accusing law schools of misrepresenting employment statistics and a boom in online legal services, it’s clear that law school graduates are seeking jobs, and clients are seeking affordable counsel.

To achieve this, both the Cato Institute and OpenMarket.org agree with the WSJ that deregulation is necessary. “People can represent themselves in small-claims courts, which have simplified procedures, but in many states, such courts can hear only the tiniest legal claims, like those seeking less than $5,000,” states OpenMarket.org (via ATL).

“Every other U.S. industry that has been deregulated, from trucking to telephones, has lowered prices for consumers without sacrificing quality,” continue Winston and Crandall.

So, to spur innovation and increase economic efficiency, the legal industry should be deregulated. Or, should it?

There are myriad economic reasons in favor of deregulation, but an equal number that support its continued regulation.

Common law procedures and the protection of Constitutional rights lay at the foundation of American society. At the same time, understanding American civil liberties is complicated, convoluted even.

The 1966 Miranda v. Arizona Supreme Court decision was critical for U.S. laymen. Miranda warnings ensure that individuals are given equal and fair standing under the law, at least as defendants in criminal matters. One particular Miranda warning is the right to an attorney, and the right to have an attorney appointed for you in the event you cannot afford one. It could be inferred, along with this court decision came the economic opinion that legal services are a public good–defined by its nonexcludability and nonrivalrous consumption–not party to typical free competition rules.

Adam Smith is famous for making the observation that certain goods in society would have to be funded by means of general contribution. One of the key characteristics of a public good is its unique regulation via state and non-state actors (institutions not unlike the American Bar Association).

Some might argue that regulating the legal industry is necessary to keep legal services of an equally high-quality and ethical standard, accessible to all. By limiting entrants, regulation is, in fact, preserving the spirit of this public good.

So, which economic theory do you believe? Is law just another business in an free market, or is it a public good to be regulated? Is the legal industry headed toward deregulation or just a revision of old traditions?

-WB

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Cultural Misunderstanding? Native American Law Students Ethnicity Questioned By The ABA

St. Lawrence Day Massacre or Pueblo Revolt? Both occured on August 10, 1680. In fact, these titles represent two different perspectives on the same historical event.

On the one hand, “el Día de San Lorenzo,” or the St. Lawrence Day Massacre, commemorates the deaths of 400 Hispano settlers, including 300 women and children, and 21 friars who enhabited colonial Santa Fe and were killed during a massive American Indian attack.

On the other hand, the Pueblo Revolt is often touted as the First American Revolution against the invading Spanish–a fight in favor of freedom of religion and the preservation of the Pueblo Indian and other Native American culture.

“I personally would want to see our tragic history, or the tragic elements of our history, acknowledged,” President Obama told conventioneers at the Unity Convention in 2008.

“I consistently believe that when it comes to whether it’s Native Americans or African-American issues or reparations, the most important thing for the U.S. government to do is not just offer words, but offer deeds.”

Not only controversial holidays, but controversial legislation surrounds the special rights and benefits provided by the federal government to the 5 million American Indians and Alaska Natives residing in the U.S., or 1.6 percent of the total population, as of July 2009, according to the U.S. Census.

And now, the controversy has spread to Native American lawyers.

Between 1990 and 2000, the number of Native Americans who graduated from American Bar Association-accredited law schools was approximately 2,600, according to the ABA. During that same period, the number of Native American attorneys who practiced law in the U.S. increased by approximately 200, according to the U.S. Census. Wait a minute…

Either a large proportion of Native American lawyers are unpracticing, living outside the U.S., cleverly orchestrating a ruse to avoid the U.S. Census, or there are a few too many law students checking the Native American ethnicity box. At least, this is what the ABA believes explains this discrepancy.

Concerned these numbers represent a disturbing trend in law school admissions, the ABA’s House of Delegates approved on Monday a resolution that urges the Law School Admissions Council and ABA-approved law schools to require additional information from people who register for the Law School Admission Test and apply to law school as a Native American.

According to The National Law Journal, this type of of additional information could include information about tribal citizenship, tribal affiliation, or enrollment number. In the event applicants do not belong to a tribe recognized by the U.S. government, they can provide a “heritage statement” instead.

“While few people would indicate they were Asian-American or African-American on a law school application unless it is part of their identity, for some reason there is a wide level of comfort about self-identifying as Native American even though they are not in fact Native American,” wrote the ABA, as reported by The National Law Journal.

“This is particularly disconcerting given that being Native American is not just an ethnic identity, but is an actual citizenship in an Indian tribe or Nation which carries with it a formal tribal enrollment number, not unlike a social security number.”

If you or your clients have questions about government qualifications as a Native American, see http://www.benefits.gov. The Native American Rights Fund also provides useful information about legal assistant resources for Native Americans. Finally, law students who do decide to indicate their ethnicity as Native American should consider joining groups like the National Native American Law Student Association.

Each time you fill out an application, sign a membership, or apply for benefits, you’re partipating in a contract that is not only binding under the laws of this country, but also an essential part of its founding principals. So, with or without the requirement of additional information and evidence of your Native American status, a lawyer should always be aware of the ethical obligations of this profession and act accordingly.

Don’t add to the controversy, add, instead, to true American diversity.

-WB

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Less Theory, More Practice For Law Students? NY State Bar Calls For Reform

Yesterday was a big day in terms of calls for education reform.

Thursday, at their annual meeting in Toronto, the New York State Bar Association submitted a draft resolution the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates calling for a more through consideration of the “requirements for the success of future lawyers as they carry out their responsibilities.”

The New York Bar Association is concerned that not enough time at law school is spent preparing students for the actual (as opposed to theoretical) practice of law.

The State Bar considers it the ABA’s responsibility to evaluate legal education protocol, specifically toward “enhancing clinical work and supervised activities such as meeting with clients inside and outside the clinical setting and in court, and developing capstone courses.” 

The resolution was aimed at several of ABA’s constituent bodies, including the Center for Legal Education, the Center for Professional Responsibility, the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, the Committee on CLE, the Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility and the Committee on Law School Accreditation.

However, law schools and law firms were also quick to respond.

John DeNatale, director of communications and public affairs at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, said the Cardoza School supports this resolution to restructure the legal education system.

“We see the call to be practice-ready as a reflection of profound changes in the legal world,” DeNatale said. “As business models, cultural standards and institutions undergo transformations, lawyers must be innovative problem-solvers.”

It is this practical problem-solving and adaptive thinking that the New York Bar Association believes is lacking in the educational background of current law school graduates.

“Too many law students and recent graduates are not as well prepared for the profession as they might be,” explained a summary of the one-page resolution.

“Law schools, bar examiners, the judiciary and the bar owe more to our young colleagues in these difficult times. This resolution is intended to cause those involved in legal education to address these issues, find solutions and revise legal education to meet these needs.”

To some, just “knowing the law” is no longer enough.

Others, like Richard A. Matasar, Dean and President of New York Law School, prefers to caution those seeking curriculum reform that not all schools are created equal. Because each law firm’s mission is designed differently, the autonomy of law schools to address the needs of their students should be protected.

“Some schools may see their role as having to produce practice-ready graduates because they may be joining smaller firms and others may see their graduates as going to larger firms where there may be more opportunity for [on the job] training,” Matasar concludes.

So as an employer, whether a partner at a biglaw firm or office administrator at a small one, what type of training do you expect from your first-year associates? Would you alter or reduce the number of in-house mentorship programs or CLEs if law schools provided students with more on-the-job training beforehand?

Law firms—like most businesses—have their own internal rules, regulations, and strategies that require unique training. Firm-approved language for briefs, procedures on contacting clients, discovery software, and digital versus traditional resources available for attorneys differ firm to firm.

This is exactly why it is up to the partners and senior associates (oftentimes experienced paralegals) to train new associates on their own terms. First years, for their part, are expected to know the law and have a standard, solid background in their chosen field.

The responsibility of legal training is split between school and practice, which is why the State bar’s resolution should have addressed companies and firms more than committees and colleges on what they’re doing to prepare young minds.t

The best place to learn about the real world has always been the real world.

-WB

Interested in learning more about best practices for employee retention, solid training and mentoring programs for your firm, and alternative compensation packages that attract best-in-breed talent? Attend C4CM’s course, “Associate Advantage Resource: Best Practices in Associate Management.

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Dear Law Firms, Be Prepared. From, Boy Scouts Of America (and the ABA)

This weekend, Joplin, Missouri, was hit with the deadliest single tornado in the United States since 1947. The EF-5 rated twister—the highest rating possible—caused mass devastation and a massive death toll.

Meanwhile, the news continues to address consequences of the powerful tsunami in Japan, the ensuing nuclear crisis, and the country’s future recovery plans. Not to mention the aftermath of tornadoes that rocked Little Rock this year.

In light of recent events, the American Bar Association (ABA) is asking, “Are you legally prepared for a natural disaster?” Law firms have the expertise and a responsibility to lead the way in consulting clients on ways an individual or small business can organize their affairs “just in case.” But law firms should also reexamine their own internal policies, and make steps to protect themselves from the consequences of an unforeseen event.

In general, the ABA advises:

“Important papers should be kept safe, accessible and scanned electronically if at all possible. Think beyond birth certificates and Social Security cards, said Ernest B. Abbott of FEMA Law Associates in Washington, D.C., which specializes in emergency management and disaster law. Wills, divorce and marriage certificates, driver’s licenses, plus documents that pertain to child custody, child support, and finance and insurance are equally important.”

However, if you’re concerned about identity theft, make physical copies of important papers and keep them in a safe deposit box at a nearby bank (of course, not so nearby that it, too, would be equally affected by a potential natural disaster). Consider giving copies to a relative for safekeeping. They may need the information to handle your affairs in the event your indisposed.

On a similar note, if you are somebody’s power of attorney (or somebody is yours) be sure to keep a second copy of the legal document available to others in case of emergencies.

“For example, if your mother becomes ill and you lose the power of attorney due to a disaster, Abbot said that it becomes more difficult to show that you are authorized to make decisions for her in an emergency.”

Like a small business, law firms should have a plan or official policy in place to restore operations post potential disaster. Make sure the chain of command and law firm administrators are well versed on these procedures to ensure maximum efficiency.

“’It is astonishing how few businesses that are closed by a natural disaster reopen,’ Abbott said. ‘Part of it is because they are not set up to find their customers records, and for law firms you are talking about protection of client records and making sure you can make your court deadlines.’”

One way to do this is to use a secure (online) cloud storage system—like DropBox, Amazon Cloud Drive, or SpiderOak—to keep confidential client information. This will come in handy when operations are moved into temporary office space or your home computer.

Finally, the ABA asks you to be a good neighbor. Not only is disaster relief an excellent moral obligation, but it is also an ideal pro-bono marketing opportunity for your firm. Afterall, there’s a reason why the Boy Scouts have survived over 100 years in America—their philosophy is one of leadership and their motto, Be Prepared.

-WB

For more advice, listen to C4CM’s General Management Recording, “Leading through Crisis: Developing the Skills to Assess and Cope with Any Situation.”

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