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How would you like 25 tons coming at your little, old law office?
Yeah, I wouldn’t either but not all your clients are shall we say emotionally stable. I saw this article recently:
EDWARDSVILLE • A 42-year-old Collinsville man was being held on a charge of damaging government property Monday after he allegedly tried to back a truck up to a door of the Madison County Courthouse.
Roy L. Conger Jr. of the 400 block of South Jefferson Avenue in Collinsville allegedly damaged landscaping and concrete stairs at the courthouse, located at 155 North Main Street in Edwardsville. He was being held in lieu of $25,000 bail.
Edwardsville police were called about 4:15 a.m. Police said the tractor-trailer truck had become stuck on the south steps of the courthouse. They said Conger left the scene but surrendered at the nearby Madison County Jail.
Court records show Conger had been involved in recent court wrangling over child support. His motion to reduce payments had been denied earlier this month.
Conger apparently sought a reduction based on loss of a job but Associate Judge Keith Jensen said in an order denying the motion that Conger’s own actions caused the job loss.
Illinois & political corruption; Jack & Jill; chicken & waffles; bees & honey; peanut butter & jelly; and, bankruptcy & divorce.
What are things that just kind of go together?
Despite the underlying truths involving those pairs I’ll admit for all the domestic relations cases I’m involved with my bankruptcy knowledge is lacking. I do know that there’s something called an “Automatic Stay” that means stop. But what exactly does “stop” mean. I know it means that collection efforts must cease.
But what if there’s an active domestic case pending when the bankruptcy’s filed…what should you do? Read In re Hall-Walker, case no. 10-42783, from the Northern District of Illinois Bankruptcy Court. Some of the facts…
Former wife’s BK case filed 9/24/10 with a 1/31/11 proof of claim date. Former husband is listed as a schedule F creditor in the BK. In domestic relations court the former husband w/ attorney had been pursuing civil contempt proceedings regarding the former wife’s obligation to refinance a mortgage on the parties’ mortgage on a former marital residence.
10/14/10 is the first status date in the domestic relations contempt case subsequent to the BK filing. Another status date in the domestic relations case was set for 4/5/11. And this is what got the former husband’s domestic relations attorney in trouble for violation of the automatic stay.
In the BK case the former wife filed a motion seeking damages for violation of the automatic stay alleging that the automatic stay was violated when collection efforts were pursued while the stay was in effect. Damages were sought against the former husband’s domestic relations attorney.
The BK court found that the 10/14/10 domestic relations order setting the matter for a status date on 4/5/11 was a willful violation of the automatic stay. The former husband’s domestic relations attorney eventually settled the BK damages issue for $5,000.
I think that is a SCARY holding because I could have seen myself doing the same thing. My reading of the case is that the proper procedure once the BK case got filed was at the 10/14/10 domestic relations status date to enter an simple order stating “this matter is stayed pursuant to former wife’s BK case” with no future court dates taken. Then either attempt to life the automatic stay in the BK case or collect the debt through the BK case.
Any BK practitioners out there…what’s the right move?
Well I guess the long-rumored transfer of the downtown Chicago parentage/child support court to Daley Center from 32 W. Randolph is actually happening. I had an order entered today where the next court date isn’t until March 2011 and the clerk has a form stamp directing this next court dates to the concourse level of Daley.
I heard this nugget from a judge in one of my usual courtrooms today…the comment was made to one of the lawyers in the case and his client happened to be standing right next to him in open court. Not too confidence inspiring for the client I would imagine:
“That’s kind of LAME to make those arguments at this point.”
Funny, the arguments were lame…attorney trying to say a parent’s allowing a 5-year-old child to go tubing behind a speedboat should somehow be grounds to restrict that parent’s visitation rights.
And Now, the Tricky Part: Naming Your Business. We’ve written about the ethical issues related to law firm naming in the past here but it still seems to me that there’s a real dearth of creativity when it comes to the law firm names that I see. Quick, how many firms do you know that don’t simply include some lame/uncreative use only of a practitioner’s or various partners’ last names? I think I know two, other than the gentleman profiled in the WSJ article. The piece includes 12 examples of different companies and their strategy in company naming. I’d suggest that is an area ripe for innovation and an instant marketing advantage for someone starting a practice.
Divorce lawyers: Facebook tops in online evidence. Not a bad place to start if you have a dicey case particularly with child custody issues. Good old social media! The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers says 81 percent of its members have used or faced evidence plucked from Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and other social networking sites, including YouTube and LinkedIn, over the last five years. I have. Some examples from the piece:
– Husband goes on Match.com and declares his single, childless status while seeking primary custody of said nonexistent children.
– Husband denies anger management issues but posts on Facebook in his “write something about yourself” section: “If you have the balls to get in my face, I’ll kick your ass into submission.”
– Father seeks custody of the kids, claiming (among other things) that his ex-wife never attends the events of their young ones. Subpoenaed evidence from the gaming site World of Warcraft tracks her there with her boyfriend at the precise time she was supposed to be out with the children. Mom loves Facebook’s Farmville, too, at all the wrong times.
– Mom denies in court that she smokes marijuana but posts partying, pot-smoking photos of herself on Facebook.
How to get more business: 20 tips on marketing the small law firm (page 10). Plenty of ideas, pick a couple and implement now. A couple easy ones: *Get out of the office & *Get your newsletter on track on a consistent basis (at least quarterly).
Taking the Leap to Self-Employment. Good piece really taking a hard look at the challenges of self-employment. You must be motivated to sell a product or service for which there’s demand & the business idea should be based on expertise you already have. Good teaching point for lawyers, you’ve got to be marketing like crazy early in the history of your practice and can’t be learning your business idea from scratch at the same time. The light at the end of the tunnel: Even in the face of failure, most entrepreneurs are not willing to give up. “Once they taste having more control over their lives,” he said, “they almost never go back.”
In Law Schools, Grades Go Up, Just Like That. And finally a mildly humorous story from our current, touch economic climate (perhaps I need to take a look at my law school transcript)…
One day next month every student at Loyola Law School Los Angeles will awake to a higher grade point average.
But it’s not because they are all working harder.
The school is retroactively inflating its grades, tacking on 0.333 to every grade recorded in the last few years. The goal is to make its students look more attractive in a competitive job market.
Few things bother me professionally more than lawyers and law firms who seem to have the following business philosophy:
—First, take exceedingly large retainers up front.
—Second, churn the case for approximately 6 months by filing unfocused, fruitless pleadings and discovery.
—Third, withdraw from the case and file a fee petition against their former client for even more $$$.
We just got retained recently in a simple dissolution of marriage matter so I pulled the case file and took a look around. The previous firm filed the case some 9 months ago and took a $1,500 retainer up front. The case was filed and service was made on the Respondent; some 5 other court dates came and went; and, the firm withdrew with the case no closer to conclusion. Perhaps even worse was a matter against a gentleman who to my knowledge owes more past due child support than anyone in the state of Illinois. The firm brought several pleadings such as petitions for rule to show cause and motions to modify child support and visitation, never even got the pleadings they filed to hearing, then withdrew, and the last I saw had brought a $10,000 fee petition against their former client. It’s quite sad actually in much of my court-appointed contempt defense work, which is quite often procedurally post-divorce, the amounts of attorney fee judgments I see against former clients and the dissatisfaction of so many former clients with their attorneys.
What to do?
How about being a results-oriented attorney. How about starting with a specific end in mind and communicating with your clients specifically what you and her/his expectations are. Sadly I think these “lawyer churn” cases are almost the norm in the domestic relations field. Rule of Professional Conduct 1.5 disallows contingency fees in most domestic relations matters (child support collection being a notable exception). I suppose a contingency case for say custody of a child is rather unseemly, but some of my examples above aren’t exactly peachy either. Flat or capped fees? I’ve capped fees in some of the most common domestic relations matters like a motion to modify child support, for example. But in an early stage divorce it’s nearly impossible to gauge things like the opposing party/lawyer and the general tone of a case.
In my opinion at the end of the day you’ve got to create the personal policy of pushing your cases relentlessly towards settlement, hearing, and final resolution. And much of the pushing is about driving action BETWEEN court dates…that’s when the progress MUST occur. Waiting on those 15-minute court dates every couple of months is a recipe for disaster.
Cook County, entrepreneurship, ethics, family law, finance, Legal News Round-Up / No Comments
The phone ain’t ringin’…it’s Christmas Eve! So I decided to skim some articles I’d been wanting to get around to reading…the highlights:
1. Some news for those of you on the front lines of lawyering in the Circuit Court of Cook County. First, here’s the piece announcing the creation of a new domestic violence division within the Court. My understanding is this will primarily impact the life of judges (and less that of me as private lawyer) over at 555 W. Harrison since previously the judges over there had been split between the criminal and domestic relations divisions. As a citizen of Cook County I was a tad saddened to see this proposal regarding the closure of 4 suburban courthouses over the weekend to save $$$. Am I missing something or isn’t there an obvious compromise to close a couple versus the only choices being close 4 or none?
2. The Double-Edged Sword of Suing a Client. A nice analysis from our friend Ed Poll with an analytical process to undertake before suing a client…first, there’s the loss of future business/referrals; second, possible negative publicity; third, possible negative press/perception. Remember regarding these sorts of matters, client communication is key. And I must say I’ve frowned a bit of late on using collection agencies who can be as much of a pain in the butt for creditor or for debtor.
3. One Lawyer’s Definitive Guide to Video Marketing for Lawyers. It’s hard to think of reasons NOT to do this as any cost barriers to entering the camcorder/video market have virtually disappeared. I’m going to make a big push here in 2010.
4. How to Market Your Business with Facebook. Well, since I only use FB to criticize Notre Dame football, converse about golf, and for the occasional political rank this blog ain’t the place to learn about FB marketing. But I WILL have a Facebook Page up shortly! As a non-expert on all things “social networking” it sure seems like FB and Twitter are where the buzz is. A separate link on 21 small to mid-sized Chicago businesses using social media effectively.
5. Total Attorneys: For-Profit Lawyer Referrals? I honestly had never heard of Total Attorneys until the Tribune ran this piece a couple weeks back (it is a Chicago-based company). It doesn’t sound that different than LegalMatch that I used a couple years back although the article makes it sound like Total Attorneys directs the prospect to a single lawyer whereas LegalMatch merely allowed me as one of 5-10 lawyers respond to a prospect’s fact pattern. Far from being a legal ethics expert, I would only ask why it’s okay for bar associations to have referral services but not private, for-profit companies? SOME of the bar referral services are fairly lame w/o that profit motive.
6. Far From Field, Lawyer’s Blog a Player in N.F.L. A little off topic but I liked this piece because I am more jock than lawyer & it does emphasize a point that I and likely many lawyers should open their eyes to which is something to the effect that social media – Internet business likely has much better business potential than merely providing traditional, bricks/mortar legal services. Florio, 44, an erstwhile Vikings fan living in Steelers country, began his blog in 2001 as a sideline to his law practice. Is 2010 the year your blog income exceeds your lawyer income?
7. And to close with some “light” reading…a primer on international child abduction. Because if you’re a domestic relations lawyer like yours truly one of these IS going to walk into the office sometime…likely sooner rather than later. It’s got something to do with the Hague Convention, no?
As most readers know yours truly is a primary domestic relations attorney with a smattering of other civil litigation matters that have me in court quite frequently but I never practice in the criminal courts…until yesterday. One of my Cook County Domestic Relations Lawyer Referral Program court appointment cases got transferred to 26th & California. It’s the only one of these “contempt appointments” that is seeking indirect criminal contempt (99% of domestic relations contempt cases are indirect civil contempt). So the family law judge overseeing the underlying dissolution of marriage wanted a judge more well-versed in criminal procedrue handling the case.
It was eye-opening and a bit ironic. I’m sitting in the courtroom for an hour or so before my case got called waiting for the other lawyer and I’m seeing murder defendants and unlawful use of firearms defendants, ect. And then our case, a purely tactical filing related to bickering spouses and alleged communication that occurred contrary to a court order. A couple e-mail messages never killed a man! But I’m actually happy with the venue change. This judge is dealing with real criminal actions and isn’t going to mess around with some bickering spouses that somehow ended up on his lap.
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