Legal Careers

A California appellate court earlier this year gave a significant victory to employers in the state in a decision that provided the latest guidance on the current state-wide litigation on “suitable seating” for employees under state law. Specifically, these cases examine a California employer’s obligations, if any, to its employees to provide them with suitable seating under the state’s Industrial Welfare Commission’s (CIWC) orders. Section 14, the provision in most of the IWC’s wage orders, mandates employers to provide suitable seating to its workers in two situations — when the type of work reasonably allows the use of seats, and when a worker is not actively engaged in job duties that require him or her to stand (i.e., when there is a gap, or “lull” in business operations).
The Appellate Court’s Decision
LaFace v. Ralphs Grocery Co. was the first case on this issue that proceeded to trial after the California Supreme Court (CSC) decision in Kilby v. CVS Pharmacy, Inc. In Kilby, the CSC examined an employer’s obligation under the law to provide “suitable seating” to its workers under the CIWC’s wage orders. The issue was examined by the court as a matter of first impression. In LaFace the California appellate court decided two issues:
● An employer is not required to provide seating to workers when the expectation is that the employee keep busy and there is no gap in duties that would demand seating be provided; and
● Suitable seating claims, as well as other claims under the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) do not benefit from the right to a jury trial.
The Trial Court’s Decision
At the trial court level, LaFace challenged Ralph’s Grocery Co.’s policy of not providing seating to its cashiers. LaFace reasoned that these workers could reasonably perform their work duties while seated and that the grocer was obligated to provide seating for use by its employees during the “lulls” in the store’s operations. Following a three-week bench trial, the court found that the evidence was overwhelming in showing that the cashier work did not permit sitting.
Additionally, the court found that cashiers were expected to stay busy between customers, so there was no obligation to provide seating during operational lulls. Specifically, the evidence showed that Ralph’s Grocery Co.’s cashiers were expected to seek out new customers, restock products, straighten and arrange products in checkout stand lanes, put products left behind back in their aisles, and help other cashiers. LaFace appealed the second part of the trial court’s decision, but the appellate court affirmed the lower court’s holding.
The appellate decision is important, as it provides some direction to both employers and employees in California regarding the CIWC’s wage order and suitable seating.

For more interesting cases, visit our blog. 

Most of us, including busy lawyers, often feel like there are not enough hours in a work day to get all tasks done. To be sure, time management is a difficult task to master by all. When it comes to the legal profession, attorneys and staff alike are juggling multiple critical tasks at one time. As a result, efficiency is essential to not just getting the legal work done, but also keeping clients happy. If you are unable to manage your time, then it is nearly impossible to be efficient. Below are some tried and true time management tips for lawyers that will hopefully help you properly prioritize your to-do list and better manage your day-to-day work.

●Use a Calendar and To-Do List: Managing your time is much easier when you can easily see the tasks you have to perform laid out in front of you. More importantly, it is best to see due dates well ahead of time — something a calendar and to-do list system can provide. Whether you prefer pen-and-paper or a specific app, organizing tasks and deadlines will help you be efficient, timely, and accountable. This can also allow you to schedule personal events as family is also important.

●Set Deadlines: It is no secret that the practice of law is full of externally-imposed deadlines. It is also important, however, to set your internal deadlines for everything that needs to be done, including daily, routine tasks. These internal deadlines should be respected just like court deadlines. Setting time frames to return calls, answer emails, and send out correspondences will help you avoid the temptation to procrastinate.

●Do Not Multitask: While doing many things at once is often second nature for most attorneys, however, studies show performing numerous tasks at once makes you less efficient on each individual task. So, while psychologically you think you are getting more done, you are not.

●Stop Over-Committing and Ask for Help: Most lawyers have trouble saying no to work. Many attorneys feel that they cannot or are not allowed to refuse. When you are handling too many tasks, you cannot perform those tasks well or up to the standards expected by you and your clients. If you are at capacity, turn down additional projects, so you may focus your full effort on your current clients and activities. Alternatively, you can delegate those tasks to others. While you may be able to do it better, that does not mean you can do it all yourself.

The above tips should be able to help attorneys at any stage of their career not only produce better work and have happier clients but experience a healthier work-life balance.

To save yourself time on your domestic and international process service, court reporting, and deposition needs, you can contact us at Ancillary Legal and Elizabeth Gallo Court Reporting.

In the second part of our trial tips series, we continue to provide guidance for young lawyers and more experienced ones who want to succeed at trial, or at least put their best case forward. Below are more tips from the American Bar Association (“ABA”) on preparing and conducting trials.
● Create Witness Outlines, Not Questions. The best way is to prepare an outline of areas of questions for witnesses instead of preparing questions ahead of time. Doing so allows you to tell a story through conversation instead of reading exact questions that prevent a fluid question-and-answer witness session. Do, however, have certain questions prepared to ask on redirect to establish a fact or to impeach on cross-examination.
● Expect evidentiary issues. Know the rules of evidence extremely well prior to trial. Re-read the rules so that they are fresh in your mind. Expect to anticipate objections and be prepared to address those objections. If you have a complicated evidentiary issue, prepare a short memo ahead of time so you have a roadmap for your arguments before the court. Be sure to include legal citations and provide the memo to the judge during arguments.
● Use Effective Visual Aids. Even in civil litigation cases, both judges and jurors expect a visual presentation of the case. These visuals should be used during opening statements, when you are examining witnesses, and during closing arguments. The aid will help tell your story visually and support your theory of the case.
● Draft Closing Arguments. Make sure that your closing statement cites both the evidence and the applicable law that supports the merits and theme of your client’s case. Your closing argument should be prepared before trial begins. Create an outline prior to trial that cites testimony and exhibits you expect to be admitted at trial; you can modify your closing as the evidence evolves during trial.
● Observe and Listen. Pay attention to the facial expressions of the jurors and the judge during trial. Also, be sure to listen to the messaging being given to the judge and jury. The questions asked or rulings made by a judge will typically indicate how he or she is thinking regarding important issues and who may be winning the case.
While trial textbooks and other books are vital to preparing for trial, it is best to take a practical approach. Make sure you are prepared for unexpected surprises. Also, ask for help from an attorney who has tried cases before. Experience is the best teacher.
For more trial tips, go to the ABA’s website. For assistance with service of process, contact us today.

If you are a young lawyer preparing for trial, or a more experienced lawyer who does not try cases often, there are some reading materials you should pick up. Specifically, Fundamentals of Trial Techniques by Thomas A. Mauet and Winning at Trial by D. Shane Read. Reading these two books should be part of your plan prior to going to trial. This is because both books provide critical information on basic trial techniques. In an effort to go beyond these books, however, the American Bar Association (“ABA”) has an opinion piece on trial tips for lawyers. Below are 10 tips to help you prepare and succeed:

● Make a “To Do” List. You should put together a list of tasks that must be done prior to trial. These should include deadlines, witness outlines, and motions to be filed. Do not forget practical items such as lunch arrangements and supplies needed. Be sure to assign a team member for each task. Likewise, review your list regularly to ensure you are not forgetting anything.
● Check Out the Courtroom. A visit to the courtroom where the trial will take place is important for several reasons. You can identify any practical issues with the space. Likewise, you can identify any technical issues ahead of time. While some courtrooms are equipped with the latest technology, others do not have any in place. Be sure to know how to use the technology available in the courtroom and address any other issues that may be present.
● Read and Reread Everything. Be sure to re-read all pleadings, exhibits, depositions, key cases, and important court rulings. Understand that the complaint and answer establish the burden of proof at a trial. Be sure to have a deep understanding of the allegations, evidence, and applicable law.
● Have a Theme. Remember, you are telling a story at trial. Think about the strengths and weaknesses of your side of the case as well as your opponent’s. Every part of the trial should tell your client’s story: the opening statement, witness examinations, visual aids, and closing argument.
● Prepare Jury Instructions Early. It takes more time than you realize to prepare jury instructions. This also takes legal strategy. Master the applicable law and ensure that your jury instructions are prepared well in advance of trial. Use your jury instructions as a guide for what needs to be proven at trial.
For more trial tips, go to the ABA’s website.

Ancillary Legal is an experienced part of the process, if you need help with your case’s service of process contact us today.

If you practice in estate planning, you may have a potential client come to you seeking to contest a decedent’s Last Will and Testament. When considering whether to contest such a document on a client’s behalf, you should consider the telltale red flags that are present when a will is likely invalid. Doing so will help you to identify successful legal bases to challenge the disputed will. Below is a non-exhaustive list of the most frequently present issues regarding improperly drafted (or executed) wills.

● Changes near the end of life: When a decedent makes changes to his or her prior estate plans and executes a Last Will and Testament close to their death, a person seeking to challenge the will should consider whether the decedent had enough mental capacity to execute the will and whether they were susceptible to improper influence of others, causing the changes;
● Changes after new Power of Attorney: When someone takes over control of the decedent’s healthcare and finances and shortly thereafter a new will is drafted and signed that includes that person, there is a presumption that the will is invalid;
● Questionable mental capacity: If the Last Will and Testament was executed at a time when the decedent’s mental capacity was questionable due to an intervening event or medical condition, the will may be invalidated due to lack of mental capacity;
● Attorney becomes beneficiary: When the attorney of the decedent becomes a substantial beneficiary of the estate, there is a presumption that as a matter of the new will is invalid and the burden shifts to the proponent of the will to show the will is legal by way of clear and convincing evidence;
● Technical faults: A will can have issues with the way it was drafted, its content, and even how it was executed. This includes failing to meet the required formalities mandated under applicable statutes. Any of these issues can successfully invalidate a will;
● Drastic changes without apparent reason: When there is a significant change in a decedent’s estate plans without any intervening factors that lead to the changes, this can be a sign of undue influence, lack of mental capacity, or some other concerns and the will should be looked at closely.
While the above is not an exhaustive list, they are the most typical situations that are involved when a will is successfully challenged. If you have a potential client that is seeking to contest a Last Will and Testament, look for the above hallmark signs of invalidity in your quest to successfully challenge the document.

An Arizona lawyer agreed to a two-month long suspension of his license after he was accused of coaching his client during a virtual trial by using the chat function on GoToMeeting, according to an article published by the American Bar Association (“ABA”) Journal.

 

The Situation

 

According to Law.com, the attorney was accused of messaging a client in a divorce proceeding during cross-examination by her estranged husband. The trial occurred in superior court Maricopa County, Arizona in September of 2020. The trial was conducted in a hybrid situation, where the judge was physically present in the courtroom and the other parties participated through GoToMeeting. The judge did not realize that the attorney was coaching his client until she had the opportunity to review the chat during cross-examination. According to the agreement for discipline by consent, the attorney was instructing the client to provide specific and substantive answers to questions being asked.

 

The judge instructed the attorney to stop, who agreed, but also claimed that the messages were the equivalent of him nodding or shaking his head in the courtroom while his client was being cross-examined in person.

 

Ethics Violations

 

The attorney conditionally admitted to violating several ethics rules including:

 

  • Fairness to opposing party;
  • Conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice; and
  • Conduct involving fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.

 

All attorneys are subject to a “code of ethics,” no matter the jurisdiction under which their legal practice falls. Professional ethics is a code that governs the conduct of attorneys engaged in the practice of law and those who are not but are licensed. In fact, all professionals (attorneys or not) who work in the legal field are held to a certain level of professional ethics and duty toward the client, opposing party, court, and others. The code of professional conduct trumps all other duties, particularly when there is an ethical conflict of interests.

 

Every state has the responsibility of setting their own ethics rules that govern attorney behavior, which lay out guidelines for its state bar associations and attorneys seeking clarification on ethical choices they are confronting.

 

The judge ordered the attorney to complete the license suspension, which begins March 1st, plus a two-year probationary period, according to the final judgment. The attorney’s ethics lawyer indicated to Law.com that although his client has admitted inappropriate conduct and taken responsibility, he is also a young lawyer and the incident happened at the beginning of the pandemic when everyone was trying to figure out protocols with video proceedings.

 

Attorneys are stewards of personal and sensitive information provided to them by clients. Lawyers are also officers of the court and are in roles of public trust. The standards placed on attorneys are high, however, and lawyers must carefully mind ethics obligations to avoid running afoul of the rules. That being said, issues can arise. Below are tips on how to avoid ethical pitfalls and disciplinary action according to the American Bar Association (“ABA”) Journal.

 

Tips for Lawyers

 

Most states across the nation require training in ethics as part of lawyers’ continuing legal education requirements. With the economic challenges that have come as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, both recently licensed and experienced attorneys have had to reevaluate how they practice — and, sometimes, even their career paths. Law school training, however, may not have properly prepared attorneys (especially newer ones) on the ethical and business related challenges typically faced in small firm or solo practice. This leaves attorneys at these sized firms — both new and veteran — in a more vulnerable place when it comes to disciplinary complaints.

 

  • Create strong office management processes: Not only will this help make sure you can meet your clients’ needs, but a good system is critical for avoiding disciplinary issues. Basics should include a diary and docketing system to keep track of court filing deadlines, hearings, and statutes of limitations. Tickler systems for file reviews will ensure you do so at regular intervals and prevent things from slipping through the cracks;
  • Intake screening is key: Learning when to accept a potential client’s case and when to reject it is important. Discerning when a potential client will be difficult is a critical skill. Know that you do not have to take every potential client’s case but, rather, you can use discretion in client selection. Undertaking matters in diverse areas of law requires you learn those areas, possibly leaving you overwhelmed or unable to develop an expertise;
  • Client and third party funds are sacred: Repeat this to yourself on a daily basis. Lawyers have both a fiduciary and ethical duty to maintain, handle, and disburse client funds only for their intended purpose. These practices must be consistent with relevant rules and applicable law — so learn the trust accounting rules in your jurisdiction. Misuse of client’s funds will guarantee disciplinary action;
  • Communicate often: Lack of communication is one of the top complaints made against attorneys. When an attorney does not promptly respond to a client’s emails or phone calls, they become frustrated and dissatisfied. Ethical rules require attorneys to keep a client reasonably informed about their matters and promptly comply with reasonable requests;
  • Diligently follow-through: When clients’ matters are neglected, disciplinary charges often include lack of communication. If an attorney just stops working on a matter or delays his or her work, this can be a problem. Accepting a legal matter on behalf of a client requires diligent follow-through until the representation has finished.

 

For more legal practice tips from the ABA, click here.

For more legal tips on our blog, check out Tips for Young Litigators and Creating Opportunities in your Legal Career.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic that forced much of the world into a stand-still, many law firms posted double-digit gains in revenue and profits per equity partner. A common factor in these law firms not just surviving but thriving included a strategic plan and commitment to a culture of high-performance, according to a study by a law firm consulting group.

 

Strategic Plans

 

According to a Law.com article, the law firm consulting company Zeughauser Group (“ZG”) notes that there are traits that are commonly shared by outperforming law firms. In regards to strategic planning, these are generally an reasonably attainable yet aspirational vision of what the law firm partners want to build together. The plan also includes clear priorities for the firm’s partners as well as goals for achieving them. According to ZG, successful firms have a clear understanding of their current market position as well as a clear understanding of the market position they want to achieve.

 

Not surprisingly, a majority of law firms have to build a consensus — obtaining input from the firm’s informal and formal leaders as well as respond to their concerns — while developing their strategic plan. If law firms share data indicating where the business stands, the benefits of market leadership in particular areas of focus, and other aspects will help the firm succeed.

 

Compensating High Performers

 

ZG further learned from its analysis that law firms that outperform others in their market often prioritize the interests of their high-performing partners. This often includes law firms ensuring that top contributors are compensation in a manner that at a minimum remains competitive with the market. ZG further noted that some law firms took the economic unknown regarding COVID-19 to reallocate funds as well as compensating high performers. The continued uncertainty has provided other law firms the opportunity to do the same.

 

Moreover, outperforming law firms both set and communicate clear expectations for what is required to become and stay a partner, according to the article. These expectations are several including producing, originating cases, managing teams across practices, managing teams across offices, and obtaining client-pleasing results. Moreover, outperforming law firms encourage those who do not measure up to those expectations to find other positions inside or out of the firm.

 

Other Traits

 

Other characteristics of law firms that are outperforming their counterparts in the legal field includes firms that have a deep and thorough knowledge of the firm’s markets. They also have a clear and focused understanding of the competitions. Most important, these firms are able to recognize and embrace market shifts as well as prioritize where they focus on excellence.

 

As a result, many lawyers at Biglaw are not concerned about their job security (while many Americans are) due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, many lawyers are collecting large bonuses because these firms have excelled financially in 2020 and are projected to continue to do so in 2021. This success and stability can be attributable to many factors including an attorney’s ability to work from home easily, having business revenue from a diverse range of industries, focusing on varied practice areas, and a significant reduction in travel expenses. According to a Wells Fargo Survey reported by the Wall Street Journal (“WSJ”), of the 125 firms surveyed their revenue increased an average of 6.4 percent in the first half of 2020 when compared to the prior year despite demand being roughly the same. Net income rose 25.6% in 2020 when compared to 2019.

There is no way that we can get away from our online personas, whether we like it or not. When it comes to attorneys, however, getting hired by a potential client is the result of one click and one page of search engines. Oftentimes, the internet is the first and possibly the only chance for an attorney to showcase his or her credibility and experience to a potential client. It is no exaggeration that the internet has made it a more competitive market to capture clients in industries across the board, and the legal field is no exception to this trend. For this reason, a lawyer’s online reputation is critical. Below is some information on how attorneys can improve their image on the internet, according to the American Bar Association (“ABA”) Journal.

Reputation Management

Whether or not you are an attorney seeking clients, online reputation management is a critical aspect of any business. For lawyers, potential clients are particularly careful and diligent about using information found online so that they can choose an attorney whom they can trust and is worthy of their money and time. According to iLawyerMarketing, as many as 98% of potential clients perform online searches, primarily on Google, and look at reviews prior to deciding to hire an attorney. A prior study found that if reviews for one attorney are higher or better than another, a potential client was willing to travel further to meet with that attorney at his or her office.

Not surprisingly, the best way to defend your online reputation is to have a strategic offense. Three steps you can take today to improve this include:

 

Monitor, monitor, monitor: Perform a search of yourself and/or your firm and pay close attention to the content on the first couple of pages that appear. Data shows that most people stay on the first Google search page, while 75% on the first one or two results of that page, and only 7% move on past the first page. Controlling your top results will provide a good first impression to others. Ways you can monitor your online reputation include:

 

 Ask for client reviews: Unfortunately, one bad online review can have long-term negative effects on your firm’s reputation. Because attorneys have several profession-specific review sites, such as Avvo, FindLaw, Martindale-Hubell, and Lawyers.com, they must be regularly updated. Many attorney review sites allow lawyers to claim their own profiles and add content to show off practice focus areas and expertise. Attorneys can encourage clients to leave online reviews of the legal work performed including:

  • Star ratings of service;
  • Sharing feedback of experience with attorney;
  • Stating whether they would hire you again.

 

Crank out content: In order to stand out on the first page of a Google search, your website must be professional and highlight your legal specialties. In addition to this, however, an attorney can and should regularly contribute to the industry. This can include legal blogs, bylined articles, op-eds, links to recent interviews, feature articles, and brief commentary to name a few. This is because thoughtful content in nearly any form can directly impact lead generation. Research by marketing firm Impact revealed that firms with online content generate nearly 90% more leads than those without it.

 

For more information on this topic, visit the ABA Journal website.

For additional legal career articles, check out Creating opportunities in your legal career in 2021

Despite the world continuing the second year of a global pandemic, there are ways to create opportunities for your legal career in 2021, according to an article published by the American Bar Association (“ABA”) Journal. The feature is based on an interview of a co-founder and CEO of a legal recruiting firm and provides great tips on how to move your career forward even in today’s environment.

 

Tips to Follow

 

According to a leading legal recruiter, the industry has changed significantly over the past few decades. One pivotal factor in this change was the birth of social networks. 20 years ago, the recruiting business was paper-based and time-consuming. Online recruiting tools did not exist and LinkedIn — a huge game changer in career development — had yet to be born. Couple this with a significant change in how people communicate and the speed in which a recruiter must identify and coordinate with candidates is critical.

 

Important trends in the legal recruiting industry, according to the ABA Journal interview include:

 

  • Positions in highest demand: While demand does change from year to year, as of early 2021 the most important positions are focused on revenue generation. This is because businesses are seeking income — which is important even when times are good — due to the global pandemic’s impact on their organizations. For these reasons hot jobs include strong sales professionals, those with data privacy experience, as well as project managers.
  • Qualities and experience employers want: Many companies are not just looking for talent that will strengthen their business and its teams, but they also want stability. This means that individuals who may have job hopped throughout their career may be less attractive to a potential employer. Likewise, companies are considering a candidate’s ability to embrace the culture as an important hiring factor. Some companies are being even more cautious on who they bring into the remote work environment.
  • Career advancement: Company leaders, department heads, recruiters, and talent managers all look at LinkedIn first to make an initial decision on a candidate, so make sure your profile is perfected. This means highlighting key areas that are attractive to potential employers, modeling your description after those you want to emulate, sharing personal interests that may relate to the role, and obtaining certifications or other skills if appropriate.
  • Interviewing tips: During an interview, be sure to emphasize how you fit with the company based on your background, experience, and interests in addition to your skills. Come into the conversation with familiarity with the organization and its team so you can highlight your compatibilities. Finally, because stability is important, if you get the job and it is challenging, try to find ways to adapt instead of leaving. Try to stay in any role for at least two years — but three years is better.

 

The entirety of the interview can be accessed at Reinventing Professionals.

 

It is not uncommon to feel intimidated by litigation and legal advocacy, especially if you are a new lawyer. No matter how much exposure a law student has — such as trial advocacy, moot court, judicial clerkships, or advice from seasoned attorneys and law professors — nothing truly prepares you for “real world” lawyering. Below are some helpful tips, according to the American Bar Association (“ABA”) Journal for aspiring litigators as they start their journey and career in the courtroom.

  • Manage your caseload: Deadlines are the driving force of litigating. New and young associates are expected to keep ahead of all pending deadlines. They must do so for their own cases as well as for their firm’s partners. This includes court appearances, expert reports, discovery demands, depositions, and trial dates. You must be extremely organized to avoid mistakes. Remember that while assistants calendar deadlines, at the end of the day it is the attorney’s ultimate responsibility to properly handle a client’s case.
  • Always be prepared: Be prepared from the initial consultation through the finalization of the case. Having a form document for consultations will help you better assess a potential client’s case. Once you are working on a case, make sure to familiarize yourself with the file. Speak with the client often to make sure you are managing expectations. Also, get to know the judge on the case and learn his or her idiosyncrasies. Also know the applicable case law and relevant statutes for your client’s matter. Finally, trust that your preparation and instincts will help you overcome surprises.
  • Protect your reputation: Understand that an attorney’s reputation is key to his or her legal career. Your behavior, words, and professionalism will affect not just your reputation, but that of your client and your firm. And, depending on your area of practice, the legal community can be a small one. While litigation can involve conflict, stress, and emotions, do not let the deteriorating relationship between the parties in the lawsuit affect your behavior. Understand that zealous advocacy and legal representation can coexist with professional courtesy, adherence to the rules and law, and fair tactics. Also, be on time so that you do not upset the other side or even face sanctions.

Takeaway

 

Although you may be early in your legal career, trust your instincts and the quality of your work product. Get with a mentor and learn as much as possible from him or her, even when the advice is hard to listen to. Following the above tips will help start your legal journey and keep you on the right path for years to come.
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