Apps Help Find Lawyers, And Keep an Eye on Them
By JENNIFER SMITH, The Wall Street Journal
March 11, 2013
Now that people use apps to bank, order food and even monitor eBay auction bids, it was only a matter of time before they called in the lawyers.
Appearing in app stores are programs to help people keep track of their attorneys' bills, draft legal documents and locate nearby lawyers.
Attorneys are doing more work on smartphones and tablets, and they have a whole host of apps at their disposal to help look up case law, track client calls and even assist with depositions and jury selection.
But until recently, few options existed for clients who wished to track cases or seek advice using mobile devices. This new crop of apps aims to add transparency, and a measure of convenience, to the process.
One new app, Viewabill, lets people track how much their lawyers are charging them in real-time. The idea is to head off sticker shock when business owners and company lawyers open up their monthly bills.
The app acts as kind of a client nanny-cam. It captures information as law firms enter it into their billing systems and transmits it to clients' mobiles and desktops. Users select how often they want to get updates, set alerts pegged to certain dollar thresholds and can mark questionable items. The app can also be used to track hours logged by accountants and other professional service providers.
The app is now being used by a handful of companies and law firms on a beta basis, with a wider launch planned this month, said Florida-based entrepreneur David Schottenstein, who co-founded the enterprise with an attorney friend, Robbie Friedman. Firms would pay an annual cost of $25 to $40 per matter, depending on volume, or $25,000 for unlimited use, said Mr. Schottenstein.
"It helps them to understand what we do," said Brian Baker, a bankruptcy lawyer at Ravin Greenberg LLC in New Jersey, which has been testing the app.
Errol Feldman, general counsel for JPay Inc., a Florida company that provides payment transfers and other services to inmates at corrections facilities, has been using Viewabill to make sure firms working to resolve contract disputes do so in a timely fashion.
Legal consultant Susan Hackett said the app was the latest example of a push for greater communication between lawyers and clients, who increasingly want more involvement in the work they assign to outside law firms.
Some companies with big in-house legal departments have already invested in software programs that let clients track the progress of legal matters or monitor law firm bills from their desktop computers. Such systems don't come cheap, and not many clients use them yet—fewer than 20% of general counsel, according to a 2011 poll by the Association of Corporate Counsel.
Not all law firms may welcome the additional element of client control on the legal side of things. For Viewabill to work, for instance, lawyers have to enter their hours in a timely fashion.
"These technologies may scare people," Ms. Hackett said. "But they are all productive parts of the march towards clients and lawyers having conversations in real time."
This month online legal services company Rocket Lawyer Inc. is debuting a mobile app tailored to its customer base: consumers and small business owners who log on to the site to create basic legal documents or buy plans that provide low-cost access to legal advice.
Charley Moore, Rocket Lawyer's founder and executive chairman, said more site traffic is coming from tablets and smartphones these days, reflecting his customers' increasingly mobile bent. Many are small business owners who spend much of their time on the road, he said.
"Their office is their dashboard, so we have to deliver the tools," Mr. Moore said.
Customers can use the app to create a non-disclosure agreement (more forms will soon be available) or modify existing documents they have already created. The app itself is free, and users can access some functions gratis.
Users can also locate nearby attorneys from Rocket Lawyer's network—the app is integrated with Google Maps—and punch in basic legal questions, although the reply, which is supposed to arrive within one business day, may not be swift as some might hope.
A handful of other apps offer similar services. Attorney Proz also lists area lawyers, who pay to be included. Ask a Lawyer, an app linked to Kalamazoo, Mich., law firm Willis Law, also offers free answers to basic legal questions, with replies sent to users' email addresses.
Not to be outdone, online legal services company LegalZoom.com Inc., a Rocket Lawyer competitor, also has an app in the works, a company spokeswoman said.
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Courtroom Drama: Too Many Lawyers, Too Few Jobs
By: Mark Koba, Senior Editor, CNBC
March 21, 2013
Becoming a lawyer seemed to be one of those career moves that could stand up to any type of economic setback.
The jobs would always be there, as most people, it was assumed, would need a lawyer at some point in their lives—and a downturn in the economy would likely last no more than it took to graduate from law school.
That's no longer the case. Because of the recession of 2007-2009 and a still-struggling economy, the legal profession is under severe stress. Besides not having enough positions for current lawyers, there are too many upcoming law school graduates and too few jobs to employ them.
"We never saw it like this just a few years ago, but now I've seen it first hand," said Ron Lieberman, a matrimonial lawyer the in New Jersey firm of Adinolfi & Lieberman in southern New Jersey. "There are too many lawyers and too few jobs. We just hired someone, but we didn't look very hard, and she was doing volunteer work."
He added: "I'm not sure it's going to get better any time soon."
The legal profession, like many others, has been downsizing. It's boosting productivity of current staffers, rather than hiring new employees, analysts say, and anyone newly hired is likely to be doing so at half the salary than that of a new hire just four years ago.
"The recession has really changed the dynamics of the legal profession," said Fred Cheever, the associate dean at Sturm College of Law at the University of Denver, who noted the school has had to cut its class size from 380 to 290 this past year. "Other schools are doing the same. It's a way to respond to the recession and the job market."
There are nearly one million people employed as lawyers in the U.S., and the rate of unemployment for lawyers is just around three percent.
That said, the legal job market has slowed dramatically. The U.S. will have a 7.3 percent loss in legal employment for 2013, according to Bright.com, a research group. The greatest loss of jobs will be in insurance defense attorneys, and in areas of employment and commercial real estate.
Going forward, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects nearly 74,000 jobs new lawyer jobs created in the U.S. over the next seven years. The growth is expected in areas including health law, intellectual property law, privacy law, and international law.
But American law schools will graduate about 44,000 students each year during that time, and in doing the math, that means six new lawyers — not including older graduates — will be fighting it out for just one new job.
Pay will also be an issue. The median salary for a new associate at a private law firm is currently about $85,000 a year, according to the BLS.
Not bad, but it's down a third what it was just two years ago. Working for the government, such as a public defender, could pay anywhere from just $40,000 to $85,000 a year, according to the Labor Department, even after years of service.
And most law school grads come out with a student debt usually between $125,000 and $250,000, depending on where they went to school, according to Department of Education statistics. That's on top of their underclass debt which could average the same amount.
Instead of looking at the high octane law firms with well-known names — which are in the process of re-examining their staffs — many graduates will have to think corporate and even small time, said Jeremy Paul, dean of Northeastern University School of Law.
"The plum legal jobs in the future will be in big organizations rather than inside big law firms," Paul explained. "And many of our graduates will start careers in small and solo practices. We're starting an incubator to help our grads prepare for such careers."
To help ease the burden of overwhelming student debt, many law schools are copying their counterparts in medicine and shortening the time spent in the classroom.
"We're doing a three-and-three program," said University of Denver's Cheever. "That's three years of undergrad and then three years in law school."
"And we're going to be focusing more on areas like doing taxes, how to file motions, and how to do trials," Cheever said. "That hasn't always been emphasized in law schools in the past and now we are trying to get our students better prepared in today's market."
A changing law job market is already here, said Ganesh Natarajan, founder of Mindcrest, a legal outsourcing firm.
"Technology is upsetting the legal profession and law firms are not what they used to be," said Natarajan, a lawyer who's firm employs some 450 lawyers in India and about 100 in Salt Lake City.
"Instead of an army of lawyers from a firm going over documents, they have us," Natarajan said. You don't need people on a law firm staff to do what we do," Matarajan argued.
"Law firms are not going away, but they are going to operate differently with smaller staffs," added Natarajan.
For one expert, it's not that there are too few lawyers, but rather a communication gap between clients and the legal advice they seek.
"The real problem is connecting lawyers to people who need them," said Michele Colucci, CEO of MyLawsuit.com. "I have 50 people right now needing lawyers."
"The legal system is fragmented and it's hard for people to wade through," she said. "But I think there are just too many lawyers without access to clients who need them the most, rather than too many lawyers and no jobs."
Law school is still a magnet for many people, but much less so than before.
As of January, there were 30,000 applicants to U.S. law schools for this coming fall — a 20 percent decrease from the same time last year and a 38 percent decline from 2010, according to the Law School Admission Council.
Of some 200 law schools nationwide, only 4 have seen increases in applications in 2013.
The legal profession job crisis has reached the point where the American Bar Association has formed a task force to look into issues like school costs, the overall state of legal education, and future employment. Their findings are expected later this year.
For those who are still willing to jump into the current situation, the advice is simple, said Mindcrest's Natarajan.
"A friend's daughter called me the other day about whether she should go to law school," Natarajan said. "If you have a passion for the law, then go, but don't do it because your family wants you to go or you can't think of anything else to do."
He added: "You have to have the passion with the way things are now. Otherwise, choose something else."
NOTE: The next issue of the Digest will be dated 03.29.13
Retelling History - Carnegie exhibit on Scottsboro Boys showcases rare photos [article submitted by Commissioner Phil Mitchell]
By Catherine Godbey, The Decatur Daily
March 7, 2013
For north Alabamians who grew up around the banks of the Tennessee River, the story is a familiar one, told from history books and oral accounts.
During the height of racism, before the rise of the civil rights movement, before the speeches by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., before the silent protest by Rosa Parks, nine black boys hopped on a train in Chattanooga for Memphis. The train ride would end in death sentences for eight of the nine youths accused of raping two white women.
“The thing is, the story is not true. This happened 80 years ago, and people still think a rape occurred. There was no rape. It was all made up,” said Carol Puckett, co-curator of “Scottsboro Boys: Outside the Protective Circle of Humanity.”
Through the exhibit of black-and-white photographs documenting the 1933 retrial of Haywood Patterson in Decatur, Puckett and Morgan County Archivist John Allison hope to showcase the truth.
“All a white girl had to do was mention the word rape. It was amazing the amount of electricity those words had, even though there was no physical evidence. There was only the testimony of the girls,” Allison said.
Photographs of the tumultuous retrial that gained worldwide attention debuted at the Carnegie Visual Arts Center last month. The traveling exhibit, which combines photographs with informational panels, will remain on display at the Church Street Northeast museum through March 30.
The photographs by Fred Hiroshige bring to life the names and atmosphere behind the Scottsboro Boys’ story. There is Harvard University graduate and Decatur dentist Dr. Frank Sykes testifying while a man in the audience spits tobacco into a spittoon. There are the Alabama National Guardsmen forming a barrier between the hundreds of spectators and the Morgan County Courthouse. There are defense attorneys Samuel Leibowitz, who Allison described as “the Johnnie Cochran of that day,” and George Chumlee chuckling at Patterson, an upturned horseshoe and rabbit’s foot in hand.
“That photograph of Leibowitz and Chumlee says a lot. Even Hayworth’s own attorneys were laughing at him and his superstitions. No one valued these boys. Everyone was using them for their own purposes,” Puckett said.
Hiroshige, the man behind the camera, captured the images of Patterson kissing his mother’s cheek, the jury at the white table-clothed Lyon’s Hotel restaurant and the defense attorneys in three-piece suits wandering through the black neighborhoods.
“I think Grandpa Fred would be pleased, not for himself personally, but for seeing how far we have come,” said Barry Hamilton, Hiroshige’s grandson. “At the time, I don’t think people realized what a landmark case this would be. And now we have photographic documentation of the trial.”
A fruit picker in Hawaii, 17-year-old Hiroshige, born to a Japanese father and a Polynesian mother, emigrated to California with his twin brother, Hamilton said. After a season on the West Coast, Hiroshige headed for Florida and the orange groves.
When the bus stopped in downtown Decatur, he met W.A. Sullivan. The Decatur photographer offered Hiroshige a job at his studio and taught him the business. A decade later, Hiroshige was one of six photographers allowed inside the Morgan County courtroom for Patterson’s retrial.
“He never talked about the trial. I didn’t know he was involved until his pictures were sold to the Morgan County Archives,” Hamilton said.
In 1998, 17 years after Hiroshige’s death, the Morgan County Commission purchased 127 of the photographer’s negatives.
“The commission wanted these photographs to stay in Decatur and become legacy of the county. Most of these have never been seen before in public,” Allison said.
Allison and Puckett worked with noted historian Dan Carter to narrow the 127 photographs and create the captions and placards. Carter, the education foundation professor at the University of South Carolina, wrote “Scottsboro, A Tragedy of the American South.”
“This exhibit was created as a traveling exhibit. Yes, it is a crucial part of Decatur’s history, but this is an exhibit that needs to go wherever talks of justice and injustice need to occur,” Puckett said.
Puckett and Allison received interest to bring the exhibit, presented by Morgan County Archives in partnership with the Southern Literary Trail, to Tuskegee, Mobile, Jackson, Miss., and London.
The story of the Scottsboro Boys continues. On Feb. 21, 82 years after the arrest of the nine boys, the Alabama Senate, led by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, voted unanimously to allow posthumous pardons for the Scottsboro Boys. The bill now goes to the House.
If you go
What: “Scottsboro Boys: Outside the Protective Circle of Humanity”
Where: Carnegie Visual Arts Center, 207 Church St. N.E.
When: Through March 30, Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Cost: Free, donations accepted. Contact 256-341-0562 or www.carnegiearts.org for more information.
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A New Lease for Old Judges - States Rethink Retirement Ages That End the Careers of 'Very Competent Jurists'
By ASHBY JONES, The Wall Street Journal
March 5, 2013
State lawmakers across the nation are pushing to raise—or eliminate altogether—mandatory retirement ages for judges, citing longer life spans and a desire to keep experienced jurists on the bench.
Since the start of the year, legislators in at least 14 states have introduced bills that would allow judges to keep working well into their 70s or beyond.
Judge Peter Maceroni, 72, in his Macomb County, Mich., court, says he is likely to pursue work as a visiting judge after his mandatory retirement.
Lawmakers in states including Pennsylvania and Michigan are going further, proposing an end to mandatory retirement in favor of an approach more like the one used in the federal system, where judges can serve for life unless they are removed for misconduct.
Driving the effort is the view that mandatory retirement forces too many judges from the bench prematurely, especially at a time when Americans are living longer and working into their 70s and 80s.
"Very competent jurists are being forced to retire in the primes of their careers," said Pennsylvania state Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, a Republican and the sponsor of a bill to eliminate the judicial retirement age. "And when this happens, you have to get their replacements trained, and you lose a good amount of time and experience."
Critics also point to a common practice that undercuts the rationale for mandatory retirement: Retired judges are often allowed to return to the bench to lend a hand at reducing caseloads. In these types of arrangements, judges are often paid by the day.
It's an option that Macomb County, Mich., Circuit Judge Peter Maceroni, 72 years old, said he would likely pursue when he is forced to retire at the end of next year. Still, he found it odd that he would be allowed to serve as a visiting judge but not to run for re-election.
"It doesn't make any sense," Judge Maceroni said. "I don't have a health issue, I'm in relatively good shape, and I want to keep working."
Michigan's proposed bill, if passed, won't take effect until after Judge Maceroni is forced to retire, he said.
Not everyone is content to leave the issue to the political process. Last November, six Pennsylvania judges facing mandatory retirement sued the state, alleging age discrimination. Pennsylvania's mandatory retirement provision perpetuates stereotypes that older people are "senile, incompetent, lack productivity, suffer from rigid thinking," the complaint says.
In federal court filings, the state moved for dismissal, saying the U.S. Supreme Court in rulings has allowed such retirement policies. The case is pending.
Thirty-three states and Washington, D.C., currently have mandatory retirement ages for at least some judges, according to the National Center for State Courts. In many, the restrictions are built into state constitutions or have been on the books for decades. For example, Michigan's law, which bars judges from being elected or appointed after they turn 70, was initially passed in 1908.
Many of the mandatory retirement ages for judges were put in place long before states had developed formal processes to get rid of judges who had become ill or suffered mental decline.
"It used to be you could only get rid of judges who'd been convicted of crimes, and for many, you had to go through formal impeachment processes," said Bill Raftery, an analyst with the National Center for State Courts. Mandatory retirement ages were imposed as a way to guard against a group of judges from becoming too old or infirm to do their jobs, Mr. Raftery said.
But in recent years, most states have added mechanisms to discipline or oust substandard judges.
"Now we can address these situations on a case-by-case basis," said Indiana state Sen. Jim Buck, a Republican and the sponsor of a bill that would eliminate the mandatory retirement age of 75 for state appellate judges. "We've got lawyers in their 80s whose minds are steel traps. There's no reason to cast aside that kind of legal mind."
Despite the wide push to scrap mandatory retirement ages, such bills can be difficult to push through. Bills to increase the mandatory retirement age for judges in Virginia, for instance, have failed to pass in seven straight years.
Often, the bills get bogged down in politics, with Democrats or Republicans reluctant to give more years on the bench to, say, a concentration of liberal or conservative judges.
Others feel that older judges should be forced to make way for new blood. "Age restrictions really are a proxy for term limits," said Charles Geyh, a law professor at Indiana University, Bloomington, and an expert on the judiciary. "There's a fair argument to make that incumbents get entrenched, and one way to usher in new blood is to enforce age restrictions."
Congress Considering Cameras in Federal Courts, Again
Todd Ruger, The Legal Times
March 1, 2013
Congress is once again considering a bill that would give federal judges at all levels the option to open their courtrooms to television cameras and radio broadcasts.
Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Representative Steve King (R-Iowa) have filed the "Sunshine in the Courtroom Act," and Democrats have cosponsored the bills in both chambers, Grassley's office announced.
Grassley has introduced a version of the bill with Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) since 1999, and Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is a cosponsor.
"Openness in our courts improves the public's understanding of what happens inside our courts. Our judicial system remains a mystery to too many people across the country," Grassley said on the Senate floor Thursday. "That doesn’t need to continue."
The bill's provisions fall short of other bills routinely introduced (but never passed) that would force cameras in the courtroom, even including that of the U.S. Supreme Court. If passed, Grassley's bill would expire after three years so Congress could study the effects of the legislation before making any permanent changes.
Grassley said Iowa has allowed cameras in their courtrooms with great results. Studies and surveys show that electronic media coverage of trials "boosts public understanding of the court system without interfering with court proceedings," Grassley said in his statement.
"Courts are the bedrock of the American justice system," Grassley said on the Senate floor. "I believe that granting the public greater access to an already public proceeding will inspire greater faith in and appreciation for our judges who pledge equal and impartial justice for all."
Only the District of Columbia prohibits trial and appellate court coverage entirely, Grassley said.
Grassley's bill gives non-party witnesses the right to have their faces and voices obscured, and it prohibits the televising of jurors. The bill also includes a provision to protect the due process rights of each party, Grassley said.
King is joined in the House by representatives Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.). A version passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2009, but was never brought up on the Senate floor.
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Bill would require state Supreme Court justices to draw straws for job
By Rachel LaCorte, Associated Press
March 6, 2013
OLYMPIA — Still stinging from a Supreme Court ruling last week that overturned tax-increase constraints on the Legislature, three Republican senators have introduced a bill seeking to cut the high court by four justices.
The measure, introduced Wednesday, would require a public meeting for the current nine justices to draw straws. The four that draw the shortest straws “shall be terminated and those judges shall not serve the remainder of their respective unexpired terms.”
Any savings to the state would be used to fund basic education. That section is a reference to the court’s order that the Legislature is not fulfilling its constitutional duty to pay for education in the state.
Republican Sen. Michael Baumgartner, of Spokane, insists it’s a serious bill, saying that as the Legislature looks to make cuts in other areas of state government, “why should the judiciary be exempt?”
Supreme Court justices currently make more than $164,000 a year. Baumgartner said that by reducing the court, you also reduce salaries that need to be paid to their clerks and other staffers.
“There’s a lot of school teachers you could hire with these salaries,” he said.
When asked about the drawing straws scenario, he said it was “simply an issue of making it fair.”
Sen. Doug Ericksen, of Ferndale, and Janea Holmquist Newbry, of Moses Lake, have signed on to the bill, as well.
In a 6-3 ruling last week, the court ruled that an initiative requiring a two-thirds requirement for tax increases was in conflict with the state constitution and that lawmakers and the people of Washington would need to pass a constitutional amendment in order to change from a simple majority to a supermajority.
It’s been estimated that the state needs about $4 billion to fulfill its constitutional promise to fully pay for basic education by 2018. The Supreme Court has ordered the Legislature to show meaningful progress toward that goal during this session. The state also faces an estimated $975 million shortfall for the next biennium.
Baumgartner’s bill notes that originally, only five justices sat on the state Supreme Court, as written in the state constitution. In 1905, the Legislature permanently expanded the court to seven justices, and in 1909, it was increased to the present nine. Under his measure, the number of judges on the court could be done by a constitutional amendment — the same requirement the court said was necessary for a two-thirds requirement for tax increase votes.
To pass a constitutional amendment, two-thirds majority of the Legislature must give its approval and then a vote of the people.
Chief Justice Barbara Madsen isn’t worried that she’ll be drawing straws on the Supreme Court steps any time soon. Noting that only three justices come up for election at any time, and that all of the justices are in office until at least 2014, she said she’s not certain the bill doesn’t run afoul of the constitution.
“It certainly seems unlikely it could be done,” she said. “It just does not appear to me to be completely thought through, if it’s intended to be serious at all.”