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  • The Future Ain’t What It Used to Be

    Well, are you tired of hearing what is the new normal going to be when the courts open?  

    As the weeks progress, I really have learned the meaning of the FDR quote “The only thing to fear is fear itself”. We all have our own feelings about the pandemic.  The feelings range from impending doom from the liberal left, to this is a scammed hoax from the far right.  The truth is somewhat in the middle.  Where in the middle?  I have no idea.  I see post that the death rate is about .002 percent of most countries populations.  Then you hear of death rates as high as 25% which would include a survival rate of 75% of those that survive ICU.  I do know that vast number of deaths from Corvid 19 are cases where the victim was over 65 and had another critical medical issue. This would indicate that most people survive Covid 19. Only 12 million of the 318 million people in the U.S. have been tested.  So, it is difficult to determine the real rate of contaminated people.  

    My personal experience with two families that contracted Covid 19 is that this virus is very contagious and aggressive.  Both families experienced a week to 10-day fever, with a nasty 2 to 3-week cough to follow.  I do not recommend being reckless with your hygiene because this is a nasty virus with no existing vaccine.  But even if there were a vaccine, 25% of the American public would not even take the vaccine.    

    Regardless of the reality of this Virus and the true death rate, it has influenced our psychology. They say a habit form after 60 days.  Guess what?  It is formed.  The Virus will affect business and law practices pretty much the way it has affected Human beings.   If a business were in trouble before the pandemic it could be shutting down permanently.  The same goes for any law practice that was in trouble before the pandemic.  But we are finding from the ashes, come real opportunity.  It is just a matter of watching for it to happen.  The best book to read on the subject is “Who Moved my cheese” by Spencer Johnson.  This book does not tell you have to react to change.  It is more an outline of what happens to people when there has been a change in their work environment.

    For the law practice, that change will be a closed courthouse and reduction in court cases.  A reduction in in person legal representation.  Many of the courts are experimenting with Zoom calls.  Texas has just experienced its first Zoom jury trial in Collin County Texas.   The case was more like a non-binding arbitration.  But it did expose some personal weaknesses in our Jury system.  Such as Jurors going off screen and emailing during proceedings. However, there was something positive that came out of this experiment.  Most courts are going to allow proceedings to begin without the requirement of a client’s presence.   This archaic rule of requiring a client’s presence has been outdated years ago.  But many courts require it more as a ceremonial testament to the legal system.

    Zoom meetings may not be the final format that courts use in legal proceedings like mediations, depositions, pretrial hearings and other non-trial matters.   Just like the first cellular phones that carried huge batteries and had very short-range communication, Video conferencing will improve.  The next few years I am sure we will see amazing improvements in video conferencing that will be easier to access, more secure, and track our current legal proceeding system.  

    I personally see great opportunity in the field of law.  The ABA has indicated that new legal matters have dropped considerable.  But that’s more because Human behavior has been reduced to isolation at home.  We are talking about a world economy that is coming out of Covid 19 hibernation.    Some businesses and industries will be lost.  Millions of jobs will be lost until new ones are re-engineered to accommodate the new world order.  But life will go on.  Until a Meteor hits the earth like the one that collided in the Yucatan and destroyed the Dinosaurs, we are still alive.  

    Lawyers are not going to be obsolete; they are just going to be different.  The practice of law will be so different soon.   Few realize when Abe Lincoln was a lawyer in Illinois in the 1850’s.  Judges and lawyers all traveled the circuit courts together.  The all sleep in the same boarding houses and were often hired the day of court.  Those days seem ancient and hard to conceive in our minds today.  The same will be true for our lawyers of the future.  Lawyers may be stunned to learn that we had so many in-people legal proceedings.  They may even be shocked that we met in person.  This may be an art form in our pre Covid 19 practice that will be obsolete.   Our system of law will seem ancient and archaic.  The future looks great.  Just hang in there.  Remember the only thing to fear is fear itself.

  • GLSA Annual Meeting is Cancelled until Further Notice

    Dear Valued GLSA Member:

    First and foremost, we hope that this email finds you and your families well.

    Everyone is certainly aware of the challenges that have been created by Coronavirus (Covid 19) and all the related downstream peripheral business and personal issues.  

    The leadership teams of Group Legal Services Association and the ABA have assessed the potential effects to our meeting participants and taken the guidance from the CDC to cancel large meetings for the next 8 weeks, as well as being aware of other health and travel concerns and restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.  As a result, we have made the difficult decision to cancel the 2020 Joint Spring Meeting scheduled for April 29 to May 2 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. 

    We apologize for the inconveniences this causes and recommend the following next steps:

    Cancellation of your hotel rooms  

    Please note that hotel reservations must be cancelled by the individual who booked the reservation as soon as possible to avoid any penalties or fees. The conference was scheduled at La Concha Renaissance San Juan Resort and may be contacted at 787-977-3399. 

    Cancellation of your travel arrangements

    Please note that flight reservations must be cancelled by the individual who booked the reservation. It is up to the individual airlines if they will waive change fees or issue credits for the entirety of tickets. 

    Refunds:  

    Within the next 14 days, all registration fees will be refunded.  For any questions, please contact Annette Waggoner at 847-907-4670 or awaggoner@glsaonline.org

    To the registered attendees: thank you for registering for the 2020 Joint Spring Meeting and the support shown to GLSA!

    To our speakers: thank you for your superior work in preparing stellar education for our members.

    To our planning committee: thank you for all of your diligent effort!  Let’s get ready for a great 2021 conference!

    To all of our dedicated members: We look forward to welcoming you at an amazing conference in 2021 in an exciting location!

    Regarding elections: Elections will occur electronically and details will be forthcoming.  

    Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

    Best regards,

    Matthew Hahne
    GLSA President

    Annette M. Waggoner
    GLSA Executive Director
    awaggoner@glsaonline.org
    847-907-4670 direct

  • 2020 GLSA Puerto Rico Conference Preview with Matt Hahne and Annette Waggoner

     

    Please join Group Legal Services Association as it joins ABA GP Solo for the Annual meeting of GLSA, April 29-May 2, 2020.

     

    Register:

    Annual Meeting of GLSA

  • Effective Law Firm Management Doesn’t Have to Be Difficult

    When you’re running your own law firm, you’re under a lot of pressure. Not only must you ensure that you meet the needs of your clients, you must also appropriately market your practice to attract new business and manage the day-to-day business aspects. It’s certainly a lot to consider given we only have so many hours in a day. The good news is that while it is a lot of work, effective law firm management doesn’t have to be difficult.

    Here’s how you can simplify the process.

    Proper Planning Prevents Problems

    Effective law firm management is automatically easier when you go through the process of creating a full management plan. As the saying goes, proper planning prevents problems. A law firm management plan includes several components:

    • Short term goals
    • Long term goals
    • How you plan to meet the needs of your clients
    • How and when office supplies should be handled
    • The responsibilities of key law firm members
    • Your hiring and firing policy
    • An employee handbook
    • Technology guidelines (including whether employees may bring and use their own devices)
    • Marketing
    • Timekeeping and billing procedures

    Of course, that’s just a small sampling of what should be included in an effective law firm management plan. You may already be feeling the pressure of creating and implementing the plan. Don’t worry, though. Now it’s time for us to explain how you can make the entire process easier.

    Get Feedback from Your Clients

    One of the easiest and best ways to determine whether your law firm is meeting the needs of clients is to ask. If you took law firm management or even read a book related to the subject, you’ll most likely remember a law firm management theory known as total quality management (TQM). Under this theory, it is believed that clients will pay more for quality service. And clients define what quality means.

    So, ask your clients. Where did your law firm meet their expectations? Where did it fall short? Is there anything that they feel could be improved? You can design your own questions. They can be provided in a manner that allows clients to respond without providing their identity. You could also call and ask these questions as a follow-up after services are rendered.

    You can take the feedback from clients and integrate it into your law firm management plan to improve your services and operations.

    Effective Law Firm Management Is Easier with the Right Tools

    Long gone are the days of clunky intranet computers and checking a paper tickler file (and hoping that things were appropriately filed and labeled). We no longer have to dig through boxes and boxes of files in a giant storage closet or hope that paper messages aren’t lost. Technology has simplified effective law firm management.

    Legal tech is nothing to be afraid of, either. There are a lot of free or low-cost options you can use as well. You can start simple by:

    • Making use of your digital calendar. This simple tip can help you better track your deadlines, plan meetings, and keep track of your scheduled appointments. If you plan to use or already use legal practice management (LPM) software, look to see if the docketing and calendaring feature integrate with your digital calendar of choice. Then, you can update the LPM or your digital calendar and it should populate the other. Side note: it is important for you to check to ensure that everything is indeed feeding over.
    • Go paperless or paperlite. Start using digital document storage management (DMS) that allows you to properly organize your documents (both by matter and your templates). Choose a DMS with a good search function and that integrates with your email so that you can easily store emails and their attachments. A DMS can make it easier and more secure for you to share documents with your clients.
    • Consider using an online appointment calendar. Programs like Acuity Scheduling make it easier for potential clients to schedule appointments with you. Many appointment calendars may be integrated into your website, but it may take a professional to help you make sure it works.
    • Automate what you can. Automation, much like AI as a whole, has a bad reputation. This isn’t about taking away anyone’s job. You still need to ensure that the documents created or tasks performed are appropriate. Chatbots and even some LPMs can be used to automate the creation of certain commonly used documents.

    Hire the Right People and Delegate

    As a lawyer, your time is best used on the tasks that only licensed attorneys are allowed to perform. For effective law firm management, hire the right people. These are people who are technologically adept. You want to hire people who have the desire and drive to meet goals and make your clients happy. And after you hire your team? Delegate appropriately. Keep in mind that this does not mean that you can just turn your back on everything happening. You must fulfill your ethical obligation of providing appropriate supervision. Be available when there are questions or someone needs clarity. Be open when your team has comments or suggestions related to workflow and the office environment. Remember that they’re in the trenches every day. It’s normal (and good) that they have insight you can use.

    Don’t micromanage your people. You have plenty to do. You must trust that you’ve put in the work and provided the right incentives to attract and keep the best people for your law firm’s future growth.

    Simple Is Good!

    In a time where we have more and more technology at our fingertips, it’s important to keep law firm management simple. Find the right tools and the right people who can help take your law firm to the next level!

  • WTH is Musterfeststellungskilage and how does that affect Class action lawsuits in the EU

    Musterfeststellungskilage and how does this affect the future of Class action lawsuits in the E.U.?

    I had the privilege of participating and speaking in Berlin at the 50th Congress of RIAD (now known as Legal Protection Insurance LPI).  The Congress addressed the (European Union) E.U.’s proposal for the new directive repealing Directive 2009/22/EC.  The E.U. parliament is considering replacing this directive with a new directive to aid and encourage Collective redress/ class action where the current directive has failed.  There are currently 8 member countries in the E.U. that have no form of class action in their law.

    So, what is Musterfeststellungskilage besides an impossible word to pronounce for this Texan?  This is a case ruled by the high court in Germany that establishes the fixed cap of attorney fees at 8000 euro for the liability declaratory portion of the case.   This case doesn’t affect the quantum proceeding of the lawsuit itself.   Most E.U. countries do not have allow for contingency fee arrangement to compensate attorneys for their work on class action cases.  The quantum portion would have to be prosecuted and funded by private funders.  This is not the case in the U.S. where class action cases seem to be on the rise.

    My personal experience with the U.S. model is that it’s predatorial and provides little justice for the litigants in general.  The U.S. model appears to be profit motivated for lawyers.  For example, cases like those against Subway and KFC that provided most of the proceeds to the prosecuting law firms.  Law firms that specialize in prosecuting these class actions often target situations for profit.   The current (round-up Monsanto case) is a good example of targeting by law firms.  At the same time, Class actions in the U.S. may be the only means of providing any compensation for these victims.

    I participated on a panel in Berlin. The German panel members seem to be the most opposed to any use of a contingency fee for prosecuting these cases.  This current scheme in Europe is to prosecute the liability declaratory action first, then prosecute the quantum relief as a separate action afterwards with private funding to prosecute the quantum portion of the case.  This may prove burdensome with an additional delay to seek compensation for the litigant.  My biggest concern is the lack of incentive for attorneys to prosecute these collective redress cases in the E.U. The U.S. model incentive may provide too much incentive without providing the relief for the litigants.  On other hand, this E.U. two-step model, with limited attorneys fee will provide little or no incentive for these lawsuits to be prosecuted.

    Let me illustrate my point with the history of two statutes in Texas.  I’ll prove changing or altering the Attorney fees incentive alone has affected the outcome of litigation. Texas adopted the common law legal system when the state entered the Union in 1845.  Most counties in Europe use the Civil Code System instead of the Common law system as developed in the U.K. Ireland, Australia, South Africa and the U.S.  Therefore, many causes of action for negligence fail at providing any real solution for litigants in Texas.  Common law causes of action do not provide attorney’s fees, nor provide incentives for prosecuting deceptive trade practice cases in Texas.

    So, Texas passed the Texas Deceptive Trade Practice Act DTP years ago to provide access to justice for these violations.  This statute was drafted very much like many E.U. directives.  The Statute provides for specific notice to all parties for attorney fees.  The act is specific an provides 25 different types of deceptive trade practices to be prosecuted in Texas State courts.  This act further provides for treble damages for litigants in cases where abuse is found.   Attorney fees are provided along with possible mental anguish and other compensatory claims for litigants for egregious acts.   These built in incentives have allowed for specialty law firms to develop in Texas to prosecute these cases.  As a result, consumers are protected where no such protection existed in Common law.

    Let’s examine history of another statute that was created and amended that had a different result.  The workers compensation Act was passed in Texas to provide protection for Workers and companies for industrial accidents.  These industrial accident cases cannot be effectively prosecuted or settled in a Common law system.   So, the Industrial accident board was created in Texas many years ago.  This statue, like the DTPA was created very much like an E.U. directive.  The rights of the parties and procedure are spelled out in the statute.  A special administrative court was created to prosecute these claims.  Until 1989, attorneys could charge a contingency fee up to 25% of the claim.  Texas is an oil driven business State.  And Houston is the 3rd largest port in the U.S. moving most of the oil for refining in this county.   Therefore, Texas has a history of a high number of industrial accidents.

    Since Texas has had a history of industrial accidents, in 1989, the Insurance lobby took on the task to see how they could reduce the scheduled payouts for these claims.  Insurance lobby passed an amendment to the Workers Compensation statute removing the 25% contingency fee.  The new statute replaced the contingency fee provision with a requirement that law firms be paid on an hourly rate for fees proved in court.  The net result drastically reduced the compensation for law firms for Workers comp cases.  Cases that may have netted attorney fees of $ 25, 000.00 were now reduced to maybe earning $ 1500.00 for a few hours of work proved in court on the same type of case.  Worker’s comp cases occurring after 1989 saw a mass exodus of attorneys. Most personal injury lawyers no longer accept these cases because of the low yield for the cost of prosecuting.  Since 1989, there became a need for attorneys to prosecute these cases. But the lack of incentive has almost eliminated the practice leaving litigants without representation on these matters.

    I believe the new directive may suffer because of the low yield for lawyers.  The attorneys attending the Congress seem to come to a consensus that the E.U. directive will not attract attorneys to prosecute this litigation.  This new E.U. directive will pass, but may not get off the ground.  It’s too restrictive.  Europe has a built-in mechanism to avoid abuse with the rule of “Loser pays”.   The U.S. does not have a “Loser pays” rule.  I don’t believe the E.U. directive needs to be so restrictive in how attorneys are compensated. I believe the two-step procedure of prosecuting a declaratory action first, then prosecute the quantum afterwards will create too much delay to affect a positive outcome for the claimants.   Justice delayed is justice denied.  On the other hand, I do understand something is better than nothing.   When the E.U. passes the directive, then 8 EU counties with no collective redress will have some means to start an access to justice program for litigants that previously had no means of support.  It’s a start.  Only time will tell.

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