Friday Links

archieramones1

Okay, so we here at Abnormal Use love music, and we dig comics, but we’re a bit confused about Archie Meets the Ramones #1, the cover for which is depicted above. Released just a few days ago, the comic features Archie and friends meeting the Ramones (all of whom are dead). We understand there may be a time travel component to the series, so that makes some sense we suppose. We’ve already gotten our hands on an issue, and if there are additional curiosities to explore, we will let you know, dear readers.

We welcome Thomas Lamm, the brand new associate in our Charlotte office! Learn more about him here.

If you didn’t read this piece about Leonard Cohen from The New Yorker, you should probably do so.

For our legal tweet of the week, we direct your attention to this tweet from our editor thanking everyone for attending the Mecklenburg County Bar’s annual Halloween CLE (which he planned).

12 Steps Toward Fulfillment in the Practice of Law (Step 8)

Step 8 – “Just Say No” to Some Clients.

We are continuing our series on Judge Carl Horn’s 12 Step program for lawyers. In Step 8, Judge Horn begins with the proposition that there have been significant changes in lawyer-client relations, and generally, those have not been for the better. Many lawyers find that the lawyer-client relationship has become increasingly stressful and problematic. Many lawyers have recognized that their clients are increasingly demanding, and therefore, are now choosing their clients more carefully.  

Judge Horn refers to an ABA study which addressed the increased client influence over the pricing and execution of legal projects. This has become a major pressure point in the profession. Clients tend to be more project, than relationship, focused. Projects are often bid out to multiple firms rather than turning to one trusted counselor. Clients also demand fast turn around and 24/7 access to lawyers. Many clients want to be directly involved in the process; billing is more carefully scrutinized. There has also been a proliferation of formal billing guidelines and a lack of uniformity across the industry for those billing procedures.   

According to the ABA study, the results of these changes include more time and resources being spent on administrative tasks and relationship management. Lawyers have less control over the pace of work and less ability to escape the pressures of the job. There is often ambiguity as to what and how to bill. Lawyers often feel more like a “hired gun” rather than a respected counselor.  

Horn then cites a book by Walt Bachman, Law v. Life: What Lawyers are Afraid to Say About the Legal Profession. Bachman has a chapter titled “The APC Factor: The Truth About Clients.” The APC Factor stands for “Assholes Per Capita.” Bachman proposes a formula to determine the APC factor in a given situation. As Horn jokes, Bachman no doubt engaged in “highly sophisticated social science” and utilized his intellectual and academic skills sharpened during his years at Harvard on a Rhodes Scholarship to generate this formula.  

1

Tongue now firmly in check, Bachman proceeds to apply what we might call AA (Asshole Analysis), to the world of law. In the instance of American litigation clients, this formula would be more specifically stated as:

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For example, if we take the total number of new litigation clients in America last year (say 2,000,000) and determine the number of those litigants independently and objectively determined to be assholes (say approximately 800,000), the APC Factor is derived as follows:

 3

Conceding the need for further research, Bachman draws on his own experience and that of his lawyer friends to suggest an APC Factor for litigation clients “in the vicinity of .4 and rising”. Estimating the APC Factor for society at large as “closer to .1”, Bachman reaches the compelling conclusion that “the APC Factor for [litigation] clients is four times that of the overall populace”. Of course, it remains with each individual lawyer to decide how this seminal research should be applied to his or her practice!

Horn concludes by suggesting that we can increase the inherent satisfaction in the lawyer-client relationship by keeping in mind a few key principles. First, be scrupulously honest with our clients, including but not limited to the work we choose to do and how it is billed. Further, be careful not to cross ethical lines and to keep a measure of professional distance, particularly where an objective third party might see our client’s conduct as deceptive. Strive to provide wise counsel, which requires more of a “big picture” approach to problem solving and conflict resolution. Finally, perhaps applying Bachman’s brilliant AA, we should simply “just say no” to some clients.   

Next week, we will cover Step 9 – Stay Emotionally Healthy.  

Turning Lawyer Life Into Home Life

As attorneys, it is often difficult to explain to young children what we do for a living. I have two children, ages 7 and 4, who have no conception of what I do on a daily basis. They know that I go to work, that I have an office, and that my job title is that of a “lawyer.”  But, that is about it. There is just no way to explain lawyer life to a small child that doesn’t leave him/her looking completely bored. Being a lawyer can just never be as exciting to a child as a firefighter, a teacher, a dump truck driver, or an Avenger. Or can it?

Recently, my 4-year old son came into my bedroom with my 7-year old daughter trailing not far behind. My son told me that his sister hit him on the back, and, of course, my daughter denied the allegations, stating that it was an accident. In turn, my son denied that the conduct was anything but intentional. In trying to siphon through the dispute, it dawned on me that I had the perfect opportunity to show my kids what a lawyer does. We decided to have a trial.

Before doing so, we conducted a “pretrial conference” with myself presiding as judge. I explained to my son that he had the burden of proof as he was accusing my daughter of battery, an intentional tort. As such, he would need to prove that his sister intended to commit the act, that there was contact, and that the contact caused him harm. We then discussed evidence and the different means my son could use to prove his case. In turn, I explained to my daughter that she would have the opportunity to cross-examine the plaintiff’s witnesses and to put up her own case if she chose to do so. It appearing that they understood the procedure, I set the case for trial 10 minutes after our pretrial conference (we have a rocket docket in our house).

When the trial began, the parties decided to waive opening statements as we were proceeding non-jury and the judge had already been thoroughly briefed on the case. My son, appearing pro se, called himself as his first witness. He was very direct in his testimony, stating emphatically that his sister hit him. Unfortunately, that was his only testimony. As such, the judge (me), exercising the powers of the bench, decided to question my son directly. Regardless of the question, my son gave the same response, “Because [my daughter] hit me.” Well, consistency does have its merit in the courtroom.

Thereafter, my daughter took her turn at cross-examination. She asked one simple question, “I didn’t hit you, did I?” Her technique lacked the sort of set-up and back the witness into a corner method I usually prefer, but, despite my son’s denial, she made her point. I guess.

My son, perhaps feeling strongly about the weight of his own testimony, decided not to call any more witnesses. I was a little disappointed because it was rumored that Optimus Prime, a potential witness to this accident if you can believe it, was slated to be the plaintiff’s star witness. Perhaps, in choosing to keep him off of the witness stand, my son knew that Optimus was susceptible to “more than meets the eye” questioning on cross-examination. But, this is only speculation.

For my daughter’s case, she, too, called herself as her sole witness. She testified that she was walking through the living room and accidentally stepped on Optimus Prime, who had been left by my son in the middle of the floor. In doing so, my daughter stumbled, fell into my son, and accidentally elbowed him in the back. After making contact with his back, my daughter apologized, but my son immediately began making his false accusations.

The testimony was very telling and really left the judge wishing he would have had the opportunity to hear Optimus’ testimony. Certainly, my son would have a plan on cross-examination. Boy, did he ever. Just as my daughter had done with him previously, my son grilled her with one question statement, “You hit me.” Her response was well thought out:  “No.  I fell into you after stepping on your toy.  You didn’t witness anything because you were facing away towards the TV watching ‘Paw Patrol.'” No more questions.

Thereafter, I gave my son the opportunity to call any rebuttal witness (still hoping to hear from Optimus), but he declined. Each party then had the opportunity for closing arguments which consisted of a mere recitation of their own testimony. When the arguments were completed, perhaps because he was over-confident or because he simply no longer cared about the outcome, my son took the unprecedented approach of leaving the courtroom. In any event, the decision was clear. In considering all of the evidence before me, I found that the plaintiff did not carry his burden of proof and, thus, I found in favor of my daughter.

The result is still pending post-trial motions.

While I am not certain the trial necessarily had the desired outcome of showing my kids what I do for a living, it certainly gave our house a new means of deciding disputes and cut down on the occurrence of tattle telling.  After all, Optimus’ eyes are always open and ready to crack the next big case.

Friday Links

So Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature? How about that? Unlike many, we will resist the urge to offer a pun using his lyrics. (We will note that his non-album single, “Positively Fourth Street,” remains conspicuously absent from Spotify).

Don’t forget that this weekend marks the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings!

When is the last time you said hello to us on Twitter? Follow and interact with us at @GWBLawfirm!

Our editor, Jim Dedman, has once again planned this year’s Mecklenburg County Bar Halloween CLE. Titled “Ghosts, Graves, and The Occasional Murder House: A Halloween CLE,” the event will be held this coming Wednesday, October 19, 2016 at The Rabbit Hole in Charlotte, North Carolina. Topics include cemetery law, “statutory horrors,” and the law of haunted houses. Attendees can earn up to 1.5 hours of CLE credit, although lawyers and non-lawyers alike can attend at a lower rate if no credit is sought. For more information on this program, please click here.

12 Steps Toward Fulfillment in the Practice of Law (Step 7)

Step 7 – Care About Character and Conduct Yourself Accordingly

We are reviewing Judge Carl Horn’s 12 Steps. This week, we explore Judge Horn’s encouragement to establish a solid ethical and moral foundation, to care about character and conduct ourselves accordingly. Much has been written about the erosion of professional courtesy and the refusal to extend common courtesies in our profession. This has led to a less pleasant and more stressed work environment. In the past, lawyers from various professional backgrounds would meet in more relaxed settings like bar meetings or a lounge at the courthouse, where they could get to know one another on a more personal basis. It was in this setting that codes of behavior were established and conveyed to younger lawyers. While a sense of community still exists, it now occurs more often at the specialty level. Lawyers now think of themselves as trial lawyers, or defense lawyers, beholden only to the rules of their specific community. Younger lawyers who have never been taught by mentors or the community at large about the professional codes of behavior may confuse advocacy with aggression. All of this leads to a pervasive distrust by lawyers of other lawyers.

Judge Horn says we should vow to do what most of us already know is right: strive to conduct ourselves honorably. We should treat others, including opposing counsel, as we ourselves would like to be treated. We should refuse to lie, cheat, or steal, however much pressure we are under, or however profitable the wrong choices may appear to be at that moment. Judge Horn also talks about the “slippery slope of ethical compromise” from which it is “awfully difficult to prevent a full slide into shameless dishonesty.” We become more cynical about the whole idea of right and wrong. An overall sense of fulfillment, difficult to achieve at best, will become more elusive still.

What are we to do? Do not pad your time sheets. Do not tell lies to partners, clients, or opposing counsel. Do not misrepresent legal authority to judges. Do not break your promises. Do not do anything else that is contrary to the values that you now hold. Promptly return phone calls and correspondence. Cooperate during discovery.

If we care about character and conduct ourselves accordingly, we will be able to sleep well at night. And, we will have taken one more important step toward finding satisfaction in the practice of law.

Next week, we will talk about Step 8 – “Just Say No” to Some Clients.

South Carolina Product Liability Series – Comparative Negligence

In South Carolina, when the plaintiff brings a negligence-based product liability claim, he or she brings comparative negligence into the picture because South Carolina is a modified comparative negligence state. For any negligence based claims, the jury will be required to apportion fault between the plaintiffs and any defendants in the case. If a Plaintiff is found to be more than 50 percent at fault, he or she will be barred from recovery. If a Plaintiff is found to be 50 percent or less at fault, then the Plaintiff’’s recovery will be reduced in proportion to his percentage of fault. If the jury hypothetically awards a Plaintiff $100,000.00 on a negligence based claim, and the Plaintiff is found to be 30 percent at fault, then the Plaintiff’s recovery will be reduced by 30 percent, resulting in a verdict for $70,000.00. At the same time, it should be noted that under current law in South Carolina, comparative negligence is probably not a defense to strict liability or breach of warranty claims.

Finally, any potential liability on the part of the product liability defendant may be reduced/apportioned pursuant to the South Carolina Contribution Among Tortfeasors Act (S.C. Code Ann. § 15-38-10, et. seq.). As a result of revisions to the Act in 2005, South Carolina is now a modified joint and several liability state. In South Carolina, if a defendant’s conduct is determined to constitute 50 percent or more of the total fault for the Plaintiff’s damages, then the defendant is jointly and severally liable for the full verdict returned in the case. When the defendant’s conduct constitutes 50 percent or more of the total fault, the defendant is not entitled to have its liability reduced or apportioned under the Act. However, if a defendant’s conduct is determined to be less than 50 percent of the total fault, then the defendant may only be liable for its proportionate share of any verdict that is returned. In the hypothetical provided above, in which the jury awards $100,000.00 and finds that the Plaintiff is 30 percent at fault, if the defendant is found to be 10 percent at fault, the defendant may only be responsible for paying $7,000.00. Significantly, the defendant’s ability to potentially have its liability, if any, “apportioned” or reduced pursuant to the Act clearly would exist as to any negligence based claims asserted by the Plaintiffs. South Carolina courts have not yet decided whether the theory of modified joint and several liability (i.e. apportionment of fault) will apply to strict liability and breach of warranty based claims. Other states that have considered this issue are split, with some states concluding that liability should be apportioned for strict liability and breach of warranty claims and other states concluding that pure joint and several liability (with no apportionment or reduction) should apply to those claims.

Getting The Help You Need: Turtles On Fence Posts

Some years ago, while I was in Nashville, Tennessee, I attended a show at the Grand Ole Opry. I remember Little Jimmy Dickens saying, “If you see a turtle on a fence post, it had help getting up there.” I wrote it down; saved it for later reference. While the quote has its roots in politics, it is a constant reminder to me that whatever I have done or will do, there are others there to help along the way.

As a young lawyer, our law firm had a policy that a partner would accompany any new lawyer on his or her first jury trial. My partner, Phil Reeves, watched me try a case for an armored car service. Another partner was with me when I defended a trucking company in an accident case. Howard Boyd was there when I did my best to defend a garbage truck driver who ran another truck off the road. Howard was also seated beside me when I took one of my first depositions. After each of these events, my colleague patiently debriefed me on my performance, including the good, the bad, and the ugly. (Have you ever watched someone else try a case? It is not easy to stay seated and refrain from yelling out, “Objection!”)

Howard Boyd has also been a mentor to lawyers outside our firm.  In fact, I was recently talking to another Greenville lawyer who told me how much he appreciated how helpful Howard had been to him when he was a young lawyer with little experience.

I am grateful for the support that I received as a young lawyer, even now, as an older, more experienced lawyer. It is one of the advantages of being in a law firm with a diverse group of lawyers, all with different styles and perspectives.

Who helped you along the way? Did you have a special mentor? We would all do well to remember what it was like to be a young, inexperienced lawyer. You were a turtle on a fence post, and you had help getting up there!

Friday Links

Take note, lawyers of South Carolina! Mandatory e-filing in the Court of Common Pleas will expand to include yet another county, this time Anderson County, on October 18.

One of our favorite podcasts, “Mystery Show,” now faces an uncertain future. If you’re note familiar with it, we’d highly encourage you to visit its archives (especially the compelling and emotionally affecting third episode).

Don’t forget that the Mecklenburg County Bar’s Small Firm Soiree is tomorrow night! Click here for details.

Our tweet of the week addresses music, not the law, but it is just as important (as it seeks to correct one of the day’s most pernicious malapropisms). Please, dear readers, take heed.

12 Steps Toward Fulfillment in the Practice of Law (Step 6)

Step 6 – Don’t Let Technology Control Your Life   

This week, we review Judge Carl Horn’s Step 6, Don’t Let Technology Control Your Life.  This follows the 12 steps that Judge Horn has set forth to help individual lawyers achieve balance and professional fulfillment.  Step 6 reminds us of the additional pressure caused by technology. Judge Horn encourages us to refuse to let technology invade and control every inch of our lives.

Our growing dependence on technology has led to lawyers feeling compelled to stay up on technology but yet they do not know where to turn.  Lawyers find it increasingly difficult to mentally disengage or escape from work when at home or on vacation.   The less personalized communication both diminishes lawyers’ ability to develop relationships with clients and can lead to miscommunication. Work itself has become more rushed and less considered. Our instantaneous access to information pushes performance standards higher. Our clients expect faster turnaround on research and documents. The courts and our clients expect legal work to reflect the most up to date decisions posted on the Internet.

Judge Horn also notes the negative impact technology-related pressures have had on professional satisfaction. For example, practicing law is often less personal and more mechanized. Younger lawyers often spend the bulk of their time in front of a computer screen, which is less stimulating and intrinsically satisfying. Finally, lawyers find it increasingly difficult to put their stamp of professionalism on their work.

So what do we do about it? Judge Horn suggests that we start with drawing a line. We must each decide how much of us is “for sale.” Once we have the courage to draw the line, two basic things can happen. Those who have been applying this kind of pervasive pressure might realize we can perform adequately without being at their “beck and call” 100 percent of the time. The other thing that can happen is that we might lose clients or even lose our jobs. However, Judge Horn is not advocating being lazy or shirking our duty. He is talking about working long and hard, but at some point realizing that we share every human being’s need for private space.

The boundaries are something each individual must work out. Perhaps you block off times during the day in which you need to focus on a particular task, and make sure the phone or email does not interrupt. Some of you may limit your email access when you are away from the office. Whatever your strategy, Judge Horn reminds us that the core objective is the same: To establish boundaries that prevent technology from controlling our lives.

Let us know how you have established boundaries in this area.

Next week, we will review Step 7 – Care about Character and Conduct Yourself Accordingly.

Woman Receives $52,500 Arbitration Award in Coffee Suit

According to reports, a New York woman has been awarded $52,500 through arbitration after being burned by a cup of coffee purchased from a Wendy’s in Staten Island. The incident occurred in 2012 when the woman and her daughter went to the Wendy’s drive-thru to purchase some food and a cup of coffee. The daughter, who was driving the car, was handed the cup of coffee from the Wendy’s employee. While the testimony on the exact manner was apparently inconsistent, the daughter then passed the cup to her mother who was sitting in the passenger’s seat. It appears the lid from the coffee cup may have not been properly secured during the pass. As such, coffee spilled from the cup onto the woman’s left hand and left knee. Thereafter, the woman filed suit Rawson Food Services, a New Jersey based Wendy’s franchisee, Princeton Food Services, and Wendy’s International alleging that she was burned because the coffee was both “excessively hot” and “unsafely or improperly packaged.”

Over the years, we here at Abnormal Use have taken interest in hot coffee litigation. Most often, hot coffee cases can be divided into two classes, those that allege burns as a result of the excessive temperature of the coffee and those that allege injuries as a result of some conduct of the restaurant’s employees. Aside from the infamous Stella Liebeck case, the former often face the most scrutiny in the courts and among the public. The latter are often easier to digest as they don’t premise liability on serving a product on the way it is meant to be served. Rather, the latter allege the restaurant was liable because its employees did not act in the way a reasonable attorney should under the circumstances (i.e. the employee spilled coffee on a customer in the course of handing him the cup or the employee did not properly not secure the lid to the coffee cup). This particular case is interesting (but not unique) in that it alleges that the coffee was both excessively hot and that it was not properly packaged. The reports do not mention the alleged temperature of the Wendy’s coffee, nor do they state the theory on which the award was based. For the sake of hot coffee lovers around the world, let’s hope it was more so the latter than the former.

We should also note that the arbitrator assessed the damages as $75,000, but found the woman to be 30 percent at-fault. We presume that the comparative fault must have been the result of the manner in which the woman handled the coffee.