Yahoo News reports on China experimenting with artificial intelligence in the judicial system. It opens:

Artificial-intelligence judges, cyber-courts, and verdicts delivered on chat apps — welcome to China’s brave new world of justice spotlighted by authorities this week….

The efforts include a “mobile court” offered on popular social media platform WeChat that has already handled more than three million legal cases or other judicial procedures since its launch in March, according to the Supreme People’s Court.

My Take:

I wouldn’t run out and open an AI litigation practice, but at some point tech is going to disrupt how cases are litigated and decided. There is too much inefficiency in the system for it not to.

Take personal injury litigation, for example. Insurance adjusters toil away trying to resolve cases before litigation. If they can’t, hordes of lawyers are ready to battle it out.

But when it’s over, most cases settle or are tried to verdict within a range that was predictable from the outset. There are cases right now where tens of thousands of dollars are spent working up a case that both side’s lawyers can already tell where it will settle.

Cases going the distance often result from one side or the other overly falling in love with their side’s arguments.

At some point, someone will develop an AI system that takes key metrics from a dispute and spits out a result. Insurance policies and contracts with impose the system pre-dispute, just like they do now with arbitration. It will gut sectors of the legal industry.

I don’t know exactly how or when tech will disrupt the legal industry. I just know it will.

There will still be a need for attorneys just like we still need workers in the railroad industry. But like the railroad industry, the legal industry’s glory days are behind us.

Zero Hedge ran this post last week about most Americans not being able to afford lawyers. It’s not an unusual take.

Stories like these suggest the problem is attorneys have priced themselves out of the market. I disagree. The problem is the civil justice system is not equipped to solve most people’s legal problems.

Consider this quote:

Most civil cases are usually about debt collection, landlord tenant disputes and home foreclosures. Lawyers will build their cases around litigants inexperience and inability to hire competent counsel.

Terry Lawson, a legal aid attorney in Missouri said: “These guys know they’re going to win. Their hope of hopes is that nobody will go get lawyers.”

The first paragraph is true. The second is true, but not the whole story.

As a reminder, lawyers aren’t magicians. Occasionally, an attorney can seemingly pull a rabbit out of a hat. That doesn’t make her a magician. In all likelihood, she will not repeat it in the next case.

The person looking for the lawyer in the debt collection usually owes the debt. Same for the tenant in the landlord-tenant dispute. Same for the homeowner subject to foreclosure. They are going to lose–with or without a competent attorney. So the creditor or landlord doesn’t really care whether the defendant gets a lawyer.

It’s also no surprise the consumer defendant can’t pay an attorney–no matter how much the attorney charges. If they could afford an attorney, they could pay their debt.

Lawyers want to help their clients. We crave job satisfaction and abhor feeling like we aren’t making a difference. These feelings don’t jibe with charging a client who is going to lose.

Who wants to charge a couple of thousand dollars to represent a client in a debt collection the client is going to lose anyway? How will that help the client?

In many of those disputes, the client is also on the hook for the other side’s attorney fees. Active litigation with an attorney will make those fees higher. Usually, they are better off not fighting the dispute in court.

I feel bad for people in those situations. It’s sad. But many times, a lawyer will just make a bad situation worse.

I get calls from people in these situations all the time. It’s soul sucking to hear their stories. It is the worst thing about my job. But I can’t help them regardless of whether they can pay my fee.

Want to help these people? Come up with a better system for handling these types of disputes.

The post continues:

And it’s not always about winning or losing in civil cases. Silvana Naguib, an attorney at Public Counsel, a California pro bono legal firm commented: “Lawyers can help negotiate better settlements. There’s a stark difference between the agreements signed by self-representing litigants versus what [I get] for clients.”

Ok. Want to help the problem? Fund more pro bono attorneys to advise consumer defendants. But that’s an issue for the legislative branch, not the judicial.

Lawyers didn’t create the system and are not magicians. We take way too much heat for something that’s not our fault.

On November 21, 2019, a Lee County jury returned a $100,000 verdict in Walters v. Brandi’s Hope  Community Services, LLC.

The jury found BHCS fired Plaintiff Heather Walters for reporting abuse of a patient. As an aside, state law requires health care workers to report suspected patient abuse.

The jury also found Defendant Danny Cowart maliciously interfered with Walters’ employment.

The jury awarded Walters $100,000 in damages.

Jim Waide and Rachel Pierce Waide of Waide & Associates in Tupelo represented Walters.

Mark Halbert of Phelps Dunbar in Tupelo represented Defendants.

Circuit Judge James D. Moore presided.

As widely reported on Jackson Jambalaya and elsewhere, multiple metro area homeowners associations are accusing Ridgway Lane of embezzlement. Most of these homeowners associations have filed suit against Ridgway Lane. I wish them luck.

There is a good rule of thumb when it comes to lawsuits involving embezzlement. The rule is: you can’t recover from the thief.

Think about it. If the thief had money, he wouldn’t be stealing. The thief starts broke. That’s why he’s stealing. He steals some money and spends it. Wash, rinse and repeat.

The challenge for victims and their lawyers is to find someone other than the thief to blame. Someone who has money.

Consider the ongoing receiver lawsuits in the Madison Timber ponzi scheme. The receiver is not suing Lamar Adams. He forfeited his assets and went to jail. Instead, the receiver is suing various other parties who, allegedly, share in the blame for the scheme. Getting a judgment against these defendants will be much harder than against Adams. But unlike with Adams, recovery is possible.

This rule doesn’t only apply to embezzlers. It applies to all variations of crooks and incompetents. For most of us, it’s a lesson learned the hard way.

Rarely, victims can recover from someone other than the thief or person who ripped you off. Usually, you’re just screwed. You can’t get blood out of a turnip. Attorneys have to find a viable defendant for recovery–not just liability.

So getting back to the homeowners association lawsuits, sure they will ‘win’ the case, but how are they going to recover? Are they just litigating for bragging rights?

As with any rule of thumb, there will be exceptions. But not many.

There are other rules of thumbs for lawyers. One of my favorites is: you never want to be the client’s third (or more) lawyer on a case. It’s never worth it. And I’m not aware of this rule ever having an exception.

Here is a preview of the November 2019 issue of the Miss. Jury Verdict Reporter:

  • $4 million verdict- Jones County medical malpractice case (10/18/19);
  • $1.5 million verdict- Jackson County truck negligence case covered here (10/30/19);
  • $226,000 verdict- Hinds County car wreck case covered here (10/9/19);
  • $50,000 verdict- Marion County assault case (10/10/19);
  • $40,000 verdict- Jones County uninsured motorist case (9/25/19);
  • $26,500 verdict- DeSoto County car wreck case (9/30/19); and
  • defense verdict- Rankin County medical malpractice case (10/11/19).

My Take:

Tough month for defendants.

Congratulations to Rae Turner of Hattiesburg for the huge Jones County verdict. Sounds like an interesting case.

Only legal tech nerds like me know there is actually a legal industry specific keyboard. But for many, the fact it wasn’t wireless was a deal-breaker. No more.

Bob Ambrogi reports that the LegalBoard now has a wireless model. So if you go out tonight and see a bunch of lawyers celebrating, don’t assume they had a big trial win. Maybe they just got their wireless LegalBoards.

You may ask, who cares? Apparently, lots of folks. Ambrogi writes:

“Never in my 14 years of blogging and more than two decades of covering legal technology have I seen the legal world react to a new product as it did this week to the LegalBoard, a keyboard designed for lawyers.”

That is what I wrote in 2017 after I published a blog post announcing the LegalBoard, a keyboard designed for lawyers by a lawyer. Hits to that post went through the roof, far exceeding any post I’d ever published.

Thus proving the axiom that many lawyers can’t see the forest for the trees.

I guess I’m going to have to see it in action before I buy into the hoopla. It’s an awfully wide keyboard, which isn’t great for shoulders and arm tendons.

Plus, I know how to insert the dreaded symbols ¶ and § in Word. Footnotes are no problem either–it’s on my shortcut bar.

If anyone has one, please leave a comment on whether you like it.

The Legal Skills Prof blog reports on Robert Ambrogi’s LawSites blog report that Georgia may join 37 states in addressing technology competence in its Rules of Professional Conduct.

The new proposed Rule 1.1 (Competence) would read in part:

Maintaining competence

[6] To maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology, engage in continuing study and education, and comply with all continuing legal education requirements to which the lawyer is subject. (emphasis added).

My Take:

Mississippi is virtually surrounded by states with a similar rule, with Alabama the exception. Suffice it to say that Mississippi might be the last one to the party, but it’s coming here too.

Technology competence is a big can of worms. It means different things to different people.

How much does anyone really know? How do you measure it? Being the cynic I am, 20 years ago when office computers didn’t work close to as well as they do now, I wondered how much some of the IT folks really knew. As long as they knew more than everyone else in your office, they looked like experts.

I have a better read on it now. Most IT folks address a problem by Googling for the solution. If you can Google, you can fix a lot of your tech problems.

I consider myself to have tech competence compared to most lawyers. But I’m always learning more and that I have much more to learn.

Currently, I’m reading a book on electronic discovery and digital evidence. There is a lot of law on the subject out there I didn’t know. That seems to be a theme in addressing tech competence–the more you learn, the more you realize how little you know.

Which brings me back to the professional rules requiring attorneys to have tech competence. I applaud them. But I have no idea how someone would define it. One man’s tech genius is the next man’s tech fool.

On Wednesday a Jackson County jury rendered a $1.5 million verdict in Warren v. Hernandez.

This was a car/tractor trailer case. Ms. Warren alleged she was making a right turn off Highway 63 south of the intersection with I-10 to go to the Exxon station. She was stopped in the turn lane waiting for the light to turn.  She saw the defendant’s 18 wheeler approaching behind her in her rearview mirror when he attempted to pull around her. When he did so, the driver failed to make a wide enough turn, and the trailer hit Ms. Warren’s vehicle.

The driver of the 18 wheeler testified he was first in line, waiting at the traffic signal in the turn lane. After it turned green, he made his right turn. As he was doing so, the truck driver alleged that Ms. Warren’s vehicle must have come up behind his trailer and ran into the back portion of his trailer or was attempting to pass him on the shoulder. Liability was disputed.

 Ms. Warren suffered major neck injuries, leading to fusions at two levels, and a disk replacement. She also had a partial tear of her left rotator cuff. Finally, Ms. Warren suffered severe headaches and was diagnosed with occipital neuralgia.

Warren had $359,000 in medical bills. A treating physician indicated she would need expensive injections.  Causation was disputed based upon her allegedly not complaining to her doctors of neck and shoulder pain until several months after the accident. 

After deliberating two and half hours, the jury rendered a verdict of $500,000 for Warren’s pain and suffering and mental and emotional distress and $1 million in economic damages.

Tedd Connell and Charlie Merkel with Merkel & Cocke in Clarksdale represented Warren.

Kristi Rodgers Brown and Ryne Hand with Daniel Coker represented Defendant.

Circuit Judge Kathy King Jackson presided.

In Crawford v. Hinds County the plaintiff sued the county over the Hinds County Courthouse not being accessible to the disabled. Plaintiff sought damages and injunctive relief requiring the county to make all seven courtrooms and all bathrooms accessible.

Before trial, plaintiff rejected the county’s offer to renovate two courtrooms, one bathroom per floor and miscellaneous items.

A bench trial was held before U.S. District Judge Tom Lee on February 12-13, 2019.

The Court ruled on October 18, 2019. Here is the Memorandum Opinion.

Before trial, the County and Plaintiff settled Plaintiff’s damages claim. That left his claim for injunctive relief.

The Court revisited the standing issue Hinds County raised in its summary judgment motion and determined that Plaintiff lacked standing. The Court concluded:

The court does not doubt the sincerity of plaintiff’s interest in the County’s compliance with its obligation under the ADA to ensure that programs, services and activities it operates at the courthouse are readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities. However, as nothing in his actions suggests to the court that plaintiff had a genuine intent to return to the courthouse for any purpose, the court concludes that plaintiff lacks standing to obtain injunctive relief because he has not proven that he faces an immediate and real threat of future injury. Accordingly, it is ordered that plaintiff’s claim for injunctive relief is denied.

Andrew Bizer with Bizer & Dereus in New Orleans represented plaintiff.

Pieter Teeuwissen of Jackson and Will Allen of Brookhaven represented the county.

My Take:

Tough loss for the plaintiff. No one disputes that the courthouse (built in 1932) needs to be updated for persons with disabilities. But federal judges take jurisdiction and standing issues very serious.

Seems like plaintiff should have taken the offer for partial remediation, waited a while and then gotten someone else to sue for the rest later.

Here is a preview of the October 2019 issue of the Miss. Jury Verdict Reporter:

  • $2,107,351 verdict- Harrison County medical malpractice case covered here (9/6/19);
  • $300,000 verdict- Harrison County underinsured motorist case (8/26/19);
  • $30,000 verdict- DeSoto County real estate agent negligence case (9/6/19);
  • directed verdict- Hinds County premises liability case (9/4/19);
  • defense verdict- Jones County workplace negligence case (9/26/19); and
  • defense verdict- Jackson County roadway negligence case (7/19/19).

My Take:

You see the filings. You see the verdict reports. And you wonder: how can there still be so many people making a living practicing law in Mississippi?