I’ve got two tips and an announcement in this post. First, the announcement.

After eleven years, I’ve decided to stop blogging. In retrospect, it’s past time. I’ll explain why in my last post.

The last post could be my longest ever. I plan to discuss the evolution of my views of Mississippi litigation. I view things a lot differently than I did eleven years ago. I will explore why in the last post.

It will take me a while to organize my thoughts and get it on paper. My goal is to publish the last post on March 2, but I may grant myself and extension.

The two tips are:

  1. install Sanebox email management to gain control over your inbox; and
  2. read the book The Algebra of Happiness by Scott Galloway. It’s my new favorite book and the first paragraph in the first (non-introduction) chapter is the best summary for how life changes between 25 and 45 I’ve ever read. I wish I could have read it when I was 25 or 30.

Last week I talked about television advertising for attorneys. But what about internet marketing? Most attorneys aren’t fans.

Here is a portion of an email from a marketing list serve:

I too found [specific company’s] marketing worthless. I suspect the same is true of virtually all the pitches we receive from marketing companies. I tried a couple of them, and for 20+ years, I have cross examined their reps. Some of them generate a flow of trash calls but rarely a case on which I would open a file……but web marketing is now flooded with garbage. There is a mountain of trash with very few treasures.

I agree. My personal experience with web based marketing is that it is pouring money down a drain.

John Morgan writes that television advertising is what works. It’s hard to argue with his results.

Jimmie Gates with the Clarion Ledger penned an excellent article on attorney advertising over the holidays.

The article prominently features Richard Schwartz, the godfather of lawyer advertising in Mississippi. Besides the article, I recommend watching the accompanying video interview of Schwartz on the digital version linked above.

Schwartz spends “well over $1 million a year on ads.” In the video, he notes that lawyer advertising has gone from being frowned upon in some circles to expected.

It clearly works. Schwartz’s website lists 21 attorneys practicing at the firm. Morgan & Morgan, the other advertising behemoth in the Jackson market, lists 15 attorneys in their Jackson office. Both firms are masters at building a brand.

Other personal injury attorneys in Jackson are doing what they can to keep up. There are billboards for many different law firms around Jackson and daytime TV is filled with their commercials.

I would love to know from the big advertisers how they handle the huge volume of calls the ads generate and the percentage of callers converted into clients. There is no telling how many calls they get from people who are simply angry consumers or have a non-recoverable legal problem. Call screening has to be a big under-the-hood issue that grows larger with every dollar spent on advertising.

Seems like all the good attorney ad brands are taken. Maybe I’ll run an ad campaign as Mr. Sunshine:

Want an attorney who isn’t going to blow smoke and will keep it real? Call me, Mr. Sunshine. I’ll break it down why your case sucks and you should take the peanuts the insurance company is offering and run.

It’s a rhetorical question. I know the answer.

The reason all state courts in Mississippi don’t use electronic filing is, in a word, politics.

Some clerks don’t want to adopt electronic filing even though it would make their lives easier. Forcing them to is not worth it politically to the Supreme Court or the Bar. I’m using the word ‘politically’ broadly here–like in the sense of ‘office politics.’ I’m not suggesting it has anything to do with elections.

Understand though, this is my interpretation based on things I’ve been told over the last few years. Some might differ with my conclusions. I suspect, however, upon hearing a more detailed or different explanation, I would say “that’s still politics.”

And I get the politics explanation. Just because someone could exercise power and force all state courts to adopt ECF, doesn’t mean they should. It might not be important enough.

But at some point, it will be. Apparently, not everyone can take a hint. I’m not sure we can wait on the biggest hard headed clerks.

As 2020 approaches, I don’t view ECF as a technology issue. We’re past that. It’s established.

ECF is now an access to justice issue.  Most law firms are built around the assumption that filing will be done electronically. When they can’t, it throws a monkey wrench in the system.

Both from a money and time perspective, it’s less expensive to operate a practice when all filing is electronic. Not a little less expensive. A lot.

A solo who practices in an ECF venue probably can get by without an assistant. It takes seconds to file something and everyone registered in the case can download a copy. Just as importantly, there is a record that it’s filed.

Compare that to a paper filing jurisdiction. You have to mail to the clerk. If you want to be sure it was filed, you have to send them a copy and envelope so they can mail you a file stamped copy back. You also have to send copies to all other counsel and often the judge. Granted you can usually do that by email, although some lawyers don’t.

As a solo with a paperless practice, I shy away from taking cases in paper filing jurisdictions. It’s not going to be the decisive factor in whether I take a case, but it’s a factor. On a pro bono case it would be a deciding factor. If I’m going to take a case pro bono, I’m not going to make it harder on myself than I have to. I can’t imagine I’m the only attorney who feels that way.

It’s easier for solo and small firms to operate in ECF venues. It’s also less expensive for the clients, who end up paying the freight on paper filing and associated staff. This makes electronic filing an access to justice issue, not a tech issue.

Consider yourself lucky of you don’t have to do anything in a paper filing venue. The attorneys who complain the most about paper filing venues are the ones who practice full time in those venues. Just ask one. You’ll see.

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

  • $1,007,700 verdict- Chickasaw County truck negligence case (8/30/19);
  • $100,000 verdict- Lee County employment retaliation case covered here (11/21/19);
  • $3,500 verdict- Forrest County car wreck case (8/7/19);
  • directed verdict- Lamar County employment retaliation case; (11/14/19);
  • defense verdict- Harrison County medical malpractice case (10/17/19);
  • defense verdict- Jackson County embezzlement case (10/15/19; and
  • defense verdict- Rankin County medical malpractice case (11/10/19).

My Take:

Several of the cases were actually a lot more interesting than they sound.

As a reminder, because this confuses a lot of people, I do not publish or have any affiliation with the Mississippi Jury Verdict Reporter.

Thinking about going paperless but don’t know how? Sam Glover’s post on the Lawyerist blog explains how.

Glover opens with a salient point: if you haven’t already gone paperless, you will.

If you aren’t paperless already, you need to catch up.

When you are ready to leave paper (mostly) behind, use [Sam’s] guide to get started.

The Mississippi Supreme Court and Court of Appeals are paperless. Federal courts are paperless. The system just works better.

You can still print documents when you have a ‘paperless’ office, and you will. But you don’t have to and you will always be safe throwing paper in the trash once it’s scanned and filed. Most importantly, you will spend a fraction of the time looking for stuff.

And for God’s sake, don’t be the person in your firm who is keeping everyone else from going paperless.

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.