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May 2006
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July 2006

"Proceed With Caution When Deleting Data"

Good advice for paralegals, lawyers, & techies!

"As dependence on electronic communication has grown, lawyers and their clients have faced new and significant issues relating to preservation of electronic information.

"Electronically stored information is often recycled pursuant to a company's ordinary course of business, for example, through a computer system that automatically deletes e-mail older than 60 days unless archived; or through a document retrieval system that overwrites metadata (such as data about the history of the creation of a document) each time an electronic file is accessed. Once a duty to preserve evidence arises, companies must act to halt the deletion or loss of potentially relevant electronic data.

"Deletion of electronic data is a significant risk for companies, and may lead to spoliation claims. It is often unclear when the duty to preserve arises -- it can be difficult for a company to determine when litigation becomes reasonably foreseeable. And, in practice, suspending document retention policies or ordinary-course-of-business deletion policies for electronic data can raise significant headaches for a company, from halting its automatic processes to purchasing additional backup tapes to storing backup tapes that are no longer being recycled."


Locals help Katrina-surviving paralegal & lawyer feel at home

Good news about Katrina's displaced for a change:

"Sofia Lavidalie was not yet three years old when her parents, Jean and Dianna had to tell her that they could not go home to Louisiana because their house was wet.

"The explanation was oversimplified but accurate in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In the days immediately following the catastrophe, the young family of three sought refuge in a Florida hotel with only the clothes on their backs. 'We didn’t know what was going to happen,' Jean Lavidalie said. 'Even if we had a house I would not have a job.'

"Jean, a licensed lawyer in Louisiana, could not go back to work for a law firm that was underwater in downtown New Orleans, but it was only by mistake that his wife hit the section titled 'jobs; while they were searching for housing online, he said.

"By accident the couple saw an advertisement from the law firm of Fincher, Denmark and Williams LLC searching for a displaced paralegal. The firm’s business manager, Lee Fincher said she was surprised when Dianna Lavidalie, a paralegal out of work for three years, expressed a serious interest in the position only two hours after the ad was placed. 'I would not have known that she was out of work for three days, let alone three years,' Fincher said.

"The family had just enough gas money to make the next leg of their journey, Fincher said. The destination was Jonesboro, where Dianna interviewed with the local firm and was hired on the spot. After inquiring about the young woman’s husband who was sitting in the car with their child, the firm interviewed and hired him as a law clerk."


"Celebrity Brockovich plaintiff in 2 suits"

We're in favor of legal assistants righting wrongs...& making big money:

"Erin Brockovich, the resourceful legal assistant made famous by Hollywood's depiction of her epic fight against Pacific Gas & Electric, now is going after two of San Diego's largest hospital operators.

"She is the plaintiff in a pair of lawsuits filed recently in San Diego Superior Court that claim Scripps Health and Sharp HealthCare charged Medicare millions of dollars for fixing mistakes made by hospital staffers.

"The suits allege that the federal government's health insurance program for the elderly wrongly paid for treating infections, injuries, botched operations and illnesses.

[snip]

"The San Diego cases are among 40 suits filed across the country in recent weeks by two law firms seeking to capitalize on a federal law that lets individuals sue on behalf of the federal government to recoup Medicare overpayments.

"The suits seek reimbursement of those costs to Medicare, an amount that could reach into the billions of dollars according to one calculation. That money could help offset some of the skyrocketing costs predicted for the health insurance program in the coming years, according to Brockovich's lawyers.

[snip]

"Brockovich and the lawyers involved could pocket millions of dollars by sharing in reinbursement and damages ordered by the courts."


"German Legal Assistant Wins Henri Dunant Award"

Excellent news!

"Miss Wibke Timmermann -- a 30 year-old German legal assistant working in a defence team at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) -- is to receive the Henri Dunant Award 2006 for her international law dissertation, specializing in hate speech and war propaganda.

"She carried out this work after studying at the University Centre for International Humanitarian Law (CUDIH) in Geneva. The young German woman has been working for several weeks as a paralegal within the team representing Aloys Ntabakuze in the 'Military I' trial."


"The rising profile of the [UK] paralegal"

About 500,000 paralegals work in the U.K. today. Many earn between £50,000 & £80,000 annually ($92,045 to $147,280). And with higher salaries comes a more professional standing:

"Largely unnoticed, the paralegal profession has grown to 500,000 practitioners: 50,000 in the legal profession, the remainder spread throughout every other sector of the economy.

"Paralegals do work that a decade ago solicitors would have done. This change reflects: increased wealth in society; the explosive growth of regulation; the wholesale emigration of solicitors from areas of practice no longer economically viable; and, at the lower end of the scale, the fact that virtually everyone needs the law, encounters it or uses it in the workplace.

"New career opportunities have flowered. Full careers as non-lawyer legal practitioners, or professional paralegals, are possible. Within the legal profession salaries reach £50,000-plus and outside the legal profession paralegals earn up to £80,000. Many run their own businesses giving advice on matters such as employment, divorce and immigration.

[snip]

"Within firms, paralegals are now being recognised as important employees and profitable fee-earners. Increasingly, firms give their paralegals professional recognition, offer tailored training and provide real career development. In return, firms are demanding higher standards of professionalism. An indicator of the scale of change is that at the behest of firms, the Institute has introduced a certified paralegal qualification; a new BTEC in Legal Work and national paralegal training framework; national competency standards; a code of conduct; a paralegal continued professional development (CPD) course; career development plans for paralegals and legal secretaries; and annual paralegal awards. All these are employer driven developments, yet four years ago there was virtually no demand for any of these services."


"The Billable Hour's Staying Power"

One of my least favorite tasks -- & I'm sure others' as well -- billing time!

"As Abraham Lincoln once said, "A lawyer's advice is his stock in trade." That short phrase has been repeated by attorneys throughout the years and is etched on brass plaques hanging in law firms worldwide.

"Clearly, Abe knew the value of his expertise. He also was reportedly a stickler for collecting payment. If money was tight, clients might hand over a milk cow or plump hen as payment for his services.

[snip]

"Livestock aside, billing schemes have become more complex as years passed. Trends continue to shift. In a highly competitive marketplace, many firms find themselves forgoing their standard billing procedures to accommodate a client's demands for alternative billing arrangements.

"'Most firms are embracing alternative billing arrangements as an expected part of doing business these days,' says John Marshall, a partner at Powell Goldstein in Atlanta. 'Clients are steering more in how they want to be billed. Since a large part of keeping clients is pleasing them, it means lawyers are becoming more flexible in how they view the billing process.'

"However, as clients consider alternative billing arrangements, law firms face the economic pressure of maintaining revenue. When hourly rates begin to climb to meet law firm costs, clients look to reduce expenses. It can seem like a never-ending cycle."


"There's Always a First Time for Tech at Trial"

This case is a remarkably successful demonstration of how to use technology to win a case. Waiting until you absolutely NEED technology to LEARN how it works, however, is NOT recommended:

"On May 24, 2001, Claire Duncan was driving on Route I-95 near Petersburg, Va., when a Winnebago made a sudden shift into her lane. The 26-year-old pharmacology Ph.D student swerved her 2000 Ford Explorer and hit the median, launching the boxy SUV into a sideways spin. It rolled five times before landing upright into oncoming traffic.

[snip]

In 2001, Scott Duncan sued Ford Motor Co., claiming that defects with the Explorer's roof and seatbelt caused his wife's death. The roof crushed in seven inches and the seatbelt slackened, he alleged, allowing the fatal contact with her skull.

[snip]

"Pajcic & Pajcic, an 11-lawyer plaintiffs' firm in Jacksonville, where the Duncans resided, took up the case against Ford. The automaker retained Phoenix-based Snell & Wilmer, a 400-attorney firm that had previously defended Ford in seven Explorer rollover cases across five states.

"Robert Link, a partner at the Florida firm, had been working on Duncan's case for nearly two years when partner Raymond Reid noticed the forest of boxes stacked in his office. 'Sucks to be you,' he joked to Link.

"'I thought, 'There's got to be a better way to handle all of this,' Reid recalls. But no Pajcic attorneys had experience using litigation technology.

"'Ray just sort of volunteered," says Link. They came up with a plan: Link would continue to work with paper files; Reid and a paralegal would scan all the documents to create an electronic database. Meanwhile, Reid took a two-day course in Sanction trial presentation software. From Verdict Systems Inc., it helps users design an electronic database with customized fields for storing, categorizing and retrieving documents and exhibits."


Toronto Bill 14 to Regulate Paralegals

Here's a letter from Margaret Louter in support of regulation to the Toronto Star:

"Marshall Yarmus suggests in his letter that the Paralegal Society of Ontario disagrees with Bill 14 because it will increase the cost of legal services to the public and small businesses and will increase lawyers' monopoly on certain legal services. He suggests that every Ontarian should be opposed to it. I disagree.

[snip]

"As the past vice-president [PDF link] of a prominent paralegal association, I have had many consumers of paralegal services confide in me regarding how they have suffered monetary harm due to incompetent and fraudulent practitioners.

[snip]

"For 30 years, paralegals have not been able to self-regulate and develop standardized examinations. Bill 14 proposes the Law Society be the regulator of legal services and gives paralegals a prominent role in the governance of the Law Society [Law Society of Upper Canada]."


"Enron Defense Firm Stuck With the Tab"

I guess this shouldn't be surprising news to anyone who's followed the Enron mess:

"To the list of employees, investors and businesses who suffered financial misfortune in Enron Corp.'s demise, add this one: the law firm defending former chief executive Jeffrey K. Skilling.

"Los Angeles-based O'Melveny & Myers LLP, which has represented Skilling on both civil and criminal charges since 2001, collected what in a typical case would be a fat payday: $23 million from its client and $17 million more from his insurance policies.

"But, true to form, Enron is still destroying financial expectations. Even before the trial began in January, Skilling's team of more than 20 lawyers, paralegals and support staff burned through those funds, leaving the law firm holding the bag for 'multiple tens of millions' of dollars in unpaid fees and expenses racked up during the four-month trial, Skilling's lead defense lawyer said. While Daniel M. Petrocelli declined to provide an exact tally, one source put the price tag at more than $25 million on top of the $40 million O'Melveny already collected."