One of the issues we consider when assessing a case that may go to trial is: How would a jury see the case?
What many people don’t realize is that they (through their lawyers) can actually impact the jury’s perspective of the case in a manner even more fundamental than the attorney’s actual trial presentation. Before a jury trial, using a process called voir dire, lawyers for both sides get the opportunity to ask questions to a larger group of potential jurors assembled in the courtroom, and then to strike, or eliminate, some of them from being selected as jurors. This applies to all types of jury trials, including personal injury, car accident, and contract cases, among many others we might handle.
So on what basis can attorneys strike jurors? There are some limitations, but on the whole, lawyers have significant discretion in deciding who is struck. And here in Northern Virginia, the jury pool is always rich with people from various class, economic, and professional backgrounds with differing views on certain legal conflicts.
The New York Times has a very neat tool called “Will You Be Seated on a Jury?” Click here to access it. It asks you certain questions that may be asked in an actual voir dire session, and explains how your answers may cause one side to want to remove you from the eventual jury panel.
When it comes to your case, there is no way to know for sure what the jury will do, or whether it will side with you. But if your lawyer is diligent in shaping the jury itself, you may already be halfway there.
An incredible story this week solidifying the truth that when it comes to lawyers, quantity is not a substitute for diligence:
(Bloomberg) — Call it AT&T Inc.’s $40 million “whoops.”
The telephone company will have to shell out that much in a patent-infringement case because its lawyers didn’t read a court document, an appeals court ruled Thursday.
AT&T missed a deadline to appeal a jury verdict for $27.5 million, plus interest, won by closely held Two-Way Media LLC for using its technology for tracking what you watch on streaming video services.
The problem started with a faulty court docket notice, which said the trial judge had granted AT&T’s request to seal some documents. A reading of the actual order showed the judge had denied AT&T’s request to overturn the jury verdict, setting the 30-day clock ticking for the time to appeal.
AT&T’s lawyers at the firm Sidley Austin were never notified when the docket entry was corrected and, by the time they realized what the judge had done, 51 days had passed.
AT&T said its missed deadline was “excusable neglect” because of the incorrect docket entry. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit sided with the trial judge, who said at least 18 lawyers and assistants had been given the information needed to know when the deadline was. He refused to extend the time period for the appeal. […]
The appeals panel, in a 2-1 ruling, said District Judge Orlando Garcia in San Antonio acted within his rights when he said it was “inexcusable for AT&T’s multiple counsel to fail to read all of the underlying orders they received, or — at minimum — to monitor the docket for any corrections or additional rulings.”
A number of things happened here, but based on our observation of how cases with multiple lawyers work, it is likely that each of these 18 individuals relied on the other 17 to read the actual orders (as opposed to just the court clerk’s summary entry) because they thought it was of minimal importance. Yet any lawyer who has practiced for some time should know that court clerks make mistakes on a regular basis, and that the lawyer therefore cannot rely exclusively on a clerk’s word or action in matters of great significance, such as filing deadlines or other irreversible events. Moreover, lawyers should know that orders aren’t always black or white, but sometimes contain unexpected nuances, making it truly inexcusable to fail to read any court order in any case of any size.
With that said, judges generally want to try to find a way around a missed deadline, in large part because they don’t want the client to be punished to harshly and abruptly for the lawyer’s mistake. So what happened here?
“More often than not, the courts will bend over backward to grant a re-opening and save the day for the party who missed a key deadline,” David Peirez, a corporate lawyer with Reisman Peirez in New York, said. “However in this case, it is tough to sympathize with AT&T since 18 lawyers dropped the ball.”
Not only can a larger number of lawyers working on the same case fall into the trap of missing the basic requirements of diligence, but they might also be treated more harshly by the courts.
There are times when you simply cannot avoid investing in an attorney to assist you with your legal matter. But this does not mean that there aren’t many steps you can take to shrink your legal bills in cases billed on an hourly basis. In fact, one reason law firms use hourly billing for certain types of cases is that they don’t know how efficient and cooperative of a client you will be, and as a consequence, how much time they have to dedicate to your case. So then, what can you do to receive equally good service while keeping your attorney’s fees low?
1. Respond to Your Lawyer Promptly. Your lawyer can work much more efficiently when he has the answers he needs, without needing to continue following up with you, and without needing to spend time requesting extensions. Further, your prompt “Ok” on a court document could mean the difference between the document being sent for filing by mail ahead of time, rather than by the more expensive same-day courier.
2. Keep Your Lawyer Updated. Nothing wastes your lawyer’s time more than drafting a document or preparing for a hearing based on a certain set of facts, only to find out at the last minute about an event or update that you have known about for some time and that changes your lawyer’s course of action. Your lawyer should find out about relevant new information as soon as possible, and should hear it from you, rather than from opposing counsel.
3. Understand Your Lawyer’s Billable Hours. Many law firms bill in increments of 15 minutes, meaning that even a 6-minute phone call could be billed as 0.25 of an hour (we at PJI Law believe this is excessive, so we bill in increments of 6 minutes, or 0.1 of an hour – and we don’t bill for things like “reviewing voice messages”). Understanding how your lawyer bills, and what is considered as billable, will help you better plan your communication and actions during your case.
4. Communicate with Staff when Possible. If you need to contact the law firm regarding a non-legal matter, such as getting a copy of a certain document, reach out to a legal assistant or secretary, rather than to the lawyer. Depending on the service, some firms bill for an assistant’s time and some don’t, but either way it will be far more cost-effective than using your lawyer’s time when you don’t really need it.
5. Deliver All Documents Upfront and in an Organized Manner. As soon as you sign your agreement with the law firm, deliver all relevant documents to your lawyer immediately, and supplement them as you receive new updated documents even if you haven’t yet been specifically asked for them. Otherwise, your lawyer’s work will be interrupted if he is missing certain documents, and he will inevitably contact you about them later as the need arises. Further, the more organized your documents are (grouped, tabbed, labeled, etc.), the more efficiently your lawyer can work with them.
6. Do Some of the Work Yourself. In many cases, there is at least some work that you can do yourself. This includes gathering documents, communicating with certain third parties, preparing responses to what are called “discovery” requests, and so on. The more you are able to do, the less your lawyer has to do. But this one comes with a big caution sign: Always coordinate with your lawyer before trying to do something yourself, otherwise you could hurt your case.
7. Consolidate and Organize Your Emails. If your lawyer asks you for certain electronic documents that are sitting in a dozen different emails in your Inbox, do not simply forward to him each individual email with its attachment. Instead, download all of the attachments to your computer, and then send them to your lawyer in a single email (if you do not take the time to organize them, he will have to). And if your lawyer sends you an email with a numbered list of questions, answer them in a numbered list, maybe even below each question. Do not give your answers in one long paragraph that will take longer to parse.
8. Avoid Venting to Your Lawyer. Venting is sometimes inevitable, and is certainly understandable in many stressful situations and disputes, such as in emotional divorce and child custody cases. But a lawyer has a limited number of hours per day, and even if he genuinely sympathizes with you (and he probably does), he has to bill for the time he is using although the time spent is not doing much to help your legal case. In most cases you will find that a good friend, a spiritual leader, or a therapist not only makes more sense financially, but is also better equipped to discuss the emotional aspects of your situation with you.
9. Ask Questions as Soon as You Have Them. Sometimes you might be too embarrassed to ask a question, or for any other reason might avoid telling your lawyer that you don’t understand a certain aspect of your case. But your lawyer has no way of knowing this, and will proceed on the assumption that you understand the plan. Asking questions as soon as they arise will be far more cost-effective than asking “around” the question for weeks and months, or letting the case go in a direction you may not fully understand.
10. Use Your Phone Calls Efficiently. If you can send a brief email update or response to your lawyer, there is no need to initiate a phone call, which will likely be more time-consuming for the lawyer than reading your email. And when on the phone, don’t force your lawyer to repeat a question because you answered on a tangent the first time. When your lawyer is asking you specific questions that don’t seem to deal directly with your biggest frustration, answer the questions – your lawyer knows the issues and wouldn’t have asked the specific questions if he didn’t a good reason to do so.
Of course, the one thing that could save you the most in legal fees is the settlement of your case on acceptable terms, if possible. The earlier the settlement, the more you stand to save in billable hours. With that said, it was not included in the list above because settlement is an immense, substantive step that you will necessarily discuss with your lawyer as a possibility, and that will vary wildly from case to case.
Our attorneys here at PJI Law are always happy to answer any questions our clients have about how to reduce legal fees on a case-by-case basis. We hope that this list can serve as a good start!
Welcome to the PJI Law website, and to our brand new blog. For one of our first blog posts, we would like to briefly introduce ourselves and explain the specific ways in which we can help you. Yes, our website has our attorneys’ bios and a list of our practice areas, but here on the blog we will explain things a little less formally and a bit more practically.
First of all, our firm has two full-time attorneys who work on most matters together. Although one of them is likely to be the primary attorney on your specific case, the other attorney will be well positioned to proceed with your case without any hiccups should the need arise – in case of sickness, vacation, or emergencies, for example. For this reason, and in order to ensure the reasonable availability of at least one attorney for your case on every business day of the year, our attorneys adhere to a strict policy of not taking time off simultaneously.
We also believe that the quality of our staff is as important as the quality of our attorneys. Our receptionist, for example, knows every single retained client by name. She knows what their case is about, which attorney they are primarily working with, and understands the nature or urgency of their calls.
That is who we are. Now, this is how we can help you:
If you’re about to get married and need a prenup, we can draft one that honors your specific wishes. If you’re already married and are contemplating divorce, we can serve you. We have seen it all – heartbreaking divorces involving children, the end of marriages that had lasted for decades, and even legal separation that began on the first day of marriage – literally. By definition, none have been happy stories, and we cannot change that fact. But in such a time of emotion and uncertainty, we can navigate the law on your behalf, ensure that your rights are protected, and pursue the results you deserve. And whether or not you’re married, we can assist you with the very important issues of child custody, child support, and spousal support. If you’ve already obtained a court order and it is not being honored by the other party, we can help you to get it enforced.
If you were injured in a car accident, you do not want to talk to the other party’s insurance company on your own. There is simply too much about the process that you don’t know. We have the education and experience to guide you through the loopholes and maximize your recovery. The same goes if you slip and fall, get bitten by a dog, or are otherwise injured in various or unusual ways due to the negligence of others. For example, we recently represented a client who suffered severe burns from sizzling soup spilled by a careless restaurant employee. We can also assist if an incident was even more tragic and resulted in the wrongful death of a family member.
What’s the difference between an LLC and a C-Corp, and why is one better than the other for your particular situation? What’s a Registered Agent, and is every single business entity in Virginia required to have one even if it’s a one-person company that made eighty bucks last year? (Yes). Does this two-page commercial lease look good? (No). Business law is not just for Google and Exxon. It is extremely relevant for even the smallest business with the smallest budget. And in fact, we like to focus on both establishing small to medium businesses and completing small to medium business transactions – no business is too small for us. We also help both businesses and individuals collect money they’re owed, whether or not they already have a judgment from the court. We represent both commercial tenants and commercial landlords and offer them “a la carte” options – some want us only to review their lease, others ask us to negotiate the whole deal. Of course, we handle a wide variety of business and contract disputes, whether out of court or by litigating it all the way to trial. This includes representing you in whichever side of a mechanic’s lien you might be on. And since all Virginia businesses are required to have a Registered Agent, we are pleased to serve as your Registered Agent so that you can have the peace of mind you need.
Everyone knows what a Will is, and we can certainly draft one for you. But fewer people know what Advance Medical Directive / Living Will is, which is why we are proactive about explaining it to our clients. Such a document allows you to make decisions about your medical care in some situations where you wouldn’t be able to express your wishes (i.e., if you are in coma). It also allows you to designate an agent to speak to the doctors on your behalf in certain situations, such as the middle of a surgery. And even fewer people know about the need for a General Financial Power of Attorney, which allows a trusted or loved one to make financial/legal/property decisions on your behalf if you are mentally incapacitated or otherwise unable to make such decisions. Falling into such a state without leaving your family with the means to manage your assets on your behalf could significantly complicate their lives in what would already be a difficult time. In short, this is the one area of our practice that it is applicable to 100% of the population – everyone should have these documents.
Other Areas of Practice
In addition to representing both commercial landlords and commercial tenants as discussed above, we represent residential landlords in various ways. However the most urgent need residential landlords tend to have arises when tenants fail to pay their rent or vacate, in which case we swiftly step in to proceed with an eviction process that minimizes the landlord’s losses.
We also take on Lemon Law cases, which arise from repeated problems with new cars. In such cases we reach out to the car manufacturers directly to resolve the matter, and if that fails, we invite them to meet us in court.
Our firm also engages in civil litigation regarding a variety of topics, including property damage, conversion, detinue, fraud, and other areas too numerous to include in this post.
There are many more unique cases that often don’t fall into a specific practice area, and we handle many of them. If you are not sure, please ask us – we are always happy to hear from you even if it turns out that we cannot accept your case. And if we don’t, we will likely be able refer you to a specific attorney who is more appropriate for your case.
So, this is who we are and how we can help you. And when you find yourself in need of the services above, we will be ready for your call.
Within the Business Law portion of its practice areas, PJI Law’s focus is on small and medium businesses. We embrace both the newcomer who wants to launch a business from scratch, and the established business that is undergoing changes or completing a transaction. Our business clients are so diverse that we figured we would share this alphabetical (and incomplete) sample list of the types businesses we have represented in formation, transaction, litigation, dissolution, as registered agent, or in other ways:
Marble & Granite Provider
Nail Care and Spa
Real Estate Service
Urgent Care Clinic
Do you own, or wish to establish, any of the businesses above, or any other type of business in the northern Virginia or DC areas? Whatever you need assistance with, chances are we’ve already seen it. And we are ready and happy to guide you through it.