Monthly Archives: February 2012

Q&A with Jonathan L. Loew

Jonathan L. Loew, special counsel at Much Shelist, took some time to answer a few of our questions.

What do you like most about your practice?

I like the creativity of it. The areas in which I practice are always evolving and no two cases are alike. Particularly, I enjoy revisiting established legal concepts and finding ways to apply them in my cases. These days, there are a lot of demands for lawyers to be innovative in their approach to providing the best possible legal and business counsel, and this gives me an opportunity to be creative. It’s wonderful when a judge appreciates the time and effort I put into my work. I also accept and embrace my role as an officer of the court, quaint as that may sound. I’m proud that my work helps the court reach an informed decision in the cases in which I participate.

What is the biggest challenge of your practice?

Much of my practice involves writing legal briefs. Judges are inundated with cases, and spend much of their time reading briefs. These documents are a lawyer’s chance to talk directly to the judge. Out of respect for the demands on a judge’s time, it is necessary to make written points concisely, credibly, accurately, and in a way that gains and holds the judge’s interest and commands respect. I often face this challenge when writing briefs.

What advice do you have for new lawyers?

Work hard, but save time for yourself, your family and your friends. Ask questions and don’t pretend you know something if you don’t. Be reliable, be polite and look for the positives in every situation. Find trustworthy mentors who will share their experiences, build your confidence and serve as admirable models for how law should be practiced. Talk to judges to find out what they expect from you. Don’t isolate yourself—other lawyers are valuable sounding boards and will become treasured colleagues and friends as the years go by. Continuously work on your writing skills as they will be extremely important throughout your career.

Attorneys working non-attorney jobs at the firm

J. Nick Augustine, J.D., is the principal of Pro Serve PR Marketing, a firm that creates and manages a focused image of success through marketing and publicity strategies for law, finance and small business professionals. Nick enjoys sharing career growth, strategy and experience with legal job seekers and attorneys in transition. The Pro Serve Club is a members only PR Marketing resource.

There are attorneys who cannot find jobs, and they don’t want to work at the mall to make ends meet. There might be another spot in a law firm where you could hang your hat for a while. You are not going to earn as much income as a practicing lawyer but it will probably be better than folding shirts and jeans all day. While working as a support professional, you might apply for an associate position when the next one becomes available.

There are a variety of professional positions at midsize and larger law firms. More consumers are searching for professionals in a digital world, and many firms experience increased demands on marketing and communications departments. If you are a numbers person, you might find satisfying work in the billing and accounting department. Technology skills are also valuable to law firms, and when billing and profitability pair with technology, law firms need IT people. These are just a few of the professional capacities in which new lawyers can work in firms and keep a foot in the door.

I understand the hesitation to work at a law firm in a capacity other than attorney. Sure, there might be some who look down on the non-attorney “professionals,” but most lawyers are happy to go to work and build their career. If the alternative is not working in a law firm, wouldn’t you be better off around the industry on a daily basis? If you’re in the marketing department, for example, you might have cause to learn a few things about new practice areas. If your experience set is insurance defense, and now you’re writing ad copy for the trademark attorneys, you just might discover a new practice area you enjoy.

Don’t worry about “tarnishing” your resume with non-attorney work after graduation. Anyone in a hiring position understands the economy and job outlook over the past half-decade. Recruiters are more impressed by a candidate who continued working towards their goal instead of throwing in the towel when the perfect job didn’t materialize in a few months.

Back in the marketing department you keep hearing about a developing area of intellectual property that the attorneys continue promoting. You might want to let it be known that you find a particular area of law interesting and communicate that if a position opens up in their department, you would be interesting in practicing intellectual property law. Remember, there are many people who really don’t want to practice law and are quite happy working long-term in a professional position at a firm – so do not assume people know your career goals. At the same time, you might enjoy your alternative legal career and accepting this might put a smile on your face.

Spontaneous Exclamations: Plan C, sue 100 law schools?

Adam Katz is a senior associate at Harrison & Held, LLP.  He concentrates his practice on federal & state tax matters, commercial finance, mergers & acquisitions, entity structure and formation, and non-profit law.  Adam can be reached at (312) 753-6110 or akatz@harrisonheld.com.  Comments on all posts are welcome!

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Last blog post, we expected that some disgruntled law students and recent graduates would sue their law school over the blatantly misleading employment statistics you find in almost every admissions booklet from almost every law school.  Well, almost every school may or may not be an exaggeration, but you get the gist of it.  Law school admissions statistics are frequently ambiguous in that the definition of “employed” within a year of graduation includes positions like coffee barista, zamboni driver, professional underwater synchronized scuba ballerina, and various other occupations that do not require a J.D. degree.  (See http://h20cooler.wordpress.com/2012/02/10/spontaneous-exclamations-plan-b-sue-law-school/).  Many of you have responded to me along the lines of: “Adam, caveat emptor— these students graduating within the last year or two entered law school after the start of the worst legal job recession in recent memory.  It’s their fault for going to law school knowing there’d be no jobs when they came out!”  In certain situations, this is could be a valid argument.  However, in addition to my points in the last article, shouldn’t law schools, which are tasked with teaching ethics and professionalism to the very students they enroll, refrain from purposefully publishing misleading and/or vague employment data?

Yet this just in: It appears that Plan B, “sue your law school,” was just bypassed for Plan C, “sue 100 law schools!”  According to Above the Law, and an interview conducted by Bloomberg Law, the attorneys behind the IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law class action and suits against 11 other law schools, have at least 20 additional suits planned.  Furthermore, Chicago Crain’s reported that these attorneys plan on suing as many schools as possible in 2012— 20 to 25 new suits every few months.  If this is true, this may be a shocking year for universities across the nation, that is, if any courts actually allow these cases to proceed.

As reported in Chicago Crain’s, Dean John Corkery of The John Marshall Law School stated that the attorneys intended to file suit even before even having any students or graduates to constitute a class.  Without addressing these attorneys’ questionable ethics for filing class actions potentially (but not necessarily) for their own personal gain (and are these ethics different from those underlying a significant proportion of class action lawsuits?), we now need to question whether the plaintiffs constituting the classes are generally miffed students and new attorneys or whether they may have been influenced to join the classes by the potential to recoup tuition and get back at the institutions that saddled them with so much debt and no job.

If this is the case, to all of the lovely commentators who expressed their lack of sympathy for recent graduates, perhaps these disgruntled young lawyers aren’t fully to blame.  Either: (1) they are whole-heartedly regretful for attending law school and seek payback (in which case your argument has some validity); or maybe, just maybe, (2) they were drawn in by the attorneys filing the class actions and aren’t the eloquent phrases conspicuously analogous to the word “brat” that a number of readers have claimed these law students to be (we’re lawyers, we hide behind ominous walls of words).  If No. 2 is true, while ethically ambiguous, is it really that bad?  In truth, should law schools really be intentionally reporting misleading statistics?  Perhaps these class actions are the only viable way to stand up to a heavily entrenched and ethically-borderline practice by a powerful industry.  Considering the news coverage these class actions have received, the class’ attorneys have already got your attention.

Can the color red be trademarked?

Marty Dolan, principal at Dolan Law and his associate Karen Munoz represent victims of wrongful death and personal injury. His column “Law and Wellness,” appears in the Chicago Lawyer and her column appears regularly in the Law Bulletin. This week’s blog is written by Karen Munoz.

That is essentially the question being asked in high fashion litigation between shoemaker Christian Louboutin and fashion house Yves Saint Laurent (YSL).

Louboutin, famous for his sky high stilettos, and the celebrities who are constantly photographed with the red soled heels, obtained a trademark ion the US for his red “signature soles”.  Last year Louboutin sued YSL claiming trademark infringement as YSL had unveiled a line for cruise footwear, Louboutin alleged was “virtually identical” to his shoes.

The legal drama unfolded last year when Louboutin filed a preliminary injunction against the sale of YSL’s red-soled shoes, seeking damages of at least one million dollars and a halt of the sale of YSL red-heeled shoes.  The injunction alleged the Red Sole Mark was” likely to cause and is causing confusion, mistake and deception among the relevant purchasing public.”

YSL responded to the allegations by arguing that red soled heels had been used throughout history dating back to the 1600’s and that no one should have a monopoly on a color.  To allow Louboutin to assert that right on red soled heels would cause a freeze on what other designers are allowed to do.  In addition YSL challenged the trademark being granted to Louboutin in the first place claiming it was overly broad.

Following a hearing on the preliminary injunction, a federal court denied the injunction claiming it Louboutin was not able to prove trademark protection on the red soled heels.

Louboutin appealed the denial of the injunction. Jewelry retailer Tiffany & Co., filed an amicus brief on behalf of Louboutin. Tiffany & Co., who also has a trademark on the famous baby blue hue, urged the court to overturn the denial of the injunction.  Tiffany & Co., has a hand in this fight as the ruling against Louboutin has broader implications for other designers who have similar trademarks.

YSL also had briefs filed by prominent academics on its behalf urging the court to allow the original ruling to stand and that Louboutin should not be allowed to have a monopoly on the color red.

A three-panel appeals court heard arguments at the end of January.  Both sides made persuasive arguments and if the court overturns the lower court’s ruling, we may see the fashion giants go to trial. This case will be closely followed by not only those in the fashion industry but many in the trademark world. At the end of the day, this is just not about red soled heels but trademark law and what can be trademarked.

Socially Phobic? What would YOUR Agora say?

Debra Pickett is president of Page 2 Communications (www.page2comm.com).  A former newspaper columnist and television commentator, Pickett offers consulting and training to law firms and lawyers who deal with the media.  Reach her at deb@page2comm.com.

Six LCD screens dominate the reception area of mobile phone maker Nokia’s corporate headquarters in Finland.  They call it “Agora, after the Greek meeting place where people came together to discuss things and learn from each other,” according to Tom Libretto, VP consumer engagement for Nokia, quoted here.

The screens feature web and social media content produced by Nokia — and its customers, fans and critics.  It’s unfiltered and posted in (almost) real time so that employees from all around the company can see exactly what people are thinking and saying about their products — a great reminder of how their work translates into real world, real life experiences.

So, imagine, for a moment, that you have an Agora system.

OK, maybe your firm isn’t a brand with worldwide recognition.  And, yes, yes, OK, maybe your “lobby” would be a little cramped with six big screens, at least some of which would be, quite possibly blank.  But let’s just go with the idea for a minute.  Imagine.

And, since we’re in fantasy territory here anyway, let’s also imagine that your Agora system includes not just social media references, but real, live comments that come out of other people’s mouths.  What would be captured on those screens?  What would people be saying about your firm, your work, the services you provide?

Our immediate, reflexive answers to these questions are not always accurate.  Sure, you WANT to believe that people are buzzing away about that expensive magazine ad you bought.  And raving about what you were able to do for them in handling a difficult matter.

But the things people really pay attention to — and talk to their friends about, whether in real life or virtually — are often far more subtle.  The things worth mentioning, in fact, very frequently are the “little things” – the small details of daily interactions that make them just a tiny bit better than we might have expected them to be.  Non-irritating (or, dare to dream, interesting) music or programming while on hold.  A patient, helpful explanation of a complex transaction.  A smile.  A really good cup of coffee.  An assistant who goes out of his way for a client.  A personal greeting that doesn’t try too hard to sell anything.

Agora was intended as a marketing metric, but the thing that it ends up demonstrating is that the best marketing/promotion/PR/reputation-enhanacement/whatever-the-really-expensive-consultants-are-calling-it-these-days is Not Marketing.  It’s getting the small things right and treating people well.  And, of course, this has always been true, but the social media megaphone just amplifies it all the more.  Nobody tweets about the thing that precisely met expectations.  They’re either complaining or raving.

So, which is it?  What’s popping up on your Agora screens these days?  Do you like what you see?

Leveraging Your Reputation: Review your past to help your future

Tom Ciesielka is President of TC Public Relations (www.tcpr.net). Tom has over 25 years of marketing and public relations experience, working with individual lawyers and midsize law firms. He is also a former board member of the Legal Marketing Association in Chicago and has spoken at Chicago Bar Association CLE programs. Reach him at tc@tcpr.net.

Things can be going well with your practice and career, and then there can be a glitch: a media outlet brings up a past mistake that you’ve made, and you don’t know what to do. Even if you’re moved on from your transgressions, “No comment” or “I don’t want to talk about that” is not the best response because it will make the media dig even further. The best way to prevent any anxiety about your imperfect past is to prepare now by thinking about what you’ve done and what kind of response you’re going to have just in case it comes up.

So as the year is still new, take some time out of your busy schedule to evaluate your past. Be honest with yourself: Is there something that you think would hinder your public relations success? Were you sued for malpractice 10 years ago, and even got some bad publicity from it? Everyone makes mistakes, but your past actions don’t have to affect your future.

Suppose you used to practice real estate law, but a deal went wrong. Perhaps you went to court, paid fines or were sued, or simply went into business with someone who was shady, and decided you had enough and wanted to move on. Now you’re doing tax law and are thinking that those ugly real estate deals are behind you. Then a news story comes up about a building you handled that’s in dispute, and your name has emerged in connection to it, even though it was over 20 years ago. Someone asks you about it. What do you do?

If you’ve really made a change and are clear of problems, then you can turn the situation into a positive and let the writer or reporter know that you no longer practice real estate law, but used that experience to help you with your current tax practice. You could say that you’ve learned it’s important to pay attention to details, which is what you do now in every case that you handle. You can also generalize the lessons so that the audience can learn something, too. That way, you acknowledge your past and use it to help your present. The key is to turn a negative into a positive.

But to avoid being put on the spot like that, prepare now. Think about and practice your answers so that you can respond to friendly and hostile people’s questions. That way, you’ll keep yourself under control instead of crumbling and saying something you’ll regret or that will make a negative impression.

The benefits of building a resource library

J. Nick Augustine, J.D., is the principal of Pro Serve PR Marketing, a firm that creates and manages a focused image of success through marketing and publicity strategies for law, finance and small business professionals. Nick enjoys sharing career growth, strategy and experience with legal job seekers and attorneys in transition. The Pro Serve Club is a members only PR Marketing resource.

Early in law school we meet the representatives from several legal vendors who offer publications full of articles and resources. Often we flip through the magazines, sometimes flagging articles we want to read later, and then we add them to the pile that eventually is stored or tossed. If we collect and organize interesting articles we can start building a personalized law library. List and subdivide the headlines by topic area, and keep track of niche topics.

Imagine being a 3L working at an insurance defense firm, and working on a case with compelling e-discovery issues. While grasping the nuances of defense work, an interesting topic arises – the discoverability of social media groups and its intersection with spoliation exposure! When we see articles we like, we read them intently. Once we realize that we are more interested in the underlying issues than our main practice area, we make a mental note and hopefully continue learning specialized information.

Specialized focus areas and topics in law are the basis for lectures, articles and referrals. We value the lawyers who are well-read and knowledgeable about pinpoint legal issues and the leading theories and cases.

Action Items:
First, search for publications that feature topics and content supporting your special topic. Read and then remove the articles you like and collect them in file folders or binders. When you have enough articles, organize them and create a table of contents. As the library grows, there will be a natural desire to seek out missing information and add more articles – you’re becoming more valuable.

Next, make a list of the authors of articles you read and visit their websites. Make notes, if possible, about the groups and publications the authors list. If appropriate, send and e-mail or make a phone call to the author and compliment their work. When recognizing another lawyer with common interests, the author you read might spot case referral or collaboration opportunities – you’re part of club.

Then, as the library and specialized practitioner lists grow, consider writing articles or assembling Continuing Legal Education manuals and programs. So long as courts address and rule on issues in the focus area, the body of legal knowledge continues growing. At some point most of us become comfortable enough to write a book; e-books and printed copies are easily leveraged to attract new sources of revenue and opportunity – you retire and live on sales from your book!

Online dating challenges

Marty Dolan, principal at Dolan Law and his associate Karen Munoz represent victims of wrongful death and personal injury. His column “Law and Wellness,” appears in the Chicago Lawyer and her column appears regularly in the Law Bulletin. This week’s blog is written by Karen Munoz.

The world of online dating is a different beast.  For someone who grew up in a world where computers were not a big part of my existence, I am frequently amazed at how much the Internet has revolutionized every part of my life in such a short time. One area where there has been significant change is the way we communicate, meet each other, and find dates.

For those of you out there in the dating world, or have friends who are, then you are no stranger to its inner workings.  You pick a site, match.com, eharmony or any number of cousin sites and you sign up. You start a profile and pick a user name. Now most people don’t actually use their real name, and instead create a name similar to what you would use in an e-mail. Facebook this is not.  You control the amount of information you want others to know about you and the same goes with photographs or other user details on your profile.

Due to the potential for criminal activity and a number of pretty terrible incidents in the last few years in Illinois, lawmakers have proposed legislation which would require online dating websites to tell customers if criminal background checks are done prior to signing up.

Overall, I think it is a good idea but I don’t think it solves the ultimate problem.  The legislation would also not prevent users from flat out lying to other users, or exaggerating aspects of their lives to make them more attractive dates.

I’m also not sure how it will affect the bottom line of sites that do not charge users of the dating site, as effective criminal background checks may be costly.  Match.com and eharmony screen public sex offender registries and that method I am sure has prevented individuals who may be a danger from signing up. It will be interesting to see how this plays out and affects other aspects of our communications online. In the end, the dating world can be scary in more ways than one, but being aware and using good common sense goes a long way.

Spontaneous Exclamations: Plan B, sue law school

Adam Katz is a senior associate at Harrison & Held, LLP.  He concentrates his practice on federal & state tax matters, mergers & acquisitions, entity structure and formation, commercial finance, and non-profit law.  Adam can be reached at (312) 753-6110 or akatz@harrisonheld.com.  Comments on all posts are welcome!

Join the Spontaneous Exclamations Facebook Group: http://www.facebook.com/groups/289553997756538/

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Everyone knew this would happen eventually, it was just a matter of when.   At the beginning of the month, the remarkable, yet expected, class action complaint was filed in the Cook County Circuit Court.  You guessed it, a group of recent IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law graduates and a student opted for Plan B.  Upon discovering that Plan A was unavailable— that there were no jobs available for recent graduates— a 2009 graduate, two 2011 graduates, and a soon-to-be 2012 graduate filed the class action against IIT Chicago-Kent.  The complaint against IIT Chicago-Kent is based on claims of fraud and dissemination of information to third parties in connection with the law school’s reporting of employment and salary statistics of graduates.

The complaint can be found at the following link on the plaintiffs’ attorney’s website: http://www.anziskalaw.com/uploads/Filed_Chicago-Kent

In my past blog posts, I have advocated for a change of the way law schools report employment statistics, though I have also described the careful balancing act.  Reporting non-misleading a/k/a “accurate” statistics would almost certainly be self-destructive to law schools because potential applicants would grasp the direness of the job market right now.  As a result, most of these potential applicants would simply not apply to law school and class sizes across the nation would plummet.  This is why law schools should not adjust their statistics reporting from a business standpoint.  However, from an ethical and, if this law suit is successful, legal standpoint, law schools should accurately report graduate employment statistics in order to save these students over a $100,000 worth of onerous debt.  Conversely, when times are good, the accurate reporting of 97 percent employment upon graduation and the first-year big law salary increase from $160,000 to $960,000 in New York, law school applications will flourish again.

Which leads us back to the crux of the matter: Law school tuition is so high that students who can’t find jobs and have been saddled with crushing debt at extraordinary interest rates have resorted to filing a class action lawsuit against their alma matter.  Whether or not the plaintiffs seek the return of their tuition payments, at the very least, they are applying firm pressure to compel schools to change their statistics reporting policy.  Also, bridges are ferociously burning.

Did the plaintiffs make the right decision?  Perhaps most practicing attorneys would say no.  These attorneys would claim that the plaintiffs are burning their bridges with law schools and law firms alike and will never find a legitimate job in the legal field ever.  Furthermore, these attorneys would assert that the plaintiffs brought this trouble upon themselves by attending law school during one of the worst legal recessions in recent memory.  Lastly they’d say that anybody with a shred of common sense could figure out that the law school’s statistics are blatantly distorted.  Boy!  These hypothetical attorneys are harsh!

On the other hand, what’s the downside?  The plaintiffs feel swindled by their schools and seek changes to the way the statistics are reported.  Perhaps they also hope for a return of their tuition and the chance at a debt-free life.  They might not even want to work in the legal industry.   Arguably, the plaintiffs are burning their bridges for the benefit of future law students.  Nobody said changing the behavior of powerful and moneyed forces on this planet was easy.

So what’s the solution?  Should law schools choose the high road and report accurate statistics and potentially decimate their application volume?  Or should law schools keep calm and carry on?  Again, like in many of my blogs, we can reach deep to the underlying problem: the student loan industry.  If tuition and lending terms were more reasonable to students, would people care at all about obviously skewed employment statistics, much less file a class action?

Avoid ageism: Don’t let senior practitioners hoard the work

J. Nick Augustine, J.D., is the principal of Pro Serve PR Marketing, a firm that creates and manages a focused image of success through marketing and publicity strategies for law, finance and small business professionals. Nick enjoys sharing career growth, strategy and experience with legal job seekers and attorneys in transition. The Pro Serve Club is a members only PR Marketing resource.

Young attorneys need to stand up and lead, not pushed to the side. I have seen a drop in associate hiring in Chicago over the past few years. It appears the generations ahead of you chose to ice you out and keep all the work for them.

What I have learned from working with top-level finance industry professionals is that generations of Americans spent and didn’t save, and now, when the legal market suffers, some freak out and hold on to all the work they can get. I have no doubt that this is a survival tactic for many. This creates a disservice to the client – shouldn’t they be served by the most knowledgeable and able attorneys?

I have seen bogs of middle-aged lawyers shift to practices that are more profitable, and in some cases, attract clients away from younger but more experienced attorneys.  My work with law and finance professionals led me to a conclusion: we have an ageism problem in Midwestern cities and Chicago seems to be an epicenter of professionals trying to ice out the future leaders and rising stars.

Likely, the stories we hear from law firms are flawed. So many large firms report, “Times are good,” but I think many are lying. If things are going well, where are your summer associate programs? I think the reality of the slow decline of the billable hour has many shaking in their Cole Hahn’s.

If you want to be the best lawyer in any given practice, area you should just do it! Why do you need to be pulled up by silk stockings to be successful? My best advice is to hitch your wagon to a mentor who can help you grow without that individual feeding you the work. At the end of the day, most attorneys I know are quality practitioners who strive to keep the position noble.

To the young attorneys who graduate, earn their license, and strive to affect the world: do not wait; position yourself exactly where you need to be, and then, crank it up a notch!

If you have the passion, the will, and desire to change the world – you can – and you will.