Category Archives: blog

Building a business resource network

Nick Augustine is a freelance writer, broadcaster, publicity and marketing strategist, and he teaches SEO and social media. Nick writes legal industry columns for Chicago Lawyer magazine regarding business and career development. Nick is an alumnus of Marquette University and The John Marshall Law School, where he is an active alumni board member. Connect via @NickAugustinePR, @APIFCharity and Nick Augustine PR.

What makes an attorney successful? Many noble lawyers define success by their impact on their clients. In business, growth and profit show success. Law practice is a service industry business and profit pays the bills. Lawyers with business backgrounds have an advantage in law practice if they know how to manage a business and make money. If you do not have the business background and want to learn additional skills to build your law practice, there are methods you can use to increase business skills sets. Building a business resource network is one way to learn from others.

The premise is simple. Invite a few strategic businesspeople to join your business resource network to exchange ideas and trouble-shoot challenges in service industry professions. Referrals can also arise from building trusted relationships with the members of your group. Some small groups meet on the phone and others get together in person. Establish a routine and meet frequently enough to “check in” but not so often it becomes a scheduling burden.

Invite people to your group who can offer diverse perspectives and experiences.

  1. Financial product dealers are valuable to any professional who wants to attract more clients. Many investment representatives knock on doors and call friends and neighbors to offer entry-level products such as life insurance. Of course, ethics rules address direct solicitation by attorneys; nevertheless, the experienced salesperson cannot teach a lawyer some new skills in speaking to groups and positioning to receive new business and referrals.
  2. Marketing professionals who can sell their value to a client, know how to identify the needs of a prospect, and can create a strategy to satisfy needs. Like the financial and insurance representatives, a marketing individual probably attends local chamber of commerce meetings and continuing industry education seminars highlighting new products and tools to develop and marketing campaigns. The competition is fierce in marketing, just like law, so a marketing consultant or provider can share insight with an attorney taking advantage of allowed marketing practices.
  3. Staffing and human resource consultants are helpful if you ever have questions about employment matters and managing staff. Using talent effectively and appreciating valuable skills sets takes time to learn, and a business resource network member who can answer questions will save everyone time and money.

Your network of business resource friends can include members of several other professions and industries. Developing a manageable network takes time and is worth the investment.

Appeals court reviews expert testimony

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 Chicago Lawyer magazine and her column appears regularly in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin. This week’s blog is written by Karen Munoz.

Any lawyer with an upcoming trial should put some time aside to review the Illinois Appellate Court case of Klingelhoets v. Charlton-Perrin 2013 IL App (1st) 112412. The opinion will be explored  over the following two entries, discusses opening and closing statements, the calling of certain witnesses, discussion of the cost of treatment and the verdict of a jury. The case arose from Defendant’s appeal against a jury verdict in favor of plaintiff for the amount of $713,601. The plaintiff in this matter was crossing the street via a crosswalk with a group of colleagues when defendant ran a red light and struck plaintiff. The defendant admitted liability. The plaintiff refused medical attention at the scene and went to dinner with friends. While at dinner she fell ill and went to the emergency room.

The defendant contends that the trial court made five errors in the course of the trial and that the verdict was contrary to the manifest weight of evidence and should have been vacated for a new trial. Defendant asserted that plaintiff made repeated and unfair attacks on her medical expert. The plaintiff’s counsel referred to the expert as a “hired witness” who “made a career out of this.” In the plaintiff’s closing argument, the expert’s work was described as “an assembly line of defense opinions and reports.” The plaintiff also described the expert as “riding the defense train” for the last several years. The appellate court stated that opening statements are meant to inform the jury of what the parties intend to prove at trial. No comment should be made therein that an attorney cannot or will not prove. Reversal based on improper comments made during opening and closing statements will only occur where comments have been made that deliberately result in substantial  prejudice to the opposing party such that the result of the trial would have been different had the comments not been made. The court stated that it is well-established that a party is afforded broad latitude in making their closing argument. The court found that the comments in this case did not cause any substantial prejudice against the defendant because they were all supported by fact in evidence before the jury. The court found that it was an undisputed fact that the expert was a “hired” witness. It was also true that the expert’s entire professional time was now devoted to reviewing medical cases; it was also true that 99 percent of the time, he works for defendants. No prejudice was found from these statements.

The court found that a remittitur should only be employed when a jury reward falls outside the range of fair and reasonable compensation, appears to be the result of passion or prejudice or is so large that it shocks the judicial conscience. The court found that the decision was not against the manifest weight of evidence. The court also found that the jury’s breakdown of its award was appropriate and in line with the evidence presented at trial.

A treacherous legal hypo about online defamation

Nick Augustine is a freelance writer, broadcaster, publicity and marketing strategist, and he teaches SEO and social media. Nick writes legal industry columns for Chicago Lawyer magazine regarding business and career development. Nick is an alumnus of Marquette University and The John Marshall Law School, where he is an active alumni board member. Connect via @NickAugustinePR, @APIFCharity and Nick Augustine PR.

You should be concerned with the dark side of social media communication. Not only are Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn potentially troublesome, blogs and emails are ripe for nefarious use. Are we a culture who pushes the envelope? What happens when we go too far? Does Himmel apply? During a planning phone call for an upcoming MCLE on point, I learned about a blog slamming local judges and attorneys. The accusations I saw were astounding and incendiary. What does a member of the bar do when they are targeted online?

Smear campaigns are not a new phenomenon but the ease in of distribution is compelling. Armed with enough SEO skills to be dangerous, a “watchdog” blogger can cause real trouble when they share negative content in their social media channels. If the title is catchy and enough people “like” and “share” the post, readers might assume the author is credible and the statements in the blog are true. Social communities like Facebook are ripe for gossip and public criticism.

Awareness of the issues and potential fallout can damage victims professionally and financially. Imagine the following hypo: Carol a rogue client, upset with the outcome of litigation, publishes and promotes a negative article about Alan, an attorney, and the article is full of factual misstatements and condemnations. Bob the businessperson knows and likes Alan and refers Roger for a legal consultation. The next day Roger searches for Alan and on the first page of the search results, he sees Carol’s angry article. Roger decides not to call Alan and instead calls Bob to let him know Alan might have some problems. Bob calls Alan about the comments online and despite Alan’s efforts at refuting the Carol’s bogus complaints; Bob seems to shy away from Alan.

What would you do as the lawyer when Alan calls you to seek your advice about a defamation claim against Carol? Did Alan and Carol execute an attorney/client contract? Did that agreement address social media communications? What If Alan and Carol entered an agreement with a clause indemnifying Alan from Carol in the event she caused Alan’s damages?

Add some more facts to the hypo involving Alan, Bob, Carol, and Roger: Alan starts posting comments on Facebook and Twitter that Carol’s article is defamatory and full of lies. Linda, a newly admitted lawyer has a friend who works at the same firm as Alan, the friend, who dislikes Alan, shares a copy of Carol’s article, and Linda discovers the article containing allegations of professional misconduct. Fearing she is obligated to report under Himmel, Linda sends the article to the ARDC. Discuss!

Bill on med-mal attorney fees goes to governor

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 Chicago Lawyer magazine and her column appears regularly in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin. This week’s blog is written by Karen Munoz.

HB5151 was recently passed by the House of Representatives. The bill containing a measure to cap attorney fees in medical malpractice cases was recently passed by the Illinois General Assembly. If the bill becomes law, attorney fees in medical-malpractice cases will be capped at one-third of a plaintiff award and lawyers will be barred from petitioning the court for higher fees. Under the current system, plaintiff attorneys in medical-malpractice cases can only seek fees of one-third of the first $150,000 of a medical malpractice award, 25 percent of the next $850,000 and 20 percent of any reward more than $1 million. These rules were perceived as being unfair as plaintiff attorneys in other types of personal-injury cases can seek one-third of an award, whereas attorneys in medical malpractice cases have these restrictions. The Illinois State Medical Society, which opposes this bill, has calculated that the bill would increase attorneys’ fees on a $10 million award in a medical-malpractice case from $2.06 million to $3.33 million.

The bill also re-enacts and repeals provisions of the Code of Civil Procedure in order to conform to two Illinois Supreme Court rulings of Best v. Taylor Machine Works 179 Ill.2d 367 (1997) and Lebron v. Gottlieb Memorial Hospital 237 Ill.2d 217 (2010) on medical malpractice reform. In Best, it was found that four provisions of the Civil Justice Reform Amendments of 1995, which made changes in tort recovery, liability and procedure, violated the Illinois Constitution. The Court found in Best that the unconstitutional provisions could not be severed from the act, so the act was rendered invalid. In Lebron, it was found that the caps on noneconomic damages in medical-malpractice cases violated the separation of powers. The Lebron suit alleged that the damages of a minor who suffered severe and permanent injuries due to the health care she received at birth would go beyond the cap. In finding that the provision violated the separation of powers, the court rejected the health-care provider’s claim that the statute was a valid exercise of the police powers upon finding the issue was not the wisdom of the law, but whether the law unduly infringed on the judiciary’s power.

Furthermore, the bill also includes a provision that would create a $250 million cap on the amount of money defendants in civil litigation against tobacco companies have to post as bond in order to appeal a ruling. The legislation, which was backed by ITLA, was approved by a margin of 67 to 46. The Bill now goes to Gov. Pat Quinn for his approval.

Best lawyers use better interpersonal communication skills

Nick Augustine is a freelance writer, broadcaster, publicity and marketing strategist and he teaches SEO and social media. Nick writes legal industry columns for Chicago Lawyer magazine regarding business and career development. Nick is an alumnus of Marquette University and The John Marshall Law School, where he is an active alumni board member. @NickAugustinePR, @APIFCharity and Augustine Legal PR.

Last week, I was talking to a friend who is a judge in a local domestic relations court. My friend expressed concerns about young attorneys and their perceived ability to communicate. Communication is a key component of law practice. The judge complained that motions and pleadings are poorly written and young counsel seem hesitant to pick up the phone and negotiate with opposing counsel, and instead only communicate through e-mail and text. Years ago, Stephen Hawking started talking about the dangers of reliance on technology and the breakdown of interpersonal human interaction. If we only speak through screens and mobile devices, we miss key components of what makes us successful.

Successful communicators know that interpersonal communication is contextual. Communication is more than the exchange of messages. When, in person, we can see another’s reaction to what we say. How are they sitting? Are they engaged? What fires up your opponent? The environment in which we interact can also affect the quality of an exchange. Attorneys meeting in an office during business hours can produce a more targeted discussion where the parties walk away from a memorable event.

Why does it all need to be an event? It doesn’t. There seems little reason to meet face-to-face to schedule or manage housekeeping. When it comes to major decisions, however, the benefits of interpersonal meetings as events outweigh the efficiency savings of an e-mail or letter exchange.

Applied to law practice, using the domestic relations practitioners as examples, consider the importance of a real meeting of the minds among counsel when negotiating for a client. If you prepare and sit down with an opponent to discuss your client’s positions, you use all five senses. The more senses we engage, the better we will learn and commit to memory the various elements of the transaction. Look at communication like a transaction with multiple elements. The non-verbal contextual clues are elements, and when used like a poker player, these elements can be useful when you notice them.

Back to the concerned judge, I am not sure why the quality of writing suffers, but if I had to point a finger, the 140-character impact might be to blame. Do we lose meaning when we do not complete a sentence? Do abbreviations dilute meaning? My advice to the new classes of legal writers: Learn how to be concise but outline your points and offer quality evidence and authority in your writing where possible. Legal writing is mechanical and follows mathematic-like rules. When writing, show your math and write clearly, because, IMHO, the judge isn’t likely 2 LOL at UR OMG allegations and IDK replies.

Gun debate rages on

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 Chicago Lawyer magazine and her column appears regularly in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin. This week’s blog is written by Karen Munoz.

The issue of gun control has become one of the most important issues of public debate in light of the series of mass shootings in 2012, particularly the tragic Sandy Hook massacre. However, the debate on gun control was already in full swing in Illinois when the Sandy Hook school shooting occurred.  The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in early-December that Illinois’ ban on carrying a gun in public was unconstitutional. The court declared that the Second Amendment confers a right to bear arms for self-defense, which was said by the majority to be as important outside the home as inside. Until that point, Illinois was the only state to not have some form of a concealed carry provision in place. The court gave the state 180 days before the decision will be returned to the lower house to be implemented. This time period is designed to enable the legislature to take action upon the ruling.

The debate on gun control suddenly took on a new life on Dec. 14 when 20 children, along with 6 adults, were gunned down in their classrooms in Newtown, Conn. The focus in Illinois has now shifted to our elected officials and what actions they will take in order to prevent a similar disaster from occurring in this state. Attorney General Lisa Madigan submitted a motion asking that the 7th Circuit hear the matter en banc.   Madigan claims that the decision goes beyond what the U.S. Supreme Court has held and also conflicts with decisions by two other federal appellate courts. However, Madigan’s request does not affect the 180-day timeline for the drafting of a new law. The appellate court ruled that the state had not made a strong enough case that a gun ban was vital to public safety. In order to succeed at any potential rehearing, the state will have to address this matter in more detail.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently announced that he would introduce an ordinance on the matter of gun control after state lawmakers failed to reach agreement on the matter. The mayor has yet to give details on what he plans to do, but it is expected that he will address the issues associated with lost or stolen guns. Emanuel may take cue from current guidelines in New York. In order to purchase a gun in New York, you need photo identification, must give fingerprint samples, have four character witnesses and disclose any drug use or any history of mental illness. If you are business seeking to purchase a gun for protection, you have to submit your business tax returns, bank deposit slips and payroll information. Permits to own a gun in New York expire after 3 months.

While we cannot be sure of the shape any new gun control measures will take, we can be sure they the measures will be challenged in courts. In any event, we are just at the beginning of a long, arduous and emotive process.

A new year for goals

Tom Ciesielka is President of TC Public Relations (www.tcpr.net). Tom has more than 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 is on the Public Affairs Committee of the Chicago Bar Association, where he has spoken at CLE programs. Reach him at tc@tcpr.net.

Now that the new year has arrived, it’s time to set promotional goals for you and your firm so that you’ll stay on track throughout the year. Avoid regret later in the year when you realize that you haven’t done anything to promote yourself by starting out with at least one of the following goals below:

1 – Evaluate your website and update your bio. During the past year, you probably had more speaking engagements, new clients and wrote fresh articles and blog posts. Look at your website to see if your information reflects your latest accomplishments, and change it if it seems outdated. Even if you don’t have an appearance or article planned yet, update your bio while you still have time. That way, you won’t have to worry about it when a speaking or writing opportunity comes up. This is advice I’ve followed myself; I recently updated my bio because I realized that my focus had changed, and there were presentation topics I’d covered that were not included in my previous bio.

2 – Decide which social media is right for you. Social media websites and apps are constantly being introduced, so it’s understandable that you might feel overwhelmed by it all. If you feel like you need to change your social media promotional strategy, now is the time to do it, while the year is still fresh. You might find that you can get rid of something or add something new. For instance, if you’ve been advised to create a Twitter account but are having a hard time maintaining it because your LinkedIn discussions are getting more attention and responses than your tweets, delete your Twitter account. Be honest about what’s working for you, and how much time you have; you don’t have to be everywhere online if it isn’t effective.

3 – Create a calendar. I’ve talked about creating a publicity calendar before, and it really works. It keeps you consistent and helps enhance your reputation because you’re implementing your publicity plan throughout the year.

4 – Repurpose. You probably created new content last year. Instead of spending the time to create even more new content this month, look at what you’ve already done and “recycle” it as a blog post, video, or even as an infographic on a social media site. If you’d like to get ideas on how to repurpose an article you’ve written, for instance, see the post I did here about 10 ways to do that.

I’m still in the process of setting my goals for this year, but so far, I feel good that I at least created a promotional calendar, updated my bio, and arranged an article and speaking engagement for later this year. We’re all busy, but it’s still important to set goals, or else our publicity plan will fall by the wayside.