May It Please The Court
Quote of the Day - At the Billboard Awards my skirt was so tight they had to lift me on stage.
MIPTC and C2C Take A Bow
MIPTC would like to thank the infamous and anonymous "Ed." (which I've always presumed stood for "Editor," not "Edward" or "Edwina," but only his/her hairdresser knows for sure), the publisher of the Blawg Review for naming MIPTC the winner of two awards, Best Blog by a Practicing Attorney and Best Law Blog Design. The latter award was also granted to the Optional Design Group and Neurosity Productions, who are responsible for MITPC's blog design and site development/maintenance, respectively, and the real power behind this blog.
Coast to Coast also took home an award from Blawg Review for Best Legal Podcast, an award I share with my co-host Bob Ambrogi and our producers, the Legal Talk Network. Dennis Kennedy was likewise kind enough to name Coast to Coast the winner of the 2006 Blawggie Award for Best Legal Podcast. The ABA Journal recently named our weekly podcast as one of the Top Ten In Tech for 2006 in its December issue.
MIPTC commends your further reading of Dennis' and the Blawg Review posts, both of which acknowledge many other fine bloggers out there who earned laurels, too, and deserve their kudos.
But like Time magazine's Person of the Year, you, the readers of all these blogs, are the real winners. Congratulations to all.
Here's An Impossible Task For The Supreme Court: Phony Ads or Real Ads?
Let me explain that headline. Just before Christmas, the District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia decided the case of Wisconsin Right to Life v. Federal Election Commission, which involved the McCain-Feingold law. That law prevents companies and groups from using unrestricted money to run advertisements that name candidates either two months before a general election or one month before a primary.
The Court walked a tight line to find that the WRTL ads did not run afoul of the law, essentially loosening the restrictions of the law. Judge Roberts (not Justice), however, spent eight pages in his dissent disagreeing with the majority decision, and stated his belief that the ads may have been designed to influence a Senate election, spark litigation or on the other hand amounted to genuine ads.
I don't know about you, but any law that limits the number of ads around the time of election campaigns is fine with me, no matter what side of the fence they fall on or which candidate they endorse. There are more than enough ads already jamming the radio and TV and littering the newspapers and Internet. If you have any doubt, then think back to what your street corner looked like back in October. Remember those campaign posters? Ugh.
This decision, however, gets an automatic punt to the U.S. Supreme Court. To uphold the 2-1 decision, the nine justices would be required to figure out a test to distinguish genuine issue ads from fake ones.
MIPTC's vote: overturn this lower court decision and ban the ads. It would relieve the populace from the onslaught of election ads that no one pays attention to anyway.
It Was An Honor, Mr. President
There will be many tributes to Gerald Ford, and ones by people more important than me, to be sure. Let me add a personal note, however, to honor the people's President. In one part of his very full life, President Ford served as the Honorary Fundraising Chairman of the Bighorn Institute in Palm Desert, California, near where he lived. It was a cause close to his heart: ensuring the survival of our country's natural resources, and a particularly noble one at that - the Desert Peninsular Bighorn Sheep. It started with a lone biologist with a goal to restore the species to health.
A massive die-off of the herd had occurred, reducing the population of Bighorn to levels considered barely survivable for the species as a whole. Jim DeForge, a biologist working on his masters degree, had come to the desert some twenty-five years ago to study the Bighorn for his thesis, only to discover the die-off. He suddenly became motivated to find the reason for the die-off, and in the process began what is now a world-renowned research institute dedicated to Bighorn Sheep, thanks in large part to President Ford. During DeForge's research, he found a nearly dead lamb and was trying vainly to save it when a friend of the President's happened upon DeForge, and put him in touch with a doctor who immediately helped administer emergency aid, and nursed the lamb back to health. The President heard of the event not only from his friend, but also his doctor, who had helped save the lamb.
With the efforts of the three of them, the Bighorn Institute was formed, and President Ford helped raise funds for the organization, and added legitimacy to the lone biologist's effort. That organization now boasts one of the most effective charitable Board of Directors in the posh desert area around Rancho Mirage. I can attest to that statement, having had the experience of interacting with the President on that Board.
Just a few years after its inception, the Institute got sued in a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) suit for speaking its mind against a development immediately to the North (link has sound) of its seven-acre ram pen and 30-acre ewe, yearling and lamb pen. The development threatened to place homes and noise less than 50 yards away from the pens, adding stressors to the environment where Bighorn isolated themselves from the world to give birth to lambs. DeForge had discovered that too many Bighorn deaths occurred during the time period immediately after birth, when the lambs were no longer connected by umbilical cords to their mother's immune system, to the time mother's milk helped the lambs develop their own immune system.
Another friend of the President, who also sat on the Board, brought in his law firm to defend the Institute. I was lucky enough to be one of the lawyers assigned to the case. During the course of my representation of the Institute, the Board required me to provide quarterly reports to them regarding the status of the litigation. As a former member of the military, clearance to attend the Board meetings wasn't much of an issue, but the Secret Service nonetheless checked me out before I attended my first meeting.
At that first presentation, I had been in practice less than five years, but President Ford, a lawyer himself, treated me like an equal, and engaged me in discussions like any fellow lawyer would have. He was articulate, insightful, and very analytical. Frequently, what I had been asked to provide (a five-minute presentation) turned into a half-hour or forty-five minute discussion, with President Ford helping develop strategies for the lawsuit. He helped turn the case from one where the Institute initially found itself on the defense to one where the Institute not only recovered its fees and costs, but also furthered its already-established endowment fund. I had been lucky enough to glimpse for a brief moment what I imagine the experience of the give-and-take between a president and his attorney general.
After the litigation finished, the Board asked me to join as a member, and I had the privilege of working with a giving and caring man who was not only a brilliant strategist and a fierce leader, but also a wonderfully dedicated philanthropist. President Ford will be missed by all who knew him, even if only for a brief moment in the scheme of a 93-year testament to dedication and devotion to duty. His legacy will long be remembered by those who knew him, and appreciated by Bighorn that can't say thank-you.
MIPTC's Christmas Letter: Come Back With A Warrant
No Surprises Here
MIPTC received several, long-winded and sometimes boringly similar Christmas letters (you know who you are) this year. I dutifully put each one in the round file. Only a search warrant will get me to give them up again. But in the spirit of the holiday, here's MIPTC's take on this justifiably maligned and misguided holiday tradition (looking from a different perspective on family and friends):
It's been a busy, but perhaps not too surprising a year for everyone here at the blog. With the top lawyer in the country now charging over $1,000 per hour, MIPTC's fees look like a bargain. But money aside, here's how things stack up for lawyers. MIPTC's friends on Supreme Court have mostly had a yawner of a term. Think about it: the most riveting decision so far has been on patent law. Even with the addition of supposed conservatives Roberts and Alito, which almost everyone expected to swing decisions more to the right, it's been a boring year so far. You have to wonder, though, what happened in that Guantanamo Bay decision against Rumsfeld?
Congress has been busy, too, changing the laws so fast my head was spinning. There are entirely new Bankruptcy laws, E-discovery and Federal Civil Procedure laws, proposed new immigration laws and heck, even a new Congress. Voters not only funded full employment for Congressional office interior decorators, but also for political hacks. Lobbyist Jack Abramoff went to jail, and probably saved many potential others in Congress from the same fate.
The Executive Branch hasn't shied away from change, either. We've got a new Secretary of Defense, and superstar political candidates for the Oval Office, if you can believe People magazine. I guess the next President will become the next celebrity. What's next? A Presidential Talent Agent? Imagine that headline: "________ (insert your favorite candidate's name here) gets off the couch and into the race." And how many times have you heard an apology for getting in the way from a friend who got shot in the face? Just doesn't happen. OK, maybe it did.
Then there's the legal business world, which has given the government a run for its money. Literally. We've seen scandals over backdating stock options and for the first time lawyers have had targets painted on them (just kidding about that "first time" part). It seems like more corporate lawyers have resigned over these scandals than CEOs. Then again, we have Hewlett Packard spying on the company's board of directors. Didn't anyone tell them you're supposed to spy on competitors? They must have missed that class in MBA school. If they would have been paying attention, they would have offered to sell new laptop batteries to Dell customers. Missed opportunities, I guess.
But remember, all's well in the business world again. Martha's out of jail and back in the kitchen. Now if we could only get Rosie off TV. Speaking of Rosie, how about Miss USA and The Donald? (link has sound) Now there's a pair who deserve each other.
Some businesses took a hit this year. With the movie "Supersize Me" in mind, several fast-food outlets had unfortunate E. Coli outbreaks, leading Jay Leno to joke that Taco Bell added "Chile Con Coli" to its menu.
Sports haven't left the news yet, either. Thankfully, USC lost the BCS match this year, and MIPTC's University of Iowa plays in the Alamo Bowl. Hawkeyes will take any excuse to get away from the frozen hinterlands, if even only for the New Year's day game. As long as we're talking cold, remember Bode Miller (link has goofy sound), who skied his own way out of the Olympics? Even perennial hopeful Michelle Kwan disappointed skating fans. But we weren't without high points in his past sports year. Perhaps the most notorious sports event of the year was Zidane's head butt in World Cup boxing (I mean soccer).
Since we're in the S's, let's talk science. My friend Pluto got demoted from the Solar System. Now he's just a far away rock, despite his rock-star status in the LAX airport, where posters proclaim that everyone in the US has enough airline miles to fly back and forth to the former planet some 77 times. Now no one wants to go there, and Pluto's depressed. Things back on Earth have fared slightly better, at least initially.
With Hurricane Katrina in the record books, the entire East Coast gave thanks at the end of this year's season that no significant hurricanes made landfall. With one weather season down, though, we're not out of the woods yet. We've had plenty of snow to start off the year, and right in time for Christmas Denver International Airport once again lived up to it's nickname for its famously delayed opening: "Doesn't Include Airplanes" when some 2,000 planes were grounded this Christmas Eve.
While the weather occupies everyone else in the country, out here in Hollyweird, celebrities have likewise given MIPTC plenty to think about. We've had tirades from Mel Gibson and Michael Kramer. Pastor Ted Haggard, who preached about the evils of sex and sin, was dutifully outed by a male escort. I got tears in my eyes just thinking about Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart. In the sad commentaries department (with a hat tip to my good friend, Bruce MacEwen), Google reported that "Brittany Spears" was the most searched term in 2006. Parents, be warned. Get your own My Space.
And here's one celebrity observation that only MSNBC's Alex Johnson could write: "Pamela Anderson married Kid Rock before deciding she had room for only two boobs in her life." I'm shocked.
Finally, and just when you thought there's be no new surprises, Microsoft announced it found a flaw in Windows Vista.
A boring 2006? I rest my case.
Here's my favorite postscript to this story: Instead of focusing on the bad news, try out some good news for a change. Another wonderful source: DarynKagan.com, hosted by the former news anchor from CNN, who's launched a new take on the news (link has video and sound). Otherwise, if you just want to laugh about it: try Craig Ferguson.
Merry ChristmasMIPTC wishes you and yours a very Merry Christmas.
If You're Over 40, Have We Got A Feature For You
OK, I'll admit it. I wear bifocals. But it's just glasses right now because my optometrist won't give me a prescription for bifocal contacts. He says they're not really functional for someone like me, with vision approaching 20/700 and an astigmatism.
Can you believe that hogwash?
Anyway, I do have a pair of contacts that works for distance, but even then I have to wear reading glasses. You know, those silly little glasses that are on the rotating endcaps in drugstores. I just peer over the top to see far away, but to see up close, it's either those tiny glasses or trombone arms.
So, to accommodate not only me, but those of you (while you're certainly much younger than me, but still have the same problem reading up close), MIPTC is pleased to announce a new feature: a font size changer.
That's right. Right there above the skyscraper ad, you'll see A, A+ and A++. In the privacy of your own home or office, you can choose to make the font larger to make it easier to read. The feature modifies only the text of the post, not the other text on the site.
If that's not big enough, though, there's always our Text-only site.
Your Computer Can Bring You Into The 19th Century
You may wonder why do I need to know more about tech? You're thinking to yourself, how hard is this computer stuff? You're saying, "I can get email on my computer and I can even type my own documents in Word Perfect or Word. Heck, I surf the Internet and I occasionally text message my kids, too. What more do I need to know?"
You might even say, "I'm hip. I don't need to read this post."
Fine. Let's test that theory. But before we delve into what the intricacies of technology, let's just look at one of the most basic - and what you may assume to be probably the most non-computer-based devices in your office, the telephone. But don't get ahead of me here and jump to the immediate conclusion that I'm going to discuss technology you already use such as VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol).
Since you already know all about how to save money by using VOIP and other telephone software-based programs like Skype, Peerio and Microsoft's Office Communicator , I'll leave that to a later article.
So let's look at some practical advice that can save you thousands of dollars with a comparatively small investment. First, however, let me set up the problem. If you've been practicing law for a while, you've likely suffered through at least one telephone system replacement and the painful training that came along with it. You know exactly what I'm talking about: that laminated little card they gave you with the directions on how to use the hold button, park and retrieve a call from somewhere else in the office and that foreign language section on the conference feature.
My bet is that you don't even know where that laminated card is located in your desk, you can't pick up a call in your office when the incoming call was answered elsewhere, and it's a hopeless effort to even begin to figure out how to make a conference call.
If you're at all like me and most of the lawyers in my office, you'll grudgingly admit your receptionist is about the only person who can passingly perform these functions. Maybe you can put a call on hold (it's that red button on the phone), but that's about it.
Before our office installed computer software to control our telephones, I was a confirmed Telephone Luddite. When I set up a conference call, I dropped everyone when I pushed the conference button and mostly ended up talking to myself. Picking up a parked call was about as likely as me successfully launching a probe to land on Mars.
I could convert gallons in Metric measurements to liters in English measurements easier than I could operate the office telephone, and my last math class was differential equations in college. Even so, I figured the rocket science of telephone conference calls was best left to the people at JPL. At least they could land a probe on Mars, couldn't they?
Well maybe not, but trust me on this one, with telephone software installed on your computer, you'll not only be able to master these complicated functions of hold, park and conferencing, but you'll also avoid buying another telephone hardware system again. When they invent new features for the phone, all you'll have to do is download the software update, not replace your phones.
Moreover, if you're buying a telephone system, you don't have to buy expensive, complicated and feature-laden phones that comes complete with five-page laminated cards of instructions. With telephone software, everything is right there on your computer screen and can be displayed with the click of a mouse.
Here's the solution we've found. We've installed a software program from Artisoft called Televantage on our firm's servers and workstations. When a call comes in, a box pops up on my computer screen and shows me who is calling and allows me to control it with my mouse. I can send it to voice mail, transfer it to someone else and even conference in other callers. By right-clicking on the box that displays the call, all of those options pop up in an easy-to-understand menu, allowing me to choose any one of those features right there on my monitor, which is thousands of light-years from wherever that laminated card is in my desk.
If a call goes into voice mail, then the computer saves it as a Windows media file so I can listen to it on my computer speakers. If I want, I can send that voice mail message to someone else by email. If I'm on a call with someone else, I can even play that voice mail message into the call and the caller and I can both listen to all of it or just a part of it. I can even record the call I'm on (with all participants' permission, of course), and the computer again saves the recording as a Windows media file.
The computer program even integrates with our firm's contact database so even if the person who calls does not use Caller ID, our computer still associates the incoming telephone number with our contact database, and displays the caller's name. If I'm in the contact database and looking at a person's contact information, then I just click on the telephone number and the computer dials the telephone for me. All I have to do is pick up the handset and talk.
Conferencing no longer strikes fear into my heart. I simply right-click on the call displayed on my screen, which causes a menu to pop up. I then just click on the conference button. Another screen pops up next asking me who I want to call. I can either type in a telephone number or use the letter keys to type a name and then tell the computer to dial it for me. When the call is dialed, I can speak with the new caller first and easily decide when to add the new caller into the original call by looking at the prompts on my computer screen. It's no longer the black-hole mystery it used to be.
Since the software is computer-based, others in the office can see whether I'm on the phone by opening the software program on their workstation. If I'm on a call, then the other attorneys and staff members can see that fact on their computer monitor. I can set my status as "Do Not Disturb" or any number of other messages, including "On Vacation," "Out of the Office," and "Out to Lunch" even if I'm not on the telephone.
Not only are these features available on my individual workstation, but they also work from any other workstation in the office, and I easily and visually can park a call elsewhere and then pick it up in my office. For example, if I've picked up a call elsewhere in the office and need to move to my office to complete the conversation, I can park the call either on the computer screen or on the actual telephone and then once I get back to my office, pick up the call just by looking at my computer monitor and clicking on it with my mouse.
If I'm out of the office, then other office personnel can likewise see that fact on their workstations and easily click on the display of my cellular phone and transfer the call to me by clicking on the dialog box that shows my cell phone. After hours, I can even set the software to have phone calls "follow me" when the office is closed. The software will first try my cell phone, then home phone and in sequence any other phone number I may have listed.
If I forget to set the software to redirect calls before I leave the office, then I can remote in and change the settings at any time of the day or night. The remote feature also allows me to play my telephone messages through any computer anywhere in the world. No longer do I have to dial in and try to remember whether to push the pound button or push the star button and enter my password. It's all easily visible on my computer. The old-fashioned way still works, too, but it seems much more intuitive to see it on a computer screen.
The real benefits of this system are both its ease of use and reliance on computer-based systems. If you can navigate your way around a computer, then you won't need any training how to use it. The system also drives right to the bottom line. You'll never have to replace your phones again. The updates keep your system current and add new features as they come out.
To use this system, you will need a dedicated computer server to handle routing of calls, standard multi-line business telephones (a.k.a. "dumb" terminals) and the Artisoft. The cost can vary in direct proportion to the number of telephone lines, telephones and size of your office, but basic, beginning systems can be purchased for around $15,000 - $20,000.
More than anything else, however, the benefit of the system for me is the satisfaction of finally having mastered that most basic function of the telephone: successfully making a conference call without dropping the participants from the conversation, and saving money while you do it.
Step Into The World Of Document Management
Are you still using Windows Explorer to electronically file your documents? Are you still searching through the "tree" on your computer's hard drive to find computer files of documents you've drafted for your clients?
Certainly "still" could be viewed as pejorative here, but I mean it more in the literary sense of foreshadowing. You see, there are other ways. Much better ways. Using the tree method to find your documents is cumbersome and inefficient, but there are several software programs out there that will change the way you use your computer system like night is to day.
This software category is known as document management, and these programs will allow you to search for a single word across all of your documents, and then report back to you with every document that ever mentioned that word. Say, for example, you have to file a Writ of Attachment for one of your new clients. You remember that last year you wrote one that would make a good exemplar, but you can't remember either when or which client, and now you can't find it no matter how hard you've searched.
With a document management program, you simply enter the word "attachment" into the search box, and within seconds, the program will present you with the Writ of Attachment you filed last year and viola you're off to the races. These programs allow you to categorize documents by client, client matter, author, date drafted, date revised, type of document and an entire host of other choices.
You're beginning to see the light, and once you make the switch, you won't understand how you ever managed to practice law without document management. In just four years, our law firm has amassed more than 75,000 separate documents. Without document management, we'd never find a thing.
There are a wide variety of programs, ranging in price from free to several hundred dollars a seat (user), and corresponding amounts of features that they provide. Google offers a free desktop search engine, and while it's fairly efficient, it lacks any substantive features. If budget is a concern, then you can find Google's search engine here.
For those interested in performance and ease of use, there are several other programs available. Worldox, iManage and Hummingbird. While my firm uses Worldox, many others use both iManage and Hummingbird. Unlike the other two, Hummingbird manages your documents off-site in a secure location. Worldox and iManage are internal to your law firm.
Worldox requires its own server and is fairly robust, and offers a companion program called Worldox Web, which allows your clients access to their documents on the Internet through a double-passworded system. Our clients love to be able to access their entire file 24/7/365, and while the client's paper file certainly belongs to them, we charge a small access fee for this additional service. Many large firms use iManage and find the program to be very suitable for their needs.
Don't restrict your thinking, however, to just documents. These document management systems organize every type of computer file from Adobe files to emails to pictures, and everything in between. If you're looking to make one improvement to your computer system this year, then document management is probably the best place to start. For a relatively small investment, you'll recover the cost in time saved.