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Friday, November 9, 2007

Minnesota lawyers, law students legal staff rally for Pakistani lawyers

Approximately 20 lawyers, law students and legal workers gathered at a demonstration outside the United States Courthouse in Minneapolis at noon today to express support for Pakistani lawyers and oppose U.S. aid to Pakistan.

The event was organized by the Minnesota Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, responding to the call of the American Bar Association for the legal profession in the United States to support the rule of law in Pakistan and the restoration of Constitutional rule.

And the ‘practice group’ survey says…

A recent survey says that despite the time and money law firms invest in their practice groups, more than half of all managing partners and executive directors rate practice group performance overall as average or worse.

The survey -- released by ALM Research and Altman Weil -- reports on practice group structure, performance, operations, leadership, administration and marketing. Practice group operations show surprising deficiencies, according to the survey. More than 40 percent of groups report having no business plan, and more than 60 have no group marketing plan. Only slightly more than one-third of groups meet on a regular monthly basis.

In addition, marketing performance is dismal in most practice groups. When asked to rate their groups on the ability to market, develop new business, and cross-sell other practices, fewer than 20 percent of firm leaders rated their groups as “excellent” or “very good” on any one of those measures.

Practice group leaders have an important job, but little direction, limited professional support and almost no training according to the study.

I’m curious if our local law firm practice group leaders would agree with the results.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

KQRS lawyers are busy, so you should listen more

This image graces a billboard at Seventh and Portland in downtown Minneapolis, but it's just not working for me.

As you might remember, KQRS ticked off the American Indian community last month after "Morning Show" hosts suggested that genetics and incest are to blame for high suicide rates on the Red Lake Indian Reservation.

I thought it was a stupid thing to say. Tribal leaders said it was a stupid thing to say. And we all figured KQ's management agreed.

The station apologized for the comments and agreed to a host of concessions, such as allowing equal time for positive stories in tribal communities and airing announcements for a suicide hotline.

So what is this billboard really trying to say? (Other than shock jocks stopped being cool around the turn of the century, but we missed the memo.)

Here's the best I can come up with:
• KQ says dumb things
• Lawyers will defend the dumb things said on KQ
• You should listen to KQ more

Chino Latino billboards were at least clever. This one? Not so much.

MinnPost debuts with ... Melendez?

The much-touted (hyped?) MinnPost online news site debuted today at 11:00 a.m. The site is staffed by a number of veteran journalists -- many of whom are refugees of the newsroom "trimming" that has been occurring at the (once large) metro dailies.

So why are we mentioning the launch here on Minnesota Lawyer blog? Well, how could we not when the lead story of the just-launched new venture includes a photo of Minnesota State Bar Association President Brian Melendez (right). The story quotes Melendez wearing his other hat -- chair of the state's DFL.

The piece is entitled: "Right Now the D in DFL stands for debt." (Hmmm. Wonder what the "F" and "L" stand for then?) Former Star Tribune columnist Doug Grow wrote the story, which examines the financial situation of the DFL.

"How bad is it? Not nearly as bad as the rumor mill suggests," Melendez wrote in a memo quoted in Grow's story. "The Party's financial situation is cause for concern but not for alarm."

In the interest of balance, the article also says the GOP is struggling too. How about a follow-up story? I have a title to suggest: "Right Now the P in GOP stands for Pecuniary Problems." Oh wait, that wouldn't work. Never mind.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Murder case with local connection gets the ‘Fatal Vision’ treatment

A quarter-century ago, author Joe McGinniss wrote one of the most acclaimed crime-related books of all time, ‘Fatal Vision.’ The real-life story of Green Beret Capt. Jeffrey MacDonald, M.D. -- who in 1979 was convicted of the murder of his pregnant wife and his two young daughters – ‘Fatal Vision’ was made into a successful TV miniseries and raised the bar when it came to combining elements of reportage and prose in depicting a criminal case.

Now McGinniss has turned his focus to a case with a Minnesota connection. His newest book, ‘Never Enough,’ examines the case of Nancy Kissel, a former student at the University of Minnesota’s business school, who was jailed for life in Hong Kong for murdering her wealthy husband, allegedly so she could begin a new life with a Vermont television repairman.

Kissel, who recently broke her silence about the case, says McGinniss’s book about her case distorts the facts. Her attorneys say that if she wasn’t so focused on an appeal of her 2005 conviction, she would consider a defamation lawsuit.

‘Fatal Vision’ also drew fire from supporters of MacDonald who felt the book didn’t portray his side of the case fairly. Nonetheless, ‘Never Enough’ sounds like compelling fireside reading for fans of true-crime literature.

From the people who invented the common law -- 'daft' laws

Under the headline "Daft Laws," the United Kingdom's Undercurrents Video blog recently posted a ranking of the top 10 "most ridiculous" British laws. While the utility of this information is debatable at best, it's something to chuckle over as you sip on your morning tea and munch on your scone. Here are the results in order (enjoy!):

1. It is illegal to die in the Houses of Parliament;

2. It is an act of treason to place a postage stamp bearing the British king or queen's image upside-down;

3. It is illegal for a woman to be topless in Liverpool except as a clerk in a tropical fish store

4. Eating mince pies on Christmas Day is banned;

5. If someone knocks on your door in Scotland and requires the use of your toilet, you are required to let them enter;

6. In the UK a pregnant woman can legally relieve herself anywhere she wants, including in a policeman's helmet;

7. The head of any dead whale found on the British coast automatically becomes the property of the King, and the tail of the Queen;

8. It is illegal not to tell the tax man anything you do not want him to know, but legal not to tell him information you do not mind him knowing;

9. It is illegal to enter the Houses of Parliament wearing a suit of armour;

10. It is legal to murder a Scotsman within the ancient city walls of York, but only if he is carrying a bow and arrow.

UPDATE: Paul Fletcher, publisher of our very fine sister publication, Virginia Lawyers Weekly, and a blogger in his own right at the VLW blog, provides a link for those interested in learning more about the ludicrous laws. The rankings were derived from a poll of about 4,000 people voting on a list compiled by UKTV Gold researchers. Cheers!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Theft claims against lawyers dipped recently

The Minnesota Client Security Board only paid two claims at its last meeting, both on behalf of lawyers for whom the board had paid earlier claims. Not that I’m predicting a trend or anything, but a report where the board pays $6,000 for two lawyers is much preferable to the $67,117.41 paid for one lawyer last April and the $68,299.67 paid last January.

The CSB runs on a July to July fiscal year, so although the two payments so far this year are about $74,229, there’s still plenty of time for the board to catch up with its last two years of claims: $135,417 in FY 2007 (for only two lawyers) and $220,223 in FY 2006. However, there was about $2.7 million in the fund in June, 2007, so the board appears to be in solid shape.

The claims are paid in cases of lawyer theft, not negligence. In most cases the lawyers are suspended or disbarred, but sometimes they go on disability status, reminding us that mental illness and addiction are the roots of some of the thefts. We also should remember that many of the lawyers repay the CSB in full.

The fact that these claims have to be paid is disappointing, of course. However, it shouldn’t mask all the good work that is being done at CLEs and elsewhere to help lawyers avoid or treat the personal and professional pitfalls that can lead to lawyer dishonesty.

Monday, November 5, 2007

What Shakespeare really thought of lawyers

As you no doubt are well aware, Pakistan is the midst of a constitutional crisis. President Gen. Pervez Musharraf has imposed emergency rule as the nation awaits an imminent decision from the Pakistan Supreme Court on the validity of his recent re-election. The Star Tribune has a piece on this, Police in Pakistan clash with lawyers protesting the state of emergency; media in stranglehold. The following is a quote from the Strib story:

Though public anger was mounting in the nation of 160 million people, which has been under military rule for much of its 60-year history, demonstrations so far have been limited largely to activists, rights workers and lawyers. All have been quickly and sometimes brutally stamped out.
For years lawyers have been trying to explain to the public what William Shakespeare meant with the oft-cited quote from Henrey VI, part 2: "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers."

Over the years, the sentence has turned into a one-liner, but it's actually an ominous warning. When individuals or groups want to impose a dictatorship or create anarchy, the lawyers will be the first to line up against them -- and possibly get mowed down as a result. Unfortunately, what is happening in Pakistan provides a living example for those who need it. Let's hope nothing here ever puts our system of constitutional government to such a serious test.

Freeman speaks out on recent high court decision

Speaking of interesting quotes (see post below), Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman (on right) had one in a story Minnesota Lawyer published today ("Clergy criminal assault law survives challenge").

Freeman was, of course, pleased that Minnesota Supreme Court did not strike down the law that makes it a crime for clergy members to have sex with a person who is seeking or receiving “religious or spiritual advice, aid, or comfort in private.” However, the court went on to give the defendant in that case -- a priest convicted of having sex with two woman parishioners -- a new trial. The high court found that the admission of certain evidence of religious practice and customs during the trial violated the Establishment Clause.

After consulting his trial team, Freeman felt that the defense had not made sufficient objection to the admission of the offending evidence at trial to preserve the issue for appeal.

“This Supreme Court has too often reversed cases for conduct not objected to below. We don’t think that is a good practice," said Freeman, who may file for a rehearing. (The defense attorney maintains that sufficient objection was made at trial in this case.)

In any event, it is highly unusual for a county attorney to make such a strong public statement taking the high court to task.

By the way, the case is State v. Bussmann.

Massive Valdez verdict remains slippery for Faegre

Even when you finally get to sink your harpoon into the great white whale, it usually takes a while for your diligence to pay off. The bigger they are, the harder they fall, after all.

Witness poor Faegre & Benson attorney Brian O'Neill (picture on right). O'Neill is mentioned in today's Star Tribune for his representation of Alaska fishermen and residents in the lawsuit against Exxon Mobil Corp. over the infamous Valdez oil spill nearly two decades ago.

Originally, O'Neill's clients were awarded $5 billion in punitive damages. That amount was lowered to $4 billion, raised to $4.5 billion and lowered back down to $2.5 billion in the tortuous history of post-trial wrangling. Now the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case in order to to decide if $2.5 billion is an appropriate award.

O'Neill definitely is a contender for quote of the week for putting the lengthy litigation into perspective: "I was 41 when I started this case and now I'm 60," he told the Strib.

It might be OK that O'Neill could be retirement age before his firm gets its cut. The fee is likely to be one of the largest in state history unless the punitive-damage award is completely eviscerated. One can only imagine what O'Neill's share would be if Faegre does indeed get a nine-figure payday out of this. It almost certainly would be enough to retire on -- you know, once you add in Social Security and all ...