Our blog has moved, and is new and improved.

You should be automatically redirected in 3 seconds. If not, visit
and update your bookmarks.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Now accepting Up and Coming Attorney award nominations

Minnesota Lawyer is currently accepting nominations for its annual "Up and Coming Attorneys" awards honoring newer members of the bar who have distinguished themselves in some fashion during their first 10 years of practice.

We consider all kinds of lawyers -- litigators, transactional, in-house, etc. -- just be sure to spell out specifically why they are worthy of recognition by listing out their accomplishment(s), be it a big case, a well-done transaction, taking on a leadership position, etc.

Nominations are due next Friday, Feb. 22. Click here for nomination form.

Minnesota takes a breather from the big firm salary wars

It hasn't escaped the notice of younger members of the bar that there is a significant lag in starting salaries offered by big Minnesota law firms as compared to their counterparts in larger markets on the East and West Coasts. (See "Big firms in Minn. are surrendering in the salary wars" in Minnesota Lawyer, password required.)

Many might think it's a bunch of whining given that fledgling lawyers can still fetch $120K/year at the largest Twin Cities-based firms. (After hitting the $120K point last year, there has been little upward movement in Twin Cities big firm salaries this year, despite the fact that bigger market firms are up to $160k and, in at least one case, $180K.) The $40K to $60K more new lawyers can make in a bigger market is no doubt a big deal to them. Heck, that's the price of a pretty nice car for every year they work at that other firm. Plus, their salary as second and third-year associates will increase at an exponentially greater rate. By the time they are partner in a big New York City firm, lawyers who opted for the bigger market will be clearing seven figures.

Of course there are tradeoffs. The big New York is more likely to be a meat grinder requiring lawyers to bill every passing breath to make their billable hour requirements. And there are those long commute times. Goodbye PTA meetings or coaching that little league team. Of course, even in Minnesota, the requirements of working at a big firm are no cake walk. There is just a bit more breathing room.

So does it matter that big firms here pay less? I think that it does to a degree. Loan-strapped law students would find the temptation of that extra cash from the large market difficult to pass up. Minnesota was never going to get top talent to come here specifically for the money, but if the differential gets large enough, homegrown top talent that would rather stay here may feel compelled to leave. With four law schools here pumping out grads, there will undoubtedly be plenty of smart folks happy to fill those big firm spots eschewed by those opting out of Minnesota. However, there is a certain stature to being a place that retains some of its very top prospects. We don't want to become the Minnesota Twins of the legal world.

In short, while I don't think we have to offer the same salaries as New York City and L.A. firms here, I think we have to be careful to remain within a competitive range nationally. Fortunately, at present, firms in bigger markets appear poised to take a time out in their salary wars, keeping Minnesota from losing any ground as it takes its own breather.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Minnesota Lawyer blog -- Valentine's Day edition

Seven years ago the Minnesota Court of Appeals grappled with what promised to be a very engaging question -- what was to become of a $24,000 ring after an engagement was broken?

The beau was a chiropractor who had struck up a romantic relationship with one of the employees at his clinic. One thing led to another, and they were engaged and moved in together. But, as you may have guessed from the intro to this post, things went south from there.

According to fiancee, the chiropractor began coming home late at night under the influence of alcohol “with lipstick on his face and clothes.” They broke up, but continued to work together. Not surprisingly, things got a bit dicey at the office, particularly when the ex-fiancee started dating someone else. After she went to Jamaica on vacation with her new paramour, the woman discovered that her old one had completely restructured her salary structure. She went from making $100K/ year guaranteed to about $25K/year on a productivity-based system. After a subsequent confrontation on another issue, the chiropractor fired his ex.

There was, of course, a lawsuit brought on a variety of grounds that are easy to imagine. All that that concerns me today is the part about the engagement ring. Who would get this rather pricey bauble? The allegedly philandering ex-boyfriend or the ex-fiancee who was suddenly in need of a job?

If you guessed the alleged philanderer ... give yourself a pat on the back. In Benassi v. Back & Neck Pain Clinic, Inc., the Court of Appeals determined the ring was a conditional gift given in contemplation of marriage. The marriage never having taken place, the ring must be returned. Pointing out that Minnesota is a no-fault divorce state, the court went on to find that fault does not enter into the equation in determining who gets the ring. The giver gets it back regardless of how boorish his behavior may have been. (The majority of jurisdictions would have determined ownership of the ring on the basis of fault.)

So bad boyfriends rejoice! And if that special someone should give you an engagement ring for Valentine's Day, we humbly offer the following piece of advice: Give them back a dollar as consideration. It's not romantic -- and a court probably wouldn't enforce "the contract" in the event of a breakup -- but in the words of Cupid, it's worth a shot.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Cases like Demond's make us appreciate public attorneys

A week like this is a good time to salute our public attorneys.

As more and more horrific details emerge about the beating murder of 4-year-old Demond Reed, and as the case eventually goes to trial, Hennepin County prosecutors and (presumably) public defenders will both have a grimy task on their hands.

Prosecutors will have to demonstrate to a grand jury that the boy’s caretaker, Carla Poole, should be convicted of first-degree murder, with traumatized children as their only witnesses; and her defense team will have to overcome Poole’s criminal record and Poole’s acknowledgment that she ignored Demond’s need for medical attention following his beating.

It all makes a private law practice, where one can pick and choose among promising clients, seem pretty cushy.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Expungement remedy now more ‘meaningful’

In a ruling that could go a long way toward ameliorating some of the collateral consequences of criminal convictions, the Court of Appeals has broadened the authority of the District Courts to expunge criminal records.

Under State v. V.A.J., released today, the court may expunge judicially created records that are maintained by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

The legal basis for the decision is the District Court’s inherent authority under State. v. Ambaye, a 2000 Supreme Court decision. Under Ambaye, the court may expunge its own records when the benefit to the petitioner from expungement balances the disadvantages to the public and the burden on the court.

The petitioner argued that the remedy was not meaningful unless it was extended to the BCA. In a decision written by Judge Renee Worke, the court recognized that in the Internet age, “the extent of judicial intrusion upon the functions of other branches in furnishing expungement remedies requires clarification and direction.”

Thus the appellate court determined that the trial court judge may expunge material generated as a result of a judicial proceeding -- offense, court of conviction, date of conviction, and sentence.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Don't mess with the Master of Middle Earth!

Let the case of Frodo Baggins, et al. v. New Line Cinema begin!

In case you haven't heard, the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien is suing the movie studio that made the three blockbuster films based on the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Apparently Tolkien’s heirs believe the film company did not deliver their full share of the profits. They are seeking $150 million in compensatory damages and an unspecified amount of punitive damages.

I have no idea how this suit started -- most likely with a writ of hobbitus corpus, I suppose. It doesn’t take the giant flaming eye of Sauron to see that each side thinks the other is being elfish … errr … selfish. I suggest they find a way to settle. Anyone who thinks Mordor is scary has never sat through a six-week long complex civil trial involving intellectual property. It's a system that would tax the patience of an Ent. And for pure terror value, facing down the nine Nazgul is nothing compared with going against the nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court if your case should proceed that far. Better to just jump into a crack in Mount Doom and be done with it.

It bears noting that Tolkien didn’t put any lawyers in Middle Earth. (Unless you count Gollum, who also went by the name Smeagol, which sounds suspiciously like "legal." Gollum/Smeagol is certainly smarmy enough to be the stereotypical lawyer -- and I can't be the only one who thinks he looks and acts like a senior partner or two at a Big Law Firm. "Let me see your time sheet, my preciousssss.") Most likely, the book is barren of barristers for a very sound reason -- Tolkien didn’t want to frighten his younger readers. Trolls? Orcs? Dragons? No problem. But a lawyer? A lawyer would ruin everything! How long before the lawyer would insist that all magic potions be FDA approved? Or that dwarves be paid overtime and receive hazard pay for working in the mines of Moria? The Nazgul would in short order be relegated to wearing seat belts. And poor Gandalf would have to stave off a lawsuit any time one of his fireball spells happen to cause collateral damage to some peasant's hut. It would be a nightmare! But I digress …

I think the studio needs to give the author’s heirs a ring and make a fair offer to settle. For how much should they offer to settle, you ask? For a Tolkien amount, of course.

Attorneys of the Year dinner slated for Feb. 21

A reminder to our faithful readers -- and even our unfaithful ones -- Minnesota Lawyer is having its annual Attorney of the Year celebratory dinner the evening of Feb. 21 at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Minneapolis. We have a great group of honorees this year representing many areas of practice (click here for the article), so come, show your support for some folks who have done a lot of good work this year. It's also a great chance to network with your colleagues. Heck, you can even meet the world-famous Minnesota Lawyer editorial staff!

We hope you can make it. To register or get more information about the event, click here.

Group challanges 'per diem' payments to lawmakers

Minneapolis attorney Erick Kaardal announced a press conference today at 2:00 p.m. at the State Capitol Rotunda for his client Citizens for Rule of Law. The lawsuit, filed today, seeks to stop “per diem” overcompensation to individual state legislators as a violation of the state and federal constitutions, according to a press release sent out this morning.

The defendants are: Senate Committee on Rules and Administration; House Committee on Rules and Legislative Administration; Senate Fiscal Services; House Budgeting and Accounting; and Compensation Council and State of Minnesota.

The press conference is part of Rule of Law Day at the Capitol sponsored by Citizens for Rule of Law and Neopopulism.org.

CLEs for pro bono work is a positive step

The Minnesota Supreme Court recently approved the granting of continuing legal education credits to lawyers who do pro bono work. The wording of the rule sparked a bit of a debate by leaving out service rendered on behalf of some Legal Services providers (click here for the Minnesota Lawyer article) -- and perhaps the rule needs to be tweaked a bit before it goes into effect in July -- but I think overall the concept is a good one.

Although some have resisted the rule, I respectfully disagree. I take issue with the idea that the classroom is the primary or even best place for learning (and I have a B.A., J.D. and M.B.A.!) Nothing can substitute for real-world experiences -- and I see no reason not to count some of that experience as "education" -- particularly when that experience is gained rendering aid to the needy. If a business lawyer wants to learn the ins and outs of juvenile law in order to help a child in need of protective services, why not "reward" him/her with a few paltry CLE credits? That lawyer is going to learn a lot more about CHIPS proceedings in the field than he/she would at a panel discussion on that same topic -- and he/she won't even get a bagel break!

The CLE debate reminds me of the law school debate. I have long thought that many schools concentrate too much on the classroom at the expense of experiential learning. Fortunately, there has been some positive change in this area in recent years -- with many law schools now offering a variety of clinical components presenting students with the chance to get real-world experience.

Kudos to the Minnesota Supreme Court for its willingness to allow CLE credit for experiential learning when it's done on public-interest work.