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Friday, August 8, 2008

Some free advice from a professional consultant

During one of the seminars at the “Strategic Solutions for Solo and Small Firms” conference in Duluth earlier this week, professional consultant Bob Strommen offered attendees some thoughts that I think are worthy of being repeated and passed on to a wider audience.

Strommen talked about the importance, especially for professionals, of not taking themselves too seriously and of taking time to stop and enjoy life. He explained that sometimes we get so wrapped up in ourselves and our work that we forget to enjoy our surroundings. “Life is pretty short,” he said, encouraging attendees to relish their time here and to learn to laugh at themselves.

Attorneys, in particular, should appreciate their value, according to Strommen. “And realize that you have something incredible to offer to your clients -– and that is your compassion, your heart, and your ability to listen.”

Thursday, August 7, 2008

ACLU to hold training session on representing RNC protestors

Local lawyers will have the opportunity to hone their Constitutional law skills during an ACLU-sponsored seminar to give volunteer attorneys the information required to effectively represent arrested protestors during the 2008 Republican National Convention.

The session will be held on Aug. 19 from 9:00 a.m. to noon at Fredrikson & Byron in Minneapolis. Speakers iclude ACLU President Nadine Strossen, two District Court judges and several attorneys.

“Now more than ever, we need skilled attorneys to ensure that freedom of speech is protected during the Convention and that arrestees receive immediate and effective representation so their rights are not curtailed,” said Chuck Samuelson, executive director of the ACLU-MN in a press release.

For more info, click here.

Raising the Bar

My profession must be boring.

It's not a dirty job or a dangerous job. I don't build anything and I don't blow anything up. Outside of late-night Murphy Brown reruns, journalism's only appearance on television is in the failing Quantum Leap-rip-off Journeyman.

But legal dramas are second only to police dramas in primetime fame. And this fall, TNT premiere's yet another—Raising the Bar.

Don't groan. Unlike Canterbury's Law, this one actually has promise.

Raising the Bar will follow former law school classmates who now face off against one another as prosecutors and public defenders. Unexplored territory, to be sure, since outside of the occasional win on Law & Order, public defenders are the universal pariahs of television.

And then there's the cast: Gloria Reuben from ER and Jane Kaczmarek from Malcolm in the Middle. But wait… who's that guy in the middle?

Your eyes do not deceive you—that's Mark-Paul Gosselaar. Even though his bio lists him as an NYPD Blue actor, we all know him as Zack Morris from Saved by the Bell.

Plus, David Feige, the author of Indefensible, is co-producing it.

Raising the Bar premieres at 9 p.m. Monday, Sept. 1, on TNT. It might be just the thing for our post-Olympic hangovers.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Creation of economic equality council calls for the right leader

Following of decades of struggle and inequality in the assignment of city-managed contracts, St. Paul has created a new city department that aims to make city contracts more accessible to owners of firms from traditionally underrepresented communities.

The creation of the Department of Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity will bring together civil rights enforcement; contract analysis and procurement; contract monitoring, investigation, and enforcement; and capacity building and workforce development under one roof. At the moment, those services are spread between four departments with little overlap and coordination.

A recent audit found that less than 7 percent of $220 million worth of contracts in 2006 went to minority- and female-owned businesses.

The new department, which will open its offices next year, has started the search process for a director. The 13-member search committee -- which includes St. Paul attorneys Tene Davis and A.L. Brown, along with former St. Paul deputy mayor Susan Kimberly and St. Paul NAACP head Nathaniel Khaliq -- plans to solicit public input on the selection process during a meeting tomorrow.

It seems there might be plenty of attorneys whose backgrounds not only in contract work but work on behalf of disenfranchised communities might make them worth a look. Regardless, the search process for the director (which the committee hopes to complete by January) ought to be interesting.

Solo and small firm conference a success

I just returned from the fourth annual solo and small firms seminar in Duluth.

The two-day conference, officially dubbed “Strategic Solutions for Solo and Small Firms 2008” and sponsored by Minnesota CLE, has become almost a “must attend” for many of the state’s solo and small firm practitioners. The event offered informative CLEs, networking opportunities, good food and family friendly events like a barbeque, a train ride and a tall ship tour. To top it all off, the weather was fantastic!

Everyone I talked to -- from first-time attendees to those who had been to them all -- enjoyed the conference. They all agreed that the event is a great way to meet other solo and small firm attorneys and get a bunch of CLE credits at a reasonable price.

Kudos to Minnesota CLE for another great seminar!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Ex-Wisconsin justice: 'A seat on the court was bought'

From our sister publication in Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Law Journal:

On his first day as a former justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, Justice Louis B. Butler, Jr., addressed the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, which was holding its 50th annual convention in Milwaukee on Aug. 1.

Discussing the loss of his seat to Justice Michael Gableman in April, for the first time since the election, Butler laid the blame with Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce. He said the election sent a chilling message to judges: “Do not vote against business interests; and if you do, avoid having represented criminal defendants at any time in your career.”

Butler traced his defeat to three civil cases decided in 2005: the Miller Park case, which lowered the threshold for awarding punitive damages; the Ferdon case, which struck down the cap on medical malpractice damages for pain and suffering; and Thomas v. Mallett, which applied the risk contribution theory of liability to manufacturers of lead paint.

After those decisions, Butler stated, “A powerful special interest group, WMC, decided that I had to go. Because I sometimes ruled in favor of consumers, that was unacceptable.”He was targeted, he said, “simply because he did not support [business interests] 100 percent of the time.”

Noting that neither Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, nor Justice N. Patrick Crooks, were opposed, even though they had been in the majority in those cases, Butler posited that it was because neither had a criminal defense background.

Butler said, “WMC has no interest in criminal cases. But I could not be attacked because of the liability rulings. But I could be attacked, because I had the audacity to represent criminal defendants at one point in my career. I could easily be attacked for doing what I was supposed to do. WMC therefore recruited and found a candidate who had a prosecutorial background to contrast with his, and ran ads unfairly attacking him for representing a defendant on an appeal, falsely suggesting that it resulted in a child being raped.”

By using his earlier work defending criminal defendants as a means of affecting outcomes in civil cases, Butler claimed, “A seat on the court was bought. … They will continue to go around the country, purchasing judgeships one at a time.”

Leonard, Street gets a new head

The Minneapolis law firm of Leonard, Street and Deinard announced today that its shareholders have selected Lowell Stortz (photo on right) to become the sixth president of the firm. Stortz, who will assume his duties in January 2009, will succeed Joe Finley, the firm's current president, who plans to return to full-time practice.

Finley said of his successor in a press release making the announcement: "He is a talented leader who understands the practice of law and the business aspects of managing a large law firm such as ours. I'm confident Lowell will excel both in helping us seize opportunities and in steering us through any challenges."

Still Pawlenty of reasons to think about a lawyer veep

Tim Pawlenty is, of course, a name being kicked around pretty prominently as a GOP choice for veep. The former Rider Bennett lawyer is on most short lists currently in circulation -- and the vote in Minnesota is tight enough in the polls where that selection might swing our great state one way or the other. I have no idea whether our governor will ultimately win the veepstakes -- and a part of me thinks that that the GOP might go with someone from another region -- but you never can tell. And the Republican National Convention is here this year ...

In any case, having a local lawyer's name batted around as a veep choice got me thinking -- can anyone tell me who the last lawyer vice president was? Dadadadadadada, dadadada ... da .. da. Sorry time's up. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? ...

Well, it's not Dick Cheney (although he did shoot a lawyer once). ... And it's not Al Gore, although some of you might have thought that it was. Gore is a former journalist who attended Vanderbilt University Law School from 1974-76, but never graduated. (He had a good reason for dropping out -- running for his father's old seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.)

No, I'm afraid the answer is Dan Quayle. That's right. Dan Quayle, a graduate of the Indiana University School of Law-Indianapolis (IU-Indy). That one really didn't work out all that well (although things may have been different if they had only taught how to spell "potato" as part of the law school curriculum ....). In the final analysis, Quayle may have gotten a bit of a raw deal from the media, but, that said, I don't think he'd be on anybody's short list for great vice presidents.

Faring much better was the last lawyer veep to serve prior to Quayle -- none other than Minnesota's own Walter Mondale. Mondale became a full-fledged advisor and a partner to President Jimmy Carter, in the process defining the role of the modern vice presidency. In fact, in one of history's little ironies, Mondale did much better with the veep job than his boss did with the top job.

So, we'd have to give a mixed review to lawyer vice presidents in the last three decades. How about a former professional wrestler instead? Kidding!

Monday, August 4, 2008

MSBA firm conference in Duluth: It's a small world after all

The Minnesota State Bar Association is currently holding its annual Strategic Solutions for Solo and Small Firms conference in lovely Duluth. I've always thought it's a great idea to get a large group of attorneys with small practices together -- particularly the solos who don't always get to see another practitioner over the morning coffee pot. (That's not to say that there aren't some attorneys in other office setups who might not mind trying that themselves ...)

One of the more interesting looking offerings is called "Humor and the Bottom Line." I gather that the topic is not what to do when your bottom line is laughable (although there are plenty of practitioners who could benefit from that advice). The subject of this program is "how to use humor to improve your health, working relationships and productivity." To take a cue from the old adage: Laughter is the best medicine -- and also, apparently, not bad for the bank book either.

Minnesota Lawyer's own Michelle Lore is at the conference and will bring you up to speed on what was discussed there in next week's print edition. In the meantime, if you are at the conference today and reading this on your laptop (or IPod for that matter), make sure to say "hi" to Michelle. She's the one with the digital tape recorder furiously scratching into the reporters' notebook.

Judicial candidate's case involves the city and race

Speaking of the race for Justice Lorie Gildea's seat, high court candidate Jill Clark is in the news over at the Minnesota Independent, which reports on a case in which a client she represents has charged the Minneapolis City Attorney's Office with discrimination. ("Does Minneapolis City Attorney's Office discriminate against minorities for promotions?")

Clark represents Julie Delgado O'Neil, who has worked as an attorney in the office for 11 years. Delgado O'Neil, who is of Mexican decent, contends that people of color, including herself, have been unfairly passed over for promotions as a result of their ethnicity. (The Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights found probable cause that the City Attorney's screening process for internally promoting attorneys has a disparate impact on minorities.)

Interestingly (particularly given how few and far between judicial challenges are), Delgado O'Neil herself ran for a judgeship in 2004. She unsuccessfully challenged Judge Thor Anderson for a seat on the Hennepin County bench.

UPDATE: An astute reader points out that Delgado O'Neil also ran for the Hennepin County bench in 2002, and was defeated by the incumbent, Judge Lloyd Zimmerman. It's an interesting point given that Clark also ran for the Hennepin County bench in 2002, losing to the incumbent, Judge Thomas Wexler. In that heated campaign, Clark accused her opponent of demonstrating bias on the bench, a charge he vehemently denied.

A good day for Gildea

We just got a release from the campaign of Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Lorie Gildea announcing that she has gotten the endorsements of three former chief justices of the state high court -- Russell Anderson, Kathleen Blatz and Sandy Keith.

Combined, the trio of chiefs guided the high court for 18 years -- from 1990 to last June, when Anderson retired and Eric Magnuson took over as chief. The support comes at a good time for Gildea, who faces challenges from three opponents -- District Court Judge Deborah Hedlund, longtime public defender Rick Gallo and Minneapolis attorney Jill Clark. The field will be whittled down to two in next month's primary.