Sunday, December 30, 2007

Emilie Employed

In July I posted about my daughter Emilie.

At that time we were proud that she had graduated from high school and was approved for supported employment. This meant her assigned agency would help her find a job, make the necessary arrangements with the employer, and provide support. This is not "busy work" or a "job program". There are many companies who are willing to hire people with some level of disability. The fact is, companies know that for some jobs, and for many reasons, people in supported employment make great employees. They tend to have great attendance, take pride in their work, do not bring personal "drama" to the job, and often have longevity in their employment.

In September I noticed that a Trader Joes was under construction about four blocks from my office. Trader Joes is a supermarket featuring healthy foods at great prices. They are also known for their helpful, friendly, energetic employees. It certainly seemed worth a try. We asked the agency to see whether Trader Joes would work with supported employment. They called us back and said they were sorry, but they inquired and Trader Joes said all the employees had to be cross-trained on the cash register, and that was not something Em could do. They promised to look for something else for her.

Every day I passed Trader Joes and watched it being built. One day I saw a sign saying "Trader Joes Employment, Now Interviewing". I walked over with Emilie and asked the interviewers if she could apply for a job. I was very clear that she had some disablilities and this would be supported employment. I also told them we had looked at the list of things a Trader Joes crewmember had to do, and we were sure Emilie could do 16 of the 20 items VERY well. She was given a job application and a pen.

Emilie filled out the application by herself. There was a math test at the end....addition, subtraction, mutiplication, division, and fractions. I did not help her, she is pretty good at those. The last question was some kind of word/math problem, one of those "the shelves are 1/4 full and a delivery is brought to the floor with 7/8 of the amount needed.....etc". She brought it over to me and said "This part is hard." I could have tried to help her, but instead I said "You're right, it IS hard.....Hand in what you did." One of the supervisors took her application and then said to us "I will interview her now." I got a little protective and asked if I could stay nearby in case I was needed, and the interviewer said OK, but he wanted to see how she did with her own answers. I then witnessed one of the best job interviews ever.....

Trader Joes interviewer: "Why would you like to work at Trader Joes?"

Emilie thought this over and said: "I like healthy foods......It's a new store, a new store is good......It's near my house."

The next day Emilie received a message at home to call for a second interview. We called the supported employment agency and told them we had gotten Emilie to the second interview stage, and we hoped they could get involved. They asked if we made it clear to Trader Joes this was going to be supported employment. I said "I swear, I told them."

They sent a guy named Pete, who coached Emilie for her interview, and accompanied her there. He also explained to the Trader Joes people about the services that would be offered to Emilie, and about the benefits to the employer in supported employment. He also told me that one of the biggest challenges for their agency is getting good leads with open minded employers, and that we had really helped THEM by opening this door.

I waited outside the unopened Trader Joes while Emilie and Pete were at the interview. When they came out Pete had a big smile on his face, and after looking back to see nobody was looking, he gave me a big high-five and said "She's hired......20 hours per week, a month of training starting next week!!!" I said to Emilie "This is great, I'm so proud of you." To which she replied "I can take the Q-11 bus to work." And then...I laughed till I cried.

When training started, Emilie was assigned a job coach, Ben. He went to all the training sessions with her. He also stayed on the job with her for the first month. Next time I'm feeling cynical about people, I will think of Ben, and Pete, and all the people like them, and know there ARE good people in this world doing good things.

I should also say that Ben has been doing this work for many years. He told me that of all the jobs and employers he has ever been around, he has NEVER seen a company treat their new employees better than Trader Joes. I have to agree with this. Emilie is doing very well at her job, and when Felicia or I come in to shop (and to see how things are going), the managers tell us they WANT Emilie to succeed there, and she is one of their hardest workers. Whenever we tell one of the cashiers or other crew members who we are, they all know Emilie and tell us how much they like working with her. This attitude comes from the top, both in the types of people they are hiring and in the example being set.

We are big Trader Joes fans. We do most of our food shopping there. I'd urge anyone who has never been there to check it out. The Queens store has a big parking lot. It's on Metropolitan Avenue near Woodhaven Blvd....near Home Depot.

Here are some Trader Joes links:


Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Over the Barrel - - Time for RESULTS

Sometimes inspiration comes from strange places. I've been real sick the last few days. I'd call it "flu-like" symptoms. The next time a pro athlete sits out with "flu-like" symptoms, I will not question it. I watched a lot of TV at all hours of the day and night. Thankfully, the Christmas season inspires some networks to show "Goodfellas", #11 on my all time list
There is a part where Henry Hill has hit bottom, and he knows he's going to get whacked, and the ONLY thing he can do is make a deal with the Feds and go in the witness protection program. As abhorrent as this was on every level (giving up the life AND being a rat), he makes the deal and lives up to it's onerous terms. The result is all his cronies are convicted and he gets to survive.

I started thinking about how when you have someone over the barrel, THAT is the time to make a good deal. In my previous post I proposed that baseball do this in the steroids situation. Then I caught some inspiration. There is another situation where making a deal when people are over a barrel could and should be used.....and I've blogged about this before.....IMMIGRATION.

Here are some similarities between steroids in baseball and immigration:

1. The conduct in question was technically illegal, but most people do not view the participants as "criminals".

2. The participants did what they did for the economic benefits to themselves and their families.

3. Congress is "interested" in the problem, and did some talking, but has taken no real action.

4. The participants want to keep participating, and they want to participate "legally".

5. Some participants may not be able to participate "legally", and most people would agree this is just too bad (This one is more obscure, so in baseball if you can't compete without the juice, go sell cars, and in immigration if you are a felon, sorry but we have enough of our own)

6. SOMETHING needs to be done.

I'm not sure if the ballplayers are Henry Hill status yet, but if the beat goes on they may get there. Immigration was way closer to ripeness for a strong deal. (for best effect, read the posts bottom up). The proposal which the Republicans killed earlier this year was a VERY strong bill, which no Democrats would have actually voted for, had the Republicans been astute enough to bring it to a vote. This issue will not go away, but it will not be addressed by Congress again until 2009, in a new administration. If Congress and the next President put partisanship aside, and actually look out for the Country as a whole, they'll cut a strong deal. It will have conditional amnesty, strong conditions and teeth.

Now go home and get your shinebox.

Bonus link scene where Joe Pesci shoots Spider (played by Michael Imperioli from the Sopranos)

Friday, December 21, 2007

Baseball and Steroids - - My Solution

There is plenty of blame to go around. We can probably all agree on a few basic facts, and then I will propose a comprehensive solution to the steroids issue. Here's what we can agree to:

1. In the "steroids era", many many players used performance enhancing substances. This includes steroids and human growth hormone (an important distinction, steroids are detectable while HGH is not).

2. The players named in the Mitchell report are only a fraction of the users. We know this from looking at the number of players on all teams who jumped up in size and performance. We know this because the Mitchell report was based primarily on two sources, one from the Mets and one from the Yankees. If you had similar sources on the other clubs, you'd have that many more on the list. If you had the Cubs trainer talking, is there any way Sammy Sosa wasn't using? Wanna see something cool? Here are Shawn Green's lifetime stats ......a massive increase in production in the "steroids era" and a huge fall-off when testing started. I guess he "hit his stride" as a hitter, or something.

3. The team owners profited mightily during this era, and have only addressed the problem because they were called on the carpet. They were willing to look the other way, and were complicit in the growth of the abuse.

4. The players union has always done what a union should do. They represent the interests of the players. they are a very strong union. They have served the players well, gaining them a strong collective bargaining agreement, and an unsurpassed salary and free agency structure. Somehow the game has prospered with this.

5. The game of baseball is still great. It also has a rich history and tradition, which are worth preserving.

Those things being said, here is my proposal:

1. I would give the players a conditional amnesty for any and all performance enhancing drug use during the steroids era. The amnesty would mean no suspensions, no fines, no notations regarding any records, a sealing of any club memos or records on the subject, a destruction of any retained urine or blood samples, and an arrangement for immunity from any criminal prosecution arising out of this. The players would not be required to talk about past use, and would have the support of the clubs in refusing to talk to the press about it.

2. The CONDITIONS: All the players sign an agreement not to use ANY performance enhancing substances of any kind, EVER. The players must agree to submit to random urine and blood testing, and for the untested samples to be preserved. At the time when a reliable test for HGH becomes available, the retained samples will be tested, and/or HGH testing will immediately start. Any confirmed users will be suspended for two years on a first offense, and banned for life and barred from the Hall of Fame on the second.

That's the out the details.
Baseball is still fun, even with a level playing field.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Lawyers as Clients

I've been a client a few times.
I think I was a good client.
I tried to observe a golden rule.
I treated the lawyers as I'd like to be treated.
I think they appreciated it.

I've represented lawyers a few times.
It was always an honor when they called me.
Usually they observed the golden rule.
I appreciated it.
When they didn't I didn't like it.
There would not be a second time for them.

I've had personal legal matters that I could handle myself.
If there was not an emotional aspect to it, I did it myself.
This seemed to work out fine.
If a personal legal matter had an emotional aspect, I hired a lawyer.
This usually worked well.

I hired a lawyer to represent me when some other lawyers did not pay me a fee they rightfully owed me.
I was emotional about it. My first lawyer did a poor job.
I had made a poor choice.
I fired him and hired another lawyer.
I enjoyed working on the case with him.
He made the bad lawyers work, and pay their lawyer, and then they had to pay me.

In my estates practice I often work with lawyers from other States.
Many things differ from State to State.
Lot's of things are the same.
Be clear about what you can and can't do.
Be clear and vigilant about fees.
Work with integrity and even the toughest situation will resolve.

I try not to generalize about groups.
It's tempting to do this about clients from different professions.
I won't generalize from some experiences which surprised me.
I will say though, that when I started in practice I revered certain occupations.
When I represented teachers who were stupid, or cops who cared not about the law, I was shocked. I admit it.
But I still won't make firm generalizations.
Are "pre-conceived notions" any different?
They are a start, and then I will either be right....or wrong.

Next post: my proposal regarding baseball and performance enhancing drugs

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Legal Malpractice Cases

As long as I'm not the defendant, legal malpractice cases are very interesting. Here are some things worth noting:

1. It's similar to any other negligence or malpractice need liability, damages, and collectability to have a case which an attorney will accept on a contingency. Legal mal cases have the added fun of the "case within the case". That is, when you are proving that the lawyer commited some act of negligence/malpractice, you also have to prove that the underlying case was win-able.....on liability, damages, and (arguably) collectability. This creates a fascinating litigation where you are essentially litigating the issues in two cases.

2. Have attorneys ever been sued for malpractising a legal malpractice case? Yes.

3. Sometimes an attorney is contacted by a client about a potential malpractice case. What if there was malpractice, but the client still had some rights in the underlying case, and the new lawyer pursued the legal malpractice claim and ignored other rights the client may have had. Here's an example: Client was a passenger in a bus which was in an accident with a car. The accident happened in an intersection and is a "question of lights" case. The first lawyer misses the year and 90 day statute of limitations on a City bus case. Plain and simple. The second lawyer gets the case and sues the lawyer. However, the three year statute of limitations on suing the car was viable when the second lawyer took the case, but runs out during the legal mal litigation. Can the second lawyer be third partied into the case by the first lawyers lawyers? Answer: Yes. Don't ask me how I know this!

4. Lawyers are not required to have malpractice insurance. The majority of small firms and solos have it, but not all. It seems crazy not to, yet many go without.

5. Legal malpractice insurance has some quirky rules. One nasty one is the requirement to report a "potential" claim when you become aware of it. If you don't report when you could have, you may face a disclaimer when a claim arises. What are the effects of being careful and reporting a potential claim? I don't claim to know the answer to this. What I can say is, it places a lawyer in a real dilemma. I'm not embarrassed to say I've reported a few potential claims that never became claims. I hated the feeling that the carrier "opened a file", I hated the detailed report they required, and I was uncomfortable with a lawyer for the carrier suggesting things I must do to minimize THEIR exposure. On the other hand, once I reported and complied, I felt relieved that they "had my back" if the client sued. The carrier did not "drop me" and as far as I could tell, they did not surcharge me.

6. Another quirky rule is that if you drop your coverage, you lose the coverage for the times you paid for. If I had insurance in 2005, dropped it in 2006, and in 2007 I am sued for something I malpracticed in 2005, I'm not covered. If you are retiring or changing careers, and you don't need coverage for new cases, you have to buy a "tail" policy to cover your past coverage. I guess they call it a tail because it's attached near the rear end.

7. There are lawyers who specialize in these cases, both plaintiffs and defendants. Like many specialists, they generally enjoy their practices and are enthusiastic.

8. I once defended an uninsured attorney in a legal malpractice case. It arose out of a real estate deal gone bad, resulting in a forfeited downpayment. As we did discovery in the case, I saw that the plaintiff, my clients former client, must have been a difficult client (actually, that is a gross understatement). Admittedly, my client was not an experienced real estate attorney, and the case was not handled well. Nevertheless, both the client and the new attorney were very hasty to blame the debacle on my client. It appeared that both client and lawyer forfeited the downpayment rather than fight for it, and immediately sued my client. I must say, I came to dislike the plaintiff and his attorney. I realized during the trial that for me, the plaintiff symbolized every whacked out loony client I had ever had. I ripped the plaintiff up pretty good during cross-examination, and kept going till the Judge told me it was enough and I should sit down. That was a nice case to win.

9. Here's a link to a blog about legal malpractice cases.

Next post......lawyers as clients.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Pro-se Adversaries

In the per-diem practice I regularly encounter pro-se adversaries (people representing themselves). Here's a Wikipedia link with more info about pro-se than we could possibly need

In New York City Civil Court (jurisdiction up to $25,000), people often represent themselves. Many of these are debt collection cases, but I have been involved in all kinds of civil litigation where one side (the other side from my side) was pro-se. One might assume that those representing themselves have fools for clients. Indeed, sometimes they are fools, but if you assume it, you will prove another axiom, where assume makes an ass of u and me.

A few observations:

1. When you conference a case with a pro-se and a Judge, or a pro-se and a Judge's clerk, you will often find the pro-se suddenly has a lawyer......the Judge!! This is not supposed to happen, but it happens. Your job is to not let it happen that way. Here's a helpful tip....conference the case with the pro-se before you conference with the Court. I always tell them that we are allowed to do it, though they don't have to, and that in any event, after we talk we will have a conference with the court. I try to find out what the issues are, and I keep it non-confrontational. When we conference with the Court, I will often say, right in front of the pro-se, "We have been discussing the issues, and if it will be helpful, I'd like to summarize what we talked about" then I look right at the pro-se and say "If I don't say it right, or if I leave anything out, please stop me, I want the Court to have a clear understanding of what this is about". I then tell it as straight as I can, and if they want to jump in, I let them. I find this approach limits "court advocacy" and encourages the pro-se litigant to explore settlement.

2. Sometimes pro-se adversaries study up and they want to follow every rule, and call you on every technicality, and play lawyer with you. They have a right to do this, and they assume that this is what lawyers do. Of course, most lawyers, especially in Civil Court, don't do this. We usually try to figure out what the case is REALLY about, and find a fair way to resolve it. I laugh to myself sometimes when the pro-se defendant makes some brilliantly technical legal argument to the Judge, and the Judge says "Yeah, but do you owe the money or not?"

3. Sometimes you have to go to trial against a pro-se. This is usually after you have made exhaustive efforts to settle the case. When this happens you need to carry this case around with you: Roundtree v Singh 143 AD2d 995. Essentially, this case says that a pro-se doesn't gain any greater rights by being pro-se and unfamiliar with law and legal procedure. If they don't know how to make out a prima facie case, or if they don't know how to get their evidence in, too bad. The Court can't help them, and if this happens you must object based on Roundtree v Singh. Sometimes when you really make them follow procedure and they realize they could lose....they settle.

4. Along these same lines, sometimes if I know from the prior conferences that the pro-se is really wacky, I don't object on technicalities. I let them go on, and on, until I am sure the Judge realizes we are dealing with a nut. Then I reel the situation in. What often saves everyone in these nut-ball situations is that at the conclusion the Judge says "Decision reserved". No fireworks, most Judges will do the job, and the decision will come later.

Quik story.....I once tried a credit card debt case where the debtor owed about $10,000 and at every conference he insisted that "you cannot PROVE it was me". He was especially emboldened when he saw that I did not have a witness for trial. All of the charges on the credit card seemed to relate to restaurant supplies for a shish-kebob restaurant. However, in all our conferences I did not let on that I knew that, nor did I ever show him the bills and ask him about it. When we got sent upstairs for trial, the Judge told me to call my first witness, and of course I said "I call the defendant." He said "He can't do that!", to which the Judge replied "Yes, he can....take the stand." I then asked him questions about where he lived, what he did for a living, and the like. Most of it was not useful, but I did get him to confirm his address (at the time of the bills I had). He also confirmed that in all the time he lived there he never had a problem receiving mail. I really nailed these two items home....correct address and mail being received. I then asked him if he had ever received a bill from my client, and he denied it. I then asked him if he had ever owned a shish-kebob restaurant, and he denied it. I asked him if he had ever helped open a shish-kebob restaurant, and to my surprise he said "Yes, I have worked in these restaurants all my adult life, and I once helped my friend open one." I asked "Where was it?" Turns out it was about two blocks from his address. I then took out my $10,000 worth of shish-kebob supply charges, and questioned him about it. He denied having anything to do with it, but the big red "L" was lit up on his forehead.

When I summed up I had a grand old time. I'll spare you the details.
His summation was "He didn't prove nuthin".
The Judge said "Decision reserved"


Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Thinking About Google Searches

In prior posts I have talked about the importance of showing up on page one of relevant Google searches. The idea is to determine how your prospective clients will search, and having your site be google-friendly to that search.

I suspect that when most people do a google search, they realize it's all about hitting the right key words. If you do a lot of google searches yourself, you know that if your search is too broad you get too many irrelevant sites. Conversely, if it's too specific, you may get nothing. When you are the search-ee, you want to be found by as many search parameters as possible.

Some search terms are very broad, but you still need them. For example, the term "lawyer" by itself is way too broad by itself. For fun, I googled "lawyer", here's the result
Look over page one, it's interesting.

You probably won't be found with that search, although the presence of and on that first page, may get some clients your way, if the client enters those sites and you are listed.

A search term that narrows a search, which a lot of people use, is geography. Here's the google result for "lawyers new york"
Also interesting. I note that Andrew Bluestone's blog about attorney malpractice cases made it on page 1. is on this first page, is not.

Let's narrow the geography further with "lawyers queens new york"
Hey, I know some of these guys!! I'm not showing on this page, but I'm OK with that, I've been narrowing my practice areas. I notice Gross & Levin are on page 1....I know them and like them and respect their work. Looking at their site, I see it's a Findlaw site, and showing on page one of a google search like this, I'd say they got good value.

A little more narrow, on topic and geography, I'll google "queens new york probate lawyer"
Uh-huh, there's my Findlaw dollars in action.

A few related points.

I am not a computer expert, and you don't have to be an expert to be effective at internet marketing. The main thing to do is THINK about what kind of clients you want and how they would seach the internet for an attorney. You can then do those searches and see who is coming up and what they are doing. Search a lot, play around with it, you'll be surprised who you see and what you'll learn.

It's true that and, who market pretty aggressively to lawyers, cost some money. Used effectively, they can really pay dividends. If you do something that is not the usual, you can make your own site pretty easily and its a narrow enough area, you'll show up high on google searches.....and it costs zero. I did a home-made website for my court appearance business (OK - Felicia did it). It gives basic information about what we do, how we charge, etc. Here's what a search for "Queens per diem court appearances" gets...
Not only is my showing first on page one, my blog stuff about per diem is showing too. I don't pay extra to have it show that just does.

I am fascinated by internet marketing for lawyers. If any of my readers wants to discuss a lawyer internet marketing question with me, please email me.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Googling for Lawyers

Some lawyers have websites. The ones who don't are thinking about it. Sometimes what they are thinking is "If I have a website, how will anyone find it?".

It's important to realize that most people will find your site through a search engine. Google is the biggest of these, though people also use Yahoo, MSM and others. The idea is the same....a person is interested in something, they type in a search, and the search engine posts links to thousands of websites. If you have a website, you want it to be found by the search engines, and more importantly, you want your site to come up on the first page of a relevant search.

What do you like to do most? What kinds of new cases do you want? What would be the best of the best? Can you describe it? If someone (a new client) was doing a google search for it, WHAT WOULD THEY TYPE IN?

There might be some combinations of words, so here's an earth-shattering suggestion......Write down all the searches you can think of for YOUR perfect new cases, and google them....ALL of them. After all, it's free. You will see some VERY interesting things when you do this. You will see many other lawyer websites showing up on page 1 of the google search. Look at their sites!!! Doesn't cost nuthin'. Notice also the "sponsored links" on Google. These are sites that are paying extra to be on page 1. You don't have to pay, but it's worth knowing about. Notice also that many of the page 1 listings are attorney listings of

Here's another lawyer/googling thing worth knowing. The two big players in the lawyer/internet/advertising game are (owned by Martindale-Hubbell) and Findlaw (owned by Westlaw). Many of us have been approached by these two, offering various paid packages. There is some value there, but in my view the main value they offer is your listing (within their site) showing up on page 1 of the google search.

If you are thinking of listing with one of them, THIS is the main value you get. I suppose there are potential clients who go into and start looking around and will find you. However, more often they will do a Google search and find your listing. Oh, and you WILL get calls and email inquiries from it. When you do, you will want more, and you will try to enhance the way you are found.

Can you think like a potential client? The one who is going to find YOU? For the cases you really want? (Oh yeah, it's VERY important to think about what you really want)

Tomorrow, we run some sample searches......