Law Practice Tip: Hide Your Receptionist

Law Firm Lobby
Every law firm lobby should include a string quartet.

As business people go, attorneys might be the worst offenders at doing things just because it’s what everyone else does. One example of this that recently dawned on me is the way they use their receptionists. Most park them in the lobby, and that’s a terrible arrangement.

In most cases, your receptionist should not be sitting in the lobby area. A big firm might have to suffer this necessary evil, since many people will be flowing through the lobby and the receptionist must act as a traffic controller, but for smaller firms it makes no sense for a number of reasons.

1. It makes clients waiting in the lobby privy to all phone calls.

I recently attended a deposition in Los Angeles, and the four attorney firm had the usual set up with a receptionist parked in the lobby, behind one of those curved reception desks. My client and I sat in the lobby for a few minutes waiting for opposing counsel, and heard every phone call that came in. In most instances that might not be a problem, but someone called who was obviously upset about not hearing from one of the attorneys, and we heard the receptionist apologizing and offering excuses. Not very professional. Continue reading

Court of Appeal Agrees that Penal Code Section 496(c) Allows Recovery of Treble Damages and Attorney Fees for Failure to Repay a Loan if Money Gained Through False Pretense.

Sorry, this tip probably won’t be of any help unless you practice in California (although many states follow California, so you may have something similar — look at how many states now have an anti-SLAPP statute). But if you do work in the Golden State, this ruling could be very useful in your practice.

As we reported in October of 2011, we persuaded an Orange County Superior Court Judge to apply Penal Code section 496(c) – making it illegal to receive stolen goods – to a case where the defendant had failed to repay our client for a loan. The loan agreement did not provide for attorney fees, so by bringing the civil action under Penal Code section 496(c), our client was entitled not only to recovery of all of her attorney fees, but treble damages as well.

The case involved a loan made by our client to Joe Defendant, who failed to repay the loan, and we were retained by the plaintiff to sue. I am always bothered by cases where the worst that can happen to the defendant is that he is made to repay the money that he borrowed in the first place (plus interest). Most attorneys would have pursued this as a garden variety breach of contract case. However, since the loan agreement did not provide for attorney fees, Defendant would face no downside in fighting such an action. Sure, he would incur his own attorney fees, but at the end of the day the case would likely have settled for less than what was owed, or gone to trial and resulted in a judgment for only the loan amount. Our client would have been left far from whole.

We figured out a better way. Continue reading

Law Practice Tip: Using the HP Envy 120 Printer

HP Envy 120 PrinterHP offers a service called e-Print, which allows you to set up their printer – in my case the HP Envy 120 inkjet printer – basically as an email address. Anything sent to the email address prints on the printer. Here is how I use it in my practice.

I’m kind of compulsive about reading my email after hours, because I like to offer my clients a quick response to their questions, as well as hooking new clients who are sending out emails to multiple attorneys. With the Envy 120, when I see an attachment to an email that I know I will want in printed form, I just forward it to the printer’s email address. When I arrive at my office, the documents I want to review are waiting for me on the printer. Continue reading

Look at your potential client’s email address before you respond.

Check the email addressIt was one of those “oh my God” moments where I realized I had just dodged a bullet.

A potential client had sent an email asking about a wrongful termination matter. We reject about 100 wrongful termination cases for every one we take, but this sounded like it might be the one. I wrote a reply to the potential client’s email, providing my thoughts on the pros and cons of the case, and was just about to hit send, when I looked at the sender’s email address.

She had sent it using her company email.

Yes, the client had sent me the facts of her wrongful termination from the company’s email. Like most employees, she probably has remote access to her email, and has probably come to think of that as “her” email address. Perhaps she had multiple email addresses on her home computer or smart phone and did not even know which account she was using.

Whatever the cause, what a great way to start a case – laying out your thoughts to the other side, while at the same time creating a legitimate basis for the termination, since undoubtedly the employer will have a policy against using company time and email for personal business.

So, before hitting send, look at the email address to which you are replying. If in doubt, and this might not be a bad idea in all cases, send an email that just asks the client if this is an email address for confidential communications.

How to successfully oppose an ex parte application.

denied stamp

How to Oppose an Ex Parte Application

I hate opposing ex parte applications.

I’m fine with the process if opposing counsel gives the required 24 hours notice, and I can file my opposition before the hearing and have it considered with the ex parte application. Far more often, however, even if opposing counsel provides the required notice, the basis for the request is so vague that I have no ability to prepare an opposition.

“Dear Judge:

Opposing counsel says he is seeking some unspecified relief regarding some unspecified discovery, and I really don’t think you grant him whatever it is he wants.”

Depending on the schedule of the court and its filing requirements, it is often the case that I don’t receive the application until late in the day the day before the hearing, with no opportunity to file an opposition until the morning of the hearing. Even if the court accepts electronic filings, affording me the opportunity to file my opposition the night before, it is usually the case that the papers will not work their way through the system prior to the hearing. Continue reading