Finding Lost Wills

Occasionally we field calls at the PLF from lawyers or members of the public looking for a lost will.  If you find yourself in this position, here are some excellent tips, courtesy of the Washington State Bar Association:

People frequently contact WSBA for help with finding a relative’s will, or finding the attorney who wrote it. This can be a real challenge, particularly when many years have passed since it was written.  While WSBA does not keep wills, we can provide some tips for finding them.

If you have the name of the attorney who drafted the will, contact that person first. You can get the lawyer’s contact information from our Lawyer Directory.

Tips for Finding a Will

Some or all of these tips might help. Keep in mind that you don’t want to trespass when trying to find a will. If in doubt, contact the personal representative for the estate.

  • Speak with other family members or close friends. These people often know if a will exists and where it might be.
  • Contact the deceased’s bank(s) to find out if they kept a safe deposit box. Most banks have simple procedures for gaining access to a safe deposit box in the event of a death.
  • If you have the authority, check the deceased’s files, computer, lock box and safe.
  • Check address books or email programs for attorney names. They may have prepared the will or referred the deceased to someone else. You can look up current contact information for attorneys in our Lawyer Directory.
  • If the attorney who prepared the will no longer practices or you cannot find him, call other probate attorneys in the vicinity. They may know who took over the practice, and whoever took over the practice may have the wills.
  • Contact the probate court in the counties where the deceased lived to determine whether the will was registered.
  • Contact a probate attorney for help. These attorneys have access to networks of other probate attorneys in the state, one of whom may have the will you are looking for.
  • We do not keep records on who takes over an attorney’s files when they retire, or provide legal advice of any type.

How Oregon departs from these practices

More Tips from the WSBA

On a related topic, see Do You Keep Original Wills? Best Practices Say No.  We concur!

All rights reserved [2015] Beverly Michaelis

 

Multi-tasking is a Myth

Four years ago I was inspired to write Attention Divided: Avoid Multi-Tasking.  multi

In that post, I shared the following:

My name is Beverly and I’m a recovering multi-tasker.  Like others of my ilk, I used to take pride in my juggling skills.  I believed that tackling two or three tasks simultaneously was a sign of efficiency.  Boy, was I wrong!

The truth is we just aren’t wired for multi-tasking.  Research shows that when we attempt to switch our attention back and forth we take 50% longer to finish a task and make up to 50% more errors. In the worst case scenario, multi-tasking can literally cost us our lives or at a minimum, our dignity.

I encouraged lawyers to stop the insanity and suggested 8 specific action steps to resist multi-tasking:

  • Control distractions – like the annoying pop-up: “You’ve Got Mail!” or push notifications on your smartphone or mobile device.  In fact, turn your smartphone OFF occasionally.
  • Give yourself a break from social media and the Internet.
  • Set boundaries for reading and responding to e-mail and texts.
  • Schedule a specific time each day to make and return phone calls.
  • Advise clients of your business practices – office hours, availability by phone, ability to accommodate unscheduled appointments.
  • Embrace “single tasking.”
  • Ditch the guilt.  Much of the reason we feel compelled to multi-task is because we believe it is expected of us.
  • Respect each other’s time whenever possible.  “Do You Have a Minute?” almost always translates into a much longer interruption.

In this month’s issue of the Oregon State Bar Bulletin, I was thrilled to see Elizabeth Ruiz Frost’s article “Mental Shrinkage: The Many Costs of Multitasking.”  I couldn’t agree more with the title and the points made in Frost’s article.  If you haven’t read this month’s issue of the Bulletin, I urge you to do so.  Take a few minutes to read Frost’s article and ask yourself: is this me?  Do I see myself in these scenarios?  If the answer is yes, consider implementing the 8 point plan above.

All Rights Reserved 2015 Beverly Michaelis

Family Leave for Solos and Small Firm Lawyers

How do solos and small firm lawyers plan for extended leave when a new member is about to join the family?  It can be hard enough to take a vacation!

Fortunately, there are some answers and good resources to draw upon.  (Jump to the end of this post.)  For now, let’s cover the basics.

Colleagues, Conflicts, and Staffing

The best coverage plan entails having a number of colleagues lined up who are willing to cover your cases.  Remember what your parents said?  Safety in numbers!  If one person can’t cover in an emergency, someone else can.  A team approach works best.

By necessity, any lawyers who might work on client matters must be screened for conflicts.  Clients need to be notified anyway about your upcoming leave.  Use this opportunity to get permission to share information for conflict and representation purposes.  (More on this below.)

If you have staff, great!  They are a huge help any time you are away from the office, more so during extended absences.  They will be a lifeline for everyday communication, including screening mail, email, and calls.  If you don’t have staff, consider getting a temp.  Having someone who can cover day-to-day operations brings peace of mind and ensures that nothing falls through the cracks.

How Do I Tell My Clients?

One option is to send a letter or email.  No surprise there.  But is it the best approach?

Most lawyers anticipating family leave have a number of colleagues in mind to assist in covering their cases.  This alone can make writing a letter or email complicated and confusing:  “I’m going to be out of the office, but you can choose from Lawyer A, Lawyer B, or Lawyer C.”  Huh?

Consider picking up the phone instead.  Call clients and tell them you are taking a medical leave and why.  (Of course, you can omit the “why” part – it is personal and technically no one’s business, but most lawyers taking family leave don’t mind sharing this news.)

Have a conversation with the client about what is happening.  Explain your plan, offer a name of a monitoring lawyer (or team of monitoring lawyers), then get consent to screen for potential conflicts and review the client’s case with the monitoring lawyer(s).  If everything is a “go,” make sure the client understands and agrees to temporary representation by the monitoring lawyer(s).  Don’t forget to discuss how the billing and payment piece will work.

If the client does not agree with your proposed arrangement, you may have to disengage and withdraw from the case.  The client will need to find a new lawyer of their choosing.

Confirming Arrangements in Writing

Assuming you call clients to review your plan, sending a confirming email becomes relatively easy:

“As we discussed, I will be out of the office on a medical leave of absence for ___________ (months/weeks).  During my leave, I propose that _______________ monitor your file.  You agree that I may share information with _____________ so (he/she) may screen for potential conflicts of interest. If no conflicts exist, you agree that I may disclose details of your case to ______________________ for purposes of monitoring your file and attending to any legal work that needs to be accomplished while I am out of the office.  If we discover a conflict that prohibits ___________________ from assisting you, I will contact you immediately.

You will receive a separate written confirmation from ___________________ (the monitoring lawyer) confirming the arrangements we have made.

(Describe next how the client will be billed.)

My assistant, _______________, will be available by phone and email should you have any questions while I am out of the office.  (Provide your assistant’s contact information.)

Rest assured I will stay informed regarding the status of your case.  I anticipate returning to the office on ___________.  If for any reason my return is delayed, I will inform you immediately.

(Optional:  Please reply to this email confirming your understanding and agreement to this arrangement.)

Fee Agreements and Paying the Monitoring Lawyer

If your existing fee agreement has a provision informing the client that you have made arrangements for someone to cover your practice in the event of illness or disability you have laid the necessary foundation for using a monitoring lawyer.  The PLF offers a number of fee agreements and engagement letters that incorporate “assisting attorney” language.  For samples, visit the PLF website.  Select Practice Management > Forms, then Engagement Letters.

If your existing fee agreement has a contract lawyering provision – meaning the client has consented to use of a contract lawyer at a specified rate – it is easy to have the monitoring lawyer step into the contract role.  You may bill the client for contract lawyering services according to your existing fee agreement.

Alternatively, clients can sign separate fee agreements with the monitoring lawyer.

More Answers and Good Resources

There are many excellent articles and resources for lawyers planning family leave:

[All Rights Reserved – 2015 – Beverly Michaelis]

Do You Keep Original Wills? Best Practices Say No

beverlym:

A good reminder about why keeping original wills is not such a great idea. For more information, see the PLF File Retention Guidelines at http://www.osbplf.org > Practice Management > Forms > File Retention Guidelines and read our In Brief article “Why Did We EVER Want to Keep Original Wills?”

Originally posted on NWSidebar:

Advice from WSBA’s Office of General Counsel regarding what to do with original will documents.

If you have ever wondered what to do with original wills, the following advice from the WSBA Office of General Counsel may help you decide.

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10 Reasons to Buy a MacBook Pro for Your Solo Practice

What kind of performance do you expect in a laptop?  Do your “must haves” include:

  1. Fast startup
  2. Applications that load quickly
  3. Long battery life
  4. Top-notch camera and display
  5. Built-in hard drive encryption
  6. Built-in password management
  7. Automatic security screening for downloaded apps
  8. No preinstalled adware or spam
  9. Ability to run locally installed office productivity software
  10. Preloaded productivity and creativity apps

If so, get a MacBook Pro for your law practice.  Hands down.  The reality is that Macs are difficult, if not impossible, to outshine.

Aren’t Macs more costly?  It depends on your point of view.  In the short run, a 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display starts at $1999, but in the long run I doubt you’ll regret the features or investment in quality.  In this age of security issues, privacy concerns, and data breach worries, the free (and incredibly easy to use) hard drive encryption is reason alone to pic a Mac.

Even Before Superfish Lenovos Weren’t the Greatest

Just before the Superfish adware/spam scandal came to light, my husband decided he wanted a new laptop.  He thought he found a great deal on a Lenovo that had a reasonably fast processor and a decent graphics card.

Within a week’s time, he returned the Lenovo to Best Buy.  To their credit, it was a no hassle process.  Why did he take the Lenovo back?

  • It was incredibly slow to boot, a long-standing problem for Windows OS.  [For kicks, compare the discussion about boot times on Apple Support Communities to this thread on Microsoft Community.  The Apple folks are miffed about waiting 30-60 seconds; the Windows users are experiencing delays of 20+ minutes.  It’s all about perspective.]
  • The apps were slow to load.
  • He detested Windows 8.1.
  • The keyboard started acting up.  Specifically, the Windows Logo Key developed a mind of its own.  It worked only when it felt like it.
  • The touchpad was a pain.
  • He didn’t like the camera.

Why did he buy the Lenovo in the first place?  In part, because a family member (not me) swayed him in that direction.  He also thought he needed a laptop running Windows OS to meet specialized software needs.  (Incorrect.)  This is old news, but let me reshare:  users can run any Windows program using Mac’s Boot Camp utility.

From the moment my husband opened his MacBook Pro with Retina Display, he’s been in love.  And kudos to the Apple Store personal setup station – they helped configure the hard drive encryption, iCloud keychain, iCloud drive, and other settings. (You won’t get that help anywhere else.)

I Told You So

I’ve said it before: Once You Go Mac, You Never Go Back, so why would you fuss with a Windows OS laptop to begin with?  I am an even greater fan of Mac now after my husband’s experience.  If I left my job today to reenter private practice, I’d buy my own MacBook Pro in a heartbeat.  (P.S. Office 365 runs like a dream.)

Can it Get Any Better?  Yes it can!

One of the best parts of using a Mac in the law office is Macs in the Law Office (literally). MILO is 4,500+ members strong and “the premier source for lawyers who want to maximize the use of Macs in their law practices.”  Great people like Ben Stevens (aka The Mac Lawyer) and Jenny Stevens (Mrs. Mac Lawyer) have made it happen.  Bottom line, nothing holds you back when you’re a Mac user.

[All Rights Reserved 2015 Beverly Michaelis]

 

New WSBA Advisory Opinions on Social Media and Lead Generation

beverlym:

Get the low-down on new ethics opinions issued in Washington State: Opinion 201401 – Participating in Online Lead Generation Services to Garner Clients and Opinion 201402 – The Ethics of Using Online Social Media Profile Websites Like Avvo.

Originally posted on NWSidebar:

A summary of two advisory opinions issued recently from the Committee on Professional Ethics concerning Internet marketing and networking.

Two new advisory opinions have recently been posted to help attorneys follow the RPCs while navigating the Internet. Take a look at these to steer clear in the areas of social media and Internet marketing.

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eCourt, Lawyers with Disabilities, and the ADA

In October of 2014, the PLF added At the Corner of Law Practice and Disability to its collection of CLEs available on the PLF website.

This program discusses EEOC and ADA requirements; work at home/telework as a reasonable accommodation; practical ways a small firm can accommodate an attorney with disabilities; ethical concerns and best practices for lawyers who have an unplanned medical emergency; resources for attorneys with disabilities; and social security disability.  Speakers included Amber Bevacqua-Lynott, Cheryl Caon, Melissa Kenney, Kendra Matthews, Lisa Porter, Helle Rode, and Camilla Thurmond with special content provided by Alice Plymell.

Kudos to Oregon Women Lawyers for sponsoring this CLE.  It raised awareness, offered concrete resources, and generated some interesting questions.  Here is one that occurred to me:

What happens at the Corner of Disability and Mandatory eCourt?

Consider this scenario:  Lawyer A is visually impaired.  Using an interactive website, such as Oregon’s Odyssey eFile & Serve eCourt System, is difficult if not impossible.  What can (or should) Lawyer A do?

First Order Issues

It does not appear that the eFile & Serve website can be used by impaired users. Searching “Self-Service Support” on the Odyssey eFile & Serve website produces this less-than-clear result:

Article #4263 Does your website work with accessibility programs for impaired users? – KB4263.  In general, an information technology system is accessible to people with disabilities if it can be used in a variety of ways that do not depend on a single sense or ability. For example, a system that provides output only in audio format would not be accessible to people with hearing impairments, and a system that requires mouse actions to navigate would not be accessible to people who cannot use a mouse because of a dexterity or visual impairment. Section 508 focuses on the overall accessibility of electronic and information systems, not on providing accommodations at individual worksites. Individuals with disabilities may still need specific accessibility-related software or peripheral devices to be able to use an accessible system.

Can other technology, like a screen reader, come to the rescue?  Not really. Screen readers are software programs that allow blind or visually impaired users to read the text that is displayed on the computer screen with a speech synthesizer or braille display. They can be free, but may also cost upwards of $1200.
Screen readers are a help to users who have difficulty seeing content on a Web page, but they are not usually a good solution for interactive sites with fill-in fields and pick-lists.

[All Rights Reserved 2015 Beverly Michaelis]

 

Ending the Attorney-Client Relationship

Calling all Oregon lawyers: are you taking advantage of your right to file a “notice of termination of relationship?”

ORS 9.380(2) was amended in 2011 to allow withdrawal by filing a simple notice, provided two conditions are met. First, the case must be concluded, meaning a final determination or judgment has been entered. Second, all services required of the lawyer under the fee agreement must be complete.

“The relationship of attorney and client may be terminated after the entry of a judgment or other final determination in an action or proceeding by the filing of a notice of termination of the relationship in the action or proceeding. The notice must be signed by the attorney and must state that all services required of the attorney under the agreement between the attorney and the client have been provided.”

The amendment eliminates the step of filing a formal motion with the court.

Why You Should File Notices of Termination

Take advantage of ORS 9.380(2) at the conclusion of your cases. File a notice of termination and remove yourself as attorney of record. This is especially important in practice areas where matters could reopen or require future steps.  Family law is notorious for post-judgment activity (contempt actions, modifications, and the like).  Criminal law practitioners may or may not be responsible for filing motions to dismiss when a one-year diversion agreement is completed.  If your agreed-upon services do not include filing the dismissal, withdraw. ORS 9.390 makes clear you are on the hook until the notice is filed:

“When an attorney is changed, or the relationship of attorney and client is terminated, as provided in ORS 9.380, written notice of the change or termination shall be given to the adverse party. Until the notice is given, the adverse party is bound to recognize the former attorney.”

Comply with the Rules of Professional Conduct

Satisfying ORS 9.380(2) isn’t the only step.  You must also comply with the Rules of Professional Conduct.  Oregon RPC 1.16(d) provides:

“Upon termination of representation, a lawyer shall take steps to the extent reasonably practicable to protect a client’s interests, such as giving reasonable notice to the client, allowing time for employment of other counsel, surrendering papers and property to which the client is entitled and refunding any advance payment of fee or expense that has not been earned or incurred. The lawyer may retain papers, personal property and money of the client to the extent permitted by other law.”

At the conclusion of a case, the timing issues may be less critical – assuming the client does not wish to purse an appeal – but the remainder of the rule must be followed.  To learn more about this topic, and how to properly disengage, see: How to Fire a Client.

[All Rights Reserved 2015 Beverly Michaelis]

 

 

Microsoft’s “hot patch” for Word 2013 fixes major problem w/ legal pleadings

beverlym:

If you rely on Microsoft Word to generate legal pleadings, download this patch.

Originally posted on CompuSavvy's Word & WordPerfect Tips:

Microsoft has issued a “hot patch” for Word 2013 that fixes, among other things, a major issue for law firms and other organizations that use lined and numbered pleading paper for their court documents. The issue, as I understand it, was that the ability to tweak the pleading line spacing by using the “Suppress extra line spacing at top of page” configuration option was not available for files saved in the (now standard) .docx format. (This option, located under the Advanced Word Options > Compatibility Options > Layout, had been available in both Word 2007 and Word 2010 regardless of whether the file had been saved in .doc or .docx format.) The lack of that option made it difficult, if not impossible, to align text with the pleading line numbers in certain documents and templates.

The patch, which Microsoft issued yesterday (February 10, 2015), restores the missing option in Word…

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