The Nontraditional Law Practice

A nontraditional law practice can be anything a lawyer wants it to be:

  • Hybrid or alternative fee arrangements;
  • Unbundling;
  • Virtual law practice;
  • Home-based practice;
  • All the above; or
  • Something else entirely

Hybrid or Alternative Fee Agreements (AFAs)

As more clients push back against the hourly rate model, lawyers are looking for unconventional ways to price legal services.  One of the most popular?  The hybrid or alternative fee agreement (AFA).

Before you enthusiastically embrace this option, read this post and make sure your AFA satisfies the 5 “C’s” test:

  • Clarity
  • Completeness
  • Compliant
  • Common sense
  • Can’t be excessive

Hybrid or alternative fee agreements are often combined with other elements of a nontraditional practice.  Used correctly, they can be a huge asset.

Unbundling: Have it Your Way

With unbundling, clients pick and choose discrete services from a menu of available choices:

Providing limited legal services is not a new concept. Transactional lawyers have long served in the role of document reviewer or preparer. So how is unbundling different? It takes the idea one step further by employing a team approach in which the lawyer and client decide who will do what based on the legal services required by the client’s case. The client takes a much more active role in the matter and often assumes responsibility for pro se court filings and appearances.

Keep in mind that unbundling has its risks: Unbundling in the 21st Century: How to Reduce Malpractice Exposure While Meeting Client Needs and its ethical limitations.  See Unbundling Legal Services: Limiting the Scope of Representation and The Ethics of Unbundling:  How to Avoid the Land Mines of “Discrete Task Representation.”

Virtual Law Practice or Home Practice?

A virtual law practice or virtual law office (VLO) is a term of art referring to online delivery of legal services through a secure client portal.  If you are interested in creating a VLO, Stephanie Kimbro’s book Virtual Law Practice: How to Deliver Legal Services Online is a must.  [Available on the ABA Web store here. If you are not an ABA member, save money at checkout by using the Professional Liability Fund’s (PLF’s) discount code OSBPLF.]  Also see this post about click wrap or click through fee agreements.

VLOs aside, most lawyers who express an interest in practicing virtually mean they want to work from home – due to economic necessity, personal choice, or both.  In next week’s post, I’ll discuss the nine steps to establishing a successful home-based practice.

[All Rights Reserved 2014 Beverly Michaelis]

 

I Say Of Counsel You Say…

Of Counsel relationships remain a strong area of interest for lawyers who are drawn to the idea of creating a professional affiliation. In that quest, there are many misunderstandings about what an of counsel relationship is:

 

To better understand of counsel relationships, start here.  Also see this excellent post from Solo Practice University.

If you decide to pursue an of counsel relationship, enter into a written agreement to avoid misunderstandings.  See the American Bar Association publication, The Of Counsel Agreement, 4th EditionIf you are an Oregon lawyer, save money at checkout by using our ABA Books for Bars discount code, OSBPLF.

Of counsel arrangements may also implicate your professional liability coverage.  If you are an Oregon practitioner, please contact our coverage experts at 503.639.6911 or 800.452.1639 – particularly if you carry excess professional coverage liability with the PLF.

If you are forming an of counsel relationship and have any uncertainty whatsoever about how to craft a proper agreement, consult with outside counsel. Lastly, Don’t confuse being of counsel with being an independent contractor. See Mission Impossible? Working as an Independent Contractor in Oregon and this post.  [Pertaining to contract lawyers, but providing a good review of the issues surrounding independent contractor status.]

All Rights Reserved [2014] Beverly Michaelis

Cyber Security and Data Breach Response

lock“Cyber threat is one of the most serious economic and national security challenges we face as a nation.”  Barack Obama, President of the United States

The Identity Theft Resource Center has documented over 500 data breaches in 2014 through early September.  This represents a 26.2% increase over the same time period last year. The news isn’t any better for the legal profession.

The latest ABA Legal Technology Survey Report notes that “Nearly half of law firms were infected with viruses, spyware or malware last year.”  Fourteen percent of law firms “experienced a security breach last year in the form of a lost or stolen computer or smartphone, a hacker, a break-in or a website exploit.”

Where to Start

With such staggering numbers, it is easy to become overwhelmed.  If you are concerned about cyber security but don’t know where to start, begin here at the ABA Web site. If you are a prolific user of mobile devices, be sure to check out the ABA’s suggestions for Security on the Go.  To understand the state of security in US law firms, read this post by Bob Ambrogi.

Make Encryption Your Best Friend

Encryption is a powerful way to protect sensitive data belonging to you and your clients. The ABA post Playing it Safe provides a good overview.  Since TrueCyrpt is no longer available, check out the following reviews of encryption software: LIfehacker, GFI, PC World, and Gizmo.

You’ve Heard it Before: Use Strong Passwords

It seems we are reminding lawyers every other day about the importance of using strong passwords unique to each account or Web site.  See these recent posts on the ABA Law Technology Today blog:

Firewalls, Anti-Spam, Anti-Virus, Malware Protection

The best protection is comprehensive.  This excerpt from The 2014 Solo and Small Firm Technology Guide provides guidance.  Don’t be afraid to hire an IT expert to help.

Purchase Cyber Liability and Data Breach Coverage

The Professional Liability Fund (PLF) Excess Claims Made Plan automatically includes a cyber liability and data breach response endorsement with these features:

  • Forensic and legal assistance to determine compliance with applicable law
  • Notifications to individuals as required by law
  • 12 months credit monitoring to each notified client
  • Loss mitigation resources for law firms

If you aren’t eligible or don’t wish to purchase excess coverage through the PLF, contact a commercial carrier.

Protect Yourself Against Scams

The security measures outlined above are a good start toward protecting your firm and your clients from scams.  For more complete protection, get educated.  Order the free PLF CLE: “Protecting Your Firm and Your Client from Scams, Fraud, and Financial Loss,” and talk to your bank about fraud protection services.

[All Rights Reserved – 2014 – Beverly Michaelis]

 

 

Leaving Your Firm

Parting isn’t always such sweet sorrow.  In fact, it can be downright contentious.

If you are contemplating leaving your firm, do your research. Meeting your ethical obligations fulfills only part of your responsibilities.

IF YOU ARE A PARTNER

Conduct your partnership withdrawal in a manner that honors the contractual and fiduciary responsibilities owed to your fellow partners.  Contractual duties are controlled by your written partnership agreement.  Fiduciary duties are described in case law and codified by statute in Oregon’s Revised Partnership Act.

IF YOU ARE NOT A PARTNER

Review your employment contract, employment letter, office policies, office procedures, or any other applicable terms that may control the process for terminating your relationship with your current firm or your obligations upon departure.

ARE ISSUES LIKELY TO ARISE?

Consult outside counsel experienced in the areas of lawyer mobility, partnerships, fiduciary duties, lawyer separation, and law firm dissolution.

PUT CLIENTS ABOVE ALL ELSE

If you are making a lateral move to another firm or setting up your own practice, remember that the client’s freedom of choice in selection of counsel is paramount.  Always put the interests of your clients first.  Keep the transition as amicable, professional, and stress-free as possible.  Contentious withdrawals alienate clients and damage relationships.

GIVE NOTICE TO YOUR FIRM BEFORE YOU CONTACT CLIENTS

Inform the firm of your decision to leave before contacting any clients.  Failing to give adequate and timely notice to your firm or partners before you contact clients is a violation of the duty of loyalty owed by a lawyer to his or her firm based on their contractual or agency relationship.  It may also constitute conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation in violation of Oregon RPC 8.4(a)(3).

RESOURCES

The Professional Liability Fund has extensive resources for Oregon lawyers who are departing a firm, withdrawing from a partnership, or dissolving a firm.  Visit our Web site for more information.

All rights reserved [2014] Beverly Michaelis.

 

 

Malpractice Claim Trends in Oregon [Infographic]

The 2013 Professional Liability Fund Annual Report is now available for Oregon lawyers on the PLF Web site.  The report reveals the following legal malpractice claim trends and data:

Number of claimsAverage Cost Per ClaimFrequency of Claims by Area of LawCost of Claims by Area of Law

 

 

Case Numbers are Not Unique – Oregon eCourt Week

This is the final post in my week-long series on Oregon eCourt. Today we take note of a small, but potentially important detail: case numbers are not unique in the eCourt system.

After logging on, eCourt users have an option to search case records, court calendars, or find judgments with money awards. If you elect to search Civil, Family and Probate Case Records, the following search screen appears:

search screenThe first option is to search by Case Number. Here is an actual search result that generated three listings in three different jurisdictions for the identical Case Number. Identifying information has been redacted for privacy reasons:

case numbers

Identical case numbers across judicial districts do not pose a problem so long as you are aware of the possibility.

Other Options when Searching Case Records

Searching by Case Number is the first option presented when searching case records. Users may also search by Party, Attorney, or Date Filed.

other search criteria

All Rights Reserved [2014] Beverly Michaelis.

 

Searching eCourt Calendars – Oregon eCourt Week

Today we explore how to search court calendars in the Oregon eCourt system.

There are two options for searching calendars. The first uses a publicly accessible link from the Oregon Judicial Department home page. The second approach requires logging in to the eCourt system. The search methods are identical regardless of the approach used.

The following search criteria are available when searching eCourt calendars:

  • Attorney
  • Case
  • Judicial Officer
  • Party or Defendant Name
  • Date Range

Search by Case is the default search method. To search by any other criteria, click the drop-down arrow.

When searching by Attorney, use the attorney’s last name and first name or bar number.

search by attorney

When searching by Judicial Officer, the search screen offers a pull-down menu of all judicial officers in the state in ascending order, beginning with Abar, Donald and ending with Zuver, Julie:

search by judicial officer

When searching by Date Range, you can filter your search by Case Category. Case categories include: Criminal, Family, Civil, and Probate/Mental Health. By default, all four are selected. De-select categories you do not wish to include in your search.

date range

Phonetic Searches Using Soundex

Phonetic searches are available when searching by Party or Defendant Name or by Attorney if using last name and first name criteria. Check the Soundex box in the upper right portion of the screen to retrieve calendar dates for search names that sound alike.

eCourt Calendar Searches Limited to 90 Days in the Future

When searching the calendar, date ranges cannot be more than 90 days in the future. If you attempt to search more than 90 days out, the following message will appear:

date range message

Searching OJIN Circuit Court Calendars

Search OJIN Circuit Court Calendars here. Search criteria are limited to Date, Party Name, and Attorney. Note these conditions:

The (OJIN Circuit) Court Calendar allows entering up to four identifiers to locate an event occurring on a specific court docket. A minimum of at least one identifier is required. Providing more information will result in more accurate search returns.

The Party Name and Attorney fields are case-insensitive and can be all or part of a name. For example, entering “John” in the Party Name field will give results of all the cases with “John,” “Johnson,” and “Van Johnson.”

Names are stored in the same manner as in the OJIN system “Last First Middle” with no commas and one space between names. For example, Michael Jay Smith is actually stored as “Smith Michael Jay.” Searching for “Michael Jay Smith” will not find any results; however, searching for “Smith Michael” or “Smith M” or “Smith Michael Jay” will include the desired results.

You can only search for the first plaintiff and defendant on a case. You can only search for the first three attorneys on a case, with the system first looking for attorneys on the scheduled event and then for active attorneys on the case. Search results will return the first 500 entries on the docket.

OJIN Online subscribers have access to more functionality.

Beverly Michaelis [2014] All Rights Reserved.

 

10 Year Paper Retention Requirement – Oregon eCourt Week

If you are a paperless practitioner who has embraced Oregon eCourt with open arms, beware. eCourt filers are required by rule to retain certain documents in their original paper form.  UTCR 21.120, effective May 1, 2014, provides:

“(1) Unless the court orders otherwise, if a filer electronically files an image of a document that contains the original signature of a person other than the filer, the filer must retain the document in its original paper form for 10 years.

(2) On reasonable notice, the filer must provide a paper copy of the original for inspection by another party, the clerk, or the court.”

See Chief Justice Order 14-012 dated March 31, 2014 adopting out-of-cycle amendments to the Uniform Trial Court Rules.

“Filer” means a person registered with the electronic filing system who submits a document for filing with the court.” UTCR 21.010(6).

Other Statutes and Rules May Require Retention of Original Paper Documents

Paperless practitioners should take note of other statutes or rules that require retention of original paper documents. Examples include the Affidavit of Custodian executed when a settlement agreement is reached on behalf of a minor (ORS 126.725(2)) and certain documents filed in US Bankruptcy Court (see Oregon Local Bankruptcy Court Rule 5005-4(e)). For more information, consult the PLF practice aids, File Retention and Destruction and Checklist for Scanning Client Files, available on the PLF Web site.

This is not an exhaustive list. Conduct your own appropriate legal research to identify other instances where original paper documents must (or should) be retained.

All Rights Reserved [2014] Beverly Michaelis

 

Rejected Filings and Relation Back – Oregon eCourt Week

The rules for electronic filing deadlines in Oregon eCourt are set forth in UTCR 21.080, effective May 1, 2014. (See Chief Justice Order 14-012 dated March 31, 2014 adopting out-of-cycle amendments.) Among the most important are the provisions concerning rejected filings and relation back.

Accepted Filings Relate Back to the Date and Time Received

“If the court accepts the document for filing, the date and time of filing entered in the register relate back to the date and time the electronic filing system received the document. When the court accepts the document, the electronic filing system will affix the date and time of submission on the document, thereby indicating the date and time of filing of the document. When the court accepts a document for filing, the electronic filing system sends an email to the filer, unless the filer has elected through system settings not to receive the email.”
UTCR 21.080(4). [See the rule for other provisions.]

What Happens When a Document is Rejected

“If the court rejects a document submitted electronically for filing, the electronic filing system will send an email to the filer that explains why the court rejected the document, unless the filer has elected through system settings not to receive the email. The email will include a hyperlink to the document.” UTCR 21.080(5).
Practice Tip: Leave the default system settings alone to ensure you will receive rejection notices.Rejection notices are sent from Tyler Technologies, @tylerhost.net not from @ojd.state.or.us.

 

Can I Resubmit a Rejected Filing?

The short answer is “Yes.” But resubmitted documents will only receive relation-back if certain conditions are met.

Getting Relation Back When a Filing is Rejected or:
What if I’m Up Against the Statute of Limitations?

A filer who resubmits a document may request, as part of the resubmission, that the date of filing of the resubmitted document relate back to the date of submission of the original document to meet filing requirements. In the case of a last minute filing to beat the statute of limitations, this will be critical. However, relation back is ONLY available if the following conditions are met:

First, the filer must resubmit the document within 3 days of the date of rejection. “If the third day following rejection is not a judicial day, then the filer may resubmit the filing … the next judicial day.” Resubmission means “submission of the document through the electronic filing system … or physical delivery of the document to the court.” UTCR 21.080(5)(a).

Second, a filer who resubmits a document for purposes of relation back must include a cover letter that contains the following:

a)     the date of the original submission
b)     the date of the rejection
c)     an explanation of the reason the filer is requesting that the date of filing relate back to the original submission
d)     the words “RESUBMISSION OF REJECTED FILING, RELATION-BACK DATE OF FILING REQUESTED” must be in the subject line of the cover letter.” UTCR 21.080(5)(a)(i).

Third, if the resubmission is filed electronically the words “RESUBMISSION OF REJECTED FILING, RELATION-BACK DATE OF FILING REQUESTED” must be included in the Filing Comments Field. UTCR 21.080(5)(a)(ii).
Practice Tip: Use the specific language set forth in the rule and enter it in ALL CAPS.

Objecting to Relation Back

“A responding party may object to a request (for relation back) within the time limits as provided by law for the type of document being filed. For the purpose of calculating the time for objection provided by law under this subsection, if applicable, the date of filing is the date that the document was resubmitted to the court under subsection (a) of this section.” UTCR 21.080(5)(b).

Other Things to Know about UTCR 21.080

eFiling is Available 24/7

“A filer may use the electronic filing system at any time, except when the electronic filing system is temporarily unavailable.” UTCR 21.080(1).

Filing Deadlines – Generally

“The filing deadline for any document filed electronically is 11:59:59 p.m. in the time zone where the court is located on the day the document must be filed.”  UTCR 21.080(2).

When is a Document “Submitted?”

“The court considers a document submitted for an electronic filing when the electronic filing system receives the document. The electronic filing system will send an email to the filer that includes the date and time of receipt, unless the filer has elected through system settings not to receive the email.” UTCR 21.080(3).

Avoiding Rejected Filings

Give documents meaningful file names so they are easily identified and distinguished. Carefully review information entered into the eFiling system, including the document selected for uploading. When filing is complete, check the confirmation.

Be aware of applicable file size limitations (25 MB in Oregon). Jurisdictions vary, sometimes significantly. If you attempt to upload a document that is too large, your filing will be rejected and you may miss a deadline. Adobe Acrobat can help you properly split and label large files for uploading to eFiling systems.

Keep your credit card information current with the court. Required fees must be paid when documents are electronically filed. If your card has expired and the fees are not paid, your filing will be rejected even if the document was uploaded prior to the deadline.

Avoid the most common e-filing mistakes:

  • Entering incorrect party, event, or filing codes
  • Selecting the wrong case or location
  • Failing to associate the attorney with the filing party
  • Improperly filing exhibits – see the limitations in UTCR 21.070
  • Including sensitive or confidential information
  • Failing to separate documents – file motions and orders separately. Do not combine multiple documents of any kind into a single PDF unless allowed by UTCR Chapter 21.
  • Missing information – signatures missing or no party information entered
  • Submitting illegible documents – PDFs that are not text-searchable or PDFs scanned upside down
  • eFiling documents that must be filed conventionally, such as documents needing a judge’s signature or amended complaints that result in an increased filing fee. See UTCR 21.070 for a complete list of documents that are not eligible for eFiling.
  • Failing to pay fees or paying incorrect fees

Leave default system settings alone to ensure you will receive rejection notices. See the discussion above, “What Happens When a Document is Rejected” under
UTCR 21.080(5).

The Most Important Advice

Don’t eFile documents at the last minute. E-filing is a somewhat tedious process: you must log in, enter the appropriate field codes, pay applicable fees, select and possibly split your documents for filing, and so on. If you lose your Internet connection, your computer crashes or you encounter other technical difficulties, there is no time for recovery. Upload documents during regular business hours when technical support staff are available and you have sufficient time to remedy any technical glitches.

Train Now to Avoid Problems Later

Above all, get trained. User guides, reference guides, and rules can be found here. Free Web training sessions and self-study online training are available here.

Schedule a presentation on Oregon eCourt for your organization or agency. Call or e-mail:

Oregon Judicial Department
Office of Education, Training and Outreach
503-986-5911
oeto@ojd.state.or.us

Technical Support

Oregon Judicial Department Help Desk – Monday through Friday 7:00 am to 6:00 pm (Pacific)
503-986-5582 or 1-800-922-7391
ETSDHelp@ojd.state.or.us

OJIN Online Subscriber/Business Support – Monday through Friday 8:00 am to 5:00 pm (Pacific)
1-800-858-9658
OJIN.Online@ojd.state.or.us

File & Service/eFiling User Support – Monday through Friday 7:00 am to 7:00 pm (Mountain)
Tyler Technologies
1-800-297-5377
Efiling.support@tylertech.com

All Rights Reserved [2014] Beverly Michaelis

eCourt Notices: Forwarding is Up to You – Oregon eCourt Week

Transitioning to Oregon eCourt requires many adjustments – as evidenced by this week’s posts. Among the most significant: how law offices will process court notices for various events, including hearing dates, trial dates, or entry of judgments.

eCourt Notices are Delivered Only to the Filing Attorney

Unlike PACER, where filers can specify multiple e-mail addresses to receive electronic court notices, the Oregon system restricts delivery to the filing attorney. Notices are sent to the filing attorney’s official e-mail address on file with the Oregon State Bar. Alternate e-mail addresses, including generic docketing accounts like docketing@abclawfirm.com are not permitted. Because notices are delivered to the filing attorney only, staff members or other attorneys in the office are not included in the Oregon eCourt notice system.

eService Accommodates as Many Parties as Needed

Unlike the notice system, there is no limit to the number of parties or lawyers that can be included in eService. Consent to eService is on a case by case basis. When you e-file into a case you are consenting to eService on that case. Parties and attorneys are responsible for adding themselves as a service contact in the eService system and updating their information as necessary. The system does not pull contact information from the Oregon State Bar database as it does for delivery of eNotices.

Registering Multiple Users Permitted

Law firms may register as many individual Oregon eCourt users as they desire. If a firm has 10 litigators and 5 staff who file in Oregon eCourt, all 15 may be added to the system. A firm account must be created first. Individual users may self-register only if permitted by the Firm Administrator. See the user guides available here.

How to Share eCourt Notices with Staff or Other Attorneys

If you want to share eCourt notices with staff or other attorneys in the firm, you will need to create auto-forward rules. This is easily done if you are using a desktop e-mail program like Outlook, Windows Live Mail, Apple Mail, or Thunderbird.

If you are using Web-based mail, it may or may not be possible. Auto-forwarding of eCourt notices requires the ability to selectively filter messages by sender. In this case, the goal is to forward messages sent from the court @ojd.state.or.us and from the Tyler Technologies File and Serve system @tylerhost.net.

Gmail permits forwarding of messages using filters (as do all the e-mail programs listed above). Yahoo! mail users can elect to forward all Yahoo! mail to another address, but they cannot selectively filter messages from specific senders. Filtering in Yahoo! is limited to moving messages from one folder to another.

Click on any of the following links to set up filtered auto-forwarding:

As an example, here are step-by-step instructions for creating a rule in Outlook 2010 to mark all messages from @ojd.state.or.us as important and auto forward copies to specific people (staff or other lawyers).  Repeat the steps described in this document to create a second rule for messages received from @tylerhost.net. eCourt notices are sent from both domains.

How to Create a Safety Net if you are a Solo Practitioner

If you are solo practitioner with no support staff, you may want to auto-forward eCourt notices to a secondary e-mail address as a backup. (Gmail can filter e-mail and send alerts to your phone.) Remember, you can also login to Oregon eCourt and look at court dates and case information online. eFiling data can be exported to Microsoft Excel.

Don’t Miss a Court Notice – Achieve Inbox Zero

If you achieve “Inbox Zero” you are far less likely to miss a court notice. Use Dee Crocker’s DAFT approach to keep your Inbox empty [Defer, Act, File, or Toss]:

Defer
If you don’t have time to reply or act on an e-mail, create a task from the message and schedule it for a later time.

Act
If you can respond to an e-mail in less than five minutes, do so.

File
File messages that don’t require a response when they arrive. Move messages to appropriate folders in your Inbox or better yet save them directly to the client’s folder on your computer or network. You can download electronic filing assistants to make this process easier.

Toss
Toss (trash) unneeded messages immediately.

Keep Other Best Practices in Mind

For complete guidelines on how to handle client e-mail see these articles:

Be particularly careful about junk mail or spam filters that may catch eCourt notices and learn about common eCourt mistakes. See Zero Tolerance for e-Filing Error: Avoid Committing Malpractice, with a Few Clicks of Your Mouse. Consider ordering the free PLF CLE, “Survival Tips for Organizing Your E-Mail and Practicing in eCourt,” available on the PLF Web site.

All Rights Reserved [2014] Beverly Michaelis