Tennessee Supreme Court opinion on UCC-1 filings by “paper terrorists” offers a reminder that current TN law offers no effective civil protections for bogus liens

One of the greatest current failures of Tennessee law is the lack of a penalty for fraudulent lien filings. In December, I wrote: “if somebody records a piece of paper with ‘Notice of Lien’ written somewhere on it (and includes the owner name and property address), they’ve got a totally un-lawful, but also practically-effective, lien.”

Last year, a hand-written, three sentence recorded “lien” brought a pending commercial property sale to a halt. When I politely explained to the lien claimant that there was no basis under Tennessee law to assert lien rights, she said “If that were true, then, why are you even calling me?

What she was really saying was: Yeah, but what are you going to do about it?

In an opinion issued yesterday, the Tennessee Supreme Court was asked a similar question. In State of Tennessee v. Ronald Loyns, James Michael Usiger, Lee Harold Crowell, Austin Gary Coper, and Christopher Alan Haser, No. M201901946SCR11CD, 2023 WL 3446554 (Tenn. May 15, 2023), the Court was faced with a group who figured out how easy it is to create and record a UCC-1 personal property lien using the Tennessee Secretary of State’s online filing wizard.

So easy, in fact, that the group filed more than a hundred UCC-1s without legal or factual basis against a variety of folks who they had grievances with. The police officer who gave one a speeding ticket. An ex-wife. The local Chancery Court Clerk and Master. In all there were about 30 victims.

After one took his complaints to a lawyer, and was rebuffed, he attended the local meetings of this group, who taught him how to assert liens under the Uniform Commercial Code. By the UCC-1 filers’ logic, those “debtors” had done something that resulted in inconvenience to them and the UCC-1 filing was designed to obtain compensation (ranging, in this case, from 4 and 12 million dollars). The victims testified about the resulting failed home closings, the denied credit applications, and dings on credit reports.

The defendants were ultimately convicted of fraud and forgery, per Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 39-14-105(a)(6), 39-14-114, 39-17-117. This type of scheme is often referred to as “paper terrorism.”

The Supreme Court then analyzed the various actions against the requirements of Tennessee’s criminal statutes, and the Court upheld all criminal convictions.

In a footnote, the Court alluded to civil penalties, including at Tenn. Code Ann. § 47-9-625, and the ways that private citizens can protect themselves against these schemes.

Spoiler-alert: It’s far easier to file these bogus liens than it is to remove them.

Tenn. Code Ann. § 47-9-625 isn’t much help. It requires a party to seek court intervention (i.e. file a lawsuit), but the damages don’t include attorney fees. Per § 47-9-625(b), the party can only recover damages resulting from “the debtor’s inability to obtain, or increased costs of, alternate financing” (all very difficult to prove in court). There’s nothing in the statute setting a minimum penalty or, more importantly, allowing for the recovery of attorney fees.

Sure, these defendants made the headlines because of the breadth and shamelessness of their scheme, but the opinion and authorities cited in it do nothing to help the individual homeowner, who has a meritless lien recorded against her house and has a closing being held hostage. File a lawsuit and, then, simply recover the increased cost of her more expensive loan?

In short, there are no effective and efficient remedies under Tennessee law for this.

There are no internal fail-safes to protect against the schemes perpetrated by the defendants in this case. The Secretary of State isn’t watching these. Instead, the purported remedies (under Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 47-9-518 and 47-9-625) put the burden on the consumer to discover and challenge invalid liens, but with no effective remedy or deterrent for fraudulent liens.

The facts of this opinion should scare you, but I’d say that that the law in this opinion is the most terrifying aspect.

Court of Appeals: If attorney discounts their fees, prevailing party may not be entitled to recover full amount

Much to my former law partners and book-keepers’ chagrin, I often apply courtesy discounts to my clients’ legal invoices.

It’s counter-productive to my business model. But, as a kid raised by a mom who worked at the local Piggly Wiggly and a dad who worked on an assembly line, sometimes I look at a bill, am reminded of how expensive lawyers are, and apply a small discount.

Don’t get me wrong: All my billable entries are wonderful and worth every penny. In fact, I tend to win many of my cases, including an award of attorney fees, and, when I do, I sometimes wonder whether the defendant have to pay the full amount (and not the discounted amount)?

A recent Tennessee Court of Appeals says that a court can only award what the prevailing party actually pays (or is obligated to pay). It’s at St. Paul Cmty. Ltd. P’ship v. St. Paul Cmty. Church, No. M202101548COAR3CV, 2023 WL 1860692(Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 9, 2023).

In the case, the trial court originally awarded the Church $343,535.07 in attorney fees and expenses, which were computed at the rate of $295.00 per hour. In later proceedings (after an earlier remand), the Church attorneys asked for $515,655 in attorney fees, which appeared to retroactively calculate all entries at $450 per hour.

Why? The attorney and client had a unique “side” agreement to the engagement letter, that, even though the hourly rate was $295, if they won, the attorney would ask the Court to reimburse the fees “at a higher rate than the $295/hour I’m billing the church.” There was no agreement that the Church would ever actually have to pay that higher rate.

In light of the Tennessee’s application of the “American Rule” on attorney fees, the Court of Appeals focused on the text of the underlying agreement, which required the reimbursement of attorneys fees “incurred” by the Church. “Incur,” the Court noted, means “to become liable for” or “to be legally obligated to pay.”

Here, the lawyer’s engagement letter clearly said that the Church would never be expected to actually pay that higher rate. The trial court, then, was correct in awarding the attorney fees at the $295 rate, “which were charged and paid at the $295 rate pursuant to the written engagement letter” and denying any requests that the higher rate. Id. *6.

It’s an interesting opinion, with some fairly unique facts that would never come up in most cases.

But, in the context of long-standing litigation, a few $300 or $500 “courtesy discounts” here and there over the course of a case could add up to a few thousand (or more) dollars. After a long fought legal battle, it’d be natural to have your billing software show your cumulative legal fees for your Affidavit (which would naturally output only logged time entries and not paid bills) and forget to give your adversary the benefit of those discounts.

Under this new opinion, you may be legally obliged to. So, maybe my book-keeper is right.

Are the Nashville Construction Defaults a Leading Indicator that the Nashville Market has finally turned?

I saw something at a Nashville foreclosure yesterday that I hadn’t seen in years.

A luxury, high end house in a great neighborhood was auctioned, and nobody showed up to bid. The Lender bought it back at a credit bid. (In the spirit of disclosure, it was a $2MM+ credit bid. They weren’t quite giving it away, but this is Nashville).

It reminded me of foreclosures in the Great Recession, when you’d stand on the courthouse steps, reading a foreclosure sale notice to nobody and, invariably, your bank would become the new owner of the property.

Back in 2008, lenders were dealing with the after-effects of an easy-money market. Builders with good credit built too many houses, too fast, and the market had a glut of inventory, with no buyers in sight.

The lack of buyer-credit meant that new sales couldn’t keep up with the builder’s debt obligations. It was sort of a ponzi scheme, as sales of today’s houses were necessary to pay for yesterday’s construction costs. When the money level dipped, lots of partially built spec homes got foreclosed, after the builder’s new money ran out and they were defaulted or simply gave up.

I thought about 2008 yesterday.

As much free-flowing money as there’s been in the Nashville retail-buyer and foreclosure market over the last 4-5 years, it was a surprise to see that sale fall flat yesterday. In the last year, I’ve done foreclosures in Nashville with 20-30 bidders present. But, on a sunny Thursday, with a Belmont-Hillsboro Village house on the block, and there are no bidders, buyers, or bankers willing to refinance?

Could this be a leading indicator of a larger problem in Middle Tennessee?

The signs are there. This exuberant builder refurbished a modest 1920s bungalow, to construct a 8,712 square foot, 2 car garage, 5 bedroom, 8 bath outlier, originally offered for $3,675,000 (estimated monthly payment of $20,012). The house isn’t entirely finished–it looks like contractor work on the new backyard pool and outdoor area has stopped.

The builder has more than a dozen projects throughout Nashville, in similar stages of “in progress” construction. The builder also has a number of pending foreclosures and twice as many pending lawsuits. The construction on a number of the sites seems to have simply stopped.

Just a few years ago, just one high-end property selling for top-dollar would have bought an over-extended builder a few months, finished another project, and lead to another sale, but it seems like the buyer market has waned as well. When both buyers and banks get cautious, risky bets come due.

There are a number of peculiarities here that may make a broad-takeaway unreliable. But, with that caveat, I’m seeing lots of the same issues and patterns that we saw in 2008.

Plus, by mid-morning, I’d learned that the developer filed a Bankruptcy. Just like they did in 2008.

Tennessee Court of Appeals Makes Clear: Foreclosing Party Must Prove It “Sent” Foreclosure Sale Notice, Not that it was Actually “Received”

I’ve said that the Tennessee foreclosure process can be intimidating because it’s, largely, non-judicial. Because there’s no judge involved, it comes down to the foreclosure lawyer strictly following the intricate labyrinth of statutory requirements.

One of the fundamental steps, of course, is to “send” the homeowner a copy of the Notice of Foreclosure Sale. Under Tenn. Code. Ann. § 35-5-101(e), that sale notice “shall be sent on or before the first date of publication provided in subsection (b) by registered or certified mail, return receipt requested.”

When I’m conducting a foreclosure, it’s a great relief to get that signed, certified mail green card back, because I know that my borrower received the Sale Notice and knows about the sale.

But, what about the situations in which the green card doesn’t come back signed?

This has always been an issue, because a borrower in default on his loans likely sees a certified mail green card as bad news and doesn’t rush to the post office to sign for it, especially when a copy is also sent by first class mail.

It became an even bigger issue during the COVID pandemic, when mail delivery was disrupted and people weren’t leaving their house to go to the post office. One of my 2021 foreclosures was challenged because, instead of getting a signature (presumably to avoid human contact), the postman marked it delivered and wrote his badge number on the signature line.

Do I have to prove that the owner received the Notice of Sale?

A new opinion from the Tennessee Court of Appeals reminds us that proof of “delivery” is not necessary.

The case is Jennifer Scharsch v. Cornerstone Financial Credit Union, No. M2020-01621-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 28, 2023). There, the borrower disputed “receipt” of the foreclosure sale notice. The Court made short work of this argument.

The Court wrote that Tenn. Code Ann. § 35-5-101(e) “only provides that the trustee shall ‘send’ the notice.” Id. (citing Smith v. Hughes, 639 S.W.3d 627, 640 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2021). Further, “[t]here is no statutory requirement that the notice be received by the debtor.” Davis v. Wells Fargo Home Mortg., No. W2016-02278-COA-R3-CV, 2018 WL 1560077, at *11 (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 29, 2018).

Because the foreclosing lender had submitted affidavit proof that it sent the notice, the lender satisfied its obligation under § 35-5-101(e).

“Even if [the borrower] never received the letter, [the foreclosing parties] satisfied the requirements of the deed of trust and Tennessee Code Annotated § 35-5-101. So whether [the borrower] received the notice of the foreclosure sale was not material for purposes of summary judgment.” Id.

On my sales, to be clear, I always want there to be a “receipt.” I want the call that has a payment proposal, or threatens a bankruptcy, or anything that shows that they received what I sent. But, due to the total unpredictability of the green-card signature system (and a borrower’s ability to dodge a signature), I don’t want the responsibility of proving that in order to have a valid sale.

New Court of Appeals Opinion suggests that late-filed Answer may not prevent a default judgment

All the good Nashville lawyers I know are so busy right now. This is a good problem to have, but, nevertheless, it is a problem. There’s simply too much demand right now.

I overheard one local lawyer telling a story about a frantic call he received from a client, who was freaking out because they hadn’t filed an Answer to a lawsuit, and it had been more than 30 days after service.

“Have they filed a Motion for Default yet? If not, then it’s not late.”

I’m sure the lawyer was more tactful in the actual conversation, but the reasoning has some basis in local custom. Often, in Davidson County courts, if a defendant files an Answer before the hearing on a Motion for Default Judgment and pleads a tenable defense, a court will not grant a judgment under Tenn. R. Civ. P. 55, under the theory that the justice system prefers that “matters be decided on the merits” not a technicality. (See, generally, Discover Bank v. Morgan, 363 S.W.3d 479, 491 (Tenn. 2012)).

A recent opinion from the Tennessee Court of Appeals shows that there are risks in waiting to file an Answer.

That case is Conserv Equip. Leasing, LLC v. Schubert Enterprises, LLC, No. E2022-00535-COA-R3-CV, 2023 WL 1489768 (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 3, 2023). There, the creditor filed a motion for default, and, a few days later, received a phone call from an attorney who “expected to be retained” by the defendants and asked for a 3 week continuance on the motion hearing. After the hearing was so continued, that defense attorney “fax-filed” an Answer at 3:59pm on the Friday before the Monday morning default hearing, with an original copy filed with the Clerk about 33 minutes before the hearing.

Defendant appeared at the hearing, objecting to the relief and presumably with filed Answer in hand, but the default judgment was nevertheless granted. At the trial court level, Defendants later tried to set aside the ruling on excusable neglect grounds and Tenn. R. C. P. 60.02.

The Court of Appeals noted that “[a]lthough courts construe Rule 60.02 ‘with liberality to afford relief from a default judgment,’ the movant bears the burden of showing ‘why the movant was justified in failing to avoid the … neglect’.” Id. at *2. The Court wrote that “[i]f the court finds that the defaulting party has acted willfully, the judgment cannot be set aside on ‘excusable neglect’ grounds…” and “[m]aking ‘deliberate choices’ amounts to willful conduct. Id.

In the end, the issue was remanded back to the trial court, whose order denying the Rule 60 motion failed to include findings of act and conclusions of law (per Tenn. R. Civ. P. 52.01). In short, the trial court didn’t provide any explanation for its ruling.

To be clear, though, the Court of Appeals didn’t say the trial court was wrong; instead, it sent it back down for the trial court to provide more explanation for its refusal to set aside the judgment. The most likely outcome, of course, is that the plaintiff will prepare a properly supported proposed order, the judge will sign it, and, then, that order will be appealed.

It’ll be an interesting case to watch, but, procedurally, it’s also a reminder: Don’t delay when dealing with court deadlines.

Tennessee Court of Appeals makes it clear: When a lien is paid, the Lender must pay the release fee (limited exclusions apply)

When a mortgage or judgment gets paid off, the creditor has to release its lien. It’s not only common sense, but it’s a duty imposed by Tennessee statute (see Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-25-101).

It’s an easy process to prepare a Release of Lien and record it with the register of deeds. Also, it’s not particularly expensive. Depending on how many pages the release is, the fee can be as little as $12.00.

Not too onerous for a lender who just got paid in full, right?

Well, not so fast. Ask any of my creditor clients, and they’ll tell you that “paid in full” means “fully paid, including that release fee.” When I get a payoff request on a deed of trust or judgment lien, I generally include a line for the $12.00 release costs.

Not anymore, in light of a December 2022 Tennessee Court of Appeals opinion, Eudaley v. U.S. Bank Nat’l Ass’n, No. M202100344COAR3CV, 2022 WL 17751378 (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 19, 2022). In that case, the mortgage lender got paid in full, recorded the release, and sent a bill to the borrower for $12.00. In response, the borrower filed a class action lawsuit in Davidson County Circuit Court, arguing that, per Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-25-106, “[a]ll costs … for registering a formal release[ ] shall be paid by the holder of the debt secured by the … deed of trust.”

Despite the very clear statutory text, the trial court dismissed the case after finding that federal law allows such fees and preempts the state law. The Court of Appeals affirmed, but not before providing some useful guidance to other lienholders (who may not have a federal banking regulation to hide behind).

Specifically, the Court wrote that “§ 66-25-106 prohibits holders of debt from seeking reimbursement of costs associated with recording a release of a deed of trust” because “[t]he debt holder’s obligation to record a release only arises if the debt has been paid in full or satisfied, indicating that nothing further is owed to the debt holder.” In affirming the trial court’s dismissal, the opinion makes clear that the lienholder bears those costs and can’t seek reimbursement, but, nevertheless, “that prohibition is preempted by federal law when the debt holder seeking reimbursement is a national bank.”

So, what if you’re not a national bank? Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-25-106 applies, and the creditor must chalk up $12.00 as the cost of getting paid.

What about other sorts of liens, like judgment liens or mechanic’s liens? § 66-25-106 seems to apply to any lienholder, but the judgment creditor may nevertheless have an argument that the release fees are “costs of collection” or allowed court costs/discretionary costs.

Either way, this December 2022 opinion provides pretty compelling authority to support a lender’s decision to simply record the release and write off the $12.00. In a very creditor-friendly state like Tennessee, Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-25-106 is an outlier, but this case is a very good reminder that it exists.

On Lawyer Stress (a/k/a the Post I will send clients when I raise my rates for 2023)

Do you think you might be having a heart attack?

No matter what the actual ailment is. Food poisoning. Anxiety. Indigestion. Insomnia.

When you wake up at 2am, with a racing heart, and a feeling that something isn’t quite right, and get asked “Do you think you might be having a heart attack?

Well, in that moment, you think one thing. That you might be having a heart attack.

I know this from my own experience, just last month. It was the very early Tuesday morning evening of a very busy week: I had a trial scheduled to start 32 hours later in Memphis and, at the end of the week, a bankruptcy conference in California.

And, in that moment, at 2am, yes, it felt like I was having a heart attack.

Continue reading “On Lawyer Stress (a/k/a the Post I will send clients when I raise my rates for 2023)”

Tennessee Courts will not consider substantive challenges to foreign judgments

Where a foreign judgment is based on substantive law that is inconsistent with Tennessee law, will a Tennessee court deny domestication of that judgment in Tennessee? The short answer is “no.” A Tennessee court will only look at whether the judgment is valid in the foreign state and will not consider substantive defenses based on Tennessee law.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals considered this exact issue a few years ago. In that case, the Court was faced with a foreign judgment based on a “confession of judgment” which, under Tennessee law, aren’t valid and are unenforceable. But, because confessions of judgment are valid in the other state, the Court found that a foreign judgment based on a “confession of judgment” was enforceable in Tennessee under the Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgements Act.

Last week, the Tennessee Court of Appeals that reaffirmed that outcome, in Mantis Funding LLC v. Buy Wholesale Inc., No. M202200204COAR3CV, 2022 WL 17986892, at *1 (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 29, 2022).

In Mantis, the judgment creditor sought to enforce a New York judgment in Davidson County Circuit Court. The judgment debtor objected, but Judge Brothers looked only to whether the New York court was willing to set aside or entertain a challenge to the validity of the underlying judgment. When the New York court denied the debtor’s motion to vacate the judgment, the Tennessee decision was easy: “the New York judgment is entitled to full faith and credit in Tennessee pursuant to the Constitution of the United States of America.” Id. at *1.

The Court of Appeals agreed. Sure, confessions of judgment are void under Tennessee law pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 25-2-101, but “full faith and credit” doesn’t require that the sister state’s judgment be consistent with Tennessee law. Instead, assuming that there are no service or procedural issues, the Tennessee Court will consider only whether the judgment debtor has challenged the foreign judgment and/or the substantive legal issues in the foreign jurisdiction. If not, “the decision is res judicata… [and o]nce decided, these issues cannot be raised in another, later case seeking to enroll the foreign judgment.” Id. at *2.

This is a fairly settled issue in judgment enforcement, but, because a judgment debtor has such limited bases to challenge a foreign judgment, the debtor will nevertheless “throw the kitchen sink” at the creditor. This new opinion reaffirms that such challenges should be denied.

My 2022 Worst of Legal List: A Highly Biased List of Niche Things I Disliked

I promised a follow-up to my “Best of List,” but, since complaining is more fun, I am writing about some things I disliked in 2022.

The courts system’s quick return to pre-COVID practices. You remember my rant when I caught COVID on a 5 hour docket in July. I think courts were too quick to abandon the pandemic innovations and return “to the way law was practiced when people rode horses to court.” Sure, a court might let you call-in for a hearing, but there is always a risk the technology won’t be up to speed, the judge won’t realize you’re on the line, or she won’t be able to hear you on the invariably staticky line. Having seen the trouble other lawyers had with call-in appearances, I decided to never risk my client’s case on a remote appearance. When in doubt and given the option, lawyers will generally appear in person. How about–for some hearings–there’s a process that allows for no other option other than to call-in?

There’s no state-wide, uniform e-filing system. My law practice has a fairly small foot-print. (My marketing materials call it a “curated practice.”) In the 3-4 counties where I do most of my work, I have separate log-ins for the different courts in each of those counties. Each e-filing system has its own set of rules, exclusions, and peculiarities. E-filing is awesome, so I’ll take a bad system over no system. But, having said that, why can’t the State of Tennessee establish a uniform system?

Our Tennessee foreclosure system is entirely based on physical newspapers. Until recently, I had a newspaper subscription, even though: (a) for the past 20 years, I’ve gotten 99% of my news online; (b) my local newspaper had shrunk to about 10 pages (total); and (c) my newspaper carrier generally delivered my morning paper either 8 hours late, the next day, or not at all. Physical newspapers are possibly the worst way to convey information in our modern age, but, nevertheless, Tennessee’s entire foreclosure and UCC sale system is tied directly to published notices in physical copies of newspapers. All over the country, newspapers are going to an online-only model (followed, most likely, by going out of business). But our foreclosure laws haven’t been updated. We’re headed for trouble unless we change these laws.

There’s no penalty for bogus lien filings in Tennessee. Sure, there’s the toothless “exaggeration of lien” statute (Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-11-139) or the confusing “slander of title” cause of action, but, by and large, if somebody records a piece of paper with “Notice of Lien” written somewhere on it (and includes the owner name and property address), they’ve got a totally un-lawful, but also practically-effective, lien. A few years ago, the Tennessee Legislature passed Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-21-108, which gave property owners a nuclear bomb to deal with invalid lien claims, but it was repealed within a year. As it stands now, there’s no useful remedy, other than to pay the invalid lien or to cancel your transaction.

Big Mortgage Lenders refuse to provide payoffs on their debts with impunity. One of the weirdest sub-plots throughout my 2022 was how near-impossible it was to get a payoff from mortgage lenders. In December, I had to sue a mortgage lender to get a payoff (and to stop an immediately pending foreclosure sale). It might have been the dumbest lawsuit I’ve ever filed (dumb as in the other side was dumb to make me go to the trouble): Within 24 hours of my getting a foreclosure injunction, the lender provided the payoff and, within a few hours of that, it was paid off in full. A win, except it cost more than $5,000 in unrecouped legal fees to address an unnecessary situation. There needs to be a law that imposes penalties, including attorney fees, in these situations.

I spent the entire year in a sales funnel. In 2022, after a full year as a small business owner, I took some time to evaluate my existing legal technology and services and what needed to be upgraded. On legal tech websites, I’d enter my email in order to download some awesome “Free Guide To _____” that promised a magical solution or explanation for some common problem or process. Having downloaded a number of those (none of which solved any problem), my phone rang all year long, over and over, with sales calls. It’s not “free,” if I end up in a Sales Funnel. My advice to service providers: How about sharing your expertise, impressing me with your vast knowledge, and leaving me alone, confident that I’ll return to you for my buying needs?

Phone calls from Tom James Company custom clothiers were the worst. If I ever find out who sold my name and phone number to Tom James Company, I will immediately sever ties with that organization (I suspect one of the bar associations did it). Tom James representatives were relentless in 2022. They called me so many times that I remembered the caller’s name (from the prior week’s call), could recite their opening line back to them, and remind them that I was the person who wasn’t interested because I buy all my suits from South Korea, just like BTS (not true, but why not go big, right?). After maybe 25 calls in 2022, I reached out to Tom James corporate, and asked if I could pay them something to be added to a no-call list.

Dealing with global, multi-state law firms. All of Nashville’s medium to big law firms are slowly selling out to mega-law firms. For the most part, I still deal with local folks on my litigation matters, but, on matters where a Tennessee law license may not be required, I have to deal with out-of-towners, and it’s rarely a pleasant, easy relationship. It’s a trend I’m dreading, as these firms bring their billable rates, minimum hourly requirements, other customs into the work they do in the local market. In short, their weirdness makes my job harder.

I miss old twitter. Many years ago, while waiting at a docket call in Montgomery County, I tweeted that I forgot to bring a pen for court. Within a minute, a local lawyer who follows me on twitter introduced himself and handed me a pen. Over the past decade plus of very-regular twitter use, I have found a vibrant and diverse lawyer community who post updates, victories, and advice. It’s awesome. Over the last few months, it’s gotten less active. If twitter as we once knew it goes away, we will have truly lost something.

The Lawyer-Industrial-Complex has gotten out of hand. Have you tried to hire a lawyer lately? If so, you were probably shocked by their hourly rates. The Clio 2022 Legal Trend Report (warning, you have to enter your email to access it) says that, in fact, lawyer rates are too low and haven’t risen with the general rate of inflation. I don’t know about that, but, holy smokes, lawyers and all the law adjacent services are so expensive right now. I’m using a Westlaw Rules of Civil Procedure book from 2020 because a new set (that will be obsolete in a month) is nearly $1,000. Some lawyers say that this isn’t a problem (more money in my own pocket, right?), but, frankly, it’s a trend that I don’t like. Prices are going up, but the quality of service is staying the same.

Having said that, where are all the good, reasonably priced Nashville lawyers? As noted above, I keep a small footprint for my law practice, and I refer out about 2/3 of the “new client” calls I get. My biggest problem with referrals has been “To whom”? I only refer cases to lawyers who will make me look good and will do an awesome job. Everybody on my existing list is swamped right now. What Nashville lawyer does good, competent, cost-efficient work? And, also, is looking for more work? I can’t find him or her. But I’m looking.

My 2022 Best of Legal Lists (Part 1): A Highly Biased List of Niche Things I Liked This Year

Everybody’s doing “end of the year” lists, so this is my list of law-related things that I’ve enjoyed in 2022, in no particular order:

Best Show About Lawyers? Extraordinary Attorney Woo: This South Korean legal dramedy follows Woo Young-woo, a new law school grad starting her career at a white shoe law firm. It debuted in summer 2022 to record-breaking ratings, and is currently streaming on Netflix.

The show offers commentary on the legal profession through a novel lens: Attorney Woo has autism spectrum disorder, so many of the profession’s customs and courtesies are lost on her. Through her unique perspective, the show thoughtfully examines universal issues facing lawyers everywhere, like burnout, imposter syndrome, and nuanced ethical issues (i.e. should an attorney care if their clients are corporate “bad actors”).

Maybe it’s the South Korean cultural influence, but the show presents a thoughtful and refreshing alternative to the typical blinged-out, L.A. Law-style lawyer portrayal. Added bonus? After watching the show, my kids think lawyers are really cool…

Best Lawyer Jokes on the Internet? Alex Su. Lawyer jokes are pretty bad, mainly because they play on misconceptions and miss their mark. Alex Su, a reformed corporate lawyer turned legal tech sales guru, knows exactly where to aim his mockery.

You can find his work on his TikTok page and Instagram, as well as his long-form blog, Off the Record.

@legaltechbro

Reposting the Tik Tok that first put me on the map #lawyer #paralegal #lawschool

♬ Blinding Lights MuchDank edit – Marvie

He may be the funniest lawyer on the internet, but, whatever you do and no matter how brilliant and hilarious you think one of his clips is, never try to explain your favorite videos to a non-lawyer. They will not laugh. Alex has invented the niche category of “lawyer-jokes-for-lawyers-by-lawyers.”

Best third-party service that has made my job easier? Proof Technology, Inc. The most frustrating part of a new lawsuit is often service of process. Especially when you’re dealing with an out-of-state defendant, and you have to hire an out-of-state process server and have no idea who to hire. In my experience, whoever you hire will not care about speed, customer-service, or communication with a “one-off” customer. Unfortunately, your own client will care desperately about all of that.

That’s where Proof comes in. Proof is a nationwide service of process company, who–after you upload your legal documents to their site–does all the work to hire, monitor, and make sure you get your documents served, using their network of servers. Due to their nationwide network, you get the benefit of their buying power.

In the past, I’ve just used a random google search and hoped for the best, but generally expected (and gotten) the worst. Since I’ve started using Proof, I’ve been shocked at how easy this process is. I can’t recommend them enough.

Best Legal Conference? Clio Cloud Conference. Earlier this year, I raved about ClioCon so fanatically that a stranger on twitter attacked me for it. Doesn’t matter to me. I’m signed up for ClioCon 2023 (in Nashville), and I can’t wait.

Best One-Stop-Shop for a lawyer logo, website, and everything else? Huckleberry Branding. I left my big law firm 2.5 years ago, and, since then, I’ve had three websites and three logos (well, the “third” incarnation is going to be unveiled in a few weeks). Of course, there’s an entirely different post about that, but I want to talk about Huckleberry for a moment. They are genius branders, artists, and designers, and they really learn your story and incorporate your vision into building a unique and representative brand concept.

Is it time to upgrade from a bunch of people’s last names yet?

If so and/or if one your New Years resolutions to update your brand, call Mariko.

Other best items? I’ll probably supplement this list a few more times over the next few days, so stay tuned. It’s sort of hard to remember an entire year all at once. Tune in for Part 2 later.