Speaking at Landlord-Tenant Law Seminar on April 28, 2011

On April 28, 2011, I’ll be speaking at the 8th Annual Landlord-Tenant Law-With a View from the Bench on Litigation Seminar in Nashville, presented by Sterling Education Services.

I’ll be teaching the afternoon session, on topics covering Collections, Enforcement of Judgment, Dealing with Tenant Bankruptcy, and Legal Ethics in Landlord-Tenant law.

Here’s the full agenda. This seminar gets lawyers continuing legal education credits, but it’s also designed for rental agents, landlords, and other non-lawyers who want to learn the legal process.

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Lawyers Don’t Get Paid by the Word, but They Sometimes Act Like They Do

This falls more into the category of “effective lawyering” than it does collections, but this article is a good lesson about the importance of reading your court’s rules of procedure and persuasive writing.

In the article, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals comes close to dismissing a party’s appeal based only on the blatant non-compliance with the Court’s 14,000 word limit in briefs, but then notes that the appeal has no merit (so side-steps that issue). The brief apparently used 18,000 words in unpersuasively making its point.

But, the decision has a lesson: know your court’s rules of procedure, and follow those rules.

And, aside from that, lawyers need to understand that less is often more. There’s a tendency to cite every case, refute every argument, and rehash every point. In our 30 second soundbite world, that’s not how we–and I include Judges here–process information. We look for summary statements, bullet points, and clear, concise statements.

And don’t get me started on those lawyers who just stand up and start reading from their briefs.

Invoice Hint: Do your Homework Before Extending Credit

As a collections attorney, bad invoices drive me crazy. A collection lawsuit is only as good as the paper it’s enforcing, so when invoices have serious defects, it’s hard to do a good job, because the other side has easy defenses.

A common issue is an invoice (or credit application) that doesn’t get the borrower’s name right. For instance, the document doesn’t clearly identify and completely name the party buying goods. As easy as it sounds, this happens all the time, particularly when dealing with corporate entities.

As an example, let’s say your invoice is simply addressed to “Smith Contractors.” Is that an “Inc.,” a “LLC,” or “John Smith d/b/a Smith Contractors”? This is critical in determining who you sue.  Even if the borrower writes down “Smith Contractors, Inc.,” there might not actually be a valid company set up under that name.

Here’s an easy fix:  check out your prospective borrower’s corporate status on the Tennessee Secretary of State website, by using the “Business Information Search.” You should be able to locate any valid corporate entity, and, if you can’t find it, then you should ask more questions about the legal status or name of your borrower.

Trust me, it’s better to ask those questions on the front end, before you extend the credit. If you wait to do this after the account is in default, it is probably too late.