You can always tell when I get really, really busy with work: I stop law blogging.
Which is a perfectly reasonable outcome, of course. But, having said that, August was a busy month, so here are some quick notes.
The Tennessee Bar Association interviewed me about starting my own firm during the pandemic. I know we’ve reached peak podcast capacity, but I really enjoy the TBA’s podcasts featuring interesting legal and lawyer stories from across the State. In a time where we’re not seeing each other in court or at events, it’s nice to virtually catch up with what is going on.
It was a fun podcast, and, to my surprise, I didn’t collapse into a ball of cringe when I listened to it. Yeah, I used the word “pivot” way more than I (believe) I do in real life, but, otherwise, I was pleased with the message.
As many of you know, I have a tendency toward saying more than is sometimes necessary, and I credit my wife’s advance coaching in that regard. Lena is a writer and a master content creator, and she made sure that I kept it reasonably on topic.
Except, of course, for the opening stories: She expressly told me not to talk about the RV trip or the boat. Oh well, I hope you all enjoyed it. (And, if I have kept one person from buying a boat this summer, my personal embarrassment will have been worth it.)
The course focuses on strategies and best practices in communicating with clients, witnesses, and other parties in the legal system, at all stages of the legal process.
A central tenent of my new firm is to focus on providing client-centered service, asking every step of the way: How are we serving our clients and what can we do better? This is the future, and my goal is to share this mind-set with the next generation of lawyers.
Hint: Invariably, a person’s LinkedIn page ends up being the highest result (or way up there). My new advice (and part of last week’s assignment): Create a good LinkedIn page for yourself. The best way to decrease the impact of negative information online is to lower that information in the google search results.
If LinkedIn has a fast track to the top of the list, create a LinkedIn page that is so robust with information (name, biography, practice areas, contact information) that a potential client or employer never clicks on your Myspace page from 2007 (an actual top result for one of the students).
I’m two classes in, and, so far, it’s been extremely rewarding and extremely hard work. Hug a teacher, guys, they’re the real heroes.
Side-note: I’ll be back with the law blogging soon–there have been lots of fun new opinions issued.
Remember, back in the spring of 2020, when we embraced all the radical changes to the way we practiced law?
All across the country, law firms were closing their offices, sending the staff to work from home, and figuring out how to practice using a laptop, a phone, and really strong wi-fi. No more 4-hour dockets, just to announce an agreed order. Instead, we were doing hearings (and trials!) by Zoom, sitting at hot desks (or in our front bedroom), and figuring out ways to use technology to speed up the legal process for clients.
But lawyers, as a group, aren’t always looking for ways to innovate and “speed up” the legal process. This is an industry where “they way things have always been done” sets a direct course for the ways things will be done.
And so, sure, those early pandemic puff pieces about all the law firm Zoom happy hours made for great fodder in the local business journal in July 2020, but this is July 2021, and it’s time for attorneys and staff to get back to the office. Lawyers are logging off of Zoom and dusting off those old suits. The two hour drive to Court to make a five minute announcement is back.
I love this quote because it’s so true: We are discarding so many of our advances from the past year–things that made perfect sense and saved so much time and legal fees for clients–only to go back “to the way law was practiced when people rode horses to court.”
Why? National legal writer David Lat writes about this in his column about the “Five-Day Office Week.” Lat cites several factors, not the least of which is the sunk cost of long term leases and other hard costs built into the typical law firm. If the firm is paying for all that space, why not make people use it? And, yes, the traditional way of doing things is one of those factors.
Because I live and practice law in Nashville, my frustration about reverting back to the old-timey ways is influenced by, frankly, how much of a mess downtown Nashville can be to conduct business in. E-filing in Davidson County Chancery, Circuit, and General Sessions Courts cuts down on 90% of my trips downtown, but, for that 10%, it literally doesn’t matter what time of day you go: Downtown Nashville is a 24-hour madhouse of construction, beer delivery trucks, parties, and congestion.
In the end, common sense and efficiency may not be the deciding factors. If the Judges, the Court Clerks, and the Administrative Office of the Courts want lawyers to practice law in person, lawyers will have no choice. If law firm managing partners want staff, associates, and partners to physically come downtown, that’s what they’ll do (unless it results in a talent exodus, as predicted by David Lat).
If you want an early clue on where this is heading, though, look at the law firm screenshots showing their recent Zoom meetings and happy hours. In those, the younger associates tend to be working remotely. But, notice the older lawyers’ pictures. They’re generally wearing ties and doing the Zoom calls from their law firm offices.
My take-away? The five day work week is already back. They just haven’t sent you the memo yet.
It’s a topic that local lawyers have been talking about for a few years, generally in the form of complaints about the out-of-towners coming in, planting a flag (albeit a very fancy flag), and changing the local market in ways that don’t necessarily change it for the better.
And, yes, I fully acknowledge that this is, basically, the “lawyer” equivalent of when long-timer Nashvillians complain about the people from California moving to their neighborhood and running up the home prices.
Last fall, I had a commercial real estate matter with one of these new law firms. The lawyer I dealt with was based out of Phoenix (but, weirdly, always called me from a Miami area code). It was a small deal, but also the most difficult project I worked on last year. Literally, every thing that could be argued about was argued about. To this day, if you are calling from the 305, you are getting my voice-mail (sorry, J-Lo).
For good or bad, it was definitely a different experience, and I worry whether this is what the next 10 years looks like.
I know I sound like those traditionalist lawyers who refuse to acknowledge change and who, last year, probably refused to do Zoom hearings or, years ago, refused to use e-mails.
But, it is going to change the local legal profession.
Lawyers at mega-firms have to bill more to pay for those mega-offices (both in Nashville, but also in NYC, LA, and all of those other “national” cities) and the mega-salaries being offered. More issues get nit-picked, more calls get scheduled, and, slowly, the way you do a deal in Nashville feels more like how you do it in NYC, Chicago, or whatever other of the 20 cities the lawyer you’re dealing with is based out of.
In the end, you have to wonder whether this results in more costs to the client and, if it does, is it worth it? (And, disclaimer, if a huge law firm wants to buy my firm, I will instantly delete this post.)
I had drinks with a couple of local lawyers from other firms a few weeks ago. We talked about office space (still expensive!), some local gossip, and these issues. (Recap: Many of our well-respected-lawyer-friends work at these firms; they are awesome and do good work; we’re just jealous; who is next, etc.)
In the end, one of the other lawyers wrapped it all up with a sly grin: Sure, it’s going to change the Nashville legal market, but there’s a silver-lining. Over the next 3-5 years, it’s going to artificially raise the standard hourly rate for legal work by 33%to 50%for all of us. (And, sure, this was said as a joke, but also as a statement of fact. This is a very good prediction.)
If you’ve lived in Nashville more than 5 years, you’ve heard complaints just like what I’ve said in this post. You’ve also heard the typical response, which points out that the complaining neighbor’s own property value has sky-rocketed due to the hot market. Same goes for lawyers.
Last November, I started a bank foreclosure sale on a piece of property in Williamson County, at 2113 N Berrys Chapel Road, Franklin, Tennessee 37069. The foreclosure never happened, because the borrower filed a Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in the Eastern District of California.
When I received the Notice of Bankruptcy Filing, I printed a copy for my file, confirmed on PACER that the Notice was legit, and closed my file. This foreclosure sale is canceled.
In the 3 weeks that the foreclosure was pending, I’d received one or two calls about it.
But, somehow, the property website Zillow picked up my Foreclosure Sale Notice and, not only that, but Zillow has me listed as the sales agent on the property’s Zillow page. My name, address, and phone number (the ONE time I used my cell phone number), all right there online.
Since December, I’ve received probably 4-5 phone calls a week, every week, asking about this property. I’ve received calls from families, from real estate agents, and from property investors. The calls are from local numbers, as well as from far away places as Mississippi, California, Minnesota, and London. They call in the mornings, at night, and on the weekends.
I got a call last night at 8pm. I got one today at 2pm.
At this point, if I get a call from a number that I don’t recognize, I assume it’s somebody calling about “that house in Franklin that you’ve got listed for sale.”
It’s either a testament to the reach of Zillow, or the continued atomic-hot Nashville real estate market.
The people are always really nice. They also have a lot of questions about bankruptcy, when I’ll be foreclosing on this house again, and whether I have other houses I can sell to them.
Sometimes they’ll complain to me about the real estate market, about how expensive everything is and how hard it is to find a deal. Occasionally, they ask about bankruptcy and foreclosures, and, honestly, it’s easier to explain what the automatic stay is and how Chapter 11 works than to try to cut the calls short.
I’ve asked Zillow to remove my name and phone number, to no avail.
So, at this point, I propose this: If any of you are real estate agents and need “new customer leads,” please let me know.
And, finally, if you are reading this after googling “2113 N Berrys Chapel Road, Franklin, Tennessee 37069” and you are interested in buying it, here’s what I have to say:
The sale has been cancelled as a result of the borrower filing bankruptcy. A new sale date has not been set and will not be set in the foreseeable future. Yeah, you know those California judges. No, I don’t know if the kitchen appliances in the pictures are still there. No, I don’t have the keys; I just represent the bank foreclosing on the property.
And, yes, I agree. The real estate market in Nashville is insane.
Last week, I had to go to the Davidson County Courthouse to file some garnishment pleadings. With the adoption of e-filing and suspension of in-person court proceedings, filing garnishments is really the only reason I set foot in the building.
Once upon a time–well, about a year ago–I’d spend nearly every Friday morning there, on the fourth floor, checking in on all of the Chancery Court dockets.
Some days, I’d have a case in every courtroom, carefully timing my arrivals so that I could cover all four. On other days, I might just have one case, but I’d linger and roam the halls to see who was there and what cases they had. It was a great way to catch up with other lawyers, talk about our cases, watch interesting hearings, observe how the judges handled issues, and, really, just stay connected to what was going on (i.e. gossip).
But, last week, it was so strange, to be back in that building and it all be so quiet.
Welcome to January 21, 2021, the first full day of the Joe Biden administration. It’s also an interesting time for law firms…
Most law firms announce compensation plans this week. The first week of the year is generally spent winding down last year’s financials. The following week is spent distributing bonuses.
This third week, though, may be the most important. It’s when the new year’s salaries are announced. Associates and partners alike sharpen their advocacy skills, to explain away last year’s billables and to demonstrate how this coming year will be the biggest one yet. And, of course, that they deserve a big raise.
If you’re a lawyer in a “discretionary” system (i.e. you advocate to a “compensation committee” for a higher salary), you have limited arguments available. In fact, the presentations generally focus on two metrics: (1) I promise to bill more hours; and/or (2) I am raising my billable rate.
Neither of these are particularly good outcomes for clients.
Unless there was some external factor that limited hours (illness, leave of absence, COVID), where can a lawyer find 100-200 more billable hours in 2021? Is the lawyer simply going to work harder? Maybe. In other cases, the lawyer will just pad their time and that letter that took a “0.3” in 2020 now becomes a “0.5” letter.
And, sure, inflation or more experience can justify an increase in an hourly rate, but is the increase really based on that, or has the lawyer just figured out that a $15 increase multiplied by 1,800 hours equals $27,000 more in profit?
When a rate increase is based only on a new calendar year, it can lead to unjustified results.
Law firm leadership has no incentive to push back on these issues. More hours and higher rates mean more money to them too. In short, the fox is in charge of making sure the barn door is locked.
All I’m saying is, clients, watch your bills next month.
Despite the pandemic and overall concerns about the economy, legal rates are going up. In March, we all talked about how commercial real estate, transactions, and law firm profits were dead. But, locally, that hasn’t been the case.
In general, law firm hourly rates are rising. The pessimist would say that law firms are increasing hourly rates to offset the reduction in actual hours billed. The optimist would say that the commercial economy is as strong as it ever was and that rising rates reflect the market.
Get your insolvency news from McLemore Auctions. I love getting the weekly emails from McLemore Auctions that show all the cool stuff being auctioned, usually via a going-out-business liquidation. In fact, one of the biggest mistakes I made during the pandemic was to show my children the website, which has resulted in a few really strange family purchases.
And, yes, it really stinks to be shopping for deals on gaming chairs, and you see the cafe where you proposed to your wife being sold off, piece by piece.
Remember to shop local. I cringe when I see a local restaurant on the McLemore website. It’s often because I hate to see a small business owner give up, and I feel a little guilty thinking about the last time I spent my money at that local business.
My first job as a lawyer was on Second Avenue in Nashville.
This was in 1999, and my future boss had me come to the office to interview on a Saturday morning (partly to avoid the suspicion of the lawyer I would be replacing).
At the time, I didn’t know much about downtown Nashville, since most of my trips to Nashville were either to Opryland as a kid or driving on I-40 on the way to law school in Knoxville.
I had clerked one summer in Nashville at the Tennessee Attorney General’s office, but, back then, Second Avenue didn’t have much to attract folks in their mid-20s. In 1999, the vibe was Gatlinburg-esqe, with a Hooters, Mere Bulles, Graham Central Station (three stories of bars, each with a different theme), a palm reader, The Wild Horse, and other tourist-centric places that catered more to out-of-town grandparents.
I got the job, and I spent about 8 years on Second Avenue. A lot changed during that time.
Before Fan Fair moved downtown, the big show was Dancin’ in the District, which was set up in Riverfront Park. My office window was a perfect vantage for these shows; I saw Kanye West (with a then unknown John Legend on the piano), the Strokes, and many others, from about 500 feet away. It’s strange to think about all the big-time, national acts that performed at these free concerts to such relatively small audiences. Part of that, of course, was that, back then, hardly anybody wanted to go downtown.
In fact, in the early 2000s, that lack of “busy-ness” was part of what I loved about downtown Nashville. On a Friday night, we’d hit 6-7 Broadway honky tonks (generally via the back doors in the Ryman alley) looking for any bars with a crowd, which we rarely found. Needless to say, there were no “all points” pedestrian crossings downtown in 2005.
As a lawyer, there was always a bit of unease about being in a “Second Avenue” office, especially as that part of downtown started to take shape as an entertainment district. The tallest building on Second Avenue was 4 stories high, and no white collar firms would dare move in next to a karaoke bar.
Things really got bad in 2005 when Fan Fair became CMT Fest and moved downtown. During this all-day and all-night music festival, my very serious lawyer phone calls were always at risk of interruption by country music and–definitely worse–the pre-show sound checks at the “River Stage” in Riverfront Park (generally, 5 second snippets of Rod Stewart’s “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy,” played over and over and over in the days before the festival).
The CMT Fest move was a spark for downtown’s growth. Before that, people just didn’t go downtown at night. There was wasn’t much to do and not much interest in what there was. This single event showed 50,000 folks (and countless others watching on TV) how awesome the historic downtown venues were.
This process was accelerated in 2010, when the Nashville Flood hit, and the buildings on Second Avenue flooded and many were then sold and renovated for new uses. Nashville’s overall recovery from the Great Recession was far quicker than other cities, and the rebuilding (and, yes, the developer opportunities) resulting from the devastation of the flood caused a rapid growth in downtown property investment and in tourism.
And, out of nowhere, people saw downtown Nashville not just as a “night out” option, but as a vacation destination. Maybe it was the TV show, but, in 2014 or so, you couldn’t even get in the door (front or back) at the old honky tonks. And, where there’s a happy tourist, there will be no shortage of a honky tonks willing to sell them a $6.50 Coors Light. As a result, dozens of new bars took over any available spaces downtown. Tootsies even built a new Tootsies on top of the old Tootsies.
Soon, all the Second Avenue lunch places and the ground-level offices were turned into bars and gift shops, while the upstairs offices were converted into condos and, later, AirBnBs.
In fact, in 2015 or so, the new owners of my old office building converted it into a residential condo building with a tourist-centric snuff shop on the ground floor.
I moved to a different firm in 2008 on the “business” side of downtown, and, personally, got married and had kids and just stopped going downtown very much–if ever–at night. When I did go downtown, I was always amazed at the crowds. Just an oppressive amount of people that, frankly, made me wonder who all these people were and where they came from.
Locals began to avoid downtown, and local media had fun mocking the bachelorettes and references to the “It City.” It became a sort of estranged relationship, and that always made me sad to see.
The Nashville bombing on Christmas morning was a tragedy on all levels. A senseless, terrible act that risked many peoples’ lives and absolutely destroyed their homes and businesses. Some of the businesses destroyed–like Old Spaghetti Factory and The Melting Pot–had been there when I walked to that first job interview in 1999.
Both had held on through all of the ups and downs on Second Avenue and three different recessions, and then this happened.
As I watched the news coverage all day on Christmas, I’d see my old office building, with broken windows and blown open doors. It made me profoundly sad, as a human being and as a resident of Nashville. These buildings on Second Avenue are part of our city’s history, having made it through thousand-year floods, fires, and wars.
And, maybe this is just typical New Year’s Eve sentimentality talking, but I’m also sad on a personal level that the Second Avenue that I first visited 20 years ago is gone and most likely will never come back.
The entire city of Nashville has changed so much in the past 7-10 years, and it sometimes feels like, if you don’t drive down a certain street for a few months, that, when you do, you’re going to see something old gone and something new being built, whether it’s downtown, Music Row, or even far away places like Madison. There hasn’t been an end in sight, and the Nashville Post must be running out of ways to report that the old “price per square foot” real estate sale records get broken on a monthly basis.
Maybe my broader sadness for Second Avenue is a feeling of loss over the city that I first moved to, over that office I was sitting in when that jerk opposing counsel yelled at me, or the places Lena and I went when we were dating. (Cue the Dan Fogelberg music now.) Maybe it’s a bit of maudlin loss for that version of me who walked cautiously past the Lazer Tag place while rehearsing for that job interview. Maybe it’s sadness that we live in such a divisive world where somebody felt compelled to bomb a building for political reasons.
I’m hopeful that these old buildings can be saved. At the same time, I’m also a realist, and I remember all the day-to-day structural and mechanical issues that arose in that 150+ year old building that I worked in. In my old conference room, the floor was so un-level that, if you lifted your feet off the ground, your chair would roll to the side.
If that’s the case, then, I hope this isn’t just another in a long line of disasters to hit Nashville and lead directly to investors’ property-prospecting and redevelopment. I hope our city leaders do what they can to protect the character. I’m hopeful that, instead, our state and federal governments will offer aid to the businesses and people affected.
I’m hopeful that, whatever happens on Second Avenue, that there aren’t a row of glass fronted condos and high rise offices there someday. I hope it’s never shiny or, worse, fancy.
I hope that Second Avenue comes back strong and serves as a vibrant rebuke to this despicable act. And, when it does, I hope that it preserves some of that unique charm that it’s had all these decades.
I hope it never becomes a place where big law firms want to move to.
Some people have told me that 2020 was a strange year to start my own law firm, and I tell them that I wished I’d done it sooner. Or, at the very least, while there was some Paycheck Protection Program money available…
I’ll steer clear of the optics of the city’s largest and most prestigious firms getting such large payouts. I mean, c’mon, it’s free-ish money and complicated paperwork. That’s sort of a lawyer’s super bowl, right?
All kidding aside, I am confident that all these law firms also instituted financial austerity measures, hiring freezes, and other cost-saving measures to account for the new economic reality and, further, many plan to return most, if not all, of the funds.
And it isn’t just Nashville firms dealing with all this. These are questions law firms all over the country are getting.
To the critics, I guess I’d remind them that law firms are businesses too, with actual employees and vendors and landlords. The fact that these are “big” law firms doesn’t mean that they don’t need financial assistance any less than a small or solo shop.
And, per today’s news, Boies Schiller Flexner (the big New York firm that received $10MM in PPP funds) announced it was offering a $20,0000 “welcome” bonus for new associates.
Similarly, in today’s Nashville Post, I’m seeing that one of our local big firms at the top of the PPP list announced a bevy of new lawyer hires. So, maybe things are turning around, and the next story will be about how firms are paying it back.
Some quick hits on this quiet Wednesday before Thanksgiving…
Tennessee Court of Appeals takes judicial notice of Google Maps. Yesterday, the Tennessee Court of Appeals expressly approved a trial court’s taking “judicial notice” of Google Maps to prove distance in trial proceedings.
(Note: Judicial notice is an evidentiary concept that means, basically, when a fact that is so well known and accepted that the court to accept the evidence as true without a full demonstration of proof of the underlying facts.)
The Court wrote: “Google Maps reflects the efforts by Google employees to provide an accurate representation of geography. The company’s business incentive to produce accurate maps is obvious. Furthermore, it is not as though Google Maps is a dubious new novelty. Google Maps has been relied upon by courts across jurisdictions for a number of years now, to say nothing of the general population.” The Total Garage Store, LLC v. Nicholas C. Moody, 2020 WL 6892012, at *11 (Tenn.Ct.App., 2020).
Some people claim that Tennessee Courts are, generally, reluctant to embrace new technology. Reasonable minds can differ, but this shows that courts will embrace technology when it makes obvious common sense.
It also doesn’t hurt that the opinion originated from one of the State’s “younger” and tech-savvy Chancellors…
Now, how are we doing with Zoom hearings?
I remain a little torn on this, and I’ll say that it depends on the Judge. With an active, engaged judge, you get 100% of the same focus, attention, and competency via a telephonic or video hearing. I’ll do a hearing via Zoom with those judges every time.
But, with a judge who is checked out and not paying attention, it’s easier for that judge to coast through, and it’s harder to get their focus and attention when you’re not personally in the same room. More judges than you’d think fall into this category.
Like so many other things in the law, the judge’s demeanor and interest (in the case, in the law, in where the lawyer is from, etc.) are the ultimate wild-card as to whether a client is going to get justice.
Tennessee sues Apple, Inc. over unfair and misleading information about iPhone updates and battery life. Last Friday, the Tennessee Attorney General filed a Complaint against Apple, Inc., alleging a violation of the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act over the iPhone’s “unexpected shutdowns” and “throttling” issues occurring in 2016 and 2017.
From the Complaint, it’s unclear how many Tennessee users are impacted and how much in damages are being sought. The full Complaint can be found here:
You’ll note that the final line of the Complaint contains a reference to “Ethicon’s unlawful trade practices,” which suggests that Attorney Generals are just like the rest of us, when it comes to recycling form pleadings.
Are lawyers more effective working from home?
Lots of parents (especially mothers) have talked about the struggle to effectively practice law from home with kids in the house. In my house, I spend the five minutes before a call or a Zoom hearing telling, bribing, begging my children to be quiet, stay in their room, etc.
But, who knew that the real time-wasters were our law partners?
If this report is to be believed, maybe the “heightened productivity” lawyers enjoy at home results from an unhealthy lack of separation between work and home…
Today marks the 8 month mark of when, basically, people started taking COVID seriously.
On March 10, 2020, I had travelled to Louisville and was staying at the gorgeous and totally empty Omni Hotel, to interview for the open Louisville Bankruptcy Judgeship. That was on a Tuesday, and, on Saturday, my family was scheduled to depart for a spring break Disney Cruise.
(Spoiler-alert: Neither the job nor the cruise happened.)
In fact, on the drive back to Nashville, I coordinated my wife buying $400 of frozen pizzas and toilet paper, and I pondered stopping at Gander Mountain in Bowling Green to buy pre-apocalypse weapons and ammo.
(Spoiler-alert: The pizzas and toilet paper did happen, but the Anthony armory remains stocked only with hand-to-hand combat accessories.)