341 Stories: Law Firm Pay-Cut Shaming; I bought a boat; Wear Pants to your Zoom Hearings

I wanted to get a blog post out before everybody went home for the long weekend, but then I remembered that everybody is already at home…

My beef with the TBA Today’s COVID Coverage. I love the Tennessee Bar Association and the TBA Today daily email. You know this, because I talked about it 7 years ago. This email is an awesome resource that provides daily updates about legal news, career moves, awards, events, and new and notable Tennessee and Sixth Circuit appellate opinions.

But, early in the COVID crisis, the email started running stories about law firm pay cuts in Tennessee, with mentions of specific law firms. Yeah, it’s legal news, but it also felt like it was none of my business.

Plus, it led to two things: (1) Local lawyers started gossiping about other law firms’ financial stability (which was a terrible look, considering people lost jobs); and (2) Other law firms who really, really needed to take a hard look at their financial decisions and consider smart cuts may have elected to do nothing, in order to stay out of the news. Lose / Lose, right?

This is probably the Bankruptcy Lawyer in me talking, but a few financial adjustments made on the precipice of the biggest economic crisis of our era shouldn’t be considered a bad thing. Trust me, the law firms I’d be most worried about right now are the ones who haven’t changed their financial model at all.

But, as Kermit the Frog likes to say, that’s really none of my business either, and I’d rather it all be left out of my daily news. Especially as more layoffs, hiring freezes, and pay cuts are on the horizon.

In other questionable financial planning news… During the COVID crisis, I bought a boat.

My debtor bankruptcy lawyer friends tell me that an ill-advised boat purchase is Step 3 in a five-step process for a potential bankruptcy filing. Great news for the Anthony household, right?

Well, it made national news, when a reporter from USA Today called to talk about my purchase for his story, “Everyone is buying boats” during the pandemic, and it’s causing a short supply.

It was a funny, half-hour long conversation about boat ownership, with the final article coming across a bit more complain-ey than I actually feel.

“I absolutely regret purchasing it.”

In truth, I am merely luke-warm about boat ownership. See you out on the water this Labor Day weekend!

Zoom Hearing Advice. In actual legal news, here’s a great twitter thread with tips and advice from a Judge for your Zoom video court hearings.

All of these are spot on. In the past month, I’ve participated in 2 – 3 video hearings, and I’ve seen pant-less people and also background art that I would describe as “tasteful nude ballerina” art.

Don’t do any of that, say the Judges.

341: Judicial Retirements, Vacancies, and What we need to do to support diversity in the judiciary

Memphis Bankruptcy Judge David Kennedy is retiring after nearly 40 years on the bench. Yes, 40 years.

Way back in 2010, I wrote about Judge Kennedy as he approached his 30th anniversary on the bench, telling the story about how he graciously hosted me in his Court when I was a 1L law student and, in a way, set me on a course that has led to my 20 years (and counting) in bankruptcy law.

It’s a great reminder: Sometimes the smallest kindness and gift of your time and encouragement can make a meaningful impact on somebody.

In related news, there’s a Judicial Vacancy for a Bankruptcy Judge in Memphis! Yes, I know this, and I’ve had at least 5 people email me this United States Bankruptcy Judgeship Notice of Vacancy.

Yes, I dreamed of being a judge. Yes, I’m from Memphis and love Memphis. Yes, I’m an award winning Best of Bar, Super Lawyer, Best Lawyers in America Bankruptcy Lawyer.

That would be an awesome job, in a community that has an incredibly large volume of financially distressed consumer debtors who really, really need a smart, progressive, creative judge. Talk about a place where a civic- and policy-minded judge can really make a difference and change lives…

But, it’s not going to be me.

Some of you may know this, but I was invited to interview in December 2019 with the Merit Selection Panel in Memphis for Judge Paulette Delk’s recent bankruptcy judgeship vacancy. The interview–to put it lightly–discouraged me from submitting my name for another vacancy so soon. (And, side note, I’ve already switched jobs recently.)

Judicial Diversity Matters. There were probably dozens and dozens of reasons I didn’t make the final round (and the ultimate pick was an absolute home run). But, based on the content and vigor of the questions to me, I discerned that, maybe, a white male (and, also, from Nashville) wasn’t their first choice (or choices 2 through 5, either, for that matter).

And, if true, they were absolutely correct (though I still question the “vigor” with which the questions were presented to me–yikes). Long before my interview, I’d been talking about the lack of judicial diversity.

We live in a time of monumental awareness of these issues, but our judiciary doesn’t always reflect the diversity of the communities that it serves. If we’re going to seize this moment and truly work for equality and true representation, isn’t this something that we should always factor into decisions?

When people have the power to hire, grant partnership, or appoint to a position, isn’t that a better consideration than “His dad is friends with _______” or “He goes to the same church that I do” or “He is an ‘opportunistic’ hire”? That’s called “affinity” hiring. Don’t do that.

Clients, we need your help. I put the call out, last year, to clients as well. I said:

I’ll go one step further: I think law firm clients need to think about this as well. When a client hires a law firm, are clients asking about diversity? Are clients challenging law firms to take a hard look at their internal policies?  Do clients care about diversity and, if so, how are they expressing that to law firms?

I don’t perceive this to be a trend in our local legal community. Don’t get me wrong; everybody talks about diversity, but, in the end, lawyers and law firms focus mostly on the bottom line, traditional ways of doing things/hiring, and a social/cultural network that tends to promote the status quo. How can we change this?

Real change in the legal profession will not happen until clients start pushing these issues as well.  Clients can vote with their dollars. If these issues are important to clients–and they should be–clients can force this discussion and impact the profession. If you’re a potential client and you care about this, ask prospective law firms what they do to promote diversity, whether in hiring or in the community.

This is a way to get more people of color into judicial spots. Clients, demand diversity in staffing your work. Make it a priority. Law firms will listen. With more opportunities for meaningful legal work and assignments, lawyers from under-represented backgrounds will gain experience that will change the trajectory of their career. Law firms are full of talk when it comes to diversity; real change requires that clients make it a priority.

To quote a tweet from Tiffany Graves:

I quit my law firm. Click to Learn More…

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve enjoyed telling people “I quit my job.” Because it sounds really dramatic.

It sounds less exciting when they realize that I just switched to a different law firm.

So, yes, as the Nashville Post reported on Monday, I left Bone McAllester to build the new Nashville office for Harris Shelton, a 60-lawyer firm based in Memphis.

But, trust me, after nearly 13 years at Bone, where I was a partner, where I was on the firm’s Board of Directors, where everybody knew me for my work, where I had the really-big-awesome-lawyer office (decorated with a custom painting of a shirtless Rev. Al Green), where I knew where the secret stash of M&Ms were hidden…

Well, it feels really dramatic to me.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve developed a new morning routine. I tend to wake up, involuntarily, at 4:45 a.m. or so, to worry about all the work to be done to build something new. Opening bank accounts. Picking office space. Hiring staff. Hiring lawyers. And, of course, doing the legal work for all the clients.

And, usually, around 5:30 a.m. or so, I get up, and I get to work on it.

Early on, I confided in one of my best friends (also, a lawyer) about my new routine, and he laughed and said, “Well, you only have one option now: Success.”

So, here we are. Welcome to Day 13 of my efforts to build the perfect law firm.

What does this look like to me? My plan isn’t to re-invent the wheel, but to incorporate all the best parts of the firms that I admire already.

I want to build a team of awesome lawyers and also awesome people. The greatest compliment that I give to other lawyers is that “I’d trust them with my life.” That means they’re smart, competent lawyers, but, also, that they care. It’s not just about billable hours or paperwork. A lawsuit might be the biggest crisis of a client’s life. I want to surround myself with attorneys who understand that and treat their responsibility to the clients accordingly. Who say to clients: “You can worry less now. Your problem is now my problem.”

I want a diverse team. Many law firms are run by old white guys, for other old white guys. This isn’t that. I want to be intentional about growth, and I, like my clients, want a team of professionals that looks like the community we serve. For years, I’ve fought against “manels” when I’ve been asked to speak at CLEs. Now that I get to build a law office, I’m guided by those same principles.

I want a community-minded team. I got a little hot last October, with my post asking lawyers “October is Pro Bono Month in Tennessee, and what have you done?” As lawyers, we have so much power to help under-privileged communities, but, too often, we get appointed to fancy-pants non-profit boards and think we’re doing pro bono. If you want a spot on my team, get ready to roll up your sleeves and work at legal clinics and expungement clinics. Make the world better.

I want a team that supports each other and holds each other accountable. This is going to be a team. If you have a trial you’re terrified about, I’ll go with you. If you have a pro bono cause that you’re passionate about, I’ll volunteer with you. I need you to do the same for me. Need help moving? Sigh. That too.

So, I probably got you with the dramatic headline, right? My departure at Bone has been as non-dramatic as you could imagine. Before I left, I wrote notes for all my fellow coworkers. Here’s the one I left to the newest associate:

It’s part career-advice, and also part recruiting pitch.

Just like this blog post.

Judgment Renewal is Easy; Calendaring the Deadline can be Hard

Nearly ten years ago, I preached about the virtues of patience and perseverance in collection of judgments. Specifically, I discussed Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-3-110, which says that judgments are good for ten years. For judgment creditors, a lot can change for your judgment debtors in ten years.

I constantly tell my clients that. For example, that Nashville property contractor who was dead broke in 2010 could be on top of the world in 2018 Nashville. Just be patient.

But, don’t be too patient. As you approach the ten year mark, remember that judgments can be renewed for another ten years, using a pretty easy, straight-forward process under Tenn. R. Civ. P. 69.04.

Under new(-ish) Rule 69.04, this can be done via Motion, but the Motion itself must be filed prior to the expiration of the judgment. So, Tennessee creditor rights attorneys, the burden is on you to make sure you’re making a list and checking it twice, looking for judgments that are nine years old, right?

Creditors: Make a Judgment List and check it. Twice, if necessary.

What happens if your law firm gets the judgment for a client but fails to renew the judgment?

Like many issues, it depends, but a brand new opinion from the Tennessee Court of Appeals discusses this issue. The case is Linda Rozen v. Wolff Ardis, P.C., W201900396COAR3CV, 2019 WL 6876769 (Tenn. App. Dec. 17, 2019).

In that case, the law firm obtained a judgment, generally discussed the 10 year requirement with the client, and, years later, no renewal request was made; the clients sued for malpractice.

There’s a lot to unpack in this case, but here’s my quick take-away:

When you get a judgment for a client, tell them that it will expire in ten years. As part of that message, remind them that people change firms, lawyers die, files get closed, files get dormant and sent to storage, things change, but, no matter what happens, if they want you to renew the judgment in ten years, they have to call you and specifically ask you to do it. Your representation does not necessarily include this renewal request, unless you and the client agree it does.

That was a decisive fact here, that the law firm had put the client on notice that specific action was needed to renew this judgment before ten years passed. As that ten year mark approached and passed, the client didn’t raise the issue, either by confirming that the firm did it or, alternatively, suing them for malpractice within one year of the failure to renew it.

So, in a perfect world, we calendar up all our judgments for renewal and we discuss the action with our clients in advance and mutually agree on an engagement for a renewal.

But, in reality, a lot of things can change in ten years. A good practice is to make sure that the client understands that it has a responsibility in ten years to notify you that it wants you to take this action.

Give your time this season, and volunteer next weekend.

It’s the holiday season, where we’re bombarded with commercials about door-buster sales and new Lexus cars with red bows on them.

But, at the movie theatres, there’s that Mr. Rogers movie, with the one scene that I’ve seen lots of people talking about.

The scene is based on an award acceptance speech, in which Mr. Rogers asks the audience to take ten seconds to think about the people who have helped him become who they are, to think of the people who have cared about them and helped them in their lives. Here’s a full clip, courtesy of Taye Diggs.

It’s an awesome moment. For this holiday season, I’d take it one step further: Who are the people who are thinking about you and the help that you gave to them?

This is a really indirect way by me of asking you to volunteer your legal skills to help others before the year is over.

Here is an incredible opportunity. Next Saturday, on December 14, Judge Rachel Bell is hosting one of an expungement clinic in Nashville.

This is an incredible program, which helps people clear up their record and get better jobs. This can have a life changing impact on the people who need this service, and, the way the day is structured, you don’t need to know criminal law. You show up, and they’ll teach you everything you need to know.

Your time is an incredible gift, and you’ll leave knowing that you’ve done something to help others. You’ll be the person on people’s minds when they think about those who help.

The James Wiseman saga mixes my two favorite things: Memphis basketball and Chancery Court procedure

The James Wiseman news ruined my Friday evening. It doesn’t get more ominous than this:

First, I’m a Memphis fan. This includes the University of Memphis, the basketball team, the football team, the people of Memphis, and the city itself.

(Side Note: As a Memphian For Life, how awesome was it to see my Memphis people representing on twitter last night? Don’t mess with Memphis.)

Second, I’m a commercial litigator, and, here I was, thinking through issues of complex legal procedure, exactly 45 minutes before I was planning to watch James Wiseman play basketball.

But, then, some exciting news:

So, the Shelby County Chancery Court granted a Verified Complaint filed by James Wiseman, represented by Lesline Ballin, that requested a Temporary Restraining Order.

Story over, right? Not at all.

Legal analysis to follow:

Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 65 controls here. Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 65.03 provides, in part, that a court “may issue a temporary restraining order without written or oral notice to the adverse party or its attorney” when “an affidavit or verified complaint clearly show that immediate and irreparable injury, loss, or damage will result to the applicant before the adverse party can be heard in opposition [.]”

Here, this TRO was entered without notice to the NCAA. The NCAA didn’t have an opportunity to respond with factual or legal analysis…or even a one page “We Object!” filing.

The Shelby County Chancery Court simply reviewed the filed pleadings to make sure that the Verified Complaint, if assumed to be true, connected all the dots to satisfy the elements for getting a TRO issued. In a way, it’s just a matter of being good at paperwork at this stage.

And it helps if you probably have the Judge’s cell phone number.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s still savvy lawyering. Courts refer to any relief under Rule 65 as “extraordinary relief.” It’s a big deal, and a strong move by Memphis and Ballin.

But there is a long road ahead, with the first test coming up soon.

TROs only last 15 days. Under Rule 65.03(3), TROs have a limited life; they only last 15 days, unless they are extended by the Court. That’s the reason for the low proof threshold; TROs are designed to be temporary remedies.

The real fight will be over the Temporary Injunction. Under Rule 65.04, the court will replace the TRO with a Temporary Injunction, which is designed to provide longer injunctive relief to the plaintiff while the litigation proceeds.

Under Rule 65.04, a “temporary injunction may be granted during the pendency of an action if it is clearly shown by verified complaint, affidavit or other evidence that the movant’s rights are being or will be violated by an adverse party and the movant will suffer immediate and irreparable injury, loss or damage pending a final judgment in the action, or that the acts or omissions of the adverse party will tend to render such final judgment ineffectual. “

In deciding whether to grant the temporary injunction, the court will apply a “four-factor test: (1) the threat of irreparable harm to plaintiff if the injunction is not granted; (2) the balance between this harm and the injury that granting the injunction would inflict on the defendant; (3) the probability that plaintiff will succeed on the merits; and (4) the public interest.”

Here, James Wiseman’s case will rise and fall on item # 3, and the NCAA will want a mini-trial on the violation. Wiseman should have a fairly good argument on items 1 and 2, since he’ll lose valuable chunks of his college career if he has to sit out.

If I had to bet, I’d think a judge would let him play, while the matter is being litigated.

But, what Court will decide? There’s no way this matter stays in Shelby County Chancery Court.

Despite what Bluff City Law says (i.e. where every case they handle is in the Shelby County Courthouse), this case will be removed to federal court.

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441, a case “may be removed by the defendant or the defendants, to the district court of the United States for the district and division embracing the place where such action is pending.” Here, the District Court for the Western District Courts of Tennessee will likely get this case, unless the NCAA both removes the matter to district court and then asks for a change of venue (to a different district court in the US) at the same time.

Given the time challenges here, I’d bet the matter would stay in Memphis’ district courts.

There are a number of reasons a defendant would remove this. For one, a state court judge is popularly elected, and, while judges are generally not biased, an elected judge would face great public pressure from a rabid fan base. District Court judges are lifetime appointees by the President, and they are perceived to be free from bias.

October is Pro Bono Month in Tennessee, and what have you done?

October is Pro Bono Month in Tennessee. The Tennessee Bar Association’s Celebrate Pro Bono Month 2019 page has a list of opportunities to choose from.

It is not difficult. A lot of lawyers never provide pro bono services.

Frequently, they’ll say “I practice in [insert corporate/high end practice area], and there’s nothing I can do to help [them].”

If you really think that, call or e-mail me, and I can help find you an opportunity that will be perfect for you. Two months ago, I got a call from an in-house lawyer at a Fortune 50 company who didn’t know what his legal team could do. Not only did I find them some options to serve, but I volunteered with them. Seriously, call me if you want to volunteer, but don’t know where to start.

The vast majority of matters at walk-in clinics are just common-sense/paperwork based issues. Occasionally, you’ll get some really specific landlord-tenant or divorce question, but there is always someone else at these clinics with that expertise.

If you, commercial real estate attorney, take 15 minutes to help somebody deal with an issue about their neighbor’s barking dog, that frees up 15 minutes of that divorce expert’s time.

In my experience, most people just want somebody to just listen to their legal issues, and give them common sense advice. To be clear, these are all important questions that people have. They’ve taken the time out of their day to drive downtown, so whatever their question is, it’s a big deal to them.

And, sometimes, all it takes is a smart person to talk it through with them and make their life a little easier.

Looking to Help? There are only five days left in October, so, if you haven’t volunteered yet, here are two great last chances:

  • Veterans Project Legal Help Clinic, in downtown/Gulch Nashville, on Wednesday, October 30, 2019, from 11a to 1pm. This clinic is operated by Legal Aid, and it focuses on serving the veteran community. It’s not too busy (i.e. you get about 7 customers over the course of the 2 hours), with generally straight-forward questions.
  • Judge Rachel Bell’s General Sessions Music City Community Court Expungement Clinic, on Saturday, October 26. This is an incredible program that helps people clean up their criminal record, making it easier for them to find jobs. Lawyers generally need to arrive by 9:30 and should expect to stay until around 1pm.

Upcoming Legal Aid Gala. A big fundraiser is scheduled for next Saturday, November 9, 2019, An Evening at the Frist: Celebrating 50 Years of Service. This is going to be a fun night, celebrating the work of Legal Aid.

Here’s where I go a little negative. When it comes to big-law support of Pro Bono initiatives, I’ve got some pretty strong opinions. I will keep the specifics to myself, but you are welcome to ask me at the Legal Aid event.

Warning: You will be a little weirded out at how passionate I feel about the need for lawyers to be doing more, especially in Nashville in 2019.

Listen to the Judges

One of the benefits of practicing law for nearly two decades is that, by this time, I know the judges. I’ve either appeared in front of them dozens of times or, just as likely, I know them personally after spending years dealing with them when they were just regular lawyers.

Now, this isn’t to suggest that, even with 20 years of experience, you don’t have to give the judge respect, just because you’re so familiar with them. It means that you come to realize that judges are people too, and they’re subject to the same frustrations, flaws, and distractions that all lawyers are.

In the past two weeks, I’ve spent time with 3 different judges in social settings, and here’s some wisdom that I’ve picked up.

Stop it with the discovery disputes. They hate them, and two of the judges said “I wanted to tell them to be adults and just figure it out.” That’s easier said than done, especially when it’s the other side who is being the jerk. I guess the take-away is, unless it’s really bad, try really hard to get it resolved and, if you do have to court, make it clear how hard you tried to get it resolved.

Get to the point. Another frustration is that the parties want to push all their facts and legal citations toward the bench, and essentially ask the judge to figure it out. And, yes, that’s the judge’s job. But, if you can make it as clear and easy as possible, you should.

And, a big part of that is presenting clear, straight-forward briefs, without any extraneous legalese.

I really like this article, “How to Write So Judges Will Like You.” “Life on the other side of the gavel is busy, filled with hearings and trials and conferences and five hundred lawyers who all think their motion is an emergency that deserves immediate and undivided attention….get to the point quickly.” 

The next time you’re writing a big brief, before you start, take a moment and read that article. We practice law in a time when heretofors, comes nows, and by and through undersigned counsels just aren’t expected by modern judicial readers. It’s a waste of space and time, when a judge needs you to get to the point, say what’s really going on, and why you’re right.

Stop it with the fidgeting and listen. One judge shared a story about presiding in a small courtroom, about 7 feet away from plaintiff’s counsel before trial. And, as the judge was discussing preliminary pre-trial issues, counsel just couldn’t stop arranging everything. Pens. Post-its. Folders. Files. The judge couldn’t even focus, because it looked like counsel wasn’t listening. And that was irritating.

Now, as all trial lawyers know, that’s a nervous time. You’re rehearsing your opening statement, terrified that you’ve misplaced your exhibits, and worrying about 50 things at once.

That’s a fairly extreme example, but here’s one I see a lot: Lawyers simply can’t stay off their phones, even during their own court proceedings. Sure, sometimes there are emergency e-mails, but, generally, it’s mindless checking of twitter or texts.

I remember, as a young lawyer, some of the older lawyers would set up shop on the back row and open up the newspaper and read it while waiting for their case. Can you imagine that? That’s somebody who isn’t paying any attention–I mean, people used to do that at football games as a show of disrespect to the other team.

Staring at your phone is the modern equivalent. It makes you look unengaged and bored by what’s going on.

So, again, all of this is hearsay, gleaned from conversation here and there. But, keep this in mind the next time you’ve got something coming up in court. These may have been words from your Judge.

341: Bluff City Law, Ep. 3: What’s with all the Ribs?

Last week, I talked about the latest episode of Bluff City Law, the legal drama set in Memphis, my old hometown. I got enough positive feedback to offer my comments about Episode 3, 25 Years to Life. My quick thoughts follow:

They didn’t teach Geography in law school. One of my criticisms last week was that all of the lawyers on the show were Vanderbilt Law graduates. In my experience, this isn’t the case in real life Memphis. I just assumed that it was Hollywood / quasi-Ivy League snobbery, but, after seeing Ep. 3, I wonder if the writers realize that Vanderbilt isn’t actually in Memphis?

In the show, two of the lawyers (who had earlier been established as Vandy grads) represent their former law professor (thus, a Vanderbilt law professor) in an age discrimination case. The episode actually shows them meeting with him, at his Vanderbilt law school office, in Memphis.

As a warning to all you prospective law students who may watch this show and fall in love with Memphis, Vanderbilt is not in Memphis.

Mo much Ribs. Just like episode, lawyers eating ribs at lunch was a plot point this week.

I’ve been a lawyer for 20 years, and I have never seen a lawyer eat a huge plate of ribs for lunch. They are messy–can you imagine all the fingerprint smears you’d get on your pleadings? Plus, it’d be an awful lunch food. You’d want to take a 10 hour nap after that meal.

I have to wonder if the show writers just assume, weirdly, that everybody eats some form of ribs for every meal in Memphis.

Also, pimento cheese and honey? As so many shows set in the South do, Bluff City Law makes reference to all types of southern charm (Jimmy Smits with a southern accent!). But, what makes this show unique is that, in lieu of actual southern traditions, it sometimes just makes them up.

Like when Jimmy Smits and his son were eating “a Memphis tradition” early in the episode. Apparently, this was a pimento cheese and honey, on an english muffin. What?

With all the eccentrically precious southern things out there, how on earth did they decide to present this to the world?

On to the legal dramas. It’s still jarring to see cases commenced in one scene and, then, basically, being tried two scenes later.

Law students: This is not how any of the practice of law works. I filed a law suit for $20,000 a few months ago, and I’m not sure if it will get tried in 2020 or 2021.

341: Lawyers Doing Good Matters

My law firm recently met with a public relations group, who gave us the pitch on all the things they could do for us, including beefing up our presence on LinkedIn, posting special interest stories on our corporate Facebook page, and more Twitter updates.

After this week of front page stories and national press, I’m not sure we need too much help. Here’s a look at the stories we’ve been involved in this week…

Continue reading “341: Lawyers Doing Good Matters”