Tennessee Courts embrace Google Maps, AG sues Apple, and other technology updates

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…

Looking to help this season? Consider donating to the Window of Love.

You may have seen the Tennessean article last week that the State of Tennessee has amassed a historically high amount of surplus money in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families fund, which is now at $741 million.

This is awesome, right? What perfect timing for this money in an economic crisis?

But, later, the article mentions that the state is just sitting on the money, with no clear plan in sight to use it to help people. In fact, the fund serves a smaller number of households in 2020 than it did in 2019. Some good news is that, maybe next year, the state will decide what to do with all this money.

Until then, though, I want to tell you about somebody who is doing something to help. She’s Samaria Leach, and she created the Window of Love.

It all started with a Facebook post on March 16, when she realized that the Metro school shut-down meant that there’d be no school lunches for the kids in her North Nashville neighborhood. That school lunch might be the only consistent source of food for some kids. So, from her own pantry, she put together food boxes, which she’d distribute out of her window a few days a week.

At first, she fed 25-35 hungry kids from her neighborhood with food from her own pantry.

Now, 8 months later, she’s still feeding hungry kids, but the number has tripled.

As you’re considering donations of time, money, or even food this holiday season, please consider donating to Windows Of Love. Her Facebook page frequently includes requests for grocery items that she needs for that week, including this post for Thanksgiving baskets for the families she serves.

If the state we live in isn’t going to help our kids, maybe we have to be like Samaria and recognize that we have to look out for each other sometimes.

Please Vote For Me in the Nashville Bar Association Board of Directors Election: Here’s Why:

I’m hoping you don’t have election fatigue, because I need your vote in November…

I’ve been nominated to serve on the Board of Directors of the Nashville Bar Association. Tomorrow morning, you’ll be receiving your ballot via email, and you’ll be asked to vote for 6 out of the 14 candidates.

Here’s why you should vote for me:

I care about the Nashville Bar Association. I’ve been a member my entire legal career, and this is a natural extension of my service to the NBA. I’ve written Nashville Bar Journal cover stories. I’ve volunteered at their community events and legal clinics. I’ve taught continuing legal education courses. I host the NBA’s annual karaoke happy hour event (which required me to purchase a professional grade karaoke system, so “Win-Win” for everybody).

I can help the Nashville Bar Association make our legal community better. The reason I donate so much of my time to the NBA is that I care about making Nashville a better place to practice law. Plus, after 21 years of practice, I’ve got pretty strong opinions and a unique perspective, drawn from a robust practice in so many different courts.

I mean, seriously, do any the other nominees recognize the historic significance of this staircase?

There are all kinds of reasons why somebody would want to be on the Board, but I’m doing this to advocate for lawyers. Let’s push for common sense decisions on staircases. Let’s push for comprehensive measures in response to COVID. Let’s push for advances in technology and e-filing. Let’s talk about diversity in the bar and also the bench.

It’s not incorrect to say that the Lawyers’ Association for Women has made me their “highest endorsed candidate.”

I stand up for what I care about. When I left Bone McAllester, one of the IT staff members told me, “David, you are one of the realest people I’ve ever met.” It was the best compliment I’ve received in years. Don’t we all want to be seen as authentic and honest about the way we act and communicate?

If you read this blog, you know I’m not afraid to say what I think, and that’s how I’d approach this board service. To make real change, you have to identify clear goals and use your voice to take a stand. For me, this isn’t about resume-padding or networking, it’s about finding ways to make our legal community an easier and better place to practice.

A few months ago, I started my own boutique law firm (more on that–a lot more–in a later post). With COVID and all the changes in my own practice, I had considered declining the nomination. Was this this best time to take on this task?

In the end, though, I decided that this is a perfect time. With all the uncertainty from COVID, rapid technological advances, and fundamental changes in the way we work, what an awesome time to be part of the local bar’s leadership. Plus, as one of the only nominees at a small/solo firm, who else would speak for me on the Board?

Vote for me.

Also, tell your friends.

The state of the Nashville legal world, 8 months Into COVID

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.)

My view entering the Louisville Omni.

While sitting in the Omni’s gorgeous and empty food hall, I read an article in the local paper about how Washington DC’s first known COVID patient had stayed at the Omni the week before. I realized the magnitude quickly (as well as why I was the only guest at the hotel).

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.)

Continue reading “The state of the Nashville legal world, 8 months Into COVID”

Where are all the bankruptcy filings in Nashville?

Many years ago, I got a call from a bank attorney who was in the middle of a 4 day trial in Williamson County. It was a lawsuit by a bank to collect its post-foreclosure deficiency balance. The lawyer called me to tell me that the debtor’s attorney had printed out my very own blog post and had introduced it into evidence as a learned treatise under Tennessee Rule of Evidence 618 in order to cross-exam the bank’s expert witness.

While I was flattered (my initial reaction was to ask if the Chancellor was impressed), it was also strange–given my long allegiance to banks and creditors in litigation–that Creditor Rights 101 would be used against a bank. (Also, that debtor’s counsel must have been desperate if he resorted to using my blog post as his Exhibit 15).

Regardless, man-o-man, beware of using this law blog as learned evidence of anything, because I can be really wrong sometimes.

Like, on April 3, 2020, when I boldly predicted that bankruptcy filings in the Middle District of Tennessee would hit an all-time high in June 2020.

It didn’t happen. Not even close. Literally, the opposite happened.

As of today, October 29, 2020, there have been 4,820 bankruptcy cases filed in the Middle District of Tennessee. That sounds like a lot, but, for comparison’s sake, consider that the 4,820th case was filed on the following dates over the past decade: July 30, 2019; July 20, 2018; July 18, 2017; July 6, 2016; July 15, 2015; June 17, 2014; May 31, 2013; May 23, 2012; May 11, 2011; and May 4, 2010.

Not only are we not hitting a record high, but, instead, new bankruptcies are being filed at a record low pace.

As late as July, we were still wrong about the future of bankruptcy (I say “we” because the Nashville Post joined me on the bad predictions).

So, today’s news brings more predictions (but, this time, far less bold) via this American Bankruptcy Institute story, which predicts that the new bankruptcies are coming…in 2021.

“As stimulus checks and other forms of temporary relief run out, experts are projecting an increase in personal bankruptcy filings, which have so far been muted during the coronavirus pandemic,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “Only a new stimulus program targeting individuals or government actions forgiving or deferring student loans can keep individual filings from rising.”

In light of all this, I’m not making more predictions, because these are unpredictable times. Our General Sessions Court shuts down evictions and collections dockets, then re-opens them, then drastically limits them, and then reopened them again. People are afraid to leave their houses. Banks are afraid to foreclose on those houses. Lawyers are afraid to go to their offices.

The bankruptcies are coming. But who knows when.

Finally, to all you crafty debtor lawyers out there: I can edit any these blog posts on a moment’s notice.

It may be time to start filing Davidson County evictions in Circuit Court.

The new 25 case limit on the civil dockets in Davidson County General Sessions has been the problem we thought it would be.

As of last Thursday, the next available civil hearing date for new and pending cases was December 9, 2020.

Since last Thursday, 357 new cases have been filed in Sessions Court.

Given the usual holiday court schedule, I’d bet that–as of this blog post— there are no more open civil dockets in 2020.

The Nashville Bar Association hosted a General Sessions Court Town Hall today to talk about these issues, but, given the unprecedented nature of this problem, nobody knows what’s next and how to solve it. Will there be afternoon dockets? Staggered morning dockets? Video appearances?

I’ve received a handful of calls from local lawyers, for advice on how to navigate all this. In some cases, the best move is to file the matter and just get a date locked down before things get worse (even if it’s in mid-January).

Another option, though, if you aren’t going to get into Court until January or February, is to file your commercial eviction lawsuits in Circuit Court (which has jurisdiction, per Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-18-108).

If you file an eviction action in Circuit, today, and get it served this week, you may be able to get a judgment by early December (or early January).

And, yes, I know I’ve criticized lawyers for filing Sessions-sized and eviction matters in Circuit Court (a move that generally presents no tangible strategic advantage, other than the lawyers get more billable hours).

But these unprecedented times call for novel ideas.

CLE You Can Use: The TBA’s Creditor Practice Annual Forum is this Wednesday

If you need CLE credit and want to learn more about creditors’ issues, the Tennessee Bar Association has a great course coming up this week: This year’s Creditors Practice Annual Forum is this Wednesday, September 30, 2020.

This is generally an in-person event at the TBA headquarters in downtown Nashville, but, this year, it’ll be entirely online (for obvious reasons).

I’m the Chair of the TBA’s Creditors Section for 2020, and it was my job to recruit all the speakers and create the sessions. The online format really made for some fun choices, including finding speakers who otherwise wouldn’t be available to speak at a live event in Nashville.

We’ve got a Judge from Shelby County. A digital media specialist from Atlanta. A bankruptcy debtor’s lawyer from Jackson. A former creditor lawyer turned tech guru from Memphis. And, to everybody’s surprise–a creditor lawyer from California! (Note: Nobody even knew that California had creditor lawyers; we all assumed that they only had different levels of debtor focused lawyers.)

In all seriousness, it’ll be a great program. Topics include:

“A Creditor’s Rights: Top Issues and Common Mistakes From the Judge’s Perspective” by Hon. Phyllis Gardner, Hon. Lynda Jones and moderated by Kara Reese.

“The Future of Collections and Bankruptcy in the New Recession” by Monique Jewett-Brewster, Tracy L. Schweitzer and Jerome Teel, Jr.

“Legal Technology Update: Zoom, Slack, and Other Things You Never Realized You Need” by Zack Glaser, Lori Gonzalez and Kim Bennett.

And, remember, your Tennessee Bar Association membership includes 3 free CLE credits, so, basically, this will be free for you all. Thank me later!

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.

As seen in the Nashville Post 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 whether it was the right choice and about all the work to be done to build something. Opening bank accounts. Picking office space. Hiring staff. Hiring lawyers. And, of course, doing the legal work for all the clients. And by “wake up, involuntarily,” I really mean “freak out” about what’s next.

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 early morning 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 better 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.