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Solo In Chicago

...empowering the Second City's entrepreneurial legal community

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Non-Engagement Letter

I just found myself doing one of these so I thought I'd post what we use to communicate with non-clients the fact that we're not representing them. You do not want to unwittingly create an attorney-client relationship when you don't actually want to represent someone. Also, having just renewed a malpractice policy I recall that the use of non-engagement letters is one of the questions on a malpractice application and not using them likely impacts your premium for the worse.

Here's our non-engagement letter:

Thank you for your time and consideration. I have appreciated the opportunity to talk with you and discuss our firm’s potential representation of you regarding various pending domestic relations related matters. I have reviewed the information you provided me, but for various reasons, we have decided not to represent you in these matters.

In declining, we express no opinion of the merit of your case or the potential for its success or failure. You should seek legal assistance from another attorney.

Please note there is a limited amount of time for you to pursue this matter. If you are to proceed, you should do so with haste. Time could be critically short. I recommend that you immediately contact another attorney for assistance. The Chicago Bar Association has a lawyer referral service and can be contacted at 312-554-2001.

Please email or call if there are questions or if there are additional legal needs more suited to our practice areas.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Report on Conditions at Cook County Jail

If you need some interesting reading of a public policy nature to read over the weekend why not try out the Justice Department's review of the Cook County Jail...here's the full report, the U.S. Attorney's press release, and the Chicago Tribune's treatment of the report's release.

Note the Sheriff's response saying he felt betrayed because they allowed the Justice Department access...only in Chicago. It was pursuant to federal law Mr. Sheriff.

Here's just one of many, many troubling examples from the report...

In July 2006, Lonnie L., 59-years-old, was leaving the
medical area of intake and heading to the bullpen.
When he turned around to get more medication, an
officer told him not to return to the medical area.
Lonnie did not obey the order. The officer came into
the medical area and hit Lonnie on the mouth. When
Lonnie fell to the ground, the officer kicked him and
again struck him in the mouth, knocking out a tooth.
The officer dragged Lonnie by the pants out of the
medical area. During Lonnie's intake strip search, the
same officer hit him in the back with a cane. Three
inmates testified that they witnessed the incident.
Medical records indicated injury to Lonnie's ribs and
lung. CCJ found abuse and recommended that the officer
be terminated.

Tell a Story about Yourself...

A good advice piece regarding developing your "elevator speech."

Here's a simple three step model to describing yourself:

Meaningful minute. Civiello advises clients preparing lengthy presentations to start by distilling their messages into 60 seconds. Her basic formula goes like this: "Say who you are, what you do, and why you do it better."

When clients stumble over the third part she asks, "What do you contribute? Why is the world a better place because of what you do?" If that's a little too grandiose, consider what sets your performance apart. How is your contribution different from others?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I'd Like to Stop Beating Up on the Cook County Sheriff, BUT...

The facts are hard to ignore.

I had an incarcerated client with a court date set for yesterday. And after waiting for some time in the courtroom, one of the Sheriff's deputies explains to me that my client wasn't going to be brought in yesterday...or more simply, the Cook County Sheriff forgot to bring my client to court! We've posted about difficulty with the Sheriff previously here and here regarding service of process and previous difficulty with the jail.

But in the case of my client yesterday, so the case got continued until today when the Sheriff did bring my client in and my client got released as I expect would have happened yesterday if he'd gotten to court. Those lost days are nothing to kid about and I'm starting to think the federal court may be wanting to put a value on those civil rights violations...the strange ways in which new practice areas come about.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Follow the Path of the Summons/Affidavit Return...

It sounds like some sort of kids game doesn't it? Unfortunately this "game" can be a pain in the @$%$#@ when the Cook County Sheriff's proof of service affidavit doesn't find its way to the court file like it's supposed to.

This was a new one for me earlier this week. This was one of those rare cases where the Sheriff actually made effective service on a defendant in a case (or at least they said they did). Case was in District 5 Bridgeview but the summons had been placed down in room 701 at Daley. So the week before our trial date (forcible entry and detainer case) we verify with the Sheriff that there's been good service over the phone. Then I get down to court Monday and there's no Sheriff's Deputy's affidavit in the court file. I run down to the Sheriff's branch office in Bridgeview and they present me with some printout (not an affidavit as required by IL Rules of Civ. Pro) that says there's been good service...judge says not good enough (some judges will take this as proof of service). Well, this didn't exactly get my Monday off to a great start.

Today I follow-up on the matter in room 701 at Daley since that's where the original summons had been placed for service. Beyond getting terrible customer service their answer is "we sent the affidavit to the Circuit Clerk in District 5." Maybe they did...the greater fault MAY lie with the Circuit Clerk but who mails anything important without making a copy?? But no they didn't have one. We'll check with the Circuit Clerk in Bridgeview but I'm not getting my hopes up.

Aside from the quality of government issues we have in Cook County, I think the above may cause me to try and deal with the branch Sheriff offices more often rather than placing most of our stuff for service at Daley Center. By doing this at least the step of the Sheriff getting proof of service from Daley Center to the suburban courthouses is eliminated.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Free Conference Call Software

Here's another free Web-based service I recently discovered: Rondee.com. They offer free, Web-based conference calls for up to 100 participants. This is a great service for the home office lawyer who doesn't have an extensive and expensive telephone system. Just use your cell!

The Pace of Justice at 32 W. Randolph

I had a pretrial conference over in courtroom 1403 over at 32 W. Randolph today with Judge Reynolds. She's a nice edition to the team over there...it's a very difficult court call.

By way of a little background, the court at 32 W. Randolph deals with parentage cases...child-related matters like custody, support, visitation, ect. when the parents aren't married. If there's contention over any child custody issues, the parties are required to attend mediation. The parents come back for a "mediation intake" date, attend 2-3 sessions of mediation, and then there's a mediation status court date after the mediation is completed.

In court today the earliest available dates for mediation intake were late October and for the follow-up mediation status court date March. If you're going to require mediation how 'bout investing in a couple more mediators.

Free Invoicing Software from Intuit

There's nothing more important than getting clients to pay your bills. I recently experimented with Billing Manager from Intuit, a free, online invoicing software from the makers of QuickBooks. It's probably not a full accounting solution for your firm, but for a start-up not ready to make a big investment I like what it offers.

The invoices look good and you have the option to customize them to your firm. Also, the invoices are easily printed out or e-mailed to clients. Clients can pay your bills online if you sign-up for the corresponding credit card payment program.

More important than any legalese...Make it easy for clients to pay you!

Do Judges Earn Royalties from the Law Bulletin??

I say that mostly in jest but I was handling a name change case today at Daley. There were several other name change cases in the courtroom along with my case and many of them were pro se. A name change case requires publication in a county-wide newspaper for three weeks. And as each client stepped up the judge would ask, do you have your publication from the Law Bulletin?

Not a big deal but I like most lawyers try like heck not to use the Law Bulletin...it's a rip-off.

Why encourage this?