Delegating on a Deadline: Summary Judgment Motions

Compared to a motion to dismiss under Rule 12, you have acres of time to bring a summary judgment motion under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. The court will allow several months for fact and expert discovery, and only after discovery concludes will a summary judgment motion be due. The federal summary judgment standard has been with us since the mid-1980s, and its contours are familiar to judges and practitioners. Simply put, it’s about whether an issue for trial exists: does a jury have to decide between competing versions of the facts? If the case turns on a question of law for the court, such as the interpretation of a contract, there’s nothing for a jury to do. The best time to prepare for a motion for summary judgment is during discovery. Know the elements of all claims and defenses, and ask about them. Use depositions to pin down which witnesses can establish which elements. Keep track of what’s missing, and consider using requests for admissions to clarify the factual basis for particular elements. The court will look at the facts in the light most favorable to your opponent, and so should you. Read through the other side’s testimony and documents, and ask: what evidence supports this claim or defense? Where the other side’s support is thin or nonexistent, there may be grounds for summary judgment. A common mistake for zealous advocates is to lose sight of the evidence from the other side’s perspective. Remember, a successful summary judgment motion isn’t about whether you believe the other side’s witnesses, but whether a reasonable jury might. This is a great opportunity to delegate. Consider asking someone not involved with discovery, such as an associate or freelance attorney, to review the evidence with fresh eyes. Karin has been a litigator at Debevoise & Plimpton; a law clerk to three Minnesota federal...

A Resource for Lawyers in Crisis

At our last meeting, MFAN welcomed Joan Bibelhausen, director of Minnesota’s Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers (LCL), to speak with us about resources for lawyers in crisis. Founded in 1976, LCL provides confidential support to law students, attorneys, and judges who are experiencing mental health, addiction, or other behavior problems. Managing crisis often seems to be part of practicing law. We believe we must to step into our client’s problem and resolve it dispassionately and objectively, no matter how unreasonable the client’s expectations. Yet it’s easy to take on too much, and can be hard to know how to respond when everything catches fire, especially if we are already experiencing stress or anxiety in our personal lives. Not surprisingly, lawyers are 3.6 times more likely than nonlawyers to suffer from depression. The prevalence of mental illness itself is not news. Yet at a time when over 9% of the population has a diagnosable personality disorder, many people—including lawyers—feel stigma about seeking help. LCL is part of the solution. And because freelance attorneys often get a call in moment of crisis, it helps to be aware of resources available to us and to the attorneys we help. MFAN had the opportunity to hear about some of the terrific services LCL provides, including a 24-hour crisis line; a confidential assessment and up to four counseling sessions free of charge; referrals for further services, including assistance with practice interruption and closure; resources for depression, anxiety, addiction, problem gambling, bipolar disorder, ADHD, PTSD, eating disorders, stress, relationship and family problems, financial difficulties, and work-related problems; and coaching for coworkers, family, and friends who may be concerned about a loved one but are not sure how to help. LCL’s services are available to Minnesota law students, attorneys, and judges and their immediate family. The staff includes attorneys, licensed mental and chemical health practitioners, and a...

UST Law Invites MFAN Member Karin Ciano to Talk About Freelancing

January 27, 2014: it’s so cold outside that schools are closed and classes at the University of St. Thomas School of Law are canceled. And yet, a hardy group of law students and recent grads have braved the weather and gathered for “Going Solo 101,” a new day-long workshop sponsored by the UST Law Office of Career and Professional Development. It was a fun way to beat the cold and learn about starting a sole practice. Consumer lawyer Randall Ryder started a conversation with the group about the decision to go solo. Family lawyer Allison Maxim described the financial operations of a sole practice. Minnesota Lawyers Mutual claims attorney Angie Hoppe discussed ethics, risk management, and malpractice insurance. Career Services director Kendra Brodin introduced Minnesota CLE’s New Lawyer Initiative. And I had the chance to discuss starting a freelance practice, which I believe can be a great opportunity for new lawyers to meet—and benefit from the supervision of—more experienced lawyers. I’m glad to see there seems to be considerable interest from students and new grads about solo and freelance practice. Many thanks to the University of St. Thomas School of Law for inviting me, and thanks to everyone who attended! If you saw the presentation, I’d love to have your feedback and questions in the comments. Karin has been a litigator at Debevoise & Plimpton; a law clerk to three Minnesota federal judges; a legal writing teacher at NYU Law, William Mitchell College of Law, and the University of Minnesota Law School; and a sole practitioner and freelancer in Minnesota… MFAN Bio | Email | Web | LinkedIn | Google Plus | MFAN...

Vetting a Freelance Lawyer: Questions to Ask, Answers to Expect

Whether you’re searching for freelance help on your own, or interviewing candidates recommended by a matchmaker, these questions may reveal whether a freelancer is a good fit for your project. 1. Where are you admitted as an attorney? If you call yourself a freelance attorney, you should be an attorney. That means J.D., bar pass, admission to a state bar, no current suspensions, keeping up with CLE requirements, and following ethical obligations. These should be straightforward questions to answer (and verify); if you hear discomfort or evasion, or if anything doesn’t check out, pass. 2. Do you freelance exclusively? Some do, some don’t. If the attorney is also a sole practitioner, consider whether you’re marketing to the same client base. Freelance attorneys understand stealing clients is a no-no, and are comfortable working in the background without direct client contact. 3. Do you have malpractice insurance? Some do, some don’t. If they don’t, ask your carrier about how to ensure coverage. 4. Do you check for conflicts? One right answer: Yes. 5. How long have you been freelancing? Listen to how they talk about their work; it will give you a good sense of their experience, maturity, and judgment, all of which hint at how much supervision will be needed. 6. What kinds of projects have you worked on? You’re listening for relevant experience, enthusiasm, and discretion. The freelancer should be able to convey clearly what they did, while protecting the identities and confidential information of everyone involved. They should also be able to give you references. 7. Do you ever subcontract tasks to others? Some do, some don’t; it may depend on the project. If they do, they should be comfortable talking in general, hypothetical terms about when, why, how, and to whom. If you don’t get the sense confidentiality will be protected, conflicts checked, and tasks adequately supervised,...

Book Review: The Independence Track: How to Succeed As a Freelance Attorney

Looking for a gift for a new lawyer who may be curious about freelance work? In addition to The Freelance Lawyering Manual, you may want to check out the e-book The Independence Track: How To Succeed As A Freelance Attorney by Marina Modlin. Books aimed at starting a practice, whether solo or freelance, often assume you’re an experienced lawyer. Knowing how to practice is a real timesaver, but this presumption of experience leaves recent and new law school graduates out in the coldest part of a chilly market. Enter Marina Modlin. A 2007 graduate of USF Law, Modlin found herself unemployed at the height of the recession, and chose freelancing as a way to build skills and make contacts that eventually allowed her to start her own practice. The Independence Track offers the lessons Modlin learned and the tips and advice she has for new grads who want to work as freelance attorneys. Divided into 26 short chapters, the book discusses choices familiar to freelance attorneys and solos (where to locate, what to charge, whether to get malpractice insurance or use a corporate form). The second half of the book focuses on business skills that may be particularly helpful to new lawyers, such as networking, branding, client management, professional oral and written communications, and helpful resources. Two excellent chapters—on doing legal work for family and friends, and identifying problem clients—may prevent sleepless nights. Modlin developed a freelance business model as a “part-time, on-call, long-term attorney” who worked on-site at her clients’ offices and was available 24-7. She deliberately looked for opportunities to learn new skills under the supervision of more experienced lawyers, and was not afraid to supplement her legal work with paralegal or administrative work at the firm when it was available. “In the beginning of your career,” Modlin advises new lawyers, “your goal should not be to...

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