Team One - Tuesday, September 25, 2007

"Mean Streets" In The Courtroom: Balancing the Security and Safety of Juries, Judges and Courtroom Participants Against A Criminal Defendant's Right to a Fair Trial

Recently, a criminal defendant punched a juror. Judges and A.D.A.s often receive threats, which occasionally are even carried out. The press often seeks access to juries' identities. And, it is becoming difficult to assemble adequate jury venires. Many issues conspire to hinder the fair administration of criminal justice. In charge of all of this is the courtroom judge; sometimes it seems as if the judge must perform miracles just to ensure a fair trial. Team One will explore some of the safety, security and fairness issues conspiring to place the safe and fair trial on the endangered species list.

Team Two - Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Lawyer Advertising Turns Thirty

In 1977, the United States Supreme Court changed the practice of law forever with its decision in Bates v. State Bar of Arizona. Justice Blackmun determined that attorneys have a First Amendment right to advertise provided the message is not misleading or deceptive. Today, some lawyers lament that the advent of advertising has caused lawyering to become less profession than business; to them the caricature of "cheesy" television ads by personal injury attorneys is all too real. Other attorneys insist that lawyer advertising provides more information to the public and keeps down client costs by enhancing competition.

In 30 years, lawyer advertising has evolved well beyond television and "Yellow Pages" ads. Lawyers' public relations maneuvers have become quite sophisticated; even "white shoe" firms have joined the act. Lawyers and law firms now bombard the public with brochures, web sites, direct mail, email blasts, chat rooms, "list serves" and blogs. Some attorneys have even promoted themselves on "MySpace.com." The changing technology of communications has clearly forged a brave new world. In fact, lawyers may be advertising without even realizing it. Indeed, a recent New Jersey ethics opinion has essentially prohibited attorneys from touting the label "Super Lawyer" in advertisements, even though the title had been earned, on the ground that New Jersey has an ethical rule prohibiting "comparison" advertisements.

The SJC rules governing the issue (the current rules were adopted in 1997) acknowledge that far more than classic advertising is involved. Rules 7.1 through 7.5 involve numerous forms of attorney-public communication and broadly proscribe misleading information, mischaracterizations and lawyer solicitations involving coercing or harassing behavior.

Team Two will address the various issues related to lawyer advertising, including the ultimate question: even though allowed by applicable ethical rules, do some forms of lawyer advertising strain the Inn's goals of dignity and professionalism?

Team Three - Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Explosion of Pro Se Litigation

There is little dispute that pro se litigants can be a pain in the butt for the opposing counsel and judges who have to deal with them. They often fail to understand the most basic elements of the relevant legal issues, and commonly fail to comply with rules of procedure and evidence. Some pro se litigants are vexatious. For example, one pro se litigant sued 26 individuals based on their alleged involvement in three incidents, and then attempted to file criminal charges against the Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court and the Justices and Magistrates of the Federal District Court who had heard the cases. And, it is not unheard of for disgruntled pro se litigants in domestic relations disputes to sue opposing counsel and trial judges for their efforts.

On the other hand, Massachusetts and many other states constitutionally protect the right of persons to represent themselves in court. Moreover, the escalating cost of litigation often precludes people of ordinary means from engaging counsel. Many of those involved in the legal justice system are decrying the "mismatches" that often occur when one party is represented by counsel and the other is not.

There has been much discussion recently about systemic attempts to ameliorate the problems associated with pro se litigants. Some have advocated "limited scope representation" or "unbundled legal services." Some courts have relaxed procedural rules for pro se litigants. Other commentators advocate a hard line against pro se litigants. Indeed, several years ago the Massachusetts SJC ruled that "[t]he right of self-representation is not 'a license not to comply with relevant rules of procedural and substantive law.'"

Team Three will address the problems of pro se litigation, the steps already in please to deal with the problems, and potential solutions to the problems.

Team Four - Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers Goes "Mainstream" with LOMAP

For years, everyone has thought of LCL as a volunteer group of attorneys that helps colleagues deal primarily with substance abuse problems. But LCL has slowly been expanding its services to help attorneys who don't have substance abuse issues. In 2006 LCL launched a new initiative in collaboration with the Board of Bar Overseers to develop the "Law Office Management Assistance Program" (LOMAP). LOMAP is intended to provide tools, training and information to help lawyers manage their practices efficiently and effectively. While all attorneys struggle with the stresses of the practice of law, many feel that small-firm and solo practitioners are even more at risk. Solo and small firm lawyers often lack a coherent infrastructure to support their practices. LCL has found that career and practice management distress is the most frequent complaint voiced by new as well as seasoned attorneys. 

Team Four will introduce he Inn to some of the lifestyle, management and stress problems Massachusetts lawyers face, as well as the LOMAP system of assistance. LOMAP personnel will attend and discuss the LOMAP program.

Team Five - Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Picking, Preparing and Presenting Expert Witnesses

Team Five will present a topic that should be of interest to just about every member of the Inn, whether s/he practices civil or criminal law. Part of the presentation will cover the strategies (not necessarily all legal) in choosing, working with and presenting an expert witness. Team Five will also cover some of the legal issues involved with expert witnesses which include, but are not limited to, Daubert-Lanigan concerns and work product immunity considerations.

Team Six - Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Massachusetts Jury Voir Dire System: Is It Time To Join The Rest of the Country and Allow Attorneys To Conduct Jury Voir Dires?

Presently in Massachusetts, attorneys in civil cases are not permitted to ask voir dire questions of prospective jurors; the judge bears the entire responsibility. Advocates of the system claim it speeds up the selection process and prevents attorneys from "cultivating" prospective jurors even before they are chosen. Critics, however, assert that the Massachusetts system requires attorneys to "drive while blindfolded." They decry that, without thorough voir dires conducted by attorneys, we really do not know anything about the biases and impediments that jurors bring to a case. They cite the spate of recent "surprises" discovered about jurors in the midst of trial as proof of the problem.

Team Six will examine the current voir dire system in Massachusetts, compare it to that of other states, and examine the pros and cons of amending our system.

Team Seven - Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Obligations of the Legal Profession to Engage in Public Service; A Look at Rule 6.1 

Although Massachusetts imposes no mandatory pro bono publico service requirement, Rule 6.1 of the SJC's Rules of Professional Conduct sets forth "aspirational" goals of 25 hours per year of service or contribution of $250 to 1% of taxable income to the support of legal services to persons of limited means. Several area law schools now require public service as part of the graduation requirements. 

Team Seven will examine the various avenues of public service in existence and scope out additional opportunities. The team will also conduct policy discussions about whether the SJC should consider following the law school lead and make pro bono service a requirement.

Team Eight - Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Growing Uses and Abuses of Litigation Consultants

Everyone has heard of jury consultants in civil and criminal litigation. But now attorneys are employing a whole new breed of litigation consultant. These highly specialized consultants render advice on such matters as how to present visual exhibits, how to ferret through e-discovery, how to handle the public relations aspects of a high-profile litigation (do you think that some ethical issues are involved here?), and even how attorneys should "sell" their arguments to a jury. Is the practice of law becoming far too technical for trial attorneys - who generally are pretty smart people - to get by without the extensive use of consultants? Or, is our profession just becoming addicted to specialists? Also, are we pricing our clients of modest means out of the ability to litigate?

Team Eight will discuss the strategies of deciding when to use litigation consultants, as well as the practical aspects of choosing, using and working with them.