Law blog roundup

alarm clockHappy Monday, the first official one of the summer. When you’re done sharing stories with co-workers about the weekend’s supermoon, here are some law tidbits to nosh on:

– SCOTUSblog lives for days like Monday.

– Pennsylvania lawmakers and courts are battling over who gets to define a charity. (HT: Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog)

– The 10 most surprising findings from a CDC study of gun violence in the United States.

– You better be prompt in your arrival time if you’re working at this law firm.

In-House Interrogatory

Asked: Our weekly question to the In-House community

In-house legal departments are getting fed up with paying outside counsel for soft costs like food and photocopying fees, The Wall Street Journal reported this week.

In-house counsel are pushing back against law firms charging them for legal research, photocopying and word processing costs according to a study cited in the article.

Companies’ legal departments argue that these costs are included in law firm overhead and therefore should not be charged to them.

So, here’s our question for you:

Should companies be charged for soft costs like catered lunches and photocopying by outside counsel?

Leave a comment below or email me.

Need to Know:

In-House Interrogatory

Asked: Our weekly question to the In-House community

A new survey found 90 percent of in-house counsels found useful computer coding used to sort through legal documents. Of the 24 attorneys surveyed, however, the results were mixed as to how much money using such coding saved their companies.

The predictive coding technology uses specific case searches to find legal documents related to litigation. Many said the coding was helpful in that it sped up the process of reviewing documents and was helpful in big cases when sorting through thousands of documents.

Many general counsels were worried the technology would replace human review and were concerned how the courts viewed using this technology. About 27 percent said they were not sure how much the technology saved the company, but another 27 percent thought it saved more than $500,000. Another 27 percent thought the technology saved between $25,000 and $250,000. About 18 percent thought it saved between $250,000 and $500,000.

So, here’s our question for you:

Do you use predictive coding at your in-house jobs? If so, how much does it save your company?

Leave a comment below or email me.

Need to Know:

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D.C. lawyer (chicken) dances around political debate

When it comes to defending same-sex marriage, one Washington, D.C., lawyer is no chicken.

Attorney Ted Frank, who also blogs, has come up with a way to support same-sex marriage and consume controversial Chick-fil-A chicken.

The country has been abuzz about the Georgia-based fast-food chain in the past few weeks after its president, Dan Cathy, told a Baptist newspaper in an interview that he only supports marriage between a man and a woman.

Since then, each side of the political spectrum has jumped into the issue. Opponents of same-sex marriage declared a “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” and encouraged those supporting Cathy’s views to head to their nearest Chick-fil-A and order a chicken sandwich and waffle fries. Those in favor of same-sex marriage responded with Chick-fil-A “Kiss-Off” day, where same-sex couples smooched outside chicken chains across the country.

Frank has found himself, like many Americans, facing a conundrum: he loves Chick-fil-A food, but dislikes the company’s stance against same-sex marriage. So Frank decided to take a stand — all for the love of chicken and same-sex marriage.

Frank started the website, Chicken Offsets, where people can donate every time they eat at Chick-fil-A. The money will then go to a number of LGBT nonprofits. Every $1 donated equals an offset of one chicken sandwich, and $6 is worth 10 chicken sandwich offsets, according to the website.

As Frank explains on the website:

Chick-fil-A sells $4,100,000,000 of chicken a year and donates about 0.04% of that to Christian organizations that are only anti-gay in a collateral sense. Buying a chicken offset does far more for gay rights than boycotting the chain because someone asked a business executive so religiously Christian that he insists that the stores be closed on Sunday what he thought about gay marriage and people are pretending to be surprised by the answer.

At least 90 percent of the money donated goes to the It Gets Better Project, which focuses on helping LGBT teens, and The Williams Institute, a think tank at the UCLA School of Law that researches gender identity and sexual orientation law. Only a small amount of money is kept by the website for operating expenses.

Frank launched the website Saturday night and reportedly had raised $100 by late Monday.

So now, thanks to Frank,  gay rights supporters hankering for a spicy chicken sandwich bathed in signature Chick-fil-A Sauce can consume the 630-calorie meal guilt-free. Well, morally, anyways.

Baltimore nonprofit hopes “Big Idea” nets $500k

The Baltimore Child Abuse Center wants your vote in its quest to win $500,000. The organization is the only Maryland nonprofit competing in Chase Bank’s community giving program.

BCAC is competing with 100 other nonprofits from across the country for funds for a “Big Idea.” The organization’s Big Idea is “No child should be the victim of child abuse.” It would use the half-million dollars to “offer free sexual abuse prevention education to all local kindergarten classes, parents and teachers, as well as nationally offer online education and mobile applications at no cost to everyone who wishes to keep their children safe and build a better community.”

The funding is given out based on the number of votes the nonprofits receive on Facebook. BCAC received $25,000 for making the Top 100 after Round 1. For Round 2, the charity with the most votes gets $500,000, with the next 24 receiving between $400,000 and $20,000.

As of Tuesday afternoon, BCAC was well out of the Top 25, but voting does not end until Wednesday night, so there is still time to catch up. City Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld cast his vote for BCAC on Monday, calling it a “critical and vital partner” to his department.

“It’ s a great opportunity for us to do something good for the city,” he said.

You can vote for BCAC and its Big Idea here.

And watch a short video of BCAC’s Big Idea below:

YouTube Preview Image

A Shakespeare Festival supporter remembers

“If this were play’d upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction.”
- Twelfth Night

Alas, Fabian, it’s true: the Baltimore Shakespeare Festival is folding after 17 seasons. When I heard the news, I thought of Tom Schetelich, the BSF’s business manager I profiled last year.  Schetelich saw his first BSF show in 2004 and joked that he became such a regular presence at the nonprofit that it either had to give him a job or a restraining order.

Schetelich told me Thursday afternoon he’s helping the organization wind down. He declined to go into detail about the financial problems that reportedly led to the BSF’s folding but said theater companies like the Shakespeare Festival “need everything to go right to survive.”

“I enjoyed the process of making this work so much,” he said. “It was just a good thing for the city.”

Among Schetelich’s favorite things was getting to know the actors, directors and technical staff behind the productions and attending the popular outdoor stagings every summer in the Meadow at the Evergreen Museum & Library.

He also believes a new organization could step in to fill the cultural void left by the BSF and has even had some preliminary discussions about doing just that.

Until then, Schetelich has a new goal. Thanks in part to the BSF, he estimates he’s seen live performances of about half of the Bard’s plays. But he wants to see all of them, which could prove challenging.

“You can always go see a production of ‘Hamlet’ somewhere,” Schetelich said. “But if you want to see The Two Noble Kinsmen, you’ve got to look for it.”

Is there a ribbon for lawsuit awareness?

The Huffington Post reported last month that the Susan G. Komen for the Cure has filed trademark infringement lawsuits against other charities that use “for the cure” in their names. The story alleges Komen spends a $1 million a year in donor funds on such litigation.

The foundation has more than 200 registered trademarks, and I didn’t even know you could protect a phrase like “for the cure,” hon.

Even though the HuffPost story was published in December, I first heard about it Monday night from Stephen Colbert. Enjoy his take here.


Pro bono reception more than Juan Williams

Juan Williams made the headlines last week speaking at Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service’s pro bono reception. But almost all of what Williams said about the NPR controversy was to reporters after he gave a keynote address that looked at the value of pro bono work through the story of Thurgood Marshall, which Williams himself has told.

Williams talked in his speech about the influence of Charles Hamilton Houston, Marshall’s dean at Howard University’s law school who became a mentor and friend. Two of Houston’s sayings became mantras of sorts for Marshall as he pursued the civil rights cases that made him a household name:

  • All people need good lawyers when their lives are on the line.
  • A lawyer who is not a social architect is nothing but a social parasite.

Karl-Henri Gauvin was honored by MVLS as its volunteer of the year. Gauvin, a Baltimore solo practitioner, has handled 44 pro bono cases since 2008, primarily foreclosures. That Gauvin has so many foreclosure cases to work on in the first place is why he called the honor a “mixed blessing.” But Gauvin described the pro bono cases as a natural extension of his public policy background.

“Once you get your hands dirty, it’s very rewarding,” he said.

Connie Hare and Gary Greenblatt often see the rewards from pro bono cases more clearly than from their regular cases. The husband and wife team, of Mehlman, Greenblatt & Hare LLC in Baltimore, were honored as law firm of the year for taking 15 bankruptcy cases from MVLS this year and 58 total since 1993.

The couple has seen the impact of helping a pro bono client get rid of creditors and end up in a better place financially and mentally.

“They have hope now,” Hare said.

Both described the work as an obligation and “the least you can do” to give back.

MVLS also honored three lawyers – Thomas R. Simpson Jr., Elva E. Tillman and Randy S. Wase – for taking at least one pro bono case in each of the last 10 years.

(Full disclosure: The Daily Record was a media sponsor for the event.)

What about the Foreclosure Prevention Project?

One voice we could not fit into today’s story about the changes to the state’s foreclosure law was that of the Foreclosure Prevention Pro Bono Project.

Since its inception two years ago, the project has placed more than 900 cases with volunteer lawyers across the state. More than 1,500 homeowners also have been advised through foreclosure solution workshops staffed by volunteer attorneys.

Jennifer Larrabee, manager of the project with the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland, said officials are still trying to determine how, if at all, its system will change under the new law. The workshops will continue, she said, but one possible alteration might be volunteer lawyers shifting their focus toward representing clients in mediation sessions, she said.

Larrabee supports the new law but said it does not lessen the need for volunteer lawyers.

“The intention behind the law is that homeowners be provided a face-to-face, meaningful opportunity to meet with the lender and negotiate with someone with decision-making authority,” she said.

National legal services update

We’ve documented the struggle for funding of legal services in Maryland, but there’s been news in the last week about federal funding for legal services.

It began Thursday when the House approved $440 million in funding for the Legal Services Corp. for Fiscal Year 2010, a $50 million increase from the current fiscal year. The bill passed after an amendment to eliminate LSC was defeated 323-105, according to LSC.

Rep. Allan B. Mollohan, D-W. Va., said the amendment was “the wrong place to try to balance the budget,” echoing Maryland Sen. Bobby Zirkin and Del. Jon Cardin, the Baltimore County Democrats who led the fight to prevent a $500,000 cut to the Maryland Legal Services Corp.

The U.S. House measure also removed a restriction barring lawyers paid by legal services from collecting attorneys’ fees from opposing parties. As the U.S. Senate begins discussing LSC this week, the The Washington Post and The New York Times editorial boards both urged the Senate to lift two additional restrictions: one prohibiting legal services clients from participating in class-action lawsuits; the other extending the federal restrictions to money legal services providers receive from other sources. 

Incidentally, the Senate subcommittee that will be first to take up LSC funding is chaired by Maryland’s own Barbara Mikulski. Stay tuned.