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American Bar Association

ABA Section of Business Law


Business Law Today

Snap judgments
By Molly Thomas
Bye-Bye Bike Messenger?
They made it through the invention of the fax machine, and even through the e-mail revolution. They've made it through snowstorms, rainstorms, and summer sun. They've darted through unfriendly traffic and almost taken an unaware pedestrian or two out in the process. But the dedicated Washington, D.C., bike messenger is a dying breed these days, as the last of the holdout courts are finally accepting electronic filing, and the economic collapse makes the expense excessive, according to the Washington Post. After 9/11, building security policies made corridors and lobbies restricted areas, and bike messengers were relegated to basements and mail rooms. More government agencies went electronic, and the number of full-time couriers in D.C. has dropped from 400 in the 1990s to today's much smaller 150, reports head of the D.C. Bicycle Courier Association, Andy Zalan. And not just D.C. is experiencing the confluence of events that's killing the courier; the number of New York City courier companies is down to about 40 from almost 500 at its peak.
Big Law Is Back?
According to the Deal magazine, the fear that recent economic changes would fundamentally alter the way Big Law operates are unfounded. The proposed example for this theory is Silicon Valley: the 2000 tech crash had the potential to be disastrous for law firms. But large firms that made it through that crash remained profitable, with relatively the same structure and partners, and the same tech focus. After all, it's a standard cycle for old cash cows to die and new ones to crop up in their place. Don't forget that the law is a big business with big profit margins, and because most large firms are spread out all over the nation and have a large range of profit areas, they are well positioned to adjust. And no new firms are poised to move in, as opposed to the competitive large firms that were well positioned to take advantage of the 2000 bust. However, it's not clear skies for everyone, with some firms still vulnerable, in particular those with practices centered around venture capital work and leveraged or structured finance. Those that predict that companies will no longer be willing to pay the large fees of big law firms may be jumping the gun—after all, companies are still facing legal issues in restructuring and regulatory concerns, and well-funded plaintiffs will need medical and securities malpractice defense. As long as the world remains complicated and contentious, perhaps the legal profession will remain more stable than some recent reports have predicted.
Function Amongst Frivolity
Beyond the daily banalities that social networking sites can find themselves swamped in, professionals are finding connections made there to be beneficial to their working lives, reports Bloomberg.com. In-house lawyers in particular are enjoying the benefits of sharing information online as they are pressured to cut costs. "Online networks are a fantastic tool for identifying expertise in the fields in which general counsel are looking to rein in outside counsel," shared Eugene Weitz, an in-house attorney at Paris-based Alcatel Lucent. "Experts bubble up who have the ability to show their knowledge online." The number of lawyers joining sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook are growing quickly, up 50 percent in 2009, according to a survey done by LexisNexis, perhaps proving that they have more to offer than just personal networking and teenage diversions.
When Social Networking Bites Back
Looking for a job? According to a report by Kashmir Hill on True/Slant (a news and blog network for journalists), there's no better time than the present to revise, restrict, or retract your Facebook profile, rethink your personal blog, or reconsider your Tweets. Forty-five percent of respondees (twice what was reported last year) to a CareerBuilder survey reported checking a potential employee's "social pages" (this includes Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and blogs) during the hiring process. Some consider this to merely be due diligence, similar to checking references and credit reports.

If an applicant is denied employment based on something found in their credit check, the employer is required by law to notify the applicant. But no such laws or even guidelines exist in the world of social networking, and some question whether certain practices, like having a student employee assist in bypassing privacy settings in order to view an applicant's Facebook profile, should be forbidden, or at least the process regulated. The Florida Board of Bar Examiners is jumping into the fray by considering a requirement that some applicants to the bar go through social networking investigations. Applicants targeted would be those having, to name a few, histories of substance abuse, "significant candor concerns," or a history of allegations of the unlicensed practice of law.
When Social Networking Bites Back II
Nothing wrong with taking your day's frustrations to task on your personal blog, right? Not so if you're a lawyer or a judge, according to recent events reported by the New York Times. Name calling in a blog about the presiding judge at trial will get you a reprimand and a fine. When you join the legal community, you lose some personal rights to publicly complain about the events in which you are involved. Said Michael Downey, teacher of ethics at Washington University Law School, "when you become an officer of the court, you lose the full ability to criticize the court."

The likelihood is high that clashes will continue between codes of conduct of the court and the anything-goes private discourse of the Internet that so many fresh faces in the legal community are accustomed to. These people are learning that revealing information, even "just" online, about a trial or participants' identities, or perhaps revealing their own assistance in fraudulent behavior will land them in deep trouble. Offenses of this nature can cost an "oversharer" his or her job, along with initiating an investigation into the alleged misdeeds. And even if you're honest, but insincere, it's still best not to update the Facebook world on your personal life. In one instance, a judge discovered that a lawyer who had requested, and received, a delay of trial due to a death in the family was not posting expressions of grief on her Facebook page, but instead, stories about partying. Her request for a second delay was denied. Time to get friendly with those privacy settings!
Past Due Billing Blues
As profits slim down, law firms are getting tougher on past due bills from clients, something that might have been overlooked in earlier, more flexible times, according to the Am Law Daily. Now though, much like credit card companies facing the same client payment troubles, firms are becoming more aggressive about their billing, sending out bills more frequently and prodding problem clients earlier in the process to prevent delinquency. And in order to avoid getting stuck with bills from vendors, firms are asking that vendors bill clients directly. Being that they are law firms, some are filing breach of contract lawsuits against clients that are in arrears.

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