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January 25, 2004

Nevada high court upholds jury trial right in cases under $5000

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 9:07 pm

According to an article in the Las Vegas Sun, (AP, Nevada high court upholds jury trial right in small cases, by Brendan Riley, 01-23-04):

“[T]he Nevada Supreme Court held Friday it’s unconstitutional for the Las Vegas Township Justice Court to deny jury trials in civil cases involving $5,000 or less.

“The [5-1] split decision overturned lower court rulings in two cases that upheld the Justice Court policy adopted in 1999 as a way to “‘preserve judicial resources.'”

The decision did not address, but would appear to draw into question, the ability to preclude juries in “small claims” matters, which are also filed in Justice Court (using secial procedures), and may include claims up to $5000.  Nevada’s attempts at increasing access and conserving judicial resources by making court procedures more user-friendly (especially through its self-help centers, which we discussed here) may also be in jeopardy.

The two cases in question involved auto accidents.

Some sectors of the Bar may rejoice at this turn of events, which will mean more work for lawyers, but it does not bode well for increasing accessibility to civil justice for the poor and middle-class consumer.

What’s the Future (Virtual or Actual) of the Legal Profession?

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 6:56 pm

Following Dennis Kennedy‘s recent pointer to the current edition of Law Practice Today (January 2004) proved to be well-worth my effort.  I found three articles that ask some very good questions about the future of the legal profession.  The answers will be important to the profession’s ability to better serve and understand the interests of its clients.


question dude  I found Kennedy’s article to be especially interesting.  It’s called “A Vision for Virtual Law Firms — Questions You Should Be Asking” (Law Practice Today, by Dennis Kennedy, Jan. 2004).  Dennis says “To me, virtual law firm simply means an affiliated group of lawyers connected by technology rather than co-existing in common physical locations.”  With that definition in mind, he asks some important questions.  The first two give a good taste of Dennis’ current thought processes:

  1. What happens when you find that the mentors, experts and authorities you grow to rely on are not the people down the hall, in your offices, or even in your geographic area? With e-mail lists, this phenomenon is increasingly common.

  2. Do you best serve your clients by referring work to your partners when you have professional contacts clearly able to do a better job?

Clearly, Dennis is asking lawyers to think outside-the-firm when attempting to serve the client’s interests — to give clients the best value, once you understand their needs and desires, by choosing the attorney or service provider that is the best match.  This may often mean turning to an attorney who is not employed by or a member of your “actual” law firm.  In the past, physical limitations made it easy to ignore this question.  Technology now makes the ability to use “outsiders” easy.   Will law firms firmly reject the notion of sending client matters outside of their own profit centers?  Don’t fiduciary and ethical obligations mandate that the client’s interests come first?  These issues need full discussion and reflection — in an atmosphere devoid of the guild mentality that predominated in prior millennia.


Another LPT article worth a look is Steven A. Lauer‘s “What Do Law Firms Sell? What Do Clients Buy?”  Lauer’s article discusses the trend by corporate clients to turn to a smaller number of “preferred law firms,” and to put pressure on law firms to reduce fees.   Lauer notes that (emphasis added):

 “Law firms think that they are in the profession of selling a process, such as counseling. While that clearly constitutes a significant component of what their invoices describe, in truth clients want to purchase something else. Clients want to receive, and pay for, a result. That result might be representation in a lawsuit. It might be the legal work necessary to close a business transaction. Their focus on process, however, causes lawyers to think of themselves as sellers of their time rather than their expertise (despite what they say in their brochures and other marketing materials). The result is legal fees calculated by multiplying time and rate.

If law firms view their output as a result, they can revisit the way in which they price their product. They should be able to apply more imagination and creativity to their pricing. This can enable them to address (and perhaps even anticipate!) clients’ concerns in that regard. Fees based on something other than an hourly rate multiplied by the number of hours devoted to a task (e.g., “alternative” fees) can be a basis for them to do so. 

Like Dennis Kennedy’s issue of referring client matters to “virtual law firm” colleagues, Lauer’s focus on results (and information transfer) for clients asks the law firm to put the client’s interests first, despite a likely reduction in fees — at least in the context of any one project or case, and possibly overall.

briefcase girl  The final article I want to mention is the next generation roundtable, “Looking to the Future: What Changes Do You See Coming in the Next Twenty Years?”,  (LPT, January 2004, organized and edited by John Tredennick with assistance from Aman Bagga and Marisa Davies, and including law students from Stetson U. College of Law).  The Questions about the likely future of the profession are important (e.g., role of billable hours, substituting software for lawyers, going global), and the editor says “Some of their answers might surprise you.” 

However, I suggest you read the roundtable discussion mostly to spur your own responses.  It seems, unfortunately, that today’s law students and newbie lawyers aren’t any more aware of the realities of law practice than they were in “my day.”  (Am I kidding myself that we were more articulate than the current crop?)  I won’t quote any of the less-then-edifying answers, to protect the “innocent”.   However, Young Lawyer Division representative Aman Bagga, who surely had more opportunity for serious consideration of the issues than the students, had some insightful comments on the most important role changes we can expect for lawyers, due to new technology.  For example:

Bagga: On the consumer side, software will change the function of a lawyer. Lawyers in the future will review documents after their clients first prepare a preliminary version. The work balance will shift from one where the lawyer does all the preparations to a model where customers do some of the groundwork and the lawyer reviews the document.

Already there are many legal programs that help the average person fill out legal documents using a “check-the-box” method. This is similar to taxes, which can be completed either by hand, by using software or by using a professional. Some legal documents will initially be created using software by selecting clauses that a person wants to include in the document. Lawyers will then earn their fee by reviewing the document for completeness and by offering advice to make sure all the issues are covered.

I’m happy to note that most young lawyers seem to get their sea legs, and smoother tongues, rather quickly once thrown into the real world of law practice.   (See, e.g., Ms. Scheherazade.)    Now, if we can just get them to be more interested in service over profits, they’ll soon be teaching the gray-beards (and those who cover their gray) some important lessons in professionalism and ethics.

Follow-up (01-27-04): See the “What Do Lawyers Sell” posting at the [non]billable hour.

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