f/k/a archives . . . real opinions & real haiku

February 1, 2004

Best Pre-Written Super Bowl Post Mortem Like Ever

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 10:17 pm

Whether you love or hate the Super Bowl, The Fool in the Forest (aka George M. Wallace, JD) will make you smile with this post, written before he left for vacation yesterday.


power plug  p.s. George, That’s two plugs in two days. Count ’em  power plug 

. . . and One Step Back

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 9:26 pm

Back on January 10th, I worried that baby steps would never lead to true Small Claims Court reform.  Today, I have to start worrying about backward steps in the battle to make access to civil justice more affordable and available. 


You see, on Jan. 1st,2004, the dollar limits in New York small claims courts were raised from $3000 to $5000 — with no help at all from the organized bar in NYS (which is tantamount to opposition).   Today, The Sunday Gazette quotes Schenectady City Court Judge Guido Loyola, who handles small claims matters, as saying he sees no increase in claims yet, after four weeks.  Nonetheless, he does see one change already:

[T]he introduction of attorneys into the court where litigants traditionally represent themselves. 


“‘This will be an incentive for more attorneys to use small claims,’ he said, ‘The cost benefit wasn’t there, but with a $5000 limit, it could be lucrative.”

small shark  Unfortunately, you need a subscription to see the article on the Gazette (I won’t pay, but I have a hardcopy) (“Small claims limit up,” 02-01-04, B1, by Steven Cook). 


Some readers think that skepticalEsq makes stuff like this up to make lawyers look bad.  Already, my optimist friend Carolyn Elefant is thinking something like, “Well, the nice lawyers are saving their clients money by switching to the less formal court; or the client might insist on having the lawyer present”   That might be true in a few instances, but ethicalEsq has to ask “Why couldn’t the lawyer give the client a brochure (available at court) on how to file a small claims petition, maybe help organize necessary paperwork (if necessary), and let the client avoid a court-appearance fee that will be a significant part of even the maximum judgment of $5000?”  Rhetorical question.


I’ve only lived in Schenectady since 1988.  Guido Loyola has lived and practiced law in Schenectady his whole life.   His analysis is that the lawyers are suddenly appearing in Small Claims Court because “it could be lucrative.”  (Yes, many lawyers are poor enough in Schenectady that a Small Claims case fee could seem lucrative, but the citizens are even poorer).  I’ll take his word on it.  And, shake my head again, wondering how I’ll ever keep my resolution to be more positive this year.

Could This Happen in the Legal Profession?

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 7:19 pm

briefcase women

The Sunday Gazette (Schenectady, New York) reports today that former marine and state trooper Paul Semanek has been elected 2004 president of the Capital Region Chapter of the Women’s Council of Realtors. (“Man heads women’s group,” 02-01-04, at B4, E5; available by subscription; confirmation is available here, from the Albany Business Review

Could this happen — has it happened — in the often hyper-gender-aware legal profession?  Wouldn’t it be a good sign?

  • Another thing that happens among realtors but not in the legal profession:  Meaningful (and advertised) price competition for services which were historically provided at a “standard” percentage rate by all providers.   We can dream.   We’ll soon have more to say on this topic, when we discuss a recent law review article by Cardozo Prof. Lester Brickman,

    (abstract) which looks at evidence and reasons for the lack of price competition over fees by p/i lawyers. 25 Cardozo L.Rev. 65 (Nov. 2003).  One section of the article contrasts price competition among realtors (with flat fees, lowered percentages, blended rates, etc.) with the lack of price competition among p/i lawyers. 

Ghosts Will Kill the Legal Weblog Community

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 3:57 pm

ghost small Weblogger, JD?

The notion of ghost-written weblogs scares me.   It looks like they’re coming, and they signal a new kind of weblogging devoid of the very spark of life that has put magic into this way of communicating and created a community.  [See yesterday‘s and today‘s Netlawblog, where Jerry Lawson tells of four vendors “selling blogs to lawyers.”]

Going from weblog as “the unedited voice of an individual” to weblog as the fabricated voice (and image) created for an individual lawyer will turn this fresh community into a stale commodity.  And it won’t work as a marketing tool, because what makes a weblog “good” and attracts repeat visitors is a strong personal voice, content that is interesting and well said, and rapid response time.  [“The Good, The Bad and the Blogly,” by Glenn Harlan Reynolds]   Those are three elements very unlikely to come from Blogs-R-Us (or, better, Weblogs-B-We).

There are times when I hate being the gadfly or prophet of doom.  The role is particularly uncomfortable when the ox that I might be goring is owned by people who I admire and like.  Jerry Lawson said yesterday that “Kevin [O’Keefe]’s approach looks promising, and not just because the Perry Mason photo is priceless.”  Jerry has been a constant supporter of this website, helping it gain credibility and an audience.  Kevin not only gave me my first cyber-pulpit at PrairieLaw.com (and signed the checks), but is creating a wonderful tool for serving legal consumers with his Project Lawyers Serve.  [I don’t even hold a grudge that Kevin continues to use the ugly little word “blog,” despite admitting “the term ‘blog’ sounds funny.” ]

Despite my esteem for Jerry and Kevin, I must protest that the notion of creating content for weblogs — especially postings — threatens to turn weblogs into merely a marketing tool, as opposed to being a special, personal platform that is also a marketing tool.  Besides set-up, Kevin’s maintenance & publishing services include:

  • Consumer-friendly content in area of lawyer’s practice
  • Law & news in relevant area of law regularly placed in blog
  • Cyber publicity & search engine optimization

When answering the question “Why have a professional set up your blog?”, Kevin notes (emphasis added):

“[O]nly a small percentage of lawyers, best labeled as early adopters of technology, take the time to learn how to do [the things necessary to make a weblog successful]. It’s even a smaller group of lawyers who continue to execute over time. . . .

For lawyers who do not have the time to regularly publish content to their blog so has to keep syndicating content to folks and stay at the top of search engines, we’ll do it for them – again at a very reasonable cost.”

haunted house That spectre of the absentee weblogger worries me the most. Visitors won’t know (or will be misled about) whose up-to-the-minute expertise they are reading.  On a page that answers the question what is a blog?, Kevin notes that “Blogs are usually personal publications as opposed to published by an entity or organization.  Readers get an honest feel for who the blog publisher is and tend to form a stronger bond with the publisher than with a firm that publishes a Web site. ”   Kevin ends the description of weblogs by saying:

“Come to think of it, a blog sounds a awful like a Web site with a few bells and whistles that make it a more powerful marketing tool for a lawyer than a typical Web site. Erik Heels, a pioneer on the law and the Internet, may be right when he defines blogs as websites created and maintained with weblog software.”   (emphases added)

That’s what weblogs will certainly become if they are not truly personal in nature.  For weblogs to remain more than a convenient way to create a website; for weblogs to create a community of colleagues and fans; for weblogs to actually become more effective marketing tools than traditional law firm sites (or e-brochures, or power-point presentations) — for them to be more than a technology and a fad — they must have a personal voice (even if there are multiple personalities).

  • By the way, webloggers, please raise your hand if you’ve found that your weblog has brought you new clients.
  • One more consumer advocate question:  If the lawyers who are the market for vended weblogs don’t have enough time to produce the weblog themselves, just where are they going to find the time to give competent and diligent service to the expected flood of new clients?
  • FOLLOW-UP: This post sparked quite a few more here at f/k/a:  Especially see Selling the Perception of Expertise (April 14, 2004), which is my most complete explanation of what is wrong with a lawyer buying blawg content in order to establish himself or herself as an expert; and see Lawson Not Spooked by Ghosts and Lively Debate Over Ghostly Weblogs (April 15, 2004); plus making sausage and weblogs (April 17, 2004).
  • update (March 14, 2006): Two years later, Death & Taxes is struggling with the idea of weblogs and ghost-writers; and see our “haunted by Frankenblawg“.

How Does Your State Compare to California’s Self-Help Program?

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 10:56 am

A new Fact Sheet issued by the California court system on its Programs for Self-Represented Litigants (January 2004), shows again that California “gets” the importance of self-help support efforts to achieving meaningful access to justice, as well as judicial efficiency.   The California self-help system should make all who purport to be committed to access to justice — judges, lawyers, politicians, consumer advocates, court administrators, et al. — take a very close look at what is happening, and not happening, in their own states.


The Fact Sheet is only 4-pages long, but contains some important lessons (as does a companion document describing the State’s online self-help efforts):

California’s courts are facing an ever-increasing number of litigants who go to court without legal counsel, largely because they cannot afford representation. Self-represented litigants typically are unfamiliar with court procedures and forms as well as with their rights and obligations, which leaves them disadvantaged in court and consumes significant court resources. Accordingly, the Judicial Council has made access to the courts for self-represented litigants one of its top priorities.

Here are some of the highlights of the program:

power plug . . .

Website: The Online Self-Help Center Program established by the California judiciary was improved significantly again in 2003, including launching a full Spanish-language site.

Family Court Facilitators help more than 30,000 self-represented litigants each month.

Family Law Information Centers: After five years in operation, an evaluation of the effectiveness of five pilot Family Law Information Centers, issued on March 1, 2003, demonstrated that the customers and judges were very happy with the services, and that more than 45,000 litigants were assisted each year.

Five Model Self-help Centers were created in 2002, which focus on translating materials and finding technological solutions, to continue improving the system through new methods of providing services.

Planning and Funding: To assist local courts in determining the needs of the self-represented litigants in their communities, developing partnerships in the communities, and establishing appropriate programs, the Judicial Council has encouraged every court to develop an action plan for serving self-represented litigants. Funding was provided to 52 courts to develop such plans, and for the courts that did develop them, additional funds were provided for implementation.

Similarly, the companion Fact Sheet: Online Self-Help Center Q&A (January 2004) demonstrates that California understands the important role that computer and internet technology can play to support its goals for self-help, access to justice, and the efficient running of the court system.   It states:

The California Courts Online Self-Help Center is the nation’s most comprehensive court-sponsored source of legal information available on the Internet. The Judicial Council of California created the Online Self-Help Center to assist self-represented litigants and others wishing to be better informed about the law and court procedures. In July 2003, the council launched a Spanish-language version of the center, Centro de Ayuda de las Cortes de California. This bilingual link to the courts helps achieve the council’s goal of ensuring meaningful court access for all Californians.

What is the purpose of the Web sites?  California courts are seeing a surge in self-represented litigants, a trend that shows no sign of abating. The California Courts Online Self-Help Center and Centro de Ayuda de las Cortes de California provide the kinds of legal information most sought by self-represented litigants. The Web sites are designed to help those without attorneys to become better informed, navigate the court system with more success, and have more realistic expectations about the legal system.  Although a wealth of legal information and resources is provided, the sites do not interpret the law, predict results, or provide legal advice on individual cases.

What are some key features of the Web sites?   Both the English and Spanish versions contain more than 800 pages designed specifically to help self-represented litigants navigate the court system. Users of the sites can find out about free and low-cost legal assistance, alternative dispute resolution, bringing a lawsuit, filling out court forms, and locating additional resources and information. The sites also offer information about specific [legal] topics.

“question mark”  How does your State compare when it comes to giving meaningful self-help support to pro se litigants?   Here in New York State it appears that there are no court-run self-help centers outside of New York City and Westchester County.   New York’s CourtHelp website is now boasting that it “answers the Questions You Ask Most!”  However, it is almost painful for this native of the “Empire” State to contrast the robust California Small Claims self-help webcenter with the handful of sentences palmed off as NYS’s small claims support page. 

  • Is your local bar helping or hindering Self-Help in your State and community?

  • Materials in the SelfHelpSupport pro se Library can help you find out what’s going on in your state and across the nation.

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