Friday, December 23, 2005

Drinking, driving, drunks, and mass transit

Drunk driving and mass transit? How are they connected? I'll tell ya!!
This is going to be a bit of a rant.
Groups like MADD have focused relentlessly on the prosecution of people who drive after consuming alcohol. They push for more punitive sanctions, and for lowering the threshold BAC for arrest.
The reality is that driving with a BAC of 0.08 is not much different than driving while talking on a cellphone, or eating a burger and fries, or changing a CD. I'm guilty of all of the latter, though I've never driven while anywhere near intoxicated. I'm actually very careful not to drink and drive because I know how harsh the penalties are.
I'm not a total apologist for those who drink and drive. Once you get to 0.12 and up, I think there should be penalties. Still I'm not big on using BAC as the basis, and I think the penalties for first-time offenders are way too harsh, but once you get to second offenses I become a lot less sympathetic.
Still, prosecution is not the best way to approach the problem, IMHO (net-speak for "in my humble opinion", though I'm not as humble as I should be).
What is the correct way? Mass transit. I have been beating the mass transit drum for a while now. There are many reasons for supporting it. But DWI is rarely cited as a reason for it.
So think about this. We spend billions of dollars (probably tens or even hundreds of billions) every year pulling people over and ticketing them for speeding, other traffic violations, and for dwi offenses. This is a very expensive way to deal with the problem, arguably ineffective, and imposes a lot of other costs on society (spend a night in traffic court and you'll see what I mean), with no other meaningful benefit.
If we spent billions on mass transit to create useful systems that make it easy for people to use it, we would reduce the amount that people drive.
There's an important type of person to consider in this analysis. I had a client not too long ago who showed up to court apparently drunk. She had driven a long way, and was planning to drive a long way back after court. I made sure she did not drive that night, by the way.
Anyway, I was chatting with her about her situation. A habitual drinker, she had tried to quit for years. All the institutional efforts made were to get her to quit drinking.
Reality check: Most of these people are not going to stop drinking!
I told her something she had apparently never been told before - maybe you should keep drinking and find a way to stop driving.
This had never occurred to her. Unfortunately, our society and infrastructure do not make it easy for someone to follow through on this approach. It works if you live in New York City, or a few other places with good mass transit. But it's not easy in upstate New York.
Some people will be shocked that I suggested she keep drinking. That's just ignoring the reality of the human condition. People have been drinking for thousands of years, maybe longer. Alcohol has been causing problems for just as long. But cars only came into human society in the last 100 years.
Go back 100 years and it was not terribly uncommon for a lot of people to get stupid drunk and stumble around. They didn't have cars to get into, so they didn't cause nearly as much harm.
If we got our heads together and created useful mass transit systems, with the dwi issue in mind, we would make a huge dent in the problem.
In Japan, where I lived for a year, they have areas where the bars are concentrated. There's not much parking there, but there are mass transit stops nearby. Here in the US, bars are everywhere and they have parking lots.

How stupid is that? Why are bars allowed to have parking lots? In my hometown of Guilderland, the zoning requires them to have ample parking. Come on people - Think!!!

Enough ranting. Time to do some work.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Daniel Cady site

Looks like we're getting the Daniel Cady site under way. Bryan D. Ford has transcribed a lot of the letters, and my brother is just starting to get them on a website - one so far. He's using a blog format for it. Great work guys!!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Town Court and Traffic Court directory

Just wanted to mention that we're making progress on the directory of town courts that we're developing.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The innocent client

Another reality for criminal defense lawyers. Many of our clients are actually guilty. Once in a while we get a client who's actually innocent.

To be clear, some of our clients who tell us they're innocent are not really innocent. This may be a shock, but not all clients tell their lawyers the truth. The smarter clients don't tell us one way or another, and the smarter lawyers don't ask that question.

I've had a few clients who were actually innocent. Not long after I started my practice I got a client who was accused of stealing from the store where he worked. It was clear from early on that there was insufficient proof of guilt. The store did not have the proper accounting controls to show who was stealing money, or even show that money was missing. For example, the cashiers did not sign into the registers, and there was no inventory control over returned merchandise. A cashier could fake a returned item transaction, pocket the money, and there was no way to tell.

I explained these problems to the prosecutors. They were completely uninterested. He was the defendant, therefore he was guilty. Their theory was that there were a number of "suspicious" transactions that occurred only when my client was working. Now, they couldn't prove that a "suspicious" transaction was actually a phony transaction (because of the lack of controls) and they couldn't prove who did it anyway because of the lack of controls. On top of that, I hired a friend to go through the register tapes and he identified a number of transactions that seemed suspicious (like a coupon-only transaction, and a return after the store was closed) on days when my client didn't work.

That case went all the way to trial. The jury was outside waiting to come in and be picked. We conferenced with the trial judge (Dan Lamont, a great guy and a solid judge). Judge Lamont quickly recognized how weak the prosecutor's case was and let her know. We were still going forward and then I leaned over to the prosecutor at one point and said that I couldn't ethically prosecute this case if I were on her side. She ran downstairs to the DA and came back with an ACOD (effectively a dismissal). In retrospect, I give her credit because she saw the light. I think most prosecutors would have gone through with the trial (I was salivating at the prospect).

I've got two cases pending with clients who are actually innocent. One is also accused of stealing from his employer. This case is even worse than the one described above. And the other case is a DWAI, where the breathalyzer showed 0.07 BAC. Under NY law, at 0.08 or above, it's DWI. Period. But for 0.05 to 0.07, the BAC is not illegal on its own, but is an indicator of impairment. In this case there is a lot of evidence to show that my client was not impaired, and no evidence to show he was impaired. In both of these cases, the prosecutors just refuse to see it. They can't see through the haze.

I did just get a case dismissed with an innocent client. Charged with AUO (Aggravated Unlicensed Operation), it turned out that his insurance company made a mistake and incorrectly notified DMV that my client had no insurance. By the time we got to court, client had a letter from the insurer demonstrating the mistake.

I must therefore give credit to the prosecutor, a young black woman in Albany City Court, named Lavonda (I think). She recognized the problem and did not oppose the motion. The judge gave me a funny look. It's just so rare to see cases where the client is so clearly innocent.

I was so happy with the experience, and it resolved so easily, that i cut my fee in half on the spot. The client had paid me half and owed me the other half. I told him to keep it.

Criminal defense lawyers and prosecutors

A question/comment I hear from time to time is this: How can you defend someone you know is guilty?

There are a some variations. My favorite is: What if you were defending someone you knew was guilty and you won? How would you feel about that? Answer: I'd feel GREAT!!! It means I did a great job.

Now here's how I really respond: Do you ask prosecutors how they can prosecute someone they know is innocent? Or how they can look the other way when they know the cops are doing bad things like beating up innocent people?

This is usually met with a sense of disbelief. How could I think that prosecutors and cops would do such things? Because it happens. Most cops are good cops, but there are a few bad ones. And prosecutors, almost universally, look the other way and even back up the cop when pressured. That's reality.

Now here's the reality of criminal defense lawyers defending someone we know is guilty. We try to get them the best deal we can. Winning a case for a defendant who is actually guilty is extremely rare. Our job is to minimize the consequences for our clients. We work with the prosecutors and everyone else involved to see what kind of deal we can get. If we can find any kind of weakness in the prosecution's case, we use that to negotiate a better deal. In general, guilty clients are just looking for a deal. They do not want to go to trial because they know they're likely to lose and they don't want to face the longer sentence.

A far greater concern about criminal defense lawyers is that one might sell out his client, or not defend the client vigorously enough. If you were the one facing criminal charges, you'd want your lawyer to fight for you. We have an adversary system of justice, and it works pretty well (with some failings).

Monday, December 05, 2005

Struggling with success as a lawyer

Things are going well. I've got tons of speeding ticket cases, along with a decent flow of DWI matters. Icing on the cake is the occasional personal injury case that comes in.

Now I have to manage all of that work, while still marketing and all of that. Haven't persuaded my wife to quit her job yet, but we're making progress.

Today I may be dropping off some work for a recent law school grad who's studying for the bar. Nice to give someone some part-time work, and hopefully it will help keep my cases moving. She has personal injury experience so that should help.

I forgot to mention that, besides managing the practice, there's my wife and two kids at home who like to see me once in a while.

I'm also trying to branch off into online legal content and web marketing for lawyers. Working on that with my brother. Creating a site in memory of Daniel Cady. Got a guy in Syracuse transcribing all Cady's letters and we'll put them on the web in the form of a blog. Also have plans for a directory of traffic courts and a serious but funny site about dead lawyers.

And then there's the screenwriting hobby. Came up with a good line for my "Personal Injury" TV series -- "Is that a $100,000 check in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?" We'll find a way to work that in.

So maybe I have too much on my plate??

Albany Attorney - more links

Some deeper links to the Albany attorney website:

Colonie NY DWI Lawyer

Guilderland New York Traffic Courts

Coeymans New York Speeding Ticket Attorney

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Albany Attorney sitemap pages

A while ago we developed a dynamic site for the firm, which is focused on the main keyword Albany Attorney. The site has a lot of dynamically generated pages, using location-based keywords to help people who are looking for a lawyer in a specific location in the Albany area.

Within the site are sitemap pages, some of which are:

Schenectady Lawyer

Saratoga Lawyer

The idea was that these pages would help the search engines find all the content on the site. I'm not sure it's working yet, but maybe this post will help?

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Tough DWI moment

Had a tough moment this morning. Client is from out of the area, got a DWI here. Relatively minor case. BAC was .10. No priors. This is a routine case where a good NY drunk driving lawyer would expect to get the charges reduced to a DWAI. The consequences are still significant, but it's a violation.
Because my client is from out of the area, I had him sign a waiver of appearance letting me take care of everything for him. This is proper under CPL 340.50(2). But judges don't like it.
I've done this in front of about 10 judges so far. Most have accepted it without much concern. A couple have not liked it, but gone along with it.
So this morning I was in front of a judge in Albany City Court. This is a good judge, who I like. But he's got his own ideas about how things should be, and he's firm about it. He was not happy that my client wasn't there.
I understand his side of it, but there's that darn 340.50(2), saying my client doesn't have to be there.
Short result -- looks like the judge is insisting my client come up tomorrow morning, 9 a.m.
I had warned my client about this, and fortunately the judge didn't just issue a bench warrant for my client's arrest.
Just another day as a DUI lawyer in Albany

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Speeding Tickets in New York

Just some thoughts on speeding tickets. Got a call this morning. I get calls like this regularly. The caller, from New York City, got a speeding ticket in the Town of Bethlehem. She wanted to know how much to pay. Unlike other states, New York traffic tickets do not list the fine.

Here's how it works in New York traffic courts. First you plead -- guilty or not guilty. While the ticket says to appear in Court on a particular date, it is far more sensible to plead by mail. You don't have to go.

A side note here - that date is not rigidly enforced in most courts. In general one needs to be careful about court dates, but this one is far less important. If you're late, don't ignore it. Just send a letter to the Court stating your plea. If you are late enough, you will get a notice from DMV that if you don't appear, your license will be suspended. This is a good time to hire a lawyer, if you're that late, to make sure your license is not suspended.

Back to the process. If you plead guilty, the judge will set a fine and send you a notice. You will also get points on your license (if it was a moving violation), and you may get an extra surcharge from DMV if you get 6 points or more within 18 months. You also may lose your license if you get enough points or speeding tickets.

If you plead not guilty, the Court will set a trial date. In many courts a lawyer can negotiate a reduction for you by mail. You don't have to go to Court, and neither do we. In almost all courts a lawyer can appear for you, so you don't have to go. Or you can go yourself. In some courts they will not negotiate with someone who does not have an attorney. And in general, a lawyer should get you a better deal than you can get for yourself. A good lawyer knows what kind of deal to ask for.

Contrary to popular opinion, in most courts if the cop does not show up for trial, the ticket will not be dismissed. I did get one dismissed last night for this reason, but many courts will just adjourn for a new date. Not fair? Correct, but life isn't fair.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Lawyer marketing on the web

I frequently check who else is marketing themselves on the web in my area. I got a kick today out of this one site - I won't give it an actual link (as that might boost their rankings), but it's legalshield -dot- org. It's a prepaid legal service plan.

On their page, they write that their members (i.e. their customers) "receive the best legal council possible."

Their use of the word "council" is questionable. You would hope your lawyer knows how to spell the word correctly - counsel.

Another one that amuses me is ticketkiller -dot- com. Your "guaranteed" ticket beater, they promise step by step instructions on how to beat your speeding ticket.

I just roll on the ground laughing when I read this stuff. I've attended seminars put on by traffic court lawyers who are more experienced than me, and I've never heard one say that they can guarantee anything. In general, good traffic attorneys advise their clients to take the best deal we can get for them, because the odds are against us in a trial. We only recommend trying a case in rare circumstances - such as when the best deal offered means you'll lose your license anyway.

Working in traffic court on a regular basis, I can say for sure there are no guarantees. You think the ticket will be dismissed if the cop doesn't show? That's actually not true in most courts.

So what is their guarantee, anyway? Read their site. They will refund you the $38 you paid them (assuming they actually live up to their guarantee). What about the extra fines? What about the $300 surcharge from DMV? How about the increased insurance premiums? Some guarantee.

The plain and simple truth is that if you are going to Court on a traffic matter, you should hire a lawyer. If not me, hire someone else. We will generally save you more money than you will pay us, and often the savings will be over $1000.

I wince when I see someone plead guilty to a 6-point speeding ticket without a lawyer. That's going to be about $300 in fines, another $300 in a surcharge from DMV, over $1000 in increased insurance rates, and you're now more than halfway to losing your license. And you could have hired a lawyer for $300 who would save you over $1000 after his fee.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Wall Street Journal and Iraq

Today's Wall Street Journal editorial got me going. I sent an letter to the editor, but they never print my letters. Here's what I wrote:

Dear Sirs:

In today's (11/18) editorial, you repeatedly refer to the lessons of Vietnam. One way you put it is "Don't fight wars you don't intend to win."

The biggest lesson of Vietnam was that we should not have gone. Reading your editorial, it would appear you think the mistake in Vietnam was backing out.

It's not whether you "intend to win". In a democracy, it is whether you believe public support for the war will last as long as necessary. This war never had the full support of the American people, and we never should have gone.
While I'm at it, here's another one I wrote back in April:

As a criminal defense lawyer, I'm tired of seeing executives whine about Eliot Spitzer's prosecutorial tactics (Holstein, "Manager's Journal", 4/19/2005, page B2). These CEOs should spend a week in local criminal courts watching how ADAs treat urban and trailer park defendants. Spitzer's tactics are mild by comparison. The AG's conduct does not create a presumption of guilt. A perp walk, where the
defendant is marched in front of TV cameras wearing a jail jumpsuit
and chains, is far more effective.

CEOs do have a right to due process. They can demand a trial. Unlike
most defendants, they don't have to sit in jail for 6 months while
they await that trial. Also unlike most defendants, CEOs usually get
deals with no jail time and with shareholders paying the bills.

While I think little of Spitzer running for Governor, his use of the
AG's office to support his political ambitions is no worse than any
other elected official. If his aggressive conduct is making executives
more careful, maybe that's a good thing.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

DWI cases

I seem to be getting more DWI cases lately. I think my website has been doing better, but I'm not sure if that explains it all.

I've got three cases pending now where we're actually fighting the charges. In most cases you encourage your clients to take a deal. In two of my cases the clients have DUI charges that are recent enough that any regular plea deal (to DWI or DWAI) would mean loss of a drivers license for a significant period of time. And in all three, we have good cases to put to trial.

In one, the defendant was pulled over for running a stop sign in a parking lot. Problem for the prosecution is that V&T Law 1100(b) makes the stop sign law generally inapplicable in a parking lot. If the stop is invalid, the ensuing blood-alcohol test is thrown out and we win. Client blew a 0.09, which is at the bottom end of DWI. The prosecution's response to our motion was not impressive. They claimed that the stop was valid because of the defendant's "erratic driving". But the DWI bill of particulars has a checkbox for "erratic operation" and it is not checked off.

In another, the defendant passed 4 of 6 field sobriety tests. The Trooper gave him a breathalyzer anyway. He blew a 0.07, and is charged with DWAI. A DWAI case is harder for the prosecution. They must prove the defendant was impaired by the alcohol. For regular DWI (0.08 and above), simply proving the blood alcohol content is enough. In this case we can fight the admissibility of the breathalyzer itself and the question of impairment. We have at least one excellent witness to testify the defendant was not impaired, and then we have the defendant passing the field sobriety tests.

In the last case, the defendant's car broke down near his home. He walked into his apartment. The police came later (at least 40 minutes, maybe more -- I don't have the papers in front of me). Client blew a fairly high BAC (maybe 0.14, but I don't remember for sure). The problem for the prosecution here is that they can't prove what his blood alcohol was when he was in the car. I anticipate testimony that my client drank a substantial amount after he went into his apartment. This one will probably be the most interesting of the bunch.

The real goal in all of these is to persuade the DA to agree to a reduction that takes the case "out of alcohol", so it doesn't affect the defendant's license. The client will generally prefer the certainty of a deal to the risk of hearings and trial, even when they have a good case.

Personal Injury TV show

Wow I haven't posted in a while. Well, we went on a trip to Los Angeles for a week, so that's a partial excuse. As part of the trip, I "pitched" my idea for a personal injury TV series. I met with eight different companies/agencies at the Screenwriting Expo. I explained my idea for the show, and they seemed to like it. It seemed to help that I have genuine experience as a personal injury lawyer.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Court Security

Saw this post on court security. This has been a hot topic since 9/11, and it's a load of baloney. Courthouses have no greater need for security than any other significant building. When inmates come to Court, they come with guards. Certain courts (especially courts dealing with family problems) had security issues before 9/11, and they were addressed already.

9/11 triggered a massive overreaction. Now every courthouse has guards at every door. One small county I practice in has six officers assigned to guard one door. The courthouse where I used to work, in Fulton County, New York, has extra security measures since 9/11. I've got friends from Albany who can't find the Fulton County courthouse. Osama isn't looking for semi-rural courthouses, and even if he was, he'd have trouble finding them.

Of course, experienced trial lawyers like me have a special sense enabling us to find courthouses. It's almost like a smell. Can't explain it, but I'm going so far off topic now I better stop this post.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Traffic Court -- Random chance

It's amazing how random results can be in traffic court. Yesterday I went to one court in the morning. This is a busy court in a large town in the area. My client had a ticket from a NYS Trooper. High speed, with another minor violation. The Trooper was somewhat difficult and I could not get as good a reduction as I hoped for.

Then, last night I went to another court. This was the least busy court I've ever seen. I was there for about 45 minutes (got there early and chatted with the judges, a deputy, and others). It's in a very small town in an outlying county. I got one of the best deals ever for this client. He had four different charges. Two were dismissed, and one of the remaining two was reduced. Went from about 7 points to 2, and the judge set the fines pretty low also.

That's life as a speeding ticket lawyer

Sunday, October 16, 2005

New blog -- Albany restaurant reviews

I just decided to create a new blog. It's Albany NY Restaurant Reviews, and it's here.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Speeding tickets and out-of-state drivers - update

Following up on recent posts about out-of-state drivers and speeding tickets, I just got a new client with a NJ license. The driving record does indeed show a NY ticket. Below is how it appears:

********** Driving History **********

The record shows other violations in NJ. Interesting to note that, while it shows up as only 2 points, the description of 25+ over the limit also shows on the NJ driving record. I'm not sure if insurance companies can consider the nature of the out-of-state offense, or only the points, when they decide on your premiums.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

1110a - Traffic Violations

Note - If you're thinking about getting help, check out our New York Traffic Lawyer page.
Update (4/22/2009): A lot of people come to this post on a search for 1110a or something related to that. Section 1110(a) of the Vehicle and Traffic Law in NY says:
Every person shall obey the instructions of any official traffic-control device applicable to him placed in accordance with the provisions of this chapter, unless otherwise directed by a traffic or police officer, subject to the exceptions granted the driver of an authorized emergency vehicle in this title.
As of 4/22/09, it's 2 points in NY, and the max fine (including surcharge) is $235. It counts for 2 points in NJ, and may count for points in some other states.
Update (6/23/2007): We have seen an 1110(a) show up on a NJ driving record and it counted for two points. We now think that the best NY 2-point deal for a NJ driver and a NY ticket is V&T Law §1175 - obstructing an intersection. We have seen such a violation on NJ records and there were no points.
We get a lot of cases with speeding or other traffic tickets involving out-of-state drivers. A big concern is how the result here will affect their license in their home state.

This can be confusing, and there is no solid source of info for the various questions that come up. We're doing a research project now to get firmer answers, but I thought I'd mention some initial things.

We get most of our out-of-state clients from New Jersey and Massachusetts, and also from Quebec and Ontario, as well as other US states.

Interstate handling of traffic convictions is covered by "compacts". For a discussion of the compacts, see this link from the AAMVA (American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators).

New York participates in both the Drivers License Compact (DLC) and the NonResident Violator Compact (NRVC). New Jersey also participates in both. Massachusetts does not participate in the DLC. New York also has direct reciprocity with Ontario and Quebec, but not with any US states.

Under the DLC, NY is supposed to report traffic convictions to the DLC, and member states are notified of their drivers' convictions. Since Massachusetts is not a member of the DLC, it would seem that moving violations in New York will not affect a Massachusetts license - this is our initial conclusion but we're still looking into it.

Massachusetts is a member of the NRVC. That seems to be about suspending your home state license if you fail to comply with the process in the state where you got a ticket (i.e. if you ignore the ticket or fail to pay the fine, etc.). But that doesn't sound like they get "surcharged". But their drivers manual claims they get notified by other states. And if you do get surcharged, your rates sky. You can lose 6 good driver credits and get whacked with 2 surcharge points. Total of 8 points, which raises your rates by about 50%. Ouch! And it's not clear what you would plead down to that would be safe. It looks like you can get surcharged even for non-moving violations.

New Jersey is a member of both compacts, and assigns 2 points for any out-of-state moving violation. This has its own problems. As a lawyer I usually try to negotiate a reduction for my clients. A common reduction might be from a 6-point speed (21-30 mph over the limit) to an "1110(a)" - "failure to obey a traffic control device", which is 2 points. But if NJ assigns 2 points for all out-of-state moving violations, then I should never take the 1110a because I'm not getting anything for my client. I should push for a non-moving violation or else try the case.

Except, it's not clear if 1110a would be recognized as a moving violation under NJ Law. Another, better provision might be 375(3), which is failure to dim headlamps (not lowering your highbeams when facing oncoming traffic). There does not seem to be a provision of NJ law that assigns points to anything like this. It's a 2-point violation in NY, but maybe NJ would not assign points for it. We're researching that as well.

Ontario, by the way, does have a specific provision for failure to dim headlights. Curiously, they do not seem to assign points for speeding 1-15 kph over the limit (approximately 1-10 mph over the limit). So maybe it's better to plead down to low speed ticket (3 points in NY) than the headlights or 1110(a). Except that Ontario doesn't seem to have a close fit to 1110a either.

We're working on getting these answers, and will post a further update when we get there, and we'll probably add a page on our main traffic ticket site too.

Coincidentally, I don't think New York assigns any points for traffic convictions in other states. I've seen 100+ NY driving records and never seen an out-of-state conviction listed. I haven't even seen Ontario or Quebec convictions, and I think those are supposed to affect your license.

Another question that would need to be answered is whether an insurance company in State X can raise your rates for a traffic ticket in another state. I don't think NY Law would allow that, but maybe other states would allow it.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Customer Service

I get so annoyed by the awful state of customer service in today's world of business. You call so many places where the phone is answered by a computer: "Your call is important to us ... Press "1" for blah blah blah ...."

If my call is so important to you, why don't you have a human answer the phone? This irritated me before I opened my practice. I decided it would not be that way with my firm.

Today I called a company that was supposed to send me medical records. They faxed me a mostly incomprehensible document, but in the middle of one page was a short typewritten note, inquiring if I wanted films or film reports.

The sender's name was Tina, and there was a phone number under her name. I called. "Press 4 for a directory of names". I pressed 4. "For Diane, press 701. For Marcie, Press 702. For Linda press 703. For Sandra press 704."

No Tina. I pressed Zero. "That option is invalid."

What kind of business tells a customer that what the customer wants is invalid? If I was speaking to a human, they would never say that. Don't get me wrong, I love computers. But there is one task in this world that they're no good at -- answering the phone. I made a few more efforts to escape the voice jail system, but was unable to get to a person at all.

When you call the Redlich Law Firm, a person answers our phone. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, weekends, holidays, etc. How'd I do that? I hired an answering service. With current call volume this costs me about $300/month. A decent legal secretary would cost about $4000/month, for 9-5 work with a lunch break, not including weekends.

The answering service forwards calls to me from 7 am to 9 pm every day, including weekends, holidays, vacations, etc. If I'm available I pick up the phone. If not they send a text message to my cell and I get back to the caller quickly.

My clients actually seem to appreciate it.

I suppose there's a downside. I have my cell phone with me all the time. My neighbors were teasing me about it yesterday because I actually left it at home for a half-hour. I get calls at all hours, wherever I am. Personally, this does not bother me, and my wife doesn't complain either. The simple fact is that a typical call is a speeding ticket and means $250 in revenue, and once in a while it's a personal injury case worth thousands.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Palm Treo rant

It appears that Palm will be joining with Microsoft on their next Treo phone. I find this extremely disturbing. I rely heavily on my Treo 600 for my business. I keep my calendar on it. I keep many of my contacts on it. I keep track of my finances on it. I get calls on it. And when I'm not available, my answering service texts my messages to me on it. Oh, and when I'm sitting in Court waiting and I forgot to bring something to read, I play solitaire on it (and when I can't sleep too). I even use it to get on the web and get directions once in a while when I'm lost.

The Treo OS is easily the best phone OS (operating system) out there. I'm addicted to it. When the 600 came out, they had the market in their hands. Everyone who reviewed it knew it. Walter Mossberg, the revered Wall Street Journal columnist, loved it (and I think he still does).

But they came out with it about 3 years ago. Everywhere else in the world of computers and phones, things improve at a rapid rate. Various new models appear, expanding on what's good. Not Palm. They stuck with the 600 with no changes for more than a year. Then they came out with the 650, which was barely an improvement. It actually had the same amount of RAM (memory), only with a LESS efficient filing system so many users suddenly found the new 650 couldn't hold everything they had on their old 600. The only significant improvements were Bluetooth (which allows for wireless headsets) and better camera software (not terribly important since the camera isn't much anyway -- a quarter of a megapixel with no flash). Oh, and the keyboard is supposedly better too. I haven't bothered upgrading to the 650 because it's not enough of an improvement and I can't justify spending an extra $600+ or so for it. I think I'm eligible for a better deal on a new phone through Sprint in a few months, and I'll probably buy the 650 then. I can't see myself buying a Windows phone.

I should mention the one downside of my Treo 600. I'm on my fourth one. The hardware keeps failing, so the phone part stops working right. Not sure if the 650 is any better about that. But they don't make the 600 any more so I'll have to get a 650 before it disappears. Once that dies, we'll see what's out there.

2 1/2 years ago, their management should have figured out they had struck gold, and built on what they had. Make multiple versions of the phone! Build a range from a low-end phone with no camera and relatively less memory, to a high-end phone with tons of memory, a good camera, and an MP3 player (maybe with iTunes), and throw in a pink one for girly-girls (or girly-guys) and maybe a special edition model associated with a rock band (like U2 and the iPod). Oh, but that would be marketing like Apple does. (In another post I'll rave about how much I love Macs -- I haven't even tried an iPod yet.) Hmm. Maybe somehow we can talk Apple into making a smartphone. Steve Jobs would actually know what to do with it. How about Apple buying Palm out? Putting iTunes on a smartphone makes sense because users regularly sync with a desktop, unlike a regular cell phone. Just a dream.

After I got hooked on the Treo 600, I sent a letter to Palm's CEO and COO suggesting something like that, telling them how awesome the Treo 600 was, etc. No response. A customer who paid over $600 for your product sends you a nice letter and you don't even have a college intern write a thank you note?

This company's managers are what's known as "empty suits". They wear nice suits. They probably have great resumes and MBAs from top schools. They seem to know a lot about merging, IPOs, and other arcana in the world of finance, but they don't know jack about running a company, developing a product, or marketing to consumers.

Friday, September 23, 2005

The "First Appearance" and the missing DA

One of the things you learn when you handle speeding tickets and DWI in New York is that some court appearances are a waste of time.

The court date on a New York traffic ticket is generally a first appearance date. Many clients are surprised to hear that the officer does not have to show up on that date. The first appearance is for you to enter a plea. If you plead "not guilty", the Court will set a trial date.

You can plead not guilty by mail, and then you don't have to go to the first appearance date.

Many non-lawyers (and even some lawyers) are under the impression that if the officer doesn't show, the ticket will be dismissed. On a first appearance, the officer does not have to show. Even on a trial date, some courts will not necessarily dismiss a ticket if the officer doesn't show. They might adjourn the case to give the officer another chance to show up. Sometimes another officer appears on behalf of the officer who wrote the ticket. That officer will negotiate a deal for the missing officer. In some courts you can get the ticket dismissed, but some judges will grant an adjournment (and you will probably not get a good deal the next time if you refuse the deal this time). You have to know your courts. Another good reason to hire a lawyer for your speeding ticket.

I encountered another "first appearance" problem this morning. Client was charged with DWI (his BAC was 0.08). I went to make a deal for him (he's out of the country), but there was no Assistant District Attorney -- and therefore no one with whom to make a deal. Most courts meet at night, and this is known as a non-DA night. I guess in this particular Court it was a non-DA morning. So I'm going back on Tuesday to wrap things up.

Of course, I should have called the Court ahead of time to make sure there would be a DA there, but the no-DA thing is pretty rare so I don't usually worry about it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Figuring out the comment thing

Tough thing about blogging is whether or not to allow comments. You don't want unfriendly comments, and you don't want "spam" comments (comments generated by computer, usually for SEO purposes). On typepad you can require comments to get your approval first. Blogger doesn't do that, but at least it has a word verification box (hard for computers to do) and it does notify you when you get comments.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Youth discrimination

I have a little chip on my shoulder about societal discrimination against young people. I was 18 when the NY drinking age went to 19, and was 19 when it went to 21. So I was illegal, then legal, then illegal, then legal, then illegal and finally legal again.

I see these issues now in my work. Police to some extent target young people for traffic stops. Today I got a proposed plea agreement on a traffic ticket, and the DA specifically mentioned that my client is under 21 in offering a plea that is not as good as I would usually get.

There are a variety of other concerns -- the age of consent, emancipation rights, and even larger issues such as abortion and social security are relevant because they have a disproportionate impact on younger people (not many 45-year-olds get abortions; those of us under 40 doubt we will ever get Social Security benefits; etc.).

So I'm trying to get a new political party started: The Youth Party. I figure the main issue early on would be the drinking age, as that issue should be popular on college campuses. There are larger issues, but this one should be a consensus.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The Albany NY area

It occurred to me that some readers might not know much about the Albany area. It is also known as the "Capital Region" of New York State. Albany is the NY state capital.

Other major cities in this part of NY include Schenectady, Troy, and Saratoga Springs. Smaller cities in the vicinity include Amsterdam, Gloversville, Johnstown, Cohoes, Watervliet, Rensselaer, and Hudson.

There are also some large towns. The population of Colonie NY is almost as large as the city of Albany. Others include Guilderland (my hometown), Clifton Park, Bethlehem, Niskayuna, Rotterdam, and ... well that list could get long.

There's a lot of history around. There's also some very pleasant places. Lake George is gorgeous year-round and quite popular in the summer. Saratoga Springs is also very popular. Both are perhaps playgrounds for the rich from downstate New York. The Hudson and Mohawk rivers are quite beautiful, if you ask me.

One of my favorite spots is John Boyd Thacher State Park. It has a trail called the "Indian Ladder Trail". You walk down a lot of stairs and then along the bottom of a big cliff. Along the way, if conditions are right, you see some very impressive waterfalls.

All in all, a nice place to live. It can be a tough sell as place to visit. But when my friends do visit and I show them these places, they do seem to like it.

Lawyer websites and SEO

If any lawyers are reading this post, I can see them scratching their heads at the term "SEO". It stands for "Search Engine Optimization". Okay, they're still scratching their heads, and I guess most non-lawyers are too.

Since I opened my practice about 2 1/2 years ago, I have worked on my law firm website. I've worked to improve the content so prospective clients will find it informative. I'm working (with professional help) on the design so that it will be prettier and therefore more professional, giving a sense of credibility. The actual design goal is to make it reassuring. You can see one version of that design at a new variation of the site we've been working on:

But the biggest thing about making a law firm website effective for bringing in business is making it so that potential clients find your site. I do PPC (pay-per-click) advertising, and that helps. But SEO is the big thing. This involves many factors. I'm happy to say that what I'm doing seems to be working. My main site now ranks well on a variety of searches. I'm referring not to where I rank on "sponsored links", but in the "organic" search results. I'm doing better and better in those results.

I have continued to work on improving my site and other factors for SEO. It recently has come to my attention that other lawyers in the community have noticed. A couple of lawyers mentioned it to me in the last week or so. If they have noticed, then many other lawyers have probably noticed also.

And that's why you can't sit on your heels. The odds are that someone will try to outdo me on this. I'm fortunate in that I have a pretty good head-start. Also, I've been on the internet since 1988 -- before there was a world wide web. I know how to code in html and until recently I've done most of my own stuff. But I can't rest on my laurels because others will try to do better. If they succeed, my rankings might go lower.

So I'm working on further improvements to my site, and doing a variety of other things so that I not only maintain where I am but improve if possible.

For now most of the competition here is not from lawyers or law firms, but from lawyer directories and other such things. I figure that the directories will take their share of clients, and that's fine. For people who are looking for a lawyer whose site has substance, I should continue to do well.

The reality is that there isn't really a number 1 position on the web. As long as you're on the first page you'll be okay.

The other thing is that there may not be enough business on the web to justify having 20 firms fighting over the business. The revenue I'm generating is still not enough to really sustain a small law firm. If 20 law firms were fighting over that business, each would end up spending much more than I'm spending now and no one would make money on it because the pot would be divided 20 ways.

I get calls all the time from the directory sites trying to sell me a position in their directory. Sometimes it's an exclusive listing -- you'll be their only lawyer in that topic for that county. Sometimes it will be one of three or four lawyers in that topic in that county. It always costs a lot more than what I'm spending, and I suspect that the revenue will be less than what I'm generating.

DWI and Revocation in New York

I got a call Friday and it's a somewhat sad case. The client got his second DWI. His first was earlier this year. In New York, if you get two DWIs (including DWAI) in five years, your license will be revoked for 6 months, and there's virtually no chance at a conditional license during the revocation period. Especially, as in this case, when the second DWI comes so close after the first one.

Without a conditional license, life can be very, very hard in upstate New York. Downstate, there's a lot of public transportation, especially in NYC. Upstate you either have to live very close to where you work, or you will not be able to keep your job. If you have to drive for your job, it's over.

This client lives 40 minutes drive from his job. My advice: start looking for an apartment near your office now. The best we can hope for in this case is to hope and pray we can get a deal that reduces it to DWAI, which is a violation and not a misdemeanor (and therefore not a crime). The client's BAC was fairly low (.12). Maybe, if we agree to counseling and some other measures, just maybe, we can get that kind of a deal. The other big deal about getting the DWAI is in case there's a third DWI. If this one stays a DWI misdemeanor, the next one's a felony. That's where it gets really bad.

The alternative is to try to fight the charge. This gets very expensive, and the odds are generally not good. Some judges at least appear to find the police credible, even more so than may be accurate. And of course, the police often are credible. The consequences of losing a DWI case at trial are generally more severe than making a deal. Jail time becomes a significant possibility. Since it looks like the client will not lose his job by taking a deal, he's probably better off that way, and sucking it up without driving for 6 months.

I talk to my DWI clients quite a bit about their circumstances. Even though I don't drink and drive (I rarely drink), I feel the penalties are too severe for relatively low level offenders like this client.

Some of my advice - for the first-DWI offenders:
#1: If you know you're going out drinking, have a plan for how you're getting home.

#2: If you find yourself out drinking, and you don't have a plan, or your plan fell through, call a cab. Have the numbers of 3 cab companies in your wallet. Yes, a cab can be expensive, but almost always less than $100. A first NY DWI will cost you ~$5000, and as we can see from this case, the second is much worse.

#3: I encourage them to consider alcohol counseling. I can't say whether someone has a drinking problem - I don't have the expertise. But I can say for sure that they have a driving problem. If they do have an alcohol problem, they should look into it.

For other blogs generally commenting on DWI and revocation in other states, see:
Say Anything and
Defend DWI Missouri

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Dealing with police

I did a post in July about dealing with police. A couple days ago I received the "Busted" DVD from Overall I thought it was good. I recommend it highly, but I would encourage anyone to seem apologetic and/or demonstrate a very mild sense of humor with police, rather than being stiff as depicted in the video.

When you're asked if you've been drinking in a traffic stop, you can just say no. Alternatively, you might say "I'm sorry officer, but my lawyer told me never to answer a question like that."

When they ask to search your vehicle, you say "I'm sorry officer, but my lawyer told me never to let anyone search my car."

Just a thought.

Possession of marijuana -- unlawful or criminal

Note: Our office handles marijuana possession cases.
I appeared with a young client this week who was charged with Criminal Possession of Marijuana (CPM). In NY, 25 grams or less is unlawful possession of marijuana (UPM), a violation. This client had 29 grams, which makes it a misdemeanor -- a crime. 29 grams is about an ounce.

With UPM, it's common to get the charge resolved with an ACOD - adjournment in contemplation of dismissal. There's a specific statute authorizing ACODs for UPM. But this client was 4 grams over that. You hope for a sensible DA who will agree to resolve the CPM with an ACOD. Unfortunately it can be tough to find sensible DAs.

In this case we resolved it with a Disorderly Conduct (DisCon) violation. Client paid a fine of about $200. At least he has no crime on his record, and no drug charge to affect financial aid.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Blawg of the Day!!

Got a mention as "Blawg of the Day" for this blog on The Inter-Alia blog. The specific post is here.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Criminal Lawyers

There's been some local press lately about one of our judges, and some other issues relating to criminal cases. A few of our local lawyers have been in the press about these issues.

I did my first day of service on Grand Jury today, and that prompted some thoughts that are keeping me from sleeping, which is usually a good excuse to blog.

It is common to see criminal defense lawyers in the press criticizing the prosecution system as being unduly harsh. I suspect the initial reaction of most readers/viewers is to assume that the defense lawyer is biased. But common sense says otherwise. As defense lawyers, we are more in demand when there is more and harsher prosecution. That is, the harsher the system is, the more money we make.

And yet we still speak out, against our financial interest. We should be biased in favor of more prosecution. So why do we speak out?

We speak out because the system is too harsh, and too rigid. A simple example of this is the enforcement of speed limits. As a speeding ticket lawyer in Albany, NY, most of the tickets I see are on the interstate highways. These are divided highways with limited access (i.e. few exits and entrances). They are inherently safer than regular roads. In Europe speed limits are generally not enforced and it is common for people to go 100 mph. In Germany, parts of the Autobahn have no speed limit. And the fatality rate on the Autobahn is lower than on American highways.

Meanwhile speed limits in residential neighborhoods are generally 30 mph, and are enforced less. These are among the most dangerous roads because collisions between pedestrians and cars cause very severe injuries.

I would gladly trade all of my traffic ticket revenue for the freedom to drive at speeds I consider safe and appropriate on interstate highways. I would be even happier if those highway patrols would spend their time enforcing traffic rules where they matter most - where pedestrians are present.

Along the same lines, traffic courts are not terribly fair to the defendant in my experience. Your chances of beating a speeding ticket in court are very small, even if you are actually innocent. I suspect most of my clients are probably guilty (and most of them admit it), but some are adamant that they are innocent and I have to explain the odds of success and the additional cost and difficulty for them of going to trial.

Our society's approach to DWI is also off. Police stop people with little or no reason, subject them to a variety of tests, and charge them with DWI or DWAI for blood alcohol content levels that I personally consider not dangerous. I do not blame the police for this, by the way. They have difficult jobs and they are following our orders.

Blood alcohol levels generally range from 0.00 to maybe 0.30 or a little higher. My personal view is that levels below 0.10 are not really that dangerous. At around 0.15 it starts to get bad. But current DWI law makes 0.05 a DWAI, and 0.08 a DWI (which is more severe). The major problem is that the penalty for a first-time DWAI is very, very harsh. It will probably cost the defendant as much as $5000 in total costs, including lawyer's fees, fines, surcharges, time, and particularly in increased insurance rates.

Meanwhile if you whack someone over the head with a pool cue in a bar fight, you'll probably be able to plead to a disorderly conduct violation, pay a $200 fine, and you're done. I think the bar fight is worse.

These are some fairly random thoughts. I'll hopefully come up with more in the future. I'd like to write about my Grand Jury experience, but the rules are pretty restrictive about that so I'll wait until I know more about what I can say.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

More about life in Albany

So now my allergies seem to be kicking into gear. Some sneezing fits, taking over the counter allergy medicine (chlorpheniramine maleate (spelling?) seems to work for me).

Meanwhile, I'm running around to area courts, taking care of various traffic tickets and other problems. Still enjoying work and family.

Ah, life as a lawyer in Albany, New York.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Enjoying life

Perhaps the most important thing to remember in living life as a lawyer, is to enjoy life while you're doing it.

So I'm going to sneak out shortly for 9 holes of golf. :-)

Monday, August 22, 2005

Speeding ticket lessons

Tough night. I had two clients (sisters) who had been driving together and got pulled over for a fairly high speed on the Taconic in a town in Columbia County. Showed up in Court and the Trooper gave me a harder time than usual. Don't get me wrong. The Trooper was a decent guy. But the facts turned out to be worse than usual.

Their speed was high, more than 30 mph over the limit. Then the Trooper told me that they had kids in car seats in their cars. In my experience, this really bothers police. And then he mentioned that they had a sob story, about their brother having been in an accident. The Trooper also didn't like that my clients weren't there tonight, which is unusual in my experience. Only once before has a Trooper cared about that.

And it turns out that judges in Columbia County are tougher on speeding than what I see from judges in other counties. Normally I would expect to get this 8-point speed reduced to a 3-point non-speed, especially since both clients had pretty clean records. Maybe I've just been lucky so far. The best he would do for me was a 4-point speed. He wrote it up as 13 mph over the limit, saying that since it was less than 15 over, it would have less impact on their insurance. I'm going to have to look that one up.

Anyway, it was better than what could have been. By keeping the points below 6, it saves the clients from the new assessment from DMV, which would have cost them $300 each. And hopefully their insurance rates either won't go up, or it won't be too bad.

Lesson #1: Don't speed in Columbia County (which includes Hudson, NY and Chatham, NY, and a fairly long stretch of the Taconic).

Lesson #2: If you're going to speed in Columbia County, don't go more than 25 mph over the limit. The Trooper indicated that judges in the County won't agree to a non-speed if you're over that number. By the way, the 25 mph rule is a pretty good rule anywhere. I advise clients to aim for no more than 8 mph over the limit, as it is rare to see a ticket for less than 10 over. Of course, I do have one pending now for 9 mph over the limit, so there's no perfect answer. Go slower than the limit and they might decide that's suspicious and pull you over.

Lesson #3: Don't blab your sob story to the cop. They just don't want to hear it. I've got one client who was on her way to a hospital to "harvest" tissue from a dying patient for an eye transplant. The cop still wrote her a ticket. Be respectful to the cop (it isn't that great of a job, some of the things they do is pretty important, and they're mostly good people). There are all sorts of ways you can piss off a cop. Being polite and respectful, even apologetic, is much safer.

Oh, and lesson #4: Don't drive too fast with kids in your car. They really hate that.

Now, for the second part of our story. A friend of mine got a ticket a while ago. Turns out it was in the same court. I had referred my friend to a young lawyer (I forget why - either I couldn't be there the night it was originally scheduled, or I thought the Court was too far). So I get there and I see my young lawyer friend and my buddy together. Of course I didn't remember making the referral so I was trying to figure out why they were there together. :-)

So anyway, turns out my friend had several other tickets on his record already. He pled guilty to a few of them without hiring a lawyer. So they show up in this court in Columbia County needing a no-pointer to save his license. No dice.

The lessons here?

A: Never, never, never plead guilty to a traffic ticket that has points. You can almost always get a reduction (especially if you didn't piss off the cop - see #3 above). Not getting the reduction now can hurt you later, as my friend just learned. Yes, a speeding ticket lawyer is expensive. Personally, I think what I do is worth the money I'm paid.

B: If you've gotten 2 or 3 tickets within a few months, it's time to wake up. You need to slow down. You are in danger of losing your license. That might be a problem if you have a job and you need to drive as part of that job, or if you drive to work.

Interesting article on speeding tickets

Saw this site - "Ticket Killer". They sell themselves with AdWords (Google Sponsored Links). They have an interesting page where they compare themselves with other options, including lawyers.

Their page is:

Here's what they say, with my criticism:

>In most traffic matters, attorneys are not a practical choice, since they often cost more than the fine and offer you no guarantee of beating your ticket.<

It's true that I offer no guarantee. However, in my opinion, their guarantee is worthless. I do cost more than the fine, but I save you money on your insurance rates and protect your license. I also handle it so you won't have to go to Court (usually).

>The less time an attorney spends preparing your case, the more money he or she makes per hour, whether you win or lose (most traffic attorneys take cases on a set fee, not hourly). Therefore, attorneys are in a sense motivated to spend the least amount of time possible on fighting your ticket.<

I guess this is true, but I never thought of it this way. I don't think about my hourly rate for my work on this. And I don't really "fight" tickets. I negotiate a reduction for my clients. I can fight them when appropriate, but most of the time that's a bad decision for the client. If you fight your ticket you will probably lose, whether or not you have a lawyer. It usually only makes sense to fight a ticket when the best deal offered means you will still lose your license. So far, my success rate in negotiating tickets for my clients is 100%, often saving them substantial amounts on their car insurance.

>To have a successful practice an attorney has to have dozens of ticket clients pending at all times. For the most part they count on general tactics and not a defense specific to your circumstances. Do you believe that your attorney spends hours preparing your case, researching and preparing case law etc. when you are not around?<

To be really successful, an attorney has to have other work besides speeding tickets. I actually do have dozens of tickets pending, but that's not enough to sustain my business. And I do use the same general tactics - because they work. I negotiate with the prosecutor and get reductions for my clients.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Cool blog

Just saw this blog. Love it. Check it out.

Albany Lawyer Directory

Attempting to branch out a bit from my law practice, I've now created a directory of lawyers for Albany, New York. The directory is now live at

For now the site covers a few practice areas. For practice areas I handle there is a description of my firm with links, and I invite other lawyers to contact me about getting a listing. For practice areas I don't handle, there are AdSense ads and again, other lawyers can contact me about getting listed in the directory. We'll see if this is a worthwhile endeavor.

Friday, August 19, 2005

New blog -- Albany Injury Lawyer blog

I decided to try out typepad and created a new blog there. We'll see if I like that better. I'll try to focus the injury posts on that blog.

Albany Injury Lawyer

My practice is a bit diverse, with a heavy volume of relatively low revenue speeding tickets, some moderately higher revenue dwi and criminal defense cases.

The biggest revenue opportunity for someone in my type of practice is personal injury cases. This includes car accidents and a variety of other accidents. Because there is so much revenue potential, there is a lot of competition as many lawyers want to do this kind of work and get in on the revenue stream. A simple car accident case with relatively minor injuries (like a rib fracture) can generate a fee of $5000 or more. Compare that with $250-400 for a traffic ticket or $1000 for a DWI. A good case can lead to fees of $25K and up. And the best cases, which are quite rare, lead to fees in excess of $100K. If you just get one of those cases a year, you'll do pretty well.

As an injury lawyer in Albany, NY, I see competition from big TV advertisers and a variety of lawyers advertising in the Yellow Pages. Different firms have different approaches to how they handle things.

The largest TV advertiser is really four actors (they are lawyers) and a staff of retired insurance claims people. The staff process the cases and try to turn them into money. The lawyers rarely go to Court.

Some of the Yellow Pages advertisers really aren't injury lawyers. They get cases in and then refer them to a real Albany injury lawyer. The referrer gets a share of the fee, usually one third of the total fee.

There are some very good injury lawyers in the Albany, New York area. They have great experience and frequently take cases to trial. One of the best was Dick Aulisi. He's now a judge. But there are several others that do a really good job.

There are good lawyers and there are good marketers. I like to think I'm both, though I'm probably a better lawyer than I am a marketer. I haven't gotten many personal injury cases through advertising, though I do get a few through the web. It's another part of the learning process.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Airline frequent flyer miles

My family has been planning a trip to LA. I've got over 225,000 frequent flyer miles with Northwest Airlines, so I wanted to book 5 first-class tickets for our trip.

After numerous attempts to arrange such travel, I've given up on Northwest. Using my awesome power as a lawyer (as if), I'm filing a small claims action for $5000 against them tomorrow in Albany City Court. $5000 is the limit in City Court small claims. The limit is $3000 in town and village courts.

According to the airline's regular website, there are first-class seats available on many of its flights to LA, all with reasonable hours and flight plans. Such tickets are worth about $1200 each.

We'll see how they respond to this. Maybe I should make this a side-practice, representing frustrated frequent flyer customers in small claims actions against the airlines. :-)

One legal issue that concerned me was preemption. Fortunately, it turns out that the Supreme Court has held that breach of contract claims against airlines are not preempted.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Lucky Day

I had a couple speeding ticket cases this morning in Albany City Court. Each was with a different State Trooper. Neither showed up, and the cases were dismissed.

In my experience it is very rare for a Trooper not to show. Happens maybe 5% of the time, maybe less. So that makes the odds of this day being 1 in 400. On the other hand, I suppose I can expect this to happen about every 400 times I go to Court with two cases.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Coming soon

Coming soon: Our new website, at 3 urls:

The new approach will have a new graphic design, along with a dynamic approach to generating pages using php. This should make it easier for people to find us if they're searching for a good lawyer on the web, by making it more relevant to their location in the Albany area and the keywords they're looking for.

The old website will remain as is for now, though we will probably upgrade it to the new graphic design.

The blog will stay right here.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Personal Injury

On my way into work this morning I was thinking about some of my personal injury cases.

One client was just in a motorcycle accident, and lost part of his leg. I've seen him a couple of times in the hospital now. It's sad to see that happen to someone, especially someone you know. He's a great guy, and I'm sure he'll recover well. I've never driven a motorcycle. I've been driven on them a couple times, but this really drives home the point of why I don't want to be on one much. It's nice to have 3000 pounds of steel around you when you get hit by a car.

A couple of my clients in car accident cases are heading for surgery. One on her toe, the other on her shoulder. I worry that some clients may allow the litigation to affect their medical decisions. With one client in particular, I have strongly encouraged a second opinion before the surgery. If the surgery is a good choice you should do it, but not if it's a bad choice. It might make your case worth more money, but it won't be that much money and it won't be worth the money.

Personal Injury cases might get you some money, but that money never turns out to be as much as you might think. It will rarely change your life. It might make your life a little better for a short time, and in a particularly good case it might be enough for a new car or even a new house. But in the end, when you think about spreading that money over the next 40 years, it has to be an awful lot to make a profound difference.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Albany - Japanese food

Okay, this one's about life in Albany, not about lawyering in any way, shape or form.

A local newspaper gave a glowing review for a sushi place in Albany. I was in that neighborhood, so I had to try it. Very disappointing. I lived in Japan, so I think I know what I'm talking about.

First, a sushi place should not be judged by how many different kinds of fish and other things they can fit into a roll. You will not find any avocado or cream cheese in sushi in Japan. I never saw it.

The best test of a sushi place is the sashimi. That's how you can really tell the quality and freshness and texture of the fish. You can hide lesser fish in a blend of wasabi, fish eggs, cream cheese, etc. You can't hide it in sashimi. Don't get me wrong - I particularly like Alaska and Philadelphia rolls (Salmon with avocado, or avocado and cream cheese). But that's not the true test.

At this place today, the maguro (tuna) sashimi had an aftertaste that was not right. The other sashimi was okay, but not great. I had sashimi yesterday at one of the better places in the area (Yoshi Sushi on Route 9), so I could make a good comparison. Also, at this place today, the miso soup was just plain wrong, the salad dressing didn't taste right (not a traditional concern, since one usually does not get salad at sushi places in Japan), and perhaps the worst thing was the shumai (shrimp dumplings) I had ordered. The sauce for them was totally wrong. The wasabi was not quite right either - a bit too clumpy.

This leads to my justified bias about Japanese restaurants. They should be run by Japanese people (or at least ethnic Koreans who come from Japan). My major reason for this bias is personal - I like to practice speaking Japanese when I go to a Japanese restaurant. Not an issue for most sushi eaters in Albany. But I still believe that the Japanese who run Japanese restaurants know what the food is supposed to be like. They're more concerned with quality.

Some Koreans do a good job. In my experience, the Chinese-run sushi places are just not good. I was in one place where they had sliced up the fish beforehand. That may be good for mass production, but it ages the fish more quickly. Today's place was also Chinese-run. You can pretty much tell which places are not Japanese-run. If a place sells any Korean or Chinese dishes, it's probably not run by Japanese. The place I went to today was only Japanese food, but it was still run by Chinese.

I'm particularly fond of one of the Korean-run places, Ta-Ke, which is near Albany Memorial Hospital. I've only had their Japanese food once that I can remember. In the back they have 3 Korean tables for "Bul Go Gi" (yakiniku in Japanese). Their Korean menu is excellent and the food is delicious. The Korean tables have a gas grill built into them. If you order 2 or more grill dishes, they cook it on the grill at the table. If they trust you, they let you cook it yourself.

Other good places for Japanese food in the area include Miyako's (my favorite) in Guilderland, Mari's in Schenectady (but I haven't been there in a while), Saso's in Albany isn't bad, and Mino's in Saratoga is also good. Hiro's used to be good, but I haven't been there since they changed ownership, so I can't say for sure.

Miyako's is large, has a sushi bar (the sushi chef, the owner, and the owner's wife are all Japanese, so I get lots of conversation), regular tables, a couple of Japanese tatami rooms, and their big attraction is the teppanyaki, more commonly known as hibachi tables. It's a good sign that the Japanese Cultural Association of the Capital District meets at Miyako's. Most of the members like Yoshi Sushi too, but his place is too small for the group.

Dealing with police - in general

So what do you do when the police stop you? I know what you shouldn't do:

Example: When a police officer attempts to speak with you, do not say "I'll be right with you" and attempt to walk away. They don't like that. My client got beaten up, partly because of this simple failure to recognize that that police officer, at that moment, was the most important person in his life. He also got charged with DWI when he wasn't intoxicated, and charged with the felony of assaulting a police officer, on a night when no one from the DA's office was available, meaning he spent about 20 hours in jail before I was able to get him out. I had to spend 11 hours of time (from 2 am to 1 pm on a Saturday) to deal with this.

The short answer is, you should be polite to the police officer. This may be hard to accept, but most police officers are generally decent human beings. They also have difficult jobs. They often have to deal with unpleasant people, and occasionally they face very real danger in their work.

I mentioned that they're human beings. That means they're imperfect. And here's the key, as I see it.

In that first moment (maybe 5-10 seconds) of your encounter with that police officer, he or she will decide whether you are one of the good people or one of the bad people. If you are polite, and show your respect, the odds are you will be considered one of the good people. This does not mean you will necessarily get away with whatever you've done, but you are far less likely to get beaten and thrown in jail. If your offense was a close call (say 75 mph in a 65 mph zone), politeness may get you a "this is your lucky day sir", while rudeness might get you a ticket for something a bit worse than what you actually did. And it will be much harder for your lawyer to get you a deal later.

Just the other day I was in Court negotiating with a Trooper. My client did worse than usual because the Trooper felt he had been rude. He said something like: "Ordinarily I'd give you a better reduction, but this guy was an asshole".

Now at the same time I'm saying be polite, that doesn't mean you should tell everything.

Q: Do you know why I pulled you over?
A: No (you might have a guess, but you don't know)
A: I'm sorry officer, no I don't, but I'm sure you had a good reason. What did I do?

Q: Have you had anything to drink tonight?
A: No (even if you have -- you're not under oath and this would be an admission against interest)
or you might try:
A: I'm sorry officer, but my lawyer told me never to answer a question like that. (No is a better answer)

Q: Is it okay if we search your vehicle/house/apartment?
A: I'm sorry officer, but my lawyer told me never to consent to a search. (notice the polite "I'm sorry")

Q: Do you know what the speed limit is here?
A: No, but I've got a bad feeling I'm not going to like the answer (humor can help)

Q: Do you know how fast you were going?
A: No (you don't know your precise speed)
A: I'll have to assert my Fifth Amendment privilege on that one officer (I actually did this once - the humor did help, but you have to be lighthearted, not snide -- also, this was around the time Mark Fuhrman was saying that phrase, so that made it a little funnier)

One last thing - a judge told me this one. He said he carried a bottle of liquor in his glove compartment. His strategy was if he ever got pulled over after he'd had a few drinks, he'd get out of the car with the bottle, and in an obvious manner, open it and start drinking it.
Technically, this sounds like a good strategy - it's pretty hard for the police to get a good reading on your level of intoxication when you were driving because the demonstrative consumption messes up the testing.
I'd say this is a high-risk strategy, and it's probably only worthwhile when you're facing your 3rd or 4th DWI, in which case you probably are not going to plan ahead like this.

A far better strategy is to call a cab if there's any chance you might have had too much to drink.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Good blog on handling police

I just saw a good blog on dealing with police when you're stopped by them. Their main site is also good stuff. I will do a blog entry soon with my thoughts on dealing with police. The key word in my advice is "polite".

Thursday, July 14, 2005

The Economics of a Law Practice - Rates

A while back I did a post about cheap lawyers. One of the challenges for a lawyer is figuring out how much to charge.

I started out with the general notion that I was going to charge $200 per hour for my time. I figured that if I managed to bill only 500 hours a year (10 hours a week), I would get $100K in revenue. After all my expenses, I'd survive, but I wouldn't be making much. If things went well, I might get to billing 1000 hours per year, and then after expenses I'd be doing pretty well. If I got to 1500 hours, that'd be $300K in revenue, and then I'd be in the ballpark of getting rich. But I'd be working a lot of hours, because as a solo you end up working 2500-3000 hours in order to bill 1500. And if I actually managed to bill 2000 hours, I'd want someone to shoot me because I'd be working way too hard.

Then you get to the point where you think about hiring an associate. Suppose you have enough work that you could bill out an associate at $150/hour, and the associate would bill 2000 hours. That's another $300K in revenue. If you pay that associate $60K (a good wage in Albany for an associate with 2-3 years of experience), you're probably spending $100K total on that associate when you include benefits and other overhead. But that means you're making an extra $200K in profit. Not bad. This is where the economics of a law practice starts making a lot of sense for the rainmaker. If you can generate enough business for 5 associates, you're making $1 million a year in profit before your own billing.

Of course you have to manage your associates, and some of them may expect to become partners at some point. I have trouble with that. I'm very possessive of my law practice, since I started it and feel a bit like it's my baby. I'm happy to work with my wife, who tends to see this as my practice even though she is a co-owner. When you hire associates you're giving up some control. When you make someone a partner it's a big change. I tend to think I'd encourage my associates to start up their own practice, and help them get going, rather than having them become partners with me. But maybe down the road I'll find there's a good reason to take on partners. My education on the business of being a lawyer is not complete.

Getting back to rates though, most of my work is not billed hourly. I charge $250 for most traffic tickets, $400 or more if I have to travel. I charge $1000 for DWI violations. These tend to be flat fee rates. The time I put in varies, but the value for the client is the same regardless. It tends to average out okay, so I think it makes sense. I can resolve many traffic tickets by mail, which probably takes me less than an hour. For some I have to go to Court and that can take two hours or more. If you get a decent volume of traffic cases, you can get 2 or 3 tickets in the same court on the same night, and that works out better.

I charge more for DWI because you can't do them by mail, and you may have to go to Court more than once. And there's also a risk that you'll have to do a lot more work if the client doesn't accept a deal. At that point you will charge the client more, but there's a risk of nonpayment.

Criminal billing is tough because most defendants are poor. Criminal defense is a lot of work, and you have to charge a lot because you can put in a lot of time. You also have to charge a significant amount up front, because there's a strong risk of nonpayment. I'm thinking about raising my up-front charge on all felonies to $5000 from $2500.

I took on a case outside my usual area of practice recently, and charged $5000 up front. This case is burning a lot of time. The client calls me almost daily, even though I keep warning him that his calls are costing $20 every 6 minutes. We're already through over $3000. I feel a little bad for the client, but it's an area of law I find unpleasant and I am doing valuable work, providing a much higher quality of service than they've experienced in the past.

That's one of the things about rates. I charge more than the cheap lawyers, though I'm not the most expensive on the block. The big thing I'm selling is that I provide strong customer service and quality work. My toll-free number is answered 24/7 by a person who speaks both English and Spanish (an answering service in Los Angeles). They attempt to connect those calls to my cell phone from 7 am to 9 pm (Eastern time), 7 days a week (holidays too). If it's outside those hours, or I don't pick up, they send a text message to my cell phone, and I call back as soon as I get it.

When you call my firm, you will talk to me, usually right away. You don't talk to a legal assistant, who doesn't really know how things work. And you don't get a computer talking to you, telling you to press 1 for this or 2 for that. I hate that, and I'm sure many clients do too.

Several callers have been surprised when they get to talk to me. I think they're used to calling and not being able to get to talk to the right person. And that's part of what my clients are paying for. The other end is delivering quality work. I take care of things for my clients so they don't have to worry about it. That's why they hire me. And that's why I'm worth what I charge.

The Economics of a Law Practice - Part I - Advertising

One of the things I've long heard about lawyers is that, while we may be good lawyers many of us are not good businessmen. In other words, there are many lawyers who are good at preparing papers and speaking in court, who are not so good at marketing, accounting, budgeting, etc.

I had some bumps along the way. My biggest problem, and it hasn't been too bad, is figuring out where to spend money. Yellow Pages advertising, for example, is very expensive. So are television and radio. I have spent thousands on yellow pages, TV, radio, and other print ads. My general experience so far is that the Yellow Pages are probably worth it, but it's a close call. TV, radio and other print might be worth it, but you have to spend a lot of money. And they're probably only worthwhile for areas of practice where you can get high fees, such as personal injury. When I do that advertising, I tend to shoot for a niche as a Spanish speaking lawyer. But even for that kind of niche, I think I'd have to spend at least $25K/year to establish some degree of brand identity with the target community.

I remember when I did one set of radio ads, I got a lot of calls from Spanish speakers who had a family member in jail. I learned pretty quickly that if they can't afford bail, they can't afford me.

I've found the web to be far more cost effective, at least for me. I'm probably a bit more web-savvy than the typical attorney, so it's a little easier for me. I programmed my own site in html using Netscape Composer. It's not pretty, but it's functional, and somewhat optimized. I also set up my own PPC programs. I spend about $300/month, not counting what I'm spending on a soon to be deployed upgrade to my site. I spent a lot of time getting all that going. In doing so, I learned a lot. I could see someone who is not web-savvy hiring someone, paying them a lot of money, and not getting nearly as much out of it. I've even thought of setting up a side business as a web consultant for lawyers.

The area where the web has generated the most business for me is speeding tickets and other traffic tickets. Most of my clients are from out of the area. They get a ticket as they're driving through. When they get home, they look for a lawyer in this area. They're not going to use the Yellow Pages - because they don't have one from this area. TV and radio ads won't help them either. The internet is the most logical way for them to search for a lawyer.

I can say based on my experience that this area of law probably won't end up with too much competition because the volume of business won't sustain it. I'm getting maybe $1000 - 2000 a month in revenue from traffic tickets. If that were all I did, I'd be starving. It doesn't make much sense for someone else to spend $10K to start competing, if that divides the pool in half.

I do get a few DWI cases off the web, along with other criminal defense and even fewer personal injury cases. Those generate higher fees, but they're not regular revenue.

Some of this is probably specific to the Albany, New York area. I suspect there's more web competition in NYC or LA, etc.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Airline "Accident" case

The word "accident" is in quotes in the title because the meaning of that term is very important in cases against airlines. I discovered this in one of my personal injury cases. I thought I had a simple case of negligence against the airline, on a slip-and-fall. I learned that such matters are governed by the Warsaw Convention and the Montreal Agreement.

Under these rules, damages are capped at $75K and the airline is strictly liable -- if the situation qualifies as an accident. And it turns out that a 2000 decision by the Second Circuit (the federal appellate court over New York, Connecticut, and one or two other states) ruled that it counts as an accident if the "characteristics of air travel increased [the plaintiff's] vulnerability."

In our case, this appears to apply. While I don't like a cap on damages, I very much like the strict liability. Strict liability means that the plaintiff does not have to prove that the defendant airline did anything wrong.

Family Court

When I first opened my practice I did "assigned counsel" work in Family Court in a couple counties. Assigned counsel are assigned by courts to represent indigent people (who can't afford a lawyer) in certain kinds of cases. Family offense petitions in Family Court are an example.

I hated it for a number of reasons, particularly that the work itself is unpleasant, and also because of the billing process. The billing problems were simple. First, the pay was too low. When I started it was paid at $25/hour for out-of-court work, and $40/hour for in-court work. On 1/1/04, the pay went up to $75/hour for most cases for most work. I charge my clients $200/hour. I give breaks in some cases, but almost never to $75/hour. At that point I will sometimes just say forget it - let's do this pro bono.

Second, the billing process was too complex and frustrating. Too many forms to fill out and too many steps in the process of submitting them. I think people who do it a lot get that worked out, but I just didn't like it. I generally charge my clients up front, and keep track of hours and expenses on a simple spreadsheet.

Regarding the work, the participants tend to be more irrational than in any other area of law. I think it's because of the emotions involved. Personal injury clients, defense or plaintiff, never seem to get too upset. Criminal defense clients usually know they're in trouble and they're just hoping you can minimize the damage, or they want to take a shot at trial, but know the risks and accept them. Parents fighting over their kids get extremely upset, irrational and generally disregard the advice of their lawyers.

Also, to a lesser extent, the work is unpleasant because of the quality of the practitioners, with some notable exceptions. They are less likely to return phone calls or respond to a letter. In some sense, they are doing this kind of work because they couldn't get better work. And again, there are exceptions to this.

So since I don't like this area, I figured I could avoid doing such work by charging a high amount up front. Few clients will choose to pay a large sum up front. As an example, for divorce cases I tell people $10,000 up front. That's worked so far. No one has been willing to put that much up - and I'm happy about it. I recommend friends (who are high-quality) who usually charge less up front.

But then there's the problem -- what if someone actually puts up the money? My practice being relatively new, and not having piles of cash around, I have to suck it up and do the work. And hopefully soon I will need money less, and I'll raise the up-front amount even higher. Or I'll hire an associate to handle this area.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Sex offender myth

I had a call today from someone who is considered a sex offender under New York law (and at least one other state). I had a client in a similar situation before.

The general public perception of a sex offender is someone who preys on children. The stereotype is a 40-year-old man who has sex with 8-year-old boys.

The problem is that state law casts a much wider net. In this case and in another I handled, the "sex offender" was an 18 or 19 year old male who was caught having sex with a 14 or 15 year-old girl. This does violate state law. The age of consent in NY is 17 (I think).

For starters it seems to me that this is not the place for criminal prosecution. I know many people don't like it, but the reality is that some teenagers, including some 14-year-old girls, are sexually adventurous. Probably not a good thing, but again, not what I consider a crime. If it's forcible rape, that's another thing entirely.

Anyway, we also have to deal with the Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA), under which "sex offenders" have to register with local authorities. In some states this is a life-long thing. The supposed purpose is to protect the community from these dangerous sex offenders. But an 18-year-old who has sex with a 14-year-old is not likely to be dangerous 10 years later.

I'm just ranting now and probably a little incoherent (we have a baby home so I'm not getting enough sleep), but I'll have to come back to this topic sometime down the road.

The ACLU has taken on some cases related to all of this. You have to search their site to find relevant articles, but it's something. There is also a very recent article from Missouri on the same general topic. There's also another good article in the Detroit News.

Balancing interesting and not-so-interesting work

One of the tough things about being a lawyer is some of the work is, well, boring. Or at least not terribly interesting.

I get a lot of speeding ticket cases. I feel good about the work I do for people, helping them get better deals and saving them time in handling things for them. But it's not fascinating work. It's mostly paperwork, or a trip to a local court where you shoot the breeze with fellow lawyers for an hour or so until you get to talk to the cop or prosecutor and get things resolved. It's not bad, but not exciting either.

I do personal injury cases as well. Those can be a little more interesting, and certainly you can make good money on them, but fundamentally they're not as exciting for me as they used to be. Trials are usually fun, but most cases get settled before then. Also, in many of these cases you do learn something about some relatively obscure legal issue. For example, I have an airline case. My client fell in the aisle. I started the case claiming the airline was negligent (for creating the slippery condition, failing to clean it up, and failing to warn my client). Turns out that negligence is not an issue. Under treaties, the airline is strictly liable for accidents, but there is a cap on damages of $75,000. This case pretty clearly qualifies as an accident under recent 2nd Circuit caselaw, so we're looking good. That was a bit of learning.

But every once in a while I get something that's really interesting. For some reason I really like criminal defense. I particularly like defending drug cases, as I have long felt the drug war is a disaster. But I occasionally get cases where my client is pretty clearly not guilty, and something smells about the way my client was charged. I had one a couple years ago and I have one now. Gets me going.

Also, not too long ago I had a different kind of case. Client was working in an area hospital, and was cut with an instrument that had been exposed to a patient's blood. Patient was unable to consent to a test for bloodborne disease, essentially unconscious, and dying. Family was agreeable, but did not have the paperwork to back up their authority. I got the job done and am quite pleased with myself. I really made a difference for this client, who no longer has to take a cocktail of preventive drugs that cause severe side effects. In the process I confronted some bureaucracy and succeeded by using my experience to choose a judge with common sense. And all of this was done with the proper anonymity to protect everyone involved (hence, the details here are deliberately vague and some details may have been changed). Not only was this interesting, but it was emotionally rewarding because I really feel I did good work for my client, and made a difference in their life.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Speeding Tickets

I've gotten a few calls recently from people who discovered the consequences of pleading guilty to speeding tickets. They did not hire lawyers for help on them. Here's what a few of them have experienced:

1. One guy received a bill from DMV for $300 (or $100/year for 3 years) as a "driver assessment". This is the first time I've gotten this call, but I suspect it will become common. It's a new law that became effective for violations on or after 11/18/2004. It happens if you get 6 or more points on your record. The caller had pled to a speeding ticket of ~25 mph over the limit, which is 6 points. Note that for DWI cases it's $750, or $250/year for 3 years.

2. A woman came in with a speeding ticket for 89 in a 55. That's an 8-point violation, but I can usually get that reduced to 3 or 4 points, maybe better. Unfortunately, she had a previous speeding ticket for 96 in a 65, and she pled guilty to that one. So she already has 8 points. If she gets 3 more points, she will probably lose her license. We advised her to take defensive driving, which should take 4 points off her license. I'm hopeful, but not positive, that this will save her license for now - as long as she slows down.
We are also considering a writ of coram nobis to see if we can vacate the earlier conviction and then try to negotiate a deal on that one with fewer points. Coram nobis is a lot of work for the lawyer, and I charge $1000 to do it. It's generally only worth it for the client if their license is in genuine jeopardy, as in this case.
Also unfortunate, her current ticket is in the Town of Chatham, where the Judge is notorious among lawyers for being tough on plea bargains. A friend of mine handled it and it was resolved with a 4-point speed and a $505 fine and surcharge. The Judge made note of the prior speeding just a few months earlier in setting the high fine.

3. One guy called me about a new speeding ticket - 79 in a 65. The big problem is he pled to a recent ticket for something like 108 in a 65, which and paid a $700 fine. That doesn't make complete sense to me because he should have had his driving privileges revoked for such a high speed, though maybe that doesn't apply to out-of-state drivers.
In his case, a lawyer probably would have gotten his ticket down to a 4-pointer or better with a fine of $300 or so. He would have saved money just on the fine by paying the lawyer's fee.

I'm surprised more people don't hire lawyers for their speeding tickets. I'm busy enough, but I feel for the people when I hear their stories.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Good Personal Injury Blog

Noticed a good personal injury blog from Atlanta, Georgia. In addition to the blog, it has a great list of other blogs.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Personal Injury and Insurance Defense

I used to work for Allstate, in-house, as an Insurance Defense lawyer. That means Allstate paid me a salary to work in their office, but my clients were Allstate customers.

I noticed a Georgia personal injury blog that discussed the ethical issues for insurance defense lawyers in a couple of recent posts:
One and another.

I saw these pressures in my work. A good example is when the insurance company places a low or zero value on a case when the insurance defense lawyer thinks the case value may exceed the insurance coverage. At least in theory, if the verdict comes in higher than the coverage, the company only has to pay the amount of coverage, and the customer (the lawyer's client) is left to pay the rest. In practice I've never seen a client pay out of pocket in such circumstances, but that doesn't change the lawyer's obligation to protect his client's interests.

The lawyer's obligation there is to make his concerns clear and make whatever record is necessary to protect his client. If the verdict comes in high, the client now may have a claim against the insurance company for "bad faith". The insurance company, which is paying the lawyer's bill (for outside counsel) or his salary (for in-house), does not like it very much when the lawyer advocates for the client against the company. I was nearly fired twice for doing this, and it was a major reason why I left and why I do not intend to do insurance defense work in my practice. Also, they pay crappy for outside counsel.

One thing a lot of plaintiff's lawyers don't realize is that an in-house lawyer faces less pressure than outside counsel. First, it's very easy for them to fire outside counsel. They don't fire you on that case, but they simply stop sending you new cases. Outside counsel have no protection from employment law. As in-house counsel, if you're fired for advocating for your client, you probably have a good lawsuit against the company (tortious interference with the attorney-client relationship, etc.), and the accompanying newspaper articles would be so damaging to the company ("Insurance company fires honest lawyer") that they would probably pay a good severance package to avoid such coverage. Also, a few years experience as in-house insurance defense makes one very marketable, especially to plaintiff law firms who appreciate knowledge of the inside workings of a major insurance company.