Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Rensselaer Train Station

Several years ago a new train station was built for Amtrak in Rensselaer. I don't remember all the details, but it cost a huge amount of money. $55 million sticks in my head, but maybe that was before the cost overruns.

I'm sitting now in the station waiting for a train. On the drive up I noticed that the old station buildings are still there, and they don't look so good. Seems like there was no plan as to what to do with the old buildings when they built the new ones. You would think, with all the traffic that goes right by them, both in cars and on foot, that there would be a value in turning them into retail space. Or maybe tearing them down and putting in some stores or restaurants there.

Nothing doing. It's gotta be five years now. That's the brilliance of government planning for you.

It's also obvious that the new station is not being maintained all that well. Not terrible, but the waiting area chairs look like crap. They're also uncomfortable. They probably didn't budget for the cost of upkeep for things like that. The rest of the place looks okay, but not outstanding. It hasn't been here that long though.

On the plus side there appears to be free WiFi. That is appreciated.

Friday, April 25, 2008

What do lawyers do? Diversifying the revenue stream

An interesting issue has come up in our office recently. How much should a small law firm like ours do to diversify our revenue stream? Other businesses have this kind of issue, but in some ways this is special to lawyers.

Our law firm in Albany has a strong main practice handling traffic cases in upstate New York. We get roughly ten new traffic cases a week. One nice thing about this is that it's steady revenue.

Going along with traffic, we get a fair number of criminal and especially DWI cases. This is also reasonably steady, but the volume is lower so the peaks and valleys are more obvious. April has been a particularly slow month in that area, which is part of what brings this to mind.

We also have our personal injury practice, which is even lower volume and the timing of revenue is borderline random. We can go months with no revenue in personal injury and then settle three cases within a couple weeks.

So far that seems like a good diversity of revenue. But now our associate may have a new client with some commercial debt collection cases. I have a fair bit of knowledge about debt collection work. My clerkship in Supreme Court exposed me to that, and I've done a little work in consumer debt collection, mostly as a referee in foreclosure sales but also representing a couple of debtors.

Initially it seems like a good idea. Why not have another revenue stream? Don't you want to make more money? Well, yes, of course. I do worry about our firm becoming overly complicated, but for now this particular client and this particular line of cases shouldn't be too bad. If it's a low volume, then it's no big deal. If it becomes bigger then we may have to hire another lawyer or clerical staff, but that's hardly a problem if the money's coming in.

I'm not fond of the debt collection business, but mainly that's my reaction to what I've seen in consumer debt collection. This particular client has high-end debt collection cases involving commercial debt and commercial property, so it means little or no negative feelings. Anyone is going to feel at least a little bad kicking a little old lady out of her home, but getting commercial property back from a business isn't bothersome at all.

Of course, it's a lot better having this problem than not having any clients. That's for sure.

Vermont Traffic Courts

I got motivated and entered all the traffic courts in Vermont in the past week or so. Not too many of them. Vermont has fourteen counties. Each county has two courts -- District Court and Superior Court. As one might think, District Court handles lesser offenses while Superior Court handles the more serious ones. But in an interesting twist, Vermont Superior Court does the small claims.

There is also a statewide Vermont Traffic Court, also known as Vermont Judicial Bureau. It does more than traffic. Some day we hope to find out which cases are heard there versus the regular district courts.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

More Traffic Court News

Our Traffic Court website has shot up in the world a bit. According to Alexa, the site is now among the top 350,000 websites in the world. That's a big jump, but not really because of an increase in the importance of our site.

Alexa changed the way it measures websites. They had been criticized for some time for relying too much on their own "toolbar". It's unclear exactly how they've changed their measurement, but it appears they are adding other techniques. For us it's great, but others are unhappy with the change.

Who knows if it really means anything. We know that visits to our site have grown. We're very close to a consistent 60,000 unique users per month. We've added a bunch of new courts in California, Florida and Ohio. Sooner or later those pages will start to attract more attention and the site traffic should go up a bit more.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

San Diego Criminal Court - The Marine Widow Case

We finished the San Diego Superior Courts, and I came across a great story in the process. It's apparently called the Marine Widow case, and that link is to a story about it. Heard in San Diego Criminal Court.

Short version: Marine dies. Wife responds by getting a boob job with the life insurance money, joining wet t-shirt contests, and shagging other soldiers. Also buys herself out of substantial credit card debt. Some chemical tests showed high levels of arsenic in the dead marine's body, so they charge wifey with poisoning him. She gets convicted but reversed on appeal because her lawyer was defective. On the second trial, it turns out that the chemical tests were crap. The numbers on some were so high they were impossible, and on others they were normal.

What did we have here? Reckless prosecution, apparently failing to disclose evidence indicating innocence. Incompetent defense lawyer, but fortunately saved by a more than competent defense lawyer. Apparently Allen Bloom is the go-to guy in San Diego. And an attractive woman and mother of four gets stuck in jail for well over two years unjustly. American justice at work!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Los Angeles Traffic Courts

We made some progress on our directory project, adding all the superior courts in Los Angeles County. Superior Court in California seems to handle just about everything, from simple traffic tickets up to murder cases and civil cases too.

A couple of the more "happening" traffic courts there include Beverly Hills Superior Court and Malibu Superior Court, which have had quite a few celebrity cases. Makes for fun research. You get your DUI cases involving Mischa Barton, the Hilton family, and Mel Gibson. Then you get the odd ones like the pregnant woman who killed a parking attendant and was sentenced to house arrest.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Lawyer websites and font size

I just visited a website for another law firm in the Albany area. The font size was extremely small. Below is an image showing it next to our website, and you can see that our fonts are significantly larger. If you go to the effort to create a website, you should go further and make sure it is user friendly and readable. It is an attractive website and the firm has a good reputation (I took the snapshot so the identifying info about the firm is not visible), but it could be better. If you click on the picture it will enlarge so you get a better view.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Albany Public Relations

My buddy Mark Grimm is also my fellow town board member. Mark really led the campaign and I think his skills in public relations really helped. He has a website for his business: Albany Public Relations. A couple years ago when we sued the Rensselaer DA, Mark set up our press conference and it went very well.

I've learned a lot from Mark, and from my own experiences with the media. One big thing is understanding that there's a lot of randomness. You can get everything set up for your big event, and then some huge news story can come up and the media doesn't come to your event. Imagine if you were doing your press conference on the day the Spitzer story hit.

Another big thing is to be sure you stay honest. It can be tempting to tell little white lies to the media. At least some journalists, and I think most, will start ignoring you if they think you're dishonest. Being honest won't get you in the paper every time you want to be, but being dishonest may ensure you won't get covered even if you have a good story.

There's a lot more to it, but the best way to really understand it is to work with a professional.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Schenectady DWI

We handle DWI in the Schenectady area. It seems like most of the cases we see occur in the towns, like Rotterdam, Duanesburg and Glenville. Of course there are some in the City of Schenectady as well. We certainly see more DWI and DWAI cases in Albany County. And we see more Saratoga DWI cases too. For Albany it seems obvious why -- bigger area, and maybe we have a closer connection to Albany. For Saratoga it's not as obvious. Saratoga does get more tourism than Schenectady (understatement of the week), and it's reasonable to think we get more "tourist" clients than locals. That's just a guess though.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Gmail April Fools Joke Got Me

So there I am peacefully using my Gmail when I notice a link at the top for a new feature -- Gmail custom time. Check out Google's Gmail April Fools Joke.

I actually fell for it for a couple minutes. Started composing a message to see how it worked, but the feature was missing. Went back to read the instructions again. Google got me!