mess generates resolve
|By MARLON VILLA
One employee at a downtown San Francisco law firm
makes coffee at the crack of dawn in rooms illuminated by lantern and
refrigerator lights. A Silicon Valley firm has invested in a backup
generator, and court clerks across the state keep flashlights at the
Everyone crosses their fingers that a blackout
doesn't wipe out a petition-in-progress from the computer.
Like every other business in California, lawyers
are responding to the energy crisis with a combination of resignation,
resolve and creativity. Just about everyone has heeded the call to dim
the lights, adjust the thermostat and turn off computers when not in
In general, there appears to be little concern
about the possible effect of the state's energy woes on billable
hours and in fact, some attorneys anticipate a boost in their work,
particularly in bankruptcy filings.
"Many of our attorneys were practicing law
before computers and fax machines were regarded as indispensible,"
said David Brownstein, managing shareholder of Heller Ehrman White
& McAuliffe's San Francisco office. "We'll continue working
for our clients; if necessary, we'll work by candlelight using paper
"The operational impact (of the energy crisis)
has been minimal," adds Crystal Rockwood, a spokeswoman for
Pillsbury Winthrop LLP. "We are taking steps to ensure that client
needs will be met regardless of blackouts and that we do not lose
productivity. The effect of rolling blackouts, even if they happen
every day throughout the state, should be manageable."
and small firm lawyers who don't have the resources of a big firm
are a little more worried. Mark Adelman, a sole practitioner in San
Diego who leases a space in a commercial property, continually prints
out the latest drafts of motions or pleadings in case of a blackout.
He backs up his data storage system and
decline in lawsuits filed since 1980s
|By KRISTINA HORTON FLAHERTY
to enduring public perceptions of exploding litigation, people are
filing far fewer personal injury lawsuits in California state courts
these days than they did in the late 1980s.
The number of personal injury suits filed last
year for damages exceeding $25,000 was roughly half what it was in
fiscal year 1986-1987 - the peak for the last two decades.
And the data suggests that the downward slide is
Smaller civil matters and small claims cases have
steadily declined in number over the last decade. And on a national
level, tort and contract filings have shown a slight decrease as well.
What has driven the decline, however, remains
open to debate.
Judges, attorneys, advocates and close observers
alternately cite key court decisions, litigation-triggered safety
improvements, "tort reform," alternative dispute resolution (ADR),
selective filing and shifts in social attitudes as possible factors.
"It's not just one thing that you can
isolate," said retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lawrence
Waddington. "I think it's an amalgam of things."
now a resolution expert for the ADR provider JAMS, said he doesn't
think anybody really knows what has caused the downward turn. But he
points to Califor-nia Supreme Court decisions that have "restricted
liability or restricted exposure to damages" in a variety of areas
as one likely factor.
One possible solution to conflicts?
|By NANCY McCARTHY
As the realities of modern law practice collide
with traditional ethical rules and existing case law, conflicts of
interest increasingly present a dilemma for some lawyers and law
firms, particularly at a time when attorneys change firms and take
client confidences with them.
Three court rulings in the past two years have
touched on the question of screening and protection of client
confidentiality, but no California case has yet offered solid guidance
for lawyers who move laterally and may find themselves or their
new firm as an adversary to a former client.
The questions surrounding "non-consensual
screening," as well as four other ethical issues, will be on the
table at the State Bar's Fifth Annual Ethics Symposium this month,
where experts will debate lawyers' obligations in a variety of
thought maybe it was time to take a more systematic look at some of
the rules California has," said Kevin Mohr, chair of the symposium
and a member of the State Bar's Committee on Professional
Responsi-bility and Conduct (COPRAC). "There's a good chance
|MCLE commission calls for better quality,
|By SHARON LERMAN
A State Bar study says the surest way to stay
long-standing resentment of mandatory continuing legal education is to
improve its quality rather than scrap the program, which requires
fewer hours of study from lawyers than similar programs for
professionals such as barbers and hearing-aid dispensers.
polling members of the bar and holding a half-dozen public hearings,
the MCLE Evaluation Commission, empaneled
|Kids & the Law is a hit
With the help of the California State Parent
Teachers Association, nearly 100,000 copies of the State Bar's
publication Kids and the Law - An A-to-Z Guide for Parents
have been distributed throughout California.
Linda Mayo, vice president of community concerns
for the PTA, said the response to the guide has been overwhelming in
the education community. "They are flying out of our office like
crazy," she said, adding that the PTA staff has been working
non-stop filling orders from schools all over the state.