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Solo and Small Firm Conference puts focus on future of law

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More than 400 lawyers gathered this month in one of the largest conferences ever for Indiana solo and small-firm attorneys.

With a focus on “The Future of Law” and highlighted by a healthy dose of ethics and a look at coming changes and challenges, the Indiana State Bar Association’s Solo and Small Firm Conference at the French Lick Resort drew the second-largest crowd in the event’s history, organizers said.
 

mckinnon McKinnon

“The nature of this conference is, I think, distinct in several ways. One, collegiality – there’s a sense of friendliness that’s not typical in large lawyer meetings,” said Warsaw attorney Paul D. Refior. “The fact that they provide a lot of options – there are four (presentations) to choose from every session – that allowed us to go to things that pertain to our practices.”

Refior also carried away materials from other sessions he wasn’t able to attend. “That’s going to be the gift that keeps on giving,” he said.

Conference planning committee vice chair Patricia McKinnon said featured speakers Indiana Justice Mark Massa and Jim Calloway tailored their remarks to the challenges solo and small firm lawyers face. Massa, for instance, talked about the need to sweat the small stuff, using real-life examples such as a lack of postage or insufficient fees dooming filings.

“It was very startling, but also something the audience needed to hear,” McKinnon said.

Calloway, a popular returning speaker who directs the Oklahoma Bar Association Management Assistance Program, offered a candid but optimistic assessment of the future of law in light of competition from online do-it-yourself services such as LegalZoom.
 

 

solo-massa-15col.jpg Indiana Justice Mark Massa spoke to more than 400 lawyers at the Indiana State Bar Association’s Solo and Small Firm Conference earlier this month in French Lick. (Photo submitted)

“The future is very bright for lawyers willing to embrace the future,” Indianapolis attorney Stephen Terrell said of Calloway’s presentation. He said Calloway’s message included a need for lawyers to express to clients the value that their services add and the assurances that come with legal representation.

“People will still need to talk to a live human being,” McKinnon said of her takeaway from Calloway’s remarks. “They need you because you can provide advice.”

On speaking your mind

With Greenwood attorney Patrick Olmstead, Terrell presented one of the most-talked-about sessions, “Crash Course: The Intersection of Legal Ethics and the First Amendment.” The session focused on attorney speech and what’s considered actionable by the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission under one of the tightest rules in the nation.

Terrell said Indiana’s Professional Rule of Conduct 8.4(g) appears to be unique compared to other states, in that it defines as misconduct words or conduct “in a professional capacity” manifesting bias based on race, gender, religion and other factors that also include the vague qualifiers “socioeconomic status or similar factors.”

“We’re almost fostering a situation where, as a lawyer, if someone writes a letter to you and you don’t like it, you file a disciplinary action,” Terrell said. A novelist and host of an Internet legal talk show, Terrell said the rule gives him pause to wonder in those activities, “Am I acting in my legal capacity?”

Olmstead said the session ended with more questions from attorneys than he and Terrell had time to answer before the following program started.

“People don’t know where the lines are,” Olmstead said of attorney speech. Regarding the vagaries of the “legal capacity” and “similar factors” language, he said, “I don’t know when you stop being a lawyer.” He said other states’ rules limit 8.4(g) to matters concerning the administration of justice, for example.

After investigating the question, Olmstead’s said, “To my knowledge, I could not find another state that has an 8.4(g) written like ours.”

“What I struggle with and have had people call me about is wordsmithing,” he said. In communicating with opposing counsel, for instance, “Now you’ve got to walk on eggshells and you’ve got to figure out if you’ve said anything that would upset someone,” he said. He cited discipline orders such as In the Matter of Vincent M. Campiti, 937 N.E.2d 340 (2009), and In the Matter of Joseph B. Barker, 55S00-1008-DI-429.

Terrell said lawyers have a duty to point out problems in the justice system, but they also put themselves at risk when they do. About 20 years ago, Terrell successfully defended an attorney who faced a discipline case for writing a truthful letter critical of a judge.

“Now, today, I don’t know how many lawyers would do that,” he said. “That’s the real danger of some of these rulings that are coming out. … That’s why I think it’s a really important discussion to have.”

What’s new?

News laws taking effect July 1 were the focus of some sessions Kevin Willis of Indianapolis found particularly useful in his first year as a solo practitioner. This wasn’t his first trip to the conference, though; he’d gone last year as a law student.

“I attended the traffic law update and the criminal code update sessions,” Willis said. “Those apply directly to my practice.”

A new law requires licensing and registration of mopeds and scooters with engines smaller than 50 cubic centimeters, for instance. Another will allow scooter riders and motorcyclists to proceed through a red light after two minutes when traffic has cleared. That’s yielding to cyclists who said their lighter weight compared to cars didn’t trip some street sensors that control traffic lights.

Willis said presenters at the conference also did a good job of keeping it light. McKinnon and Disciplinary Commission attorney Chuck Kidd had fun with an ethics presentation that riffed on the game show “Let’s Make a Deal,” offering up what Willis called “ridiculously stupid prizes.”

“It was just great to see people can make fun of themselves and ease the tension,” he said.

This year, students from Indiana University Maurer School of Law, IU McKinney School of Law and Valparaiso University Law School attended the conference. It gives them an opportunity to network and work on elevator speeches, McKinnon said.

McKinnon, who chairs the planning committee for next year’s conference, said work has already started on lining up speakers and programs for the 2015 gathering that also will be held in French Lick the first weekend in June.

“Anybody that’s involved in any aspect of general practice or family law should attend this conference. They’re missing out if they don’t,” Willis said.•
 

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  1. If real money was spent on this study, what a shame. And if some air-head professor tries to use this to advance a career, pity the poor student. I am approaching a time that i (and others around me) should be vigilant. I don't think I'm anywhere near there yet, but seeing the subject I was looking forward to something I might use to look for some benchmarks. When finally finding my way to the hidden questionnaire all I could say to myself was...what a joke. Those are open and obvious signs of any impaired lawyer (or non-lawyer, for that matter), And if one needs a checklist to discern those tell-tale signs of impairment at any age, one shouldn't be practicing law. Another reason I don't regret dropping my ABA membership some number of years ago.

  2. The case should have been spiked. Give the kid a break. He can serve and maybe die for Uncle Sam and can't have a drink? Wow. And they won't even let him defend himself. What a gross lack of prosecutorial oversight and judgment. WOW

  3. I work with some older lawyers in the 70s, 80s, and they are sharp as tacks compared to the foggy minded, undisciplined, inexperienced, listless & aimless "youths" being churned out by the diploma mill law schools by the tens of thousands. A client is generally lucky to land a lawyer who has decided to stay in practice a long time. Young people shouldn't kid themselves. Experience is golden especially in something like law. When you start out as a new lawyer you are about as powerful as a babe in the cradle. Whereas the silver halo of age usually crowns someone who can strike like thunder.

  4. YES I WENT THROUGH THIS BEFORE IN A DIFFERENT SITUATION WITH MY YOUNGEST SON PEOPLE NEED TO LEAVE US ALONE WITH DCS IF WE ARE NOT HURTING OR NEGLECT OUR CHILDREN WHY ARE THEY EVEN CALLED OUT AND THE PEOPLE MAKING FALSE REPORTS NEED TO GO TO JAIL AND HAVE A CLASS D FELONY ON THERE RECORD TO SEE HOW IT FEELS. I WENT THREW ALOT WHEN HE WAS TAKEN WHAT ELSE DOES THESE SCHOOL WANT ME TO SERVE 25 YEARS TO LIFE ON LIES THERE TELLING OR EVEN LE SAME THING LIED TO THE COUNTY PROSECUTOR JUST SO I WOULD GET ARRESTED AND GET TIME HE THOUGHT AND IT TURNED OUT I DID WHAT I HAD TO DO NOT PROUD OF WHAT HAPPEN AND SHOULD KNOW ABOUT SEEKING MEDICAL ATTENTION FOR MY CHILD I AM DISABLED AND SICK OF GETTING TREATED BADLY HOW WOULD THEY LIKE IT IF I CALLED APS ON THEM FOR A CHANGE THEN THEY CAN COME AND ARREST THEM RIGHT OUT OF THE SCHOOL. NOW WE ARE HOMELESS AND THE CHILDREN ARE STAYING WITH A RELATIVE AND GUARDIAN AND THE SCHOOL WON'T LET THEM GO TO SCHOOL THERE BUT WANT THEM TO GO TO SCHOOL WHERE BULLYING IS ALLOWED REAL SMART THINKING ON A SCHOOL STAFF.

  5. Family court judges never fail to surprise me with their irrational thinking. First of all any man who abuses his wife is not fit to be a parent. A man who can't control his anger should not be allowed around his child unsupervised period. Just because he's never been convicted of abusing his child doesn't mean he won't and maybe he hasn't but a man that has such poor judgement and control is not fit to parent without oversight - only a moron would think otherwise. Secondly, why should the mother have to pay? He's the one who made the poor decisions to abuse and he should be the one to pay the price - monetarily and otherwise. Yes it's sad that the little girl may be deprived of her father, but really what kind of father is he - the one that abuses her mother the one that can't even step up and do what's necessary on his own instead the abused mother is to pay for him???? What is this Judge thinking? Another example of how this world rewards bad behavior and punishes those who do right. Way to go Judge - NOT.

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