Entrepreneurial Practice Portal: Digital Tools and Skills for the 21st Century Lawyer

Because of changes in the legal profession, legal education also much change. Charlotte School of Law was designed and developed by legal educators who realized that old models of legal education must be improved upon. Our mission is to become the “benchmark of excellence” for the 21st century. In an effort to further our mission, CharlotteLaw continually seeks out innovative opportunities to equip our students with practice-ready skills.

In fall 2014, CharlotteLaw and national law firms Jacoby & Meyers, The Cochran Firm and The Chavez Law Group launched a program called The Entrepreneurial Practice Portal (EPP). This unique virtual internship gives students the opportunity to gain experience creating digital marketing programs, using online tools to generate legal forms, and conducting legal research and writing. The program was created in response to employers who are seeking out legal professionals skilled at utilizing the latest technology to attract new clients as well as provide legal services.

One student who was chosen through a rigorous interview process involving CSL and partner law firms shares her experience below:

“Working with the Entrepreneurial Practice Portal Program has been a great experience! I am very grateful to the Center for Professional Development (CPD) for providing this visionary opportunity.

I applied to the position through Symplicity, (an interactive web-based tool offered through CPD that assists students with finding internships, job opportunities and professional development resources) and within a short time participated in a formal interview held on campus, and within a week I received an invitation to the program.

This is an innovative program that provides an opportunity to use legal writing and research on a different platform. Currently, I work with the National Trial Lawyers Association (NTL) researching opinions, drafting, and publishing legal articles on current issues. NTL’s goal is to keep its members current on business and professional areas of interest. My articles focus on the plaintiff perspective and the matters our readers will find important. The topics I have covered thus far include employment law, consumer protection, and products liability suits.

I have developed stronger writing skills, an invaluable legal network, and feel I am so much more prepared for practice by participating in this program. I also keep myself current on prominent legal issues. As a future attorney, I believe it is important to be aware of current legal matters impacting the practice of law.

Seeing my name on nationally published articles for the first time was and still is one of the most rewarding feelings. I look forward to progressing in the program and being practice-ready as a result of my valuable experience in the program.

ALR Student’s Corner: The Firm: What Can Overbilling Do For You?

There are several areas of the legal profession which will remain timeless; it is from these areas that learning from the mistakes of others is critical to ensuring long, stable careers for ourselves. Better yet, learning from mistakes made by fictitious characters has become the standardized norm by which the rules of professional responsibility is taught. The Firm, a film adaptation of John Grisham’s novel by the same name, teaches attorneys about the repercussions which may results from their glaring professional responsibility mistakes. (SPOILER ALERT). Mitch McDeere, played by Tom Cruise, is a recent law school graduate who has been hired by a blue chip firm half-way across the country. After becoming deeply entangled with the firm, he learns the firm represents a mob family. McDeere’s dilemma becomes whether to risk his life leaving the firm or continue representing an alleged crime family. Ultimately, McDeere uses the information that the firm had been overcharging the family/clients to convince the family to pardon him for having likely exposed them to scrutiny by the FBI.

The message we may take away comes from what McDeere’s mentor, Avery Tolar played by Gene Hackman, tells him once he joins the firm: “Everything depends on billing, how many hours you spend even thinking about a client…I don’t care if you’re stuck in traffic or shaving or sitting on a park bench.” Rule 1.5 of the North Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct covers fee and fee-related conduct. Briefly, a lawyer shall not make an agreement for, charge, or collect an illegal or clearly excessive fee or charge or collect a clearly excessive amount for expenses. The factors to be considered in determining whether a fee is clearly excessive include the time and labor required relative to the novelty of the issue, likelihood that employment by potential client will preclude other employment, customary fees, time and limitations, relationship with the client, whether the fee is fixed or contingent, etc.

Here, the mob family had deep ties with the blue chip firm for some time. There was no exclusivity in time spent relative to other potential work the firm may have conducted outside of illicit activities conducted through the firm (i.e., hiding mob proceeds offshore).

McDeere learns the firm is overcharging the family and uses this information to get out of potential trouble with the family. McDeere tells the family he needs their permission to forward the family’s invoices to the government in order to take care of the overbilling. The error in regard to procedure is McDeere’s explanation to the mob family/clients that the FBI has any hand to play in attorneys overcharging their clients. The use of mail fraud to give the federal agency leeway to investigate the firm is a completely separate issue from the compensation agreements between the firm and the family relative to the family receiving any type of remedy. This is another example of where films take poetic license for the sake of the plot and do not differentiate between criminal and civil liability.

Procedurally in North Carolina, subsection (f) of Rule 1.5 provides disputes regarding a fee for legal services must go through the North Carolina State Bar’s program of fee dispute resolution. Attorneys must provide proper notice if they are claiming the dispute; attorneys must act in good faith if the clients submit a proper dispute request.

McDeere had made backups of the family’s legal files as insurance in case his plan did not go smoothly. Ultimately, he explained to the mob family, “Whatever I know, wherever I go, I am bound to attorney-client privilege. I am exactly a ship carrying a cargo that will never reach a port. As long as I am alive, the ship will always be at sea.” McDeere receives the authorization from the mob family to release copies of the family invoices to the FBI, and ultimately leaves the firm with his life. The moral of the story is attorneys should not overbill their clients; also, attorneys should not overbill the mob. The Firm is available in the Charlotte School of Law Library DVD collection.

Compliance Blog: How Do You Know? The New Compliance “Hammer”

Ten years ago, when compliance programs were being established, the focus was on identifying, documenting, and communicating compliance requirements. There was also an emphasis on communicating the consequences of non-compliance and the potential for significant financial penalties, criminal charges, and even court appointed monitors. These consequences were like a compliance “hammer” and were used to get the attention of employees, management and leadership. For the most part, it worked.

Today, regulatory oversight continues to increase with the enactment of new laws such as the Dodd-Frank Act and the Affordable Care Act. It’s essential that compliance programs be structured to document and now demonstrate compliance with laws, rules, and regulations.

The basic elements of documenting and communicating compliance requirements remain at the core of a successful compliance program but, there’s an increased focus on answering a fundamental question: How do you know? A response of “because we have documentation in place” may not be sufficient. A more appropriate response might be “because we have substantiation and we can prove it.” Regulators and auditors who are assessing the effectiveness of compliance programs are looking for substantiation. Substantiation means determining ownership and accountability for tasks associated with compliance requirements at the individual level. This may include attesting to completion of a compliance requirement, being able to explain why the requirement exists, or even producing documentation to support it. Ultimately, it boils down to ownership and accountability – the new compliance “hammer.”

Leading From Where You Are

“Stand up if you are a leader of anything,” was Kate Irwin-Smiler’s opening to the session. Of course, the question quickly raised by someone in the audience was whether our leadership was in our own estimation or whether it was based on our title. (Lots of laughter here.) Then she asked us to sit down and those who are followers stand. This interactive exercise led into Kate Irwin-Smiler, Reference Librarian at Wake Forest University School of Law and Sara Sampson, Assistant Dean for Information Services & Law Library Director at Ohio State Moritz College of Law’s presentation “Leading from Where You Are.” Both women talked about how they are leaders and followers. Sara Sampson pointed out that although she has a traditional leadership title, she is still a follower as she follows more experienced deans and the dean of the law school who is also a leader and a follower. They pointed out that being a good follower can give you the skills to become a good leader.

What is a leader?

People who think creatively and are passionate about what they do. People who think about problems and work to fix problems. – AALL Leadership Academy 2014

People who realize you have to work through other people to achieve results. They bring people together to make things happen. – The Introverted Leader

Sampson found that there are lots of different definitions of leadership and those who write about leadership do not agree. Some believe leaders are born with certain traits that help them become leaders and others define leadership by what they do: they innovate, they take charge, and they make decisions. She concluded there are many ways to be a leader and the definition needs to be broadened.

Different Types of Leaders

Even official, formal leaders like the President of the United States or our AALL Board cannot be effective unless they have followers.

Then there are leaders like those in Selma who stood up to the leaders with official powers of the state and they got some of their objectives accomplished.

Sandra Day O’Connor was a trail blazing leader. Just by her presence on the court, she led the way for other woman to be on the Supreme Court. She had to do her job and do it well for others to follow.

Rosalind Franklin whose work on the structure of DNA was overshadowed by others in her field was a leader too in that she continued with her work despite lack of recognition. She was a thought leader.

Pope Francis is a leader, not only because he is head of the Catholic Church but because he is quietly keeping the focus on issues like poverty over a long period of time.

The Pope, Mahatma Gandhi and many in the law library profession are servant leaders.

The facilitating leaders of our profession make connections between people with needs and resources. These people are often quiet leaders who are integral to the success of an organization.

Collaborative/negotiating leaders work across departments or across the university.

Mentoring and sponsoring leaders not only advise mentees but also give critical, honest feedback, make connections, open doors at higher levels so that the mentee can succeed.

A cheerleader leads by touting other’s success, showing how important their work is to the organization.

How Library Staff Can Lead In Your Library… a Brainstorm List

  • Managing programs
  • Chairing committees
  • Trusting others to do their job
  • Giving people what they need
  • Using creativity
  • Teaching
  • Facilitating opportunities
  • Using different language that does not diminish what we do
  • Bridging the gap between the library and other departments
  • Participating in teams
  • Providing institutional knowledge to others
  • Raising issues that need to be addressed
  • Identifying problems and proposing solutions

How to Be a Responsible Follower

Whether or not you choose to be a leader, here are ways of being a responsible follower:

  • Managing up
  • Engaging at work
  • Being prepared and participating in meetings
  • Sharing ideas in a respectful way
  • Leading yourself and your reactions
  • Being willing to do what others will not
  • Investing in work relationships
  • Lightening the leader’s load
  • Thinking about what people will need and having it ready in advance
  • Knowing when to push for your ideas and when to let go
  • Realizing that dissent is a gift

ALR Student’s Corner: What’s A Good Legal Movie Without A Little Misconduct? Professional Responsibility in The Client

I’ve been a John Grisham fan ever since my grandfather gave me my first copy of The Firm while I was still an undergrad. I was instantly ensnared by Grisham’s fast paced and intricate legal dramas that explore how traditional ideas of right and wrong tend to flex within the constraints of the law. As with any good legal thriller, Grisham’s novels are usually filled with high stakes crime, mobsters, and unsavory attorneys with questionable ethics. The 1994 adaptation of The Client is no exception to the Grisham best seller recipe, and tells the tale of a poor Memphis boy, Mark Sway, who is targeted by the Italian mafia for knowing damning information that could destroy the criminal organization in New Orleans.

Obviously, legal dramas that lack the gritty and devious excitement that comes with unethical behavior would hardly have movie goers flocking to the theaters. True to form, the plot of The Client is built upon a sleazy and cowardly lawyer’s violation of the most fundamental rule of professional conduct, attorney client confidentiality (Rule 1.6 under the ABA Model Rules). In the film, the highly intoxicated Jerome Clifford, attorney for Barry “The Blade” Muldano, tells young Mark, in a suicidal last confession, that Muldano admitted to the highly publicized murder of a state senator and buried the body in Clifford’s own back-yard boat shed. As a result, Mark is thrust into a tug of war between Barry the Blade, threatening to kill Mark if he breaks his silence, and Roy Fultrigg, a formidable U.S. Attorney demanding that Mark tell him the location of the body so that he can prosecute Muldano for the senator’s murder and bask in the political glory of a conviction.

Although the unethical misconduct in The Client starts with Clifford’s suicidal confession, it is hardly the most egregious offense in the film. As Mark begins to understand the predicament he’s in, he hires Reggie Love, a recovering alcoholic and juvenile advocate, to fend off Fultrigg and his pack of FBI lackeys. Fultrigg is the next lawyer who we see blatantly disregard the Rules of Professional Conduct when he attempts to question Mark without his mother being present, and specifically tells Mark he does not need an attorney (in violation of Rule 4.3 Dealing with Unrepresented Person, Rule 4.1 Truthfulness in Statements to Others, and Rule 8.4 Misconduct). Unfortunately for the smooth talking Reverend Fultrigg, Reggie anticipates his bad behavior and catches him in the act by having wired Mark and recorded the entire unethical encounter.

Interestingly enough (but perhaps not surprisingly), it is the film’s flawed heroine, Reggie Love, who commits the most serious violations throughout the film. After catching Fultrigg red-handed, she immediately threatens to expose him with the tape, essentially blackmailing a federal prosecutor. However, this is a minor infraction compared to what she does as the danger to Mark and herself intensifies as the film progresses. Reggie’s next major offense occurs when she barges in to the juvenile judge’s chambers and attempts to sway him in her favor based on their standing friendship (in violation of Rule 3.5 Impartiality And Decorum of the Tribunal). Yet, it isn’t until the film heats up in anticipation of the climatic discovery of the senator’s body that Reggie really throws the rule book out of the window. She harbors a now-fugitive Mark, drives him across state lines, trespasses on private property, and helps him break into Clifford’s boat shed in order to find the body all in a race against time and the advancing mafia hit men.

When looking at the characters collectively, it is clear that none of the attorneys have much respect for the Rules of Professional Conduct and instead base their actions on the ultimate pursuit of justice, whatever the cost. The battle between right and wrong and its operation within, and often times outside of, the constraints of the law is a common theme in all of Grisham’s stories. For Fultrigg, justice means a conviction for the murder of the state senator and the unraveling of an extensive crime syndicate. For Reggie, justice means protecting the civil liberties of an innocent boy who was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Both characters are driven by their own personal beliefs of what justice truly is, and how far they are willing to go to achieve it.

At the end of the day it’s quite clear to anyone familiar with the Rules of Professional Conduct that all of the attorneys in the film would likely be disbarred for their actions in the real world, but then again, what fun would that be to watch?

Know Your Law Library: East Reading Room

On the east side of the 5th floor of the library (nearest to 4th Street) is the East Reading Room. Last week several bookcases and display shelves and journals and furniture were moved to create a new reading room for the library. There are also electrical outlets at the base of the windows. Doesn’t it look inviting?

The current periodical shelving was dismantled and moved to the East Reading Room so that everyone now has a comfortable place to sit and read their favorite journal, magazine or newspaper.

The law library also plans to continue hosting professors speaking on their favorite topics during monthly Coffee Talks. In the coming weeks, the fiction collection and the leadership book collections will also be relocated to this area of the library.

Thanks to everyone who helped create this great space over the past few weeks.

Follow-Up to Banned Books Week at the Charlotte Law Library

A Poll

Every September since 1982, the library world celebrates the freedom to read by creating programming around Banned Books Week. At Charlotte School of Law Library, we created displays, blog posts, signage, and held a Read Out to raise awareness of the issue of books being challenged and banned.

The American Library Association (ALA) defines a challenge to literature as an attempt by a person or group of people to have literature restricted or removed from a public library or school curriculum.

Few people realize that since the inception of Banned Books Week more than 11,300 books have been challenged. Last year, 311 challenges were reported to the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom. They track challenges, at least the ones that are reported. A lot are not reported.

In an effort to raise awareness, a librarian decided to ban a book. Scott DiMarco, Director of Library and Information Resources at Mansfield University of Pennsylvania announced the banning of One Woman’s Vengeance by a local author named Dennis R. Miller. DiMarco declared the ban on the library’s Facebook page and got a swift response of outrage, but only eight people actually asked to discuss the ban with him. He wrote about his experience in a blog post.

We are interested to know what you think about this librarian’s method of raising awareness.

JD Career Fit: Equipping Students for Long-term Career Success

On Saturday, February 7, 2015 the Center for Professional Development (CPD) of Charlotte School of Law hosted Session 1 of its innovative workshops geared toward cultivating the practical, or ‘soft’ skills needed to be successful in the law profession. This effort aligns with CharlotteLaw’s commitment to providing experiential learning from the first day of class to add value to any organization upon graduation.

The JD Career Fit program is a requirement for graduation and includes two sessions to be attended by students in their first semester. Developed by CPD staff, the program focuses on self-assessment and self-knowledge as the basis of creating individualized career plans and objectives that uniquely fit the skills, interests, values and strengths of each CharlotteLaw student.

Students attending JD Career Fit first seek to gain a true sense of self to lay the foundation for personal development. On-going exercises throughout the program enable students to establish personal brand, utilize social media effectively, develop their image, and perfect the art of networking. Employers in the law profession have identified these skills as among the top performance gaps they find in newly-graduated law students.

Aretha Blake, Director of CharlotteLaw’s Center for Professional Development noted “By requiring students to attend JD Career Fit, we are sending them a message of the importance practical skills play to supplement academic theory.”