Monthly Archives: September 2010

firing a mayor, part 2: still, only in Russia.

Yuri Luzhkov

Image via Wikipedia

On the way to work on Monday I listened to a report on NPR about the sacking of the Mayor of Moscow, Russia, by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Where I’m from, mayors are independently elected officials, so it struck me as similar to President Obama firing Mayor Bloomberg of New York.

Apparently, the Mayor in question–Yury Luzhkov–is considered to be one of Medvedev’s rivals for 2012 (not just a presidential election in our next of the woods, apparently).  Firing him is the Kremlin’s way of removing a major rival before the 2012 elections.  Luzhov, who has been mayor since 1992, came to power under Boris Yeltsin.  Predicatably, Luzhov was not happy about being fired.

“In our country the fear of expressing your view has existed since 1937,” Luzhkov said, referring to the peak of the repression and Great Terror under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

“If our leadership merely supports this fear with its statements… then it is easy to go to a situation where there is just one leader in the country whose words are written in granite and who must be followed unquestionably.”

“How does this stand with your calls for ‘development of democracy’?” he asked the president.

Not that anyone really thinks of Russia of being a “lighthouse on the hill” for democracy, but still… Luzhkov said he believed he was fired because he had sought greater democracy, calling for “reinstalling direct elections for regional leaders which were scrapped in 2004 in favour of an effective direct appointment by the Kremlin.

Medvedev brushed off the criticism. And then he appointed a new mayor of Moscow.

How to be prepared to visit your attorney

Recently, a close relative asked me my advice on how to deal with getting, and keeping, an attorney. Having worked with several over the course of his legal matter, he had not made any serious progress.  Then, one day, this relative found out that the attorney he had been working with had left the firm and was no longer handling his case.

“What do I do?” He had questions about fees (would he have to pay for another attorney at the firm to get brought up to speed on the case?), about who was actually handing the case (he was more likely to reach a paralegal when he called the firm than the attorney), what questions should he be asking, when should he expect a resolution, and so on. Because my area of practice does not include family law, I could only vaguely answer his questions.  Since, I’ve looked into how to prepare to visit an attorney on a family law matter(divorce, adoptions, custody, etc), and following some of the tips recommended by the Woods, May, & Matlock blog would be helpful.

  1. Ask In Advance – When setting up your first meeting with an attorney, ask what information you should bring with you.  Most attorneys’ offices are like a doctor’s office and there are many forms to fill out.  Get a copy ahead of time and bring them to the meeting all filled in.  If possible, throughout your divorce you should try to provide as much helpful information to your attorney as possible.  This insures that you and your attorney are not spending time and money duplicating efforts.  Of course if you need clarification about how much information you should include, ask.
  2. Fee Agreement – You will be given a fee or retainer fee agreement form to sign.  It is a contract with your attorney stating that you want the lawyer to represent you and in return you intend to pay him/her a fee.  Read this document thoroughly and make sure that you understand the contents before signing.
  3. Goals – You and your attorney should fully discuss your particular situation.  Based on your goals and objectives you should jointly decide the best course of action.
  4. Information – You will be asked to provide financial and personal information, so be ready to go through mountains of paperwork.  Among other things, your attorney will most likely ask for tax returns, financial statements (including checking, savings, credit cards, etc), and a monthly budget.  Compile as many of these documents as soon as possible.
  5. Paralegal – Many attorneys have legal assistants or paralegals.  It is a good idea for you to meet and get to know your attorney’s paralegal.  He/she may be able to answer many of your questions at a lower hourly rate than your attorney.  However, you must remember that these individuals have many other duties as well, so calling multiple times a day is a poor use of your time and theirs.  (And it’s a good way to guarantee that your calls will be sent directly to voicemail.)
  6. Notes – If you are meeting, or even just planning on calling your attorney, write out all of your questions ahead of time.  This way you are sure to get them all answered.  Make note of what those answers were, this will save you from asking the same question numerous times.
  7. Bills – If you have a billing question call the individual who handles the bills and ask them, most likely this will not be your attorney.
  8. Copies – You will save your attorney some time and yourself some money if you can provide several copies of the documents requested of you.  (See #4)  Ask your attorney how many copies he/she will be needing, they probably don’t need 8, but 2 or 3 extra copies would almost certainly be appreciated.
  9. Questions – If, at any point during your divorce, you are confused about something, ask your attorney or his/her paralegal to clarify.  They are happy to discuss terms, agreements, etc. with you.  However, as stated in #5 & 6, prepare your questions ahead of time and take notes so that you’re not calling multiple times or asking the same question over and over.
  10. Keeping Up To Date – Throughout your divorce you should be receiving copies of almost everything that comes into and goes out of your attorney’s office pertaining to your divorce.  This should help keep you up to date on the status of your case and minimize the number of “I was just wondering how my case was going” calls.  Those “just checking” calls can add up quickly and make for a very expensive divorce.
  11. Not All Advice is Good Advice – Your attorney has gone to school, trained, studied, and practiced law.  Unless your friends and family are divorce attorneys themselves, listen to your attorney.  While your friends and family have your best interest at heart, they do not generally have the legal knowledge that your attorney has.  Your attorney wants to help you achieve all of your goals and objectives within the limits of the law and what will be best for you and your family in the long run.  If there is an issue that you feel is not being addressed and you have tried to talk to your attorney about it, then get a second opinion, from a trained legal professional.
  12. Patience – Divorces take time, even amicable ones.  To a great extent neither you nor your attorney have control over the scheduling of your divorce.  There are basic timelines dictated by the law, judges generally set aside specific times for hearings, coordinating multiple schedules is always tricky, and there are inevitable surprises along the way.  Be patient, it will all end soon.
  13. Talk It Out – You have hired your attorney to achieve your goals and objectives.  If you feel that your attorney is not handling your case in the way that you would like, talk to him/her about it.  Your attorney should be willing to adjust the approach to your divorce to accomplish your desired outcome.  Or they may recommend another attorney who is better suited to your needs.  However, your attorney is not practicing law just for the love of it.  They are providing you a service and expect to be compensated for their time and effort.  If you are unwilling to pay don’t be surprised your attorney is unwilling to jump through hoops.
  14. Warning – If any attorney promises you anything other than to do their very best for you, find a new one.

Book in the mail: “Miles Away…Worlds Apart.”

I just received a copy of “Miles Away, Worlds Apart” in the mail. It was sent to me by the author who is hoping for a review after I read it. Written by Alan Sakowitz, the book about his experience as a whistleblower of a “Madoff-like Ponzi scheme orchestrated by Florida attorney Scott Rothstein[.]” (from the back cover plug by Jonathan Rosenblum). Goodreads.com posts the following summary about it:

Alan Sakowitz, a whistleblower of a Madoff-like Ponzi scheme masterminded by Scott Rothstein, fraudster extraordinaire, tells the story of his decision to turn in Rothstein regardless of the possible dangerous ramifications of such a decision. The saga of Rothstein’s rise and fall which included a Warren Yacht, two Bugattis, Governor Crist, the former Versace mansion, The Eagles, and even the murder of a law partner, is the stuff that Hollywood movies are made from.

Instead of the mere accounting of such a scandal, Sakowitz uses the Rothstein scheme as a cautionary tale in stark contrast to the stories of humble, ethical individuals living within Sakowitz’s neighborhood in North Miami Beach, Florida. Sakowitz’s neighbors are people who have spent their lives trying to assist others, not line their pockets, and through these stories Sakowitz creates a sharp dichotomy between the greed, of a Rothstein and its mainstream culture of consumption and the charity, kindness and selflessness of a principle-oriented community. Indeed, Sakowitz speaks to the symptoms of a culture that could create a Scott Rothstein, and, though acknowledging that the easy way out is not simple to dismiss, offers remedies to the growing ills of our entitlement society. The answer, Sakowitz says, lies in thinking first of others, and how one’s actions should benefit the lives of friends, not one’s short-term gratifications.

Interesting, eh?  I look forward to digging into it tonight (along with “Witness,” which I’m still working on). Stay tuned: a review is coming.

Peacemakers and lawyers: synonymous?

Judge using his gavel

Image by IXQUICK via Flickr

Perusing a copy of the ABA‘s GPSOLO magazine, I came across an article focused on attorneys as peacemakers in a family law setting.  With my sister recently divorced, and knowing plenty of attorneys who make their living in divorces, I know that peacemaking is not an easily obtained goal, if it even is a goal at all.  And it’s not necessarily the attorneys’ fault. People are hurt and angry as they enter the divorce process, and the American legal system provides couples with a venue in which to take out the negative emotions on the object of their ire. What they could not work out in marriage, they now look to an authority figure–a judge and the force of law–to resolve for them.

And the attorneys become their hired guns.

But do they need to be?  Not so, says Forrest S. Mosten.  They can provide services that seek to avoid the aggravation of marital problems and instead bring about “peacemaking.”  The title of his article, published in the September 2010 issue of GPSOLO, is “Building a successful law practice without ever going to court.

One of the most interesting pieces of the article, to me, was the role of the litigator as a peacemaker.  Says Mosten:

Peacemaking and litigation are not necessarily incompatible.  Litigators who embrace a peacemaking approach can make a positive difference in the lives of their clients.

It sounds like he is recommending that lawyers shift from being hired guns to being active participants in advising their clients in ways that will bring them greater happiness. (hmm…that sounds like something one of my law professors might spout from her ivory tower…)

Mosten provides five recommendations for making this “positive difference:

  1. Readily agree to requests by the other party to stipulate facts, admissibility of evidence, and other requests to speed up proceedings;
  2. Readily agree to requests for personal accommodations from the other party and counsel for continuances based on illness, children’s needs, work responsibility, and other reasons;
  3. Refuse to take advantage of mistakes committed by opposing parties and counsel;
  4. Refrain from negative personal or sarcastic comments;
  5. At all times advocate for family healing and demonstrate that such an approach is congruent with the interests of the client.

Geez.  It almost boils down to “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you,”  a maxim found in philosophy and religion from Socrates (“”One should never do wrong in return, nor mistreat any man, no matter how one has been mistreated by him.”) to Taoism (“Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.”). When you hurt another, you are only hurting yourself.  Sounds kind of Zen, you know?

Of course this doesn’t help you much when the client is hell bent on causing as much pain as possible to their former spouse, but in those situations where the parties are willing to listen to their counsel’s wise advice, it might help to turn down the heat and bring about some peace to both parties, which could only mean a happier ending for all.

Check it out and consider it: what could you do in your practice to be a peacemaker?

firing a mayor: only in Russia

Just heard this on NPR: President Medvev fired Moscow’s mayor. Can he even do that? Guess democracy isn’t the same world over. More later…