Suspended for Blogging? Don’t Panic.

When law blogging was new, a lot of lawyers were afraid that they could lose their licenses if they posted the wrong thing online. The plethora of well-maintained blogs have set those fears to rest for the most part. But once in a while a story comes up that reignites the panic.

This time, an Illinois patent lawyer’s license may be suspended for 3 years because of her blog about a Cook County probate matter. But rather than a warning against this well-established form of web marketing, this is a cautionary tale against making complaints personal and making misrepresentations online.

After her application to represent an elderly woman’s daughter in a guardianship matter, lawyer JoAnne Marie Denison decided to voice her dissatisfaction on a blog that included a “table of torts.” The blog alleged “TEN PAGES of questionable behavior, corruption, misfeasance, malfeasance, perpetration of misdemeanors and felonies.”

A disclaimer on the blog warned readers to do their own investigation regarding the facts. But elsewhere on the blog, Denison suggested that the allegations were true, even though investigators determined they were unfounded. The hearing board found:

“From our perspective, it appears respondent has genuine concern for senior citizens and perceives the senior population as vulnerable, especially to financial exploitation. This concern, as a general matter, is a legitimate one, even though respondent had no reasonable basis for believing the judges or attorneys in [the specific] case were corrupt.”

The hearing board also warned against “inappropriately personaliz[ing] matters.”

A license suspension may be one of the scariest threats to a practicing attorney. So stories like this one could scare some lawyers into web silence. But the lesson to be learned from Denison’s cases isn’t silence, it is diligence.

Your law firm’s blog must be professional, first and foremost. Just like any other form of advertising, you can’t make allegations without doing any research to back them up. Best practices suggest linking or citing to any external sources. Building in these kinds of links can provide credibility as well as improve the SEO of your blog.

That is not to say that a legal blog can’t take controversial positions or be critical of court opinions or legislative actions. But if you decide to take a position on your blog, be certain you can back up your factual allegations and cite to your sources.

Writing a law blog doesn’t need to make you panic. As long as you follow the same rules you would for any other kind of advertising, you should not have to worry about licensing sanctions*. To help you create a professional and informative law blog, contact ghostwriter Lisa J. Schmidt at Legal Linguist to examine your options.

* Lisa Schmidt is not an expert in attorney discipline proceedings, and your state’s advertising requirements may place more restrictions on your blog than are represented here.

Michigan Supreme Court Releases New Citation Rules

This month the Michigan Supreme Court issued a new set of citation rules called the Michigan Appellate Opinion Manual. These standards apply to judges opinions and to lawyers’ briefs alike. While there aren’t too many changes from the previous standard of legal citation, the manual does have some useful suggestions:

Short-Form Citations

You only have to provide the full citation to a case once (such as Hays v Lutheran Social Servs of Mich, 300 Mich App 54, 56-59; 832 NW2d 433 (2013)). After that you can use a short-form citation (Hays, 300 Mich App at 59). If you haven’t referred to any cases in between, or if the sentence makes clear which case you are referring to, you can also use Id. (Id. at 60), but only for cases, not statutes.

String Citations

If you are tempted to string together multiple sources to prove your point, the Court says don’t. String citations “disrupt the flow of the text and burden readers.” Cooney, Stringing Readers Along, 85 Mich B J 44 (Dec 2006).

Long Case Names

If you are citing a case which has a name that goes on for days you can abbreviate it as long as what you end up with still allows the reader to identify the case. For example:

Original: Trout Unlimited Muskegon – White River Chapter v City of White
Cloud, 195 Mich App 343; 489 NW2d 188 (1992).
Shortened: Trout Unlimited v White Cloud, 195 Mich App 343; 489 NW2d 188 (1992).

Unavailable Citations

The Court provided a format to use if you are quoting a case so new it hasn’t been published yet: Bev Smith, Inc v Atwell, ___ Mich App ___, ___; ___ NW2d ___ (2013) (Docket No. 308761); slip op at 3.

Statutory Ranges

If you are citing a range of statutes, repeat the “MCL” before the end of the range: MCL 769.1 through MCL 769.36.

Capitalizing Statutes

If the act contains a short title, capitalize the first letter of each substantive word, and do not include the year of enactment. Sponsors should be eliminated (i.e. the Civil Rights Act rather than the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act). The word “Michigan” should be used when part of the short title or when distinguishing a Michigan law from another jurisdiction’s statute with the same title. If an act does not have an official title, the short title should not be capitalized (i.e. the no fault act).

Legal Teatises

If a legal treatise has more than 3 authors, keep the first name and then add “et al.” Once you cite the treatise in full once, you can refer to it by the author’s name in a short-form citation.

Internet Materials

Because the Reporter’s Office creates an archive of Internet materials cited in published opinions, judges will avoid quoting any website that requires a subscription or with video. The inability to view these materials later can undermine their precedential value, so use alternative sources when you can.

Legal citation may seem very boring to the average practitioner. But being up to date on the latest formatting and citation rules will help your briefs look professional and persuasive to clients and judges alike.

Lisa Schmidt is a ghostwriter for Legal Linguist in Southfield, Michigan. She can provide thoroughly researched motion and brief writing services using up to date citation methods. For help meeting your filing deadlines, contact Legal Linguist today.


Why I Hate That I Should Be Writing

“I should be writing.”

Every writer, blogger, or idealist has thought this at least once… a week. Ok let’s be serious, I may have thought this more days than not. But the sentence does more harm than good and can actually kill my ambition to write.

And let’s be clear, I am a writer. I maintain two blogs for myself and write ghost blogs for other lawyers and I have six novels in various stages of not-finished. And yet there are days, even weeks when I have trouble writing a word. Why? Because “I should be writing.”

I think about writing a lot. I’ll find a “blog-able” article while browsing the internet or come up with a fantastic plot while driving. But the moment my brain shifts from wanting to write about something to the dreaded should be, all bets are off.

That’s because suddenly the desire is an obligation. It gets added to the list of all the things I really ought to get to, most of which I really don’t want to do.

And along with that sense of obligation comes the feeling of shame. Shame on me for not doing all those things. Shame on me for not writing every day like I’ve been told by every writing teacher or coach I’ve ever had. And that makes it even worse.

The only thing worse than “I should be writing” is “You should be writing.” Then my inability to put pen to page isn’t just a personal short-coming. It is a failure in a duty I hold to someone in authority, or even the world (remember, writers tend to have big imaginations, that means we can blow things out of proportion sometimes). After I’ve let all those writing teachers down, I couldn’t possibly make amends just by picking up a pen now, could I?

Yes, I could. Every word on page or screen is better than no words. Every thought memorialized is better than the blank page. Better, not because I’ve satisfied some obligation but because I actually do enjoy writing. It’s fun and it energizes me. I feel better having done it.

The challenge is to keep that feeling stronger than the shame I feel for not doing it. The best way to do that? Start writing. Not because I “should be” or because it will make me a better writer, and certainly not because I might maybe make some money off it, but because I enjoy doing it.

I am a writer, I just need to remember that I like it.

I intentionally wrote this piece in first person to eliminate any ‘self-help’ vibes it might have. If you have any suggestions for the “should be” writers out there please add them in the comments!

Is Your Personal Blog Hurting You Professionally?

U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf made headlines this week with his blog – but not in a good way. The federal judge told the Supreme Court to “stfu,” complete with link. The blog was personal, rather than business-related, but that didn’t keep the comment from affecting the Judge’s reputation.

The judge was blogging on the recent Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision, which he felt did harm to the integrity of the Court. He said:

“Five male Justices of the Supreme Court, who are all members of the Catholic faith and who each were appointed by a President who hailed from the Republican party, decided that a huge corporation, with thousands of employees and gargantuan revenues, was a ‘person’ entitled to assert a religious objection to the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate because that corporation was ‘closely held’ by family members. To the average person, the result looks stupid and smells worse. . . .

“Next term is the time for the Supreme Court to go quiescent– this term and several past terms has proven that the court is now causing more harm (division) to our democracy than good by deciding hot button cases that the court has the power to avoid. As the kids say, it is time for the Court to stfu.”

As lawyers (and judges), we are held to a code of conduct. That code doesn’t switch off with our office lights. We can’t take it off when we hang up our suit coats (or robes). It is with us every day, all day. And that counts double for our online actions.

Judge Kopf’s blog may have been personal, but it was clearly connected to his legal life and reputation. He blogged about political issues and attorneys who appeared before him. His stated desire was that:

“Federal trial judges be seen as individuals with all the strengths and weaknesses (baggage) that everyone else carries around.”

It should come as no surprise that his statements on that blog might attract attention and hurt his reputation, and possibly career as a federal judge.

The same is true if you or I maintain a personal blog outside the office or engage in social media. Our words can be traced back to our business, and they can hurt you. Just recently 2 Florida public defenders found themselves out of a job after they posted derogatory comments on Facebook about Palestinians using terms their office deemed hate speech.

Keep these cases in mind as you weave your way through social media this week. Your words affect your reputation, and (unless you are in Europe), the Internet never forgets. If you need help building a professional online image, contact blogging coach Lisa Schmidt for a consultation.

Don’t Waste Your Introduction Paragraph

Take time to write a good introductionIt can be tough to make enough time to write your motions and briefs in the midst of a busy trial schedule. But that is no excuse for ignoring your introductory paragraph. Instead, busyness should be reason number 1 to carefully craft the introduction – the busyness of your judge.

Far too many lawyers throw away an important opportunity to get judges on their side while writing motions and briefs. Uniformly, the opening of motions are something like:

NOW COMES the Defendant, John Doe, and in support of his motion states:

But far too few take advantage of their introduction to tell the judge what it is they want. Consider this alternative:

NOW COMES the Defendant, John Doe, and asks this court to stay the income withholding order until an accounting on the satisfaction of the judgment can be provided. In support of his motion, Defendant states:

With one quick, carefully crafted sentence, you can tell your judge what you are asking for and why. This will give the judge a starting point from which to consider all the facts and circumstances you include in your motion. Rather than making your judge gradually deduce what you need him or her to do, you put the request out there and then back it up with why.

The same principle applies to your legal briefs too. Rather than skipping straight to the Statement of Facts, create a separate Introduction section. By putting a summary of your legal arguments right up front it will help your busy judge understand what to expect. It also allows you to frame the question and lead the judge to the conclusions you want him or her to make.

The introduction to your motion or brief is very important, especially once the pleading makes its way into the hands of a busy judge. Take the time to craft a careful introduction – whether a sentence or a summary paragraph – so the judge can clearly understand what you’re asking for and will be more likely to agree with you.

If you need help crafting well-written motions and briefs, contact ghost-writer Lisa Schmidt.

3 Benefits of a Well-Written Brief

Speaker at PodiumYou heard it in law school: it’s important to include a well-written brief with every motion. But why? Is it really worth the time and effort to write the brief when you can just argue the motion yourself at hearing? Here are 3 reasons why you should take your professors’ advice.

1. Framing the Issue

How you frame a question can help sway the decision maker’s answer. For example, in determining child support, one party may want the question to be “How much should an unemployed person be expected to earn in this economy.” The other might say “Should the father be punished because the mother voluntarily quit her job?” By taking the time to craft a brief around your version of the issue, you can control the direction of the hearing even before stepping into the courthouse.

2. Prepping the Judge

On many motions, complex facts or intricate legal circumstances can make the difference between success and failure. If there is some distinction that wins the argument for your side, you want the judge to be aware of it ahead of time. In the above example, the father wants the judge to know the circumstances of the mother’s job loss. The mother wants the judge to know all about her income and monthly budget. Use the brief to prepare the judge so that he or she knows what to listen for at the hearing.

3. Prepare for the Hearing

Even if you have a judge with a reputation for not reading briefs, it is still worth your while to prepare one. Why? Because it will better prepare you for your argument. By researching the competing legal theories and preparing your arguments in advance you will be ready to deal with the other side’s arguments on motion call. The brief will put the answers to the judge’s questions at your fingertips when you are at the podium.

A well-written brief is the strongest tool in your toolbox on motion day. It puts the judge in the right state of mind going in, and gives you everything you need to make a convincing argument. The time it takes to research and write the brief will be well-spent and will often make the difference between winning your case and placating an unhappy client.