Articles Posted in Lawyer Ethics

Happy New Year’s readers!   In my last blog I talked about my New Year’s plan to volunteer on a week-long assignment in an immigrant detention center near the Texas-Mexico border. I was to help asylum seekers advance their claims.  Not really in my wheelhouse, since I am a New York personal injury lawyer.  But I speak Spanish, and am married to a Guatemalan, and wanted to help out with all the Central Americans claiming asylum on our border right now.  I am writing now to report that my efforts were successful.  Here is an article by a reporter at the Finger Lakes Times about my journey.  Thanks for reading!

Mike Bersani

BORDERLINE: PART II: Freedom fighter

We did it again!  Once again, Michaels & Smolak has been named in the annual U.S. News & World Report “Best Law Firms” in the practice area of both Personal Injury Law and Products Liability.  Is this a small honor? No it is not. The Michaels & Smolak Law Firm was the only personal injury law firm anywhere between Syracuse and Rochester (not including those two cities) to be named to this nationally recognized 2017 directory of top personal injury law firms in the United States.  Moreover, we are one of only three Syracuse area firms to be ranked in the “first tier” of personal injury law firms in the directory.

Awards are nice.  It sure is great to be recognized for our hard work and success.  But in the end “awards” are not the “rewards” we seek. Winning for our clients is its own reward.

The four Michaels & Smolak lawyers are so proud of our team’s incredible successes over the years.  Hard work and authentic concern for our clients have paid off.  Our support staff is the best!  And of course we could never have reached this high place without amazing referring attorneys and clients who put all their trust and confidence in us. To all of you, we give you our eternal thanks.

As we approach the end of the year, it is time for the Michaels & Smolak personal injury law firm of Central New York to give out its “Worst Personal Injury Lawyer Advertisement of the Year Award”. This year we have a hands down winner. No need to even talk about a runner up. Not even close. Hold your applause until after you view the winning ad by “The Texas Law Hawk”:

Need I say more?

Woman's and Man's hands with money isolated over white
I am sure you can guess why many of our severely injured personal injury victims tend to fall behind in their bills. Hint: They can’t work! And while their debts piles up, their personal injury claim may not settle or get to trial for many months to come. Solution? They can just get a loan from us, their lawyers, right? Wrong! As lawyers we are prohibited from lending our own clients money — it’s considered a conflict of interest. Our hands are tied! So what do we do?

We do everything in our power to keep them afloat, except lend them our money. And we have many tools to get the job done: We can help them apply for New York State disability insurance and social security disability. We can help them get loans from family or friends by making a legal promise to those lenders to pay them off first – even before we pay our client – from any settlement or judgment we obtain. If our clients need more economic help still, we can refer them to a commercial claim lender who will provide cash in exchange for a “lien” against the personal injury case. The “lien” entitles the lender to be paid first from the personal injury settlement or judgment, plus interest.

And if all else fails, there’s bankruptcy. But we do everything we can to keep our clients from filing for bankruptcy. That’s a last resort. Why? After all, bankruptcy wipes clean most or all the client’s debts, giving our client a “fresh start”. What’s wrong with that?

slience.jpgNew York State has a new rule — §202.5[e] of the Uniform Civil Rules of the Supreme and County Courts — requiring attorneys to omit or redact “confidential personal information” from court-filed papers. The “confidential personal information” includes social security numbers (except the last four digits), the dates of birth (except for the year), the full name of a minor (except for the minor’s initials), and financial account numbers (except the last four digits). Compliance with the new rule is voluntary until Feb. 28, 2015 at which point it becomes mandatory.

Why this new rule? Identity theft, a growing problem. Identity thieves might conceivable go to the Courthouse or County Clerk’s office to peruse publicly available litigation papers in search of enough personal identifying information to get a hold of bank accounts, etc. Further, court-filed papers are soon going online, which will make identity theft even easier.

This new rule makes perfect sense. New York personal injury lawyers like me often file in courthouses and county clerk offices “motions” attaching “pleadings” and deposition transcripts, which traditionally contained private identifying information (client’s date of birth, ss number, etc). At Michaels & Smolak we have been proactive in protecting our clients’ personal information. For several years now we have refused to disclose our clients’ social security numbers in any “pleadings” or other publicly filed documents. When we are required to disclose such information to our opponents, we do so “off the record” so that the information won’t inadvertently show up in any public filings.

iStock_000008918307Small.jpgLitigation lawyers are, in a sense, at war. Each lawyer is fighting for his client to prevail. A spirited fight requires, sometimes, spirited verbal exchanges.

But there are limits. Fellow lawyers, here’s a little rule of thumb: Don’t call your opponent an “asshole”.

That’s exactly what one lawyer called another in Alexander Interactive v. Adorama Inc., a case involving a simple business dispute, and not, as one would expect given the level of vitriol, a roiling matrimonial case. The insult-hurling lawyer — whose surname is coincidentally “Savage” — dropped the “A-bomb” in an email to her opponent. Then the “Savaged” opponent – who apparently denied the charge — one-upped her by flipping the email over to the judge, who then sanctioned Ms. Savage with an admonishment, despite Ms. Savage’s pleas that her opponent had “provoked” her into her transgression.

boxing lawyer.jpgMany moons ago, before we humans invented a civil justice system, we resolved our disputes by brute force. Might made right. In the words of Thomas Hobbes, life was “nasty, brutish and short.”

Then trials and courtrooms evolved. We put down our fists and swords and let judges and juries hear our stories and resolve our disputes.

We’ve come a long way, baby.

old and young lawyer.jpgAdvice to a young personal injury lawyer:

Hey there young fella. Look at me! Grey hair is creeping up the side of my scalp. I am within shouting distance of 60-years old. I am now a veteran New York personal injury litigator. My running stride is slower, and aches and pains sometimes plague me, but hey, I’m wiser, too. So listen up young whippersnapper! Here’s a few lessons I’ve learned about life in this high-stress, time-consuming job you’ve chosen.

(1) Keep learning. No matter how good you are, someone else is always better. So be humble. You need to keep learning this trade until the day you die. Never think you know too much.

stupid lawyer.jpgBeing stupid and dishonest at the same time is a toxic mix. The math goes like this: stupid + dishonest = disaster. And here’s an example:

An Iowa lawyer was stupid enough to fall for one of those obvious email scams cooked up by some Nigerian shysters. You know, one of those emails that starts out with “Dear Attorney: We have urgent need to hire your firm for important matter involving large estate . . ..”

The Nigerian email schemers had a U.S.-based confederate, an existing client of the lawyer, help them convince the lawyer that the client was about to inherit $18.8 million from a long-lost Nigerian cousin. They then convinced the lawyer to represent the client to procure the inheritance in exchange for a 10% fee, which would amount to about $1.8 million.

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