Articles Posted in Lawyers

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M&S’ senior law partner, Lee S. Michaels, is not only a top New York personal injury lawyer, but also an award winning adjunct professor at Syracuse College of Law.  He teaches young soon-to-be lawyers how to try a court case.  This is called “trial practice” in law school.  The Syracuse College of Law website recently featured an article about Lee’s amazing trial teaching techniques.

Lee’s trial teaching philosophy is simple:  The best way to learn to try a case is – well – to try a case.  So his students all have to try one to get their final grade. It’s just a simulated trial, sure, but a very realistic one nevertheless.  The students take on roles such as prosecutor, criminal defense lawyer, and witnesses in a fictitious criminal trial.

Lee tries to make the simulated trial as realistic as possible, “with a little help from his friends”.  He calls on former students – now judges – to act as trial judges.  Lee’s class’ most recent  “trials” starred Auburn NY’s City Judge David Thurston and US Northern District Magistrate Judge Thérèse Dancks, both former students of Lee’s. Also participating were Auburn City Judge Michael McKeon and Lee’s former student Kevin Kuehner, a Syracuse trial lawyer

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This morning I was at the radio studios of Finger Lakes Radio Group in Geneva, New York.  They wanted to interview me about my new book, “Understanding Your New York Personal Injury Claim“.  Geneva’s station – WVGA – ran the interview live.  It’s sister station in Auburn, NY  – WAUB – will run it at a later date.

It was fun to be on the radio again.  Ted Baker is an excellent interviewer.  He has interviewed me several other times about my volunteer work for the Boys & Girls Club of Geneva.  He made me feel right at ease and asked very on-point questions about my book.  For example, he asked me:

Why did you write the book?

money-doctor-300x200I just read a disturbing article in the New York Times about a large-scale personal injury insurance scam in New York City.  It works like this:  A gang of fraudsters lines up “scouts” to go into poor neighborhoods in search of people willing to “fake” accidents and injuries in exchange for money.  The “victims” are then coached on how to fake both the accidents and the injuries.  Suitably trained, they then “fall” in potholes, deliberately trip outside of restaurants or other businesses, or crash cars.  The fake accident victims then visit doctors whose pockets are also being lined with the fraud ring’s money.  The dishonest doctors then “treat” the “patients” for broken bones or internal injuries that do not exist, and of course keep copious records of all the “treatment” they provide.  The doctors even go so far as performing unnecessary medical procedures to bump up the settlement value of the injury.

The five men who orchestrated this particular scam have now been indicted.  The indictment alleges that the scam lasted for five years and cost insurance carriers about $30 million.

This is the kind of dishonesty that gives New York personal injury lawyers, and personal injury victims, a bad name.  And this is the kind of news article that jury members I empanel will have in mind when I am presenting a legitimate personal injury case to them for a seriously and legitimately injured victim.  Unfortunately, juries have to wonder whether my client, and perhaps even I, am trying to pull the wool over their eyes.  And a lot of it is the fault of scammers like these guys.

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We blogged a few weeks ago about Lee Michaels, the firm’s founding member, getting tapped for a big award from his alma matter, Syracuse University College of Law.  Well, the ceremony took place on the evening of October 20 in the beautiful Dineen Hall.  Above are a few of our favorite pictures.  The top left shows Lee being bestowed with the award. Lee was one of only five award recipients. The top photo on the right shows three of the other recipients standing with Lee.  Starting from left to right in the photo above, are:  Laura H. Harshbarger, a labor and employment lawyer at the law firm of Bond Schoeneck & King; Frank W. Ryan, US Chair of DLA Piper’s Intellectual Property and Technology practice; the Honorable Jonathan M. Feldman (a United States Magistrate judge),  and our Lee Michaels.   The other recipient was the Honorable Theodore A. McKee, a judge sitting on the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit (who was not present for the ceremony and thus does not appear in the photo).

The final photo shows Lee lined up with some friends for a photo op at the party that followed. From left to right are: Anas Saleh, Justin St. Louis, Annie Millar, and  Tom DeBernardis, all former students Lee taught; Marnin Michaels (lee’s nephew and also an SU Law alum), Mike Bersani (CNY Injury Law blogger and Lee’s partner).

A good time was had by all!  The food (drink!) and company were great.  It was an amazing way to celebrate some high achieving SU Law grads.  Congrats once again to our own Lee Michaels!

LeeMichaels1Lee Michaels is the senior attorney here at Michaels & Smolak.  He was personally responsible for hiring and grooming the rest of us.  To the other lawyers at our firm, he has been a mentor, teacher, friend, and role model.  It’s good to know that others appreciate Lee, too.

Syracuse University’s College of Law is going to bestow upon him a great honor this October 20.  You can read all about it on the Syracuse University College of Law website. Lee’s list of achievements  is too long to include here, but you can check it out on that website.  Suffice it to say Lee was a top law student at Syracuse, then because a top personal injury lawyer in the Syracuse area, and a top teacher of trial practice at the Syracuse College of Law, and has been a terrific community leader in many capacities.

As I said before, Lee has been a great mentor, teacher and friend to all of us here at Michaels & Smolak.  We are not alone.  One of Lee’s former students (Lee has been teaching Trial Practice as an adjunct at the law school for almost three decades) had this to say about Lee on the College of Law website:

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For the tenth straight year I am traveling around the great State of New York this fall to deliver my annual update on New York personal injury law to my fellow New York personal injury lawyers.  As always, my topic is governmental liability for personal injuries and wrongful death.  In other words, I am explaining to other New York injury lawyers how to hold the New York State and its counties, school districts, villages, towns, and other “public corporations”, liable for carelessly causing injuries and death. I have already knocked off Albany and Syracuse, and will be hitting Buffalo and Rochester in the weeks ahead.

I am deeply honored that the New York State Trial Lawyers Academy keeps inviting me back year after year to impart whatever wisdom I have on this topic to my brethren of the Bar.

Although my lecture tour is only once a year, I field calls from other lawyers on this topic all year long.  That’s because New York lawyers who have read my articles or have attended my lectures consider me a “expert” in this area.  They want to “pick my brain” to help them with cases they have against New York governmental entities.

Best-Lawyers-2018-300x203Once gain, all four of the lawyers here at Auburn New York’s premier personal injury and medical malpractice law firm have been selected for the latest edition (2018) of  the prestigious lawyer directory, “Best Lawyers in America”.  They have been selected for both the “personal injury” and “product liability” litigation categories.

According to the publishers of “Best Lawyers in America”, inclusion in Best Lawyers is “based entirely on peer-review and employs a sophisticated, conscientious, rational, and transparent survey process designed to elicit meaningful and substantive evaluations of the quality of legal services.” Best Lawyers asks voters – which consist only of other lawyers and judges who are named Best Lawyers – the question: “If you were unable to take a case yourself, how likely would you be to refer it to this nominee?”

The American Lawyer magazine – one of the nation’s preeminent law magazines – describes the Best Lawyers directory as “the most respected referral list of attorneys in practice.”

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Love affairs are tantalizing, but dangerous.  I know because I have been involved in such a love affair for well over a decade.  The object of my affection is not a person.  It is a thing.  And what a lovely thing it is: Email!

Email has revolutionized my New York personal injury practice.  Before email, I would get back to the office from a day in court and have dozens of phone calls to return, and to make.  Ever since I got email on my smart phone (about 10 years ago?) that hardly ever happens.  My smart phone is always on me and I can read and respond to my clients’ inquiries while standing in the Deli line or while sitting in court waiting to argue my case. What a time saver!

Email, I love you.

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I am writing this post mostly for my fellow attorneys, but non-attorneys might also find it interesting.

One of the differences between a seasoned litigator and a novice is the ability to take total control of the witness, both at deposition and at trial.  Inexperienced attorneys, including my former self, often let witnesses run from the question, or take them down irrelevant rabbit holes, or hide behind non-answers.  But as we mature as lawyers, we learn to reign the witness in, to “let them know who’s boss”.  We also learn not to take any crap from opposing counsel.

Here’s a recent example of “taking control” from a deposition I recently had.  I was deposing a corporate witness in a convenience store slip-and-fall case.  She was trying her hardest to weasel out of answering my questions.  Look at how she tries to evade my questions:

thOne thing I love about being a personal injury lawyer (besides all the great jokes that go with it) is that there is always room for improvement.  Yes, that’s right.  Even after twenty-five years of representing injured people against big companies and insurance carriers, I can still learn to do my job better.  Since I can always strive to get better, I never get bored with this job.

Case in point:  Recently a very accomplished fellow New York personal injury lawyer recommended a book to me, “Advanced Depositions”, by Phillip Miller and Paul Scoptur.  The book is designed to teach experienced personal injury lawyers like me additional skills for taking depositions, especially of experts and “tough” witnesses who might be evasive or tricky.

I admit I picked up the book somewhat skeptically, figuring I would already know everything in the book and that it would be a mere “refresher” course for me.  But I was wrong.  I learned some knew techniques for “boxing in” witnesses, for “exhausting” their knowledge on a topic, and for ensuring that the deposition transcript reads well so the jury can easily understand the “points” I scored.  I also learned better ways to make corporate witnesses concede that certain safety rules apply to the conduct of their employees, and even perhaps to get them to admit the rules were broken.

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