If you ever see blue lights flashing in your mirror…

November 15, 2013

When I was in college, a fraternity brother was pulled over for a suspected DUI.  It was late at night, he was very animated in his conversation with the officer, and his passengers had clearly had a few too many.  The only problem with the stop was that the driver was a teetotaler – not only had he not been drinking that night, he had never had a drink in his life.  He was eventually able to convince the officer of this, but it took some doing.

With that recollection in mind, I’m passing along an informative article with suggestions on what to do if you are pulled over for a suspected DUI in Virginia.  A few caveats:

1) You should not drink and drive.  Period.

2) The article applies to Virginia law.  If you are in another state, the laws and procedures may be different – your mileage may vary.

3) In passing along this article, I am not giving legal advice.  If you want legal advice, ask your lawyer.



Understanding the Legalities of a Tragedy

February 9, 2012

With the trial of Commonwealth v. George Huguely V finally under way, Charlottesville is abuzz with news reports and water cooler gossip about what is doubtless the city’s most-discussed homicide since its ex-mayor was tried (and convicted and hung) for the murder of his wife in 1904. Factual details, rumors, and opinion abound.  Some of it is informed.  Much of it is not.

On occasion, particularly when I happen to be the only lawyer in the room, I have been asked for my thoughts on what will happen with the trial.  I always preface my response with the caveat that I spent most of my time in practice handling civil litigation and bankruptcy matters.  With the exception of some court-appointed work and the occasional retained traffic matter, I handled lawsuits, not criminal cases.

With that said, I have usually done my best to explain the basic framework of how the criminal justice system works, and what the possible outcomes of the trial might be.  As I have always felt a bit out of my depth when doing so, I was very pleased to see this article, which does a good job at laying out the basic landscape of what the trial is about.  If you want a more detailed analysis, written by an experienced and well-regarded local criminal defense attorney, check out Lloyd Snook’s blog.

I commend both of these articles to anyone who has questions about the issues that will be presented to 12 Charlottesville jurors in the next couple of weeks.

There are a couple of additional points that I’d like to add.

First, I know the four attorneys involved in the Huguely case, as well as the judge.  They are all well-respected in the legal community.  They are all intelligent, talented, ethical, and committed to a fair trial.  However, regardless of the trial’s outcome, there will doubtless be those who will second-guess the lawyers’ trial strategy.  Please ignore the armchair lawyering, unless it comes from someone who makes his or her living in a courtroom.  Both the Commonwealth and George Huguely are being ably represented.

Second, barring a mistrial, this case will have one of two possible outcomes on each charge – guilty or not guilty.  Contrary to popular belief, the concept of being “proven innocent” does not exist in our legal system.  The prosecution must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a defendant is guilty of a given charge.  If the prosecution meets this burden, the jury should return a “guilty” verdict.  If it does not, the jury should return a “not guilty” verdict.  The concept of “innocence” does not enter into the picture – despite what you might see in in movies, television, and even on the occasional news story.

Regardless of the trial’s outcome, this case will remain a tragedy that no verdict will repair.  One life has been lost, another likely ruined, two families have suffered unimaginable loss and sadness, and many others have been affected as well.  None of that will change.  We can only hope for a fair trial and a just result – whatever that may be.  If you read the articles that I’ve cited, and others like them, you will be in a better position to make an informed judgment about whether that hope has been fulfilled.

A Different Image

August 19, 2009

OK, this won’t be a long or particularly thoughtful post, but I’ve just gotten home after a 2-day business trip, and I have exactly 11 minutes to get something posted in order to remain on Blawger Island.

One of the benefits to my job (planning/overseeing continuing education seminars for lawyers) is that I get to work with some extremely talented people. All are good lawyers – the adage that “those who can’t, teach” doesn’t apply in my business. However, not all of them are much fun to be around – some wear their talent on their sleeve, with egos as big as their reputations. Often, though, they are the most warm and interesting people you could imagine. Such was the case with the speaker I’ve been working with over the past couple of days.

Oh, that the public’s image of lawyers was based on people like this….

Pitbull in a Frame

August 11, 2009

I practiced law for eight years, and I was pretty good at it, if I do say so myself. I’ve recounted the first couple of years in a trio of posts unimaginatively entitled Law Practice Part I, and II, and III. The bulk of my time in practice, however, was spent in the as-yet-unwritten Part IV. This post is not Part IV, but a post by The Nutmeg Lawyer reminded me of those years – and one of the reasons why I left practice.

I was becoming a jackass. Read The Nutmeg Lawyer’s post for the gory details. I don’t think that I quite reached the point of alienating those in my professional life – although I know that I did suffer some by way of guilt by association due to working with one of the partners in my firm. I did, however, have a difficult time in turning off the hyper-aggressive litigator persona when I got home. And that, my friends, is not a recipe for either marital or paternal success.

When did it finally dawn on me? The day that the aforesaid partner left my office in a red-faced rage after excoriating me for not being aggressive enough with opposing counsel, and rather than giving him my 2 weeks notice, I found myself considering the idea of putting a framed picture of a pitbull on my desk as a motivational tool. Yikes.

True to my lawyerly instincts, I’ll include a caveat. It doesn’t have to happen – one can certainly be effective as a lawyer, and as a litigator, without being a jerk. I like lawyers. I work with lawyers. I’m married to a lawyer. But, it can happen.

Choose your mentor wisely.

Blawger Survivor

August 10, 2009

Anyone who follows my blog (all 3 of you) knows that I’ve been in a bit of a dry spell lately. In fact, I haven’t written anything substantial since May.

Enter Blawger Survivor. This is a blogging contest spearheaded by Sean Carter, who is a self-styled “Humorist at Law” and all-around nice guy. I’ll be trying to outlast Sean and 16 other “blawgers” (lawyers who blog) in posting a blog entry per day for the next 3 weeks. For those of you who post every day (including Jennifer, who was 365 for 365 last year), this may not seem like a big deal. But, given my paltry output of late, it would be a vast improvement.

We’ll see how it goes.

One down.

Law Practice Part III – A Foot in the Door

September 2, 2007

All I needed was a foot in the door. 

I sent a cover letter and resume to every law firm in town that maintained a litigation practice, and came up empty.  Even before it started winning its spate of #1 City/Best Place to Live awards*, Charlottesville was a very popular place to be.  That fact, together with the presence of U.Va’s law school, has long made Charlottesville a buyers’ market for law firms looking to hire associates.  For a certain would-be young associate who had not gone to U.Va, and whose law school GPA reflected the fact that he had spent more time courting his future wife than he had studying in the library, prospects were starting to look a bit bleak.

So, for the first of what would turn out to be many times during the course of my legal career, I called on a family friend from church, who also happened to be one of the most highly respected attorneys in the state.  I was not asking him for a job; I knew from prior discussions that his firm was not hiring.  What I sought was a sympathetic and knowledgable ear, and that is what I received.  He took me to lunch on the downtown mall, and after I had finished laying out my plight, he asked, “Have you tried Mr. ____’s office?”

I told him that I had not, but that I remembered the firm’s profile in the attorney directory that I had virtually memorized.  Tax.  Estate Planning.  Real Estate.  Bankruptcy.  Sorry, not interested – I wanted to be a trial lawyer.

“It’s probably not going to be the place where you want to spend your career, but his firm is sort of an institution in town, and a lot of folks start out there.  It’d give you a foot in the door, at least.” 

A foot in the door.  What was that old saying about beggars and choosers?  I got a cover letter and resume in the mail that afternoon.

I arrived for my interview with Mr. ____ on a Saturday afternoon a week or so later, not knowing what to expect.  If I had known, I’m not sure I would have gone.  The firm’s office, as with many in Charlottesville’s Court Square area, was in a 19th-century building that had originally been a house.  Unlike most of the neighboring offices, this building had not had much in the way of upkeep since it was first built.  There were spots where mortar was falling out from between crumbling bricks, and the white trim on the windows was peeling.  This turn-of-the-century building didn’t look historic – it just looked old.

I went inside, and there was Mr. ____**, sitting at one of the secretaries’ desks.  His white hair and lined face made me wonder if he had been around for as long as the building itself.  With some effort, he stood up to greet me.  Despite his age and apparent weariness, I noted a twinkle in his eye as we shook hands, and I followed him down the hallway to his office. 

Every horizontal surface – desk, filing cabinets, credenza, tables, floor, and several chairs – was covered in stacks of paper, some measuring a foot high.  Some papers were client files in manila folders, but others appeared to be loose, random documents.  It appeared to be chaos, but I would soon learn that Mr. ____ knew where everything was.***    

Our meeting was more a conversation than an interview.  He never actually offered me a job, but it was clear from the outset that I had one if I wanted it.  A few days later, I called to confirm that I would like to join his office, and gave him a suggested start date.  “That would be satisfactory,” he replied, and with that I was once again employed.

I was one of nine associates in the firm – Mr. ____ had no partners.  Two others were, like me, only a year or so out of law school.  A few more had a bit more experience, and the others seemed to have settled into life at Mr. ____’s office as a career.  I was the only putative litigator in the bunch.  The rest were focused on the firm’s specialty areas of bankruptcy, tax, estate planning, and real estate.  Given the dearth of litigation work in the office, and my year of experience working for a bankruptcy trustee in North Carolina, I quickly gravitated toward bankruptcy work.  While not the trial practice to which I aspired, bankruptcy work did at least have a courtroom aspect.  And, as I reminded myself on a frequent if not daily basis, it was a foot in the door.

Truthfully, my time with Mr. ____ was a good experience, despite his idiosyncrasies, the decrepit building, and the low pay.  Mr. _____’s idiosyncrasies were mitigated by his remarkable intelligence and his giving nature.  Even at his advanced age, he reveled in matching wits with his opponent, be it the government in a tax matter, or opposing counsel in a bankruptcy case.  He was a mild-mannered man, but he did not like to lose. 

Mr. ____’s giving nature was apparent in the legion of Charlottesville attorneys who had passed through his offices.  His informal attorney alumni association, doubtless numbering a hundred or more after 50+ years of practice, boasted judges, politicians, and many of the most high-powered lawyers in town.  He prided himself in having fostered this talent.  I, like most of the rest, was and remain grateful for the opportunity that he provided. 

The decrepit building did take some getting used to.  I remember suggesting during a firm meeting one morning that we might organize a painting day to put a fresh coat on the scuffed and dirty interior walls.  Note that I wasn’t suggesting that he hire a painter to do the job, I was suggesting that we do it ourselves.  I couldn’t tell whether he was amused or annoyed at the prospect, but the idea died on the vine.  After a while I came to realize that most of Mr. ______’s client base fell into one of two categories.  Many of them were wealthy clients who had been with him for so long that they had become inured to the shabby surroundings, while many of the rest were bankruptcy clients on the brink of financial collapse, in which case the state of their lawyer’s office was not high on their worry list. 

The low pay was the most difficult aspect of my time with Mr. ____.   I believe that he found billing clients to be the most distasteful aspect of practice.  As a result, he did not do so on a regular basis, and when he did, the rates and hours reflected on the bills were considerably lower than they should have been.  That’s all well and good, but in order for the accounts payable part of any business to function, things need to be working on the accounts receivable end.  If you don’t bill clients, then you don’t have money to pay your staff.  So, my fellow associates and I would find ourselves comparing notes on the 1st and 15th of every month – “did you get paid today?”  Often the answer was “no”, or “only a partial”.  More than once on the 2nd, 3rd, 16th or 17th day of the month, I found myself in the rather surreal position of standing in the threshhold of Mr. ____’s office door, clearing my throat, and asking when I could expect my check.  I would typically couch the request in terms of my rent or a student loan payment being due, and it would inevitably prompt an embarrassed apology and a check being cut before the day was out.          

So why did I stay?  Again, it was a foot in the door.  I was living out my goal of practicing law in Charlottesville, albeit not exactly in the way that I had envisioned.  And, I was getting significant experience.  I think Mr. _____ got a kick out of my youthful enthusiasm, and he gave me a tremendous amount of latitude and responsibility.  He made it clear from our first conversation that he was not interested in establishing a litigation practice, but he also made sure that any bankruptcy or other matter that had a hint or prospect of litigation was funneled to me.   

So, I kept slogging along.  All the while, though, I was looking for my way out, and into a litigation (and regularly paying) firm.  I began to see a light at the end of the tunnel when a litigator in another firm sponsored me for membership in the local Inn of Court, a professional organization devoted to the trial bar.  As I met and networked with local litigators I was unapologetic about my association with Mr. ____’s firm, as I had come to appreciate his talents as a lawyer, and I realized as well how many local attorneys had paid their dues with a stint in his office.  Still, I made no bones about my desire to be a trial lawyer.  And, almost a year to the day after starting with Mr. ____, I was to get that chance.                     

Be careful what you wish for.

Previous: Part II

Stay tuned for Part IV.

*One of the worst things that can happen to a city, but that’s a topic for a future post.

**To this day, I have never heard anyone other than his wife refer to Mr. _____ by his first name.

***One of the many stories about Mr. ____ recounts the time when a well-meaning young associate took advantage of one of his rare absences to clean and organize his office.  When Mr. ____ got back into town and saw that his teetering piles of paper had been culled through, systematized, and filed away, he was livid.  He couldn’t find anything. 

Law Practice Part II – Making the Move

August 27, 2007

As I approached the 1-year anniversary of my initial foray into the practice of law, it was becoming increasingly clear to me that I needed a change of venue.  It wasn’t really a reflection on my boss.  While I had hoped to receive more from him in the way of guidance and inspiration, we got along well and I respected his abilities.  I was also quite grateful to him for the opportunity with which he had provided me.

It really boiled down to the fact that I wanted to be in Charlottesville.  They call it “The Hook” for a reason.

My bride didn’t need much convincing.  She was wrapping up her second year of a judicial clerkship and was ambivalent about practicing law, so we weren’t tied to North Carolina.  I did want to continue practicing, however, so I had two hurdles to clear in order to make the Charlottesville move a reality – pass the Virginia bar exam, and find a job.

There are many ways to spend three months of one’s life that are more enjoyable than studying for the bar exam, but if you want to be a lawyer, there’s just no way around it.  The experience is certainly not something that you want to undergo more than once if you can help it.  However, I had several years left to practice in North Carolina before I would be eligible for admission to the Virginia bar by reciprocity, so I needed to take the test.

As is turned out, I actually found Virginia’s exam to be less of an ordeal than North Carolina’s.   I don’t think the Virginia exam was any easier – actually, it was probably more difficult, especially for someone like me coming in from out of state.  Virginia jurisprudence tends to keep one foot firmly planted in the 18th century, and if you didn’t go to law school in the Old Dominion, it’s quite a chore to learn the arcane terminology and procedure.  Even so, the experience of having passed one state’s exam and practiced law for a year gave me a level of confidence that I didn’t have when I was taking the North Carolina exam.  That, and the fact that I was studying on my own and without the distractions and temptations offered by my law school classmates, pulled me through and a few months later I had another fancy piece of parchment to put on my wall.

Making the move to Charlottesville was a real leap of faith, because I gave my notice in North Carolina before I had lined up a job in Virginia.  Fifteen years, four kids and a mortgage later, this seems like a terribly irresponsible if not downright foolish thing to have done.  However, it worked out.  Perhaps there’s a lesson there.

Previous: Part I

Next: Part III