So, stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Two blonde-haired sisters walk into a bar and ask people if they have legal questions in need of answering. Actually, it’s not a joke, although the resulting YouTube channel is very funny. Amy Epstein Feldman (lawyer) and her sister, Robin Epstein (comedy writer) decided to expand their influence from their 2009 book, So Sue Me, Jackass!: Avoiding Legal Pitfalls That Can Come Back to Bite You at Work, at Home, and at Play, by taking their act on the road and going into the Dorian Gray bar in New York City armed with a video camera, Amy’s legal knowledge, and Robin’s comedic charm. The resulting videos are fun to watch, and discuss life-altering legal concepts ranging from dog v mailman cases, to who’s liable if a guy dies from a heart attack during a threesome (spoiler alert: it’s not the other two women.)

“The book is a Q&A about legal issues that people deal with on a daily basis, with chapters on subjects like Employment, Health, Home, Pets, Love Life, Parents, Kids & Death,” Robin Epstein tells me in an email. The book was a great start, but it seems that the sisters wanted more, and seemed to have a similar philosophy to what we refer to around this blog as the three beer solution. (Although, it turns out that Amy’s not a big fan of beer.) Robin explains that she and her sister “are trying to find a new way to reach people, so we now regularly go to a bar in NYC and ask folks if they have legal questions in need of answering.” The results are funny and informative short videos that take a legal question, lay out the facts, sometimes getting opinions from the local members of the bar (that’s actually the drinking establishment they are taping in, not the Bar Association), and then they explain what results a jury actually decided.

There are three current categories:

  • Your Pets for all those legal pitfalls that Fido and Ms. Kittiez can get you into…
  • Your Job including those things you should *absolutely not* do…
  • Bar Examthe surprising world of “just who can you really sue these days?”
If you have a question you’d like them to answer, send them an email at SoSueMeJackass@gmail.com.

Take a quick 41-second introduction from the So Sue Me, Jackass! Sisters and then go have some fun watching as the authors decide that since nobody reads anymore, they needed to go where the people are…  at the bar.

Mary Abraham, KM blogger and Queen of Alternative Presentation Formats (APF) approached me about putting together something unique for the 2012 ILTA Conference. With the assistance of Geek #1 and our traditional 3 Beer Solution approach I came up with a fun idea. The session would be a mock fee negotiation between a law firm and a client. We would ‘lift our skirts’ and show the audience what goes on when law firms and clients talk about fees to give attendees a richer understanding of the challenges and hopefully some ideas for how they can help support the process. Mary loved the idea but added a twist: Involve the audience.

To accomplish this we would set up the room with two separated groups of chairs. During negotiations, we would halt the conversation and then each side of the room would become either the ‘client team’ or the ‘law firm team.’ Audience members would give input on what they thought was important and how we might approach the next stage of the negotiation.

Now we just needed two willing victims to serve as law firm and client. As you might guess, I took on the role of the law firm. And having crossed paths with the impressive and delightful Lisa Girmscheid at Rockwell Automation, I convinced her to join me.

The prep calls with Lisa alone were worth the whole effort. Our conversations were both enlightening and enjoyable. She had a number of actual fee deals (minus the numbers) she used in past presentations to work from. So we sketched out the basic factors for each deal and even had one we designated to ‘go bad’ resulting in a lost deal. In total we had four deals, with the fourth one serving as a back-up, in case we made it through the first three. The session was set for 90 minutes, which is fairly long for a presentation.

We barely made it through the first deal.

First off – the audience was completely engaged. In some respects it was fun to watch how quickly some law firm AFA people were able to take on a client persona. People were tossing out all kinds of creative and interesting ideas for how we could make this work. For someone who does this for a living, I actually learned a number of valuable lessons from that interaction.

With people fully vested in their positions it was great to see how the whole group became focused on success. I know I continually hammer on the need for clients and law firms to have conversations about fees, but to witness it in such a dynamic environment was bliss. And the result was definitely success. From the law firm side, we obtained a deal we could live with, even though we knew it would challenge us to be significantly more efficient. From the client side, they seemed quite pleased with the savings and partnering arrangement we constructed.

At the end of the session Lisa and I let the group know they had just witnessed a ‘best case scenario,’ with two seasoned professionals and a dedicated group driving a win-win solution.

Afterwards, Lisa and I shared our impressions with each other. We were both struck by how much we had personally learned over and above what we witnessed with the audience’s learning. And we both very much enjoyed the entire experience.

Two Thoughts:
1) Love the APF approach. So, thanks Mary for getting us involved
2) We may have raised the bar too high. Now we’ll have to be extremely creative next year. But hey – with Mary’s help and the 3 Beer Solution, it will all be good.

Last week I posted on how recent DC Bar opinions would cause clients to have to pay for more lawyer time. I don’t think the DC Bar was attempting to directly protect the lawyers’ market from e-discovery vendors, but instead saw that protection as an unintended consequence. As a result of the post, I received a few requests to explain my position. Being a former mandatory bar guy, I explained that ethics opinion committees, when ask to clarify a rule for a given situation, will typically go with the most ethical answer they can find.

In the DC situation, the question involved the “adequate supervision” of people performing lawyerly tasks (lawyers or not) employed by a non-law firm – in this case those doing first document review with e-discovery vendors. The answer was the higher bar, stating that 1) a DC lawyer must make the final choice of personnel, and 2) a DC lawyer must supervise the personnel involved. As well, the DC Lawyer could not be employed by a non-law firm and has to have a direct attorney-client relationship with the client. The result is clients being forced to spend more on the service, in order to provide better protections for … the client.

So Greg, Ryan and I were in the pursuit of a three-beer solution when we came up with the idea for the: Ethics Opinion Question Challenge. The Challenge is to submit ethics questions to bar ethics opinion committees that force bars to release ever more restrictive ethics opinions. We think bars are at the back of the line when it comes to adapting to a changing market and this will force the issue with them, bringing them in to this wonderful mess the rest of us our dealing with. However, as a warning we should point out than an ‘unintended consequence’ of this challenge may be result in a smaller, protected market that belongs exclusively to lawyers.

Here’s an example to help participants in The Challenge: In DC, submit follow-on clarification questions related to the selection and supervision of non-law e-discovery vendor personnel. For selection – Does the final selection process need to include a full interview and verification of qualifications? It likely will, since the existing requirement for the lawyer to make the final selection implies the e-discovery vendor is not to be trusted. So the lawyer will need to conduct their own, independent review of the candidates. For supervision – Will the lawyer need to be on-site with the e-discovery personnel to supervise them, or can she supervise by occasionally checking in on them? Again, the best protection for the client will be on-site supervision.

Now here’s one trick to The Challenge. If the burden of extra effort in maintaining higher ethics falls mainly to the lawyer, the resulting opinion can backfire and be less protective for the client. In our example above, we end up with more billable hours for the client to pay. As a counter-example, ethics opinions on protecting electronic client communications came out saying no extra protection was needed. In this circumstance, requiring lawyers to employ encryption would only put a burden on … lawyers – and not lead to an increase in billable time.

So … there you have it, the Ethics Opinion Question Challenge. Feel free to post your questions here, or send them directly to your own ethics opinion committee. By the end of the year, we should have numerous opinions helping better protect the interests of clients.

Greg and I decided to try something new. These “new thing” efforts typically occur during a three-beer solution, brainstorming session. This time we may have actually doubled our efforts, since the outcome has been … tragic.
We decided to try an affordable approach to tablets. With all the tablet hype and market growth going on, we wondered how a low-budget solution would fair.
We opted to try two different pads on the android platform. We had basic criteria along the lines of recent OS (Android 2.2 or higher), decent processing speed, good storage, etc. I went with a 7 inch screen; Greg went with a 10 inch screen. We both chose “off brands” in order to keep the cost reasonable.
My 7 inch pad was $150 – delivered. Greg’s 10 inch pad was $190.
Mine totally sucks. I don’t know where to begin in my evaluation since I have yet to find anything I like about it. The biggest problem is likely the touch-screen. Attempts to activate apps, use apps, input info and browse websites result in the highest levels of frustration.
My daughter was all excited when she saw it – calculating this might mean a tablet for her. I promptly handed it to her, with a hearty “good luck.” Five minutes later it was back in my hands.
Bottom-line: price-point tablets are not there yet. Hopefully the new Kindle Fire will bring this dream closer to reality. However, that model seems to be an “up-sell” environment. So up-front, low-cost may be a bit of bait-and-switch.
I suppose the biggest lesson from this experience – is to stop at three beers.