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HARRISBURG, January 14, 2011—Chief Justice of Pennsylvania Ronald D. Castille has issued a call to the Commonwealth’s 70,000 attorneys to volunteer more of their time and money to help ensure Pennsylvanians with limited financial means receive needed civil legal representation.
Saying the Commonwealth is “dealing with a civil legal aid crisis,” the chief justice reminded Pennsylvania attorneys in a letter distributed through the cooperation of the Pennsylvania Bar Association (PBA) of their professional obligation to support services to citizens of limited financial means —otherwise known as pro bono service.
As more courts require e-filing, lawyers may need to adjust their writing style to account for differences in the way people read online.
That’s the conclusion of Houston appellate lawyer Martin Siegel in an article for Texas Lawyer.
Online readers “jump around, skimming and seizing on bits of text,” Siegel writes. “Eye-tracking studies show they seek content in an F-shaped pattern, looking down the left side for structural cues and then focusing on headings and first sentences of paragraphs. Heaven help the content provider with important text consigned to the bottom right of the screen.”
Siegel cites a book by Houston appellate lawyer Robert Dubose and a law review article by University of Dayton law professor Maria Crist. Dubose says lawyers writing with online readers in mind should put their most important points in headings and first sentences of paragraphs, use bullet points, and quickly get to the point. Similarly, Crist endorses short paragraphs and condensing chunks of information into smaller pieces.
To read the entire article, visit the ABA Journal: www.abajournal.com/news/article
Locked up in a California jail, Malcolm Alarmo King wanted healthier meals. In an argument apparently made to a friendly court, he won a ruling from Superior Court Judge Derek Johnson that he should be fed double-portion kosher meals.
New Law Changes Maryland District Court Procedures for Traffic Tickets: After January 1, Drivers Must Ask for Trial
(ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Dec. 1, 2010) When a new state law goes into effect on January 1, drivers who get a payable traffic ticket in Maryland will no longer be given an automatic trial date to appear in court. Instead, any driver wanting to go to trial to dispute a ticket will have to request a trial date from the District Court of Maryland.
From the November 2010 Attorney E-Newsletter of The Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Can a lawyer ethically get access to an opposing party’s Facebook page? We previously reported on a Philadelphia Bar Association opinion concluding that a lawyer may not, personally or through an agent, seek to “friend” an opposing party or witness without revealing.
But is there another way? A Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas has held that a party may be compelled through the discovery process to provide an opponent with access to his Facebook and MySpace accounts. In a decision in the case of McMillen v. Hummingbird Speedway, Inc., handed down September 9, 2010, President Judge John Henry Foradora of the Court of Common Pleas of Jefferson County held that access to one’s social networking sites is not protected by any privilege, and that the plaintiff in a personal injury action could be compelled to reveal the usernames and passwords of his Facebook and MySpace accounts to counsel for the defendants (but not to the defendants themselves). The court looked closely at the privacy and disclosure policies of the sites in question, and concluded that users are on notice that information posted on them may be revealed to persons who have access to such information by process of law.
A New York trial court decision reached the same result by a very similar analysis.
It becomes increasingly obvious that lawyers should be counseling their clients on the use of Internet social media. More than ever, there are few secrets on the Internet.
From the Court Administrator's Office
ATTENTION COURT APPOINTED ATTORNEYS: Pursuant to the recently revised court appointed attorney guidelines, court appointed counsel is asked to submit Fee Petitions on a timely basis. Unless otherwise ordered, petitions for each case shall be submitted monthly for all capital cases, and quarterly for all other cases until representation is concluded. If you need a copy of the current guidelines, please contact the Court Administrator’s Office, Danielle Frye, at 724.830.3393.
From the October 2010 Attorney E-Newsletter of The Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
The Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility of the American Bar Association has published Formal Opinion 10-457, which provides valuable guidance to lawyers and law firms who make use of websites in the public presentation of their practices. The opinion addresses content issues such as providing information about the firm or practice, publishing information about the law, and handling visitor inquiries. It also provides advice on warnings or cautionary statements intended to limit or clarify the practice’s obligations to visitors.
Some of the high points of the opinion’s coverage include:
- A website may offer biographical and professional information about the lawyers and practice, but such statements that are “communication about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services” are subject to the requirements of Rules 7.1, 8.4(c) (generally), and 4.1(a) (when representing clients).
- Information that identifies clients may be posted, but the clients should provide informed consent within the requirements of Rules 1.6 (current clients) and 1.9 (former clients).
- Lawyers and firms may address legal issues on the website. Such communications should be general information rather than specific advice. Qualifying statements may be necessary to make sure that such information is not construed as legal advice.
- Lawyers who respond to questions or inquiries from website visitors should be particularly aware of the provisions of Rule 1.18 regarding prospective clients. The opinion addresses this topic at length.
- Finally, warnings or cautionary statements on a lawyer’s website can be designed to and may effectively limit, condition, or disclaim a lawyer’s obligation to a website reader. The opinion makes a number of observations on assuring that such statements are effective.
The opinion’s coverage of these issues is much more detailed than this brief summary. Lawyers and law firms who publish websites would benefit from reviewing the opinion and checking their own sites along the lines it suggests.
From Paul Kuntz, Court Administrator
The Allegheny Court Administrator's Office asked me to pass on information to members of the Westmoreland Bar who practice criminal law in the City of Pittsburgh regarding their new on-line postponement system. The Announcement [below] provides a link and explains the program. The Manual can also be accessed from the link provided in the announcement.
Practice Tip of the Week
by Dan Joseph, Esquire
In both civil and criminal cases, hiring your own investigator is mandatory for proper pre-trial preparation. The investigator should take statements, signed and dated on all pages and an acknowledgment by the witness that this is in fact his or her statement. This allows the statement to be used not just for impeachment but for substantive evidence. Most important is that the investigator take statements even from those witnesses that have given statements to either the police or insurance investigator. It is amazing how the statements will differ depending on what questions are asked and how they are asked. Do not ever simply accept the statements of witnesses contained in police reports without taking your own statements from those witnesses. To avoid becoming a witness in your own trial, always use an investigator to take the statements. That way if their trial testimony differs from the statement, you can always call the investigator to testify. It is very effective when you place the investigator’s credentials before the jury and then have the investigator tell the judge or jury what the witness told them.
Dan Joseph is a partner with New Kensington law firm of George and Joseph. Dan has been in practice for 38 years.
Judicial Administration Rules Change
Per an Order of Court dated August 18, 2010, Westmoreland County Rule of Judicial Administration WJ510 is adopted and effective 30 days after publication in The Pennsylvania Bulletin.
Click here to view the order and full text of the rule change.