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Declarations provide the factual basis for claims made in memoranda of points and authorities, briefs, and writs. (I.e., every statement of fact in a brief must be properly supported with a citation to a declaration.) Here’s how to write a really good declaration: First, write the declaration in the declarant’s own voice, using her own language, from her own perspective. Second, tell a good story. The declaration should be a narrative, and it should be comprehensive with regard to the incidents it relates. Finally, follow the rules of evidence. Everything in a declaration must be admissible as if it were testimony in court. There must be foundation (how the witness knows what she knows) and there must not be inadmissible hearsay. Show personal knowledge for every claim in the declaration. For example, do not say, “I applied for General Relief last week but I can’t get it for six more weeks.” Instead, […]

Chris Wimmer graduated from Columbia Law School in 2005 and opened his own practice, Emergent Legal, in 2013. I spoke to him in March 2014. “A good lawyer has to have a genuine desire to relate to his clients in order to advance their interests.  He has to be genuinely interested in understanding who they are and what motivates them.” Tell me about the path that led you to start your own legal practice. I went to law school to be a human rights lawyer.  But I had a daughter not long after I graduated from law school, and I had to think about how to support a family. So after I finished my clerkship with Judge Jack B. Weinstein in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, I went to work in commercial litigation and white collar disputes, first at Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP and […]

If you want to hang your own shingle, or change the structure of your existing practice, one of your first decisions will be whether to form an entity for your business, and, if so, which one. Note that the law governing entity formation is mostly a matter of state law, so check your local rules. First some general considerations: Every person or entity doing business in the City and County of San Francisco must obtain a valid Business Registration Certificate from the Office of the Treasurer & Tax Collector. Check whether your locality has a similar requirement. Every person or entity conducting business under a name  other than that person’s or entity’s full legal name must also file a Fictitious Business Name Statement with the County Clerk. In some places, you may not call yourself a firm if you are a solo practitioner, no matter what entity you practice under. (See California Rules of Professional […]

A friend of mine hired a lawyer to help him create a trust in which to put some of his earnings. The lawyer charged $800/hr. Another friend needed a lawyer to appear with him (for a few hours) at his administrative hearing to help him contest his termination. The fee was $20,000. The fee for a lawyer to advise a friend on a single provision in his mother’s trust was $1,500. An attorney in my office once described the sense of guilt she sometimes feels when she looks at the total amount due on the invoice she is about to send out. “Don’t feel guilty!” a colleague told her. “Everyone else charges that much. You deserve it too!” If clients are willing to pay it, why should lawyers charge less? Legal fees of $1,500 or $20,000 – or even $300 – are so out of touch with the cost of […]

Today we had oral argument on a motion to dismiss. A beautiful sunny day in a spacious, peaceful courthouse. We arrived early, the partner and I, and waited in one of the corner courtrooms for the judge. After the court reporter and clerk were settled, and the lawyers had presented their business cards so their names could be entered into the minutes, the judge appeared from chambers, took her seat at the bench, and said a curt “Good afternoon” to each of the two lawyers standing at the podiums before her. The judge directed her first question at us. I could see my partner’s back tense as she prepared to answer, her right heel rocking back and forth like a restless five-year-old’s. She started to drift. She was spending too much time arguing about what the statute meant. We had agreed this morning that she would instead argue that the facts fit […]

Two weeks ago I visited my client at Juvenile Hall. After locking my belongings in a locker in the deserted visitors’ waiting area, I was shepherded through four sets of locked doors by a female voice on the intercom. Inside, the voice told me to freeze until the transfer of one of the youths at the far end of the corridor was completed. I caught my first glimpse of Julian in Unit 2, where he was sitting among a group of teens in navy blue uniforms in a small room off of a large, empty central space. I walked toward the room and a man sitting outside it gestured toward one of the tables in the room. Two boys stood, hesitantly. “Julian,” the man said to them a second time, and through the glass wall of the room I saw one of the boys point to himself and mouth, “Me?,” in […]

One of the reasons I went to law school was to empower myself.  In a way I did, but I also learned how incredibly unempowered (powerless?) non-lawyers are in the legal system.  I always hated the idea that in my moments of need I would have to rely on some stuck-up lawyer wanting to charge me through the teeth.  I always thought that the court system was put in place for the average person.  It’s not though.  It is a forum for lawyers by lawyers. (Source: I Just Want to Practice Law . . .) I worked a lot this week on my juvenile appeal. First step was to pore through the hundreds of pages in the court transcript and the reporter’s transcript. The court transcript contains anything in writing that exists on the case: police reports, school reports, probation officer reports, formal charges, written motions, any other written correspondence. The […]

Doing low bono foreclosures or even court appointed work (which in many jurisdictions, is another version of low bono) lets lawyers gain valuable experience and earn a little money while doing good, ultimately, a 100 percent low bono business model is not sustainable in the long run . . . Carolyn Elefant, “Solo Incubator Launches at UKMC”

When I decided to go to law school I was five years into a doctoral program in education policy. I had completed all my course requirements and passed my qualifying paper, but I was hitting a wall trying to come up with a dissertation proposal that would simultaneously interest me and satisfy my three advisors. As they dragged their feet with reading the qualifying paper and proposal drafts, I was running out of both money and patience.  To distract myself from frustration, isolation, and flagging sense of purpose I focused instead on wedding planning and on an injury I thought at the time was carpal tunnel syndrome but that now I think was just a manifestation of stress. On the day after my wedding in Salem, Massachusetts, the first of these distractions was gone. With no more wedding to plan, I sat with my mother and new husband in my […]