Last weekend had the convergence of three major CLE conferences in three different parts of the country. The American Bankruptcy Institute held its Annual Spring Meeting in Washington, D.C., the Commercial Law League held its Midwest Regional Meeting in Chicago and the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys held a confab on the West coast. I am a member of both CLLA and ABI and had the distinct pleasure of speaking at both conferences. In between my panels, I tried to absorb as much of the good CLE offerings as I could, but there was so much more I could have done.
I started my CLE marathon in Chicago on Thursday April 29. I heard excellent presentations on electronic evidence (scary stuff) and internet law sponsored by the Complex Litigation Committee. I also attended a judge’s panel on ethical issues in employment and retention, which was co-sponsored by the Chicago Bar Association featuring Bruce Black (Bankr. N.D.Ill), Carol Doyle (Bankr. N.D.Ill) and Jack Schmetterer (Bankr. N.D.Ill.). The panel featured some good information from the judges and offered 2.5 hour of ethics credit. However, I was left hungering for some more cutting edge issues.
I spent most of Friday preparing for my own panel. I was moderator of a panel featuring Judge Marvin Isgur (Bankr. S.D. Tex.), Judge Michael Lynn (Bankr. N.D. Tex.), Barbara Barron from my own firm and June Mann from Mann & Stevens. We had a two hour discussion on issues in discharge violations and home mortgage issues. The judges did most of the heavy lifting, making the moderator’s job extremely easy. The audience of creditors’ lawyers (with two trustees thrown in for good measure) asked a lot of good questions. The take away from this panel is that discharge violation cases are flying largely below the radar. While some plaintiffs’ lawyers are handling up to 400 new cases a month, the judges see about 1-2 cases per month, few of which are ultimately tried. On the other hand, problems with home mortgages in chapter 13, at least in the Southern District of Texas, are getting a lot of attention from the courts. Judge Isgur mentioned that he had multiple pending class actions before him. Although none of these classes have been certified yet, they have survived motions to dismiss.
Saturday morning I woke up early to fly to Washington. I arrived in time to hear a panel on the comparative benefits of chapter 11 and chapter 13 for insolvent professionals. The panel featured Judge Steven Rhoades of Detroit, Rebecca Connelly, standing chapter 13 trustee in Roanoke, Virginia, Peter Fessenden, standing chapter 13 trustee in Brunswick, Maine and Mark Williams with Norman, Wood, Kendrick & Turner. The presentation was thought-provoking and was benefitted by having Judge Eugene Wedoff and Prof. Nancy Rapoport in the audience.
I was on a panel on using social media to maintain a virtual presence, along with Prof. Nancy Rapoport as moderator, Andy Winchell, author of A Clean Slate and Karim Guirguis of ABI. Karim did a great job of pulling up relevant sites from the web in real time, including the ABI’s blog roll (which conveniently lists A Clean Slate and A Texas Bankruptcy Lawyer’s Blog near the top of its list), Nancy Rapoport’s Linked-In page and tweets about the Annual Spring Meeting. While I got to answer a few questions about blogging (including the ethics of writing about your own clients), I got several good ideas from the other speakers.
In particular, I want to increase my Linked-In presence. I had always thought of Linked-In as being a bit staid, a glorified on-line resume. However, either Andy or Karim made the point that in big firms the person with the biggest rolodex was the biggest rainmaker. Linked-In, with its interconnected networks, is like a giant on-line rolodex. I went back to my hotel room and accepted all of my pending invitations to join other people’s networks that I had been neglecting.
Andy also convinced me to try tweeting. I had never really seen the utility of sending random 140 character messages. However, Andy pointed it that Twitter’s real benefit is as a search engine and as a real-time source of breaking news. You can use Twitter to set up a feed on topics you are interested in or search Twitter for breaking news. When Michael Jackson died, it was all over Twitter hours before it was reported by the MSM.
My answer to the ethics question was that I limit what I write about cases or issues involving my clients. If I represent a client who is successful in a case involving an interesting issue, I may write about it (with an appropriate disclaimer about my interest). However, I try not to write about anything ongoing with my clients or anything that might focus unwanted attention on them. I have unwittingly broken this rule with regard to someone who I didn’t realize was a firm client, but it is something that I try to be sensitive to.
It was a rare delight to be able to participate in a panel where I was able to take away more than I contributed. We had a small audience, heavy on professors, but they were very active in the discussion and it was a lot of fun.
Sunday morning, I had a chance to listen to seven judges talk about effective advocacy points before I had to leave. They had several excellent points. One of the best was to tell a story. One of the judges (don’t remember which one), gave the example of a pleading which read like a trust indenture, setting out all the loan documents in great detail before ever telling what the pleading was about. They also made a great point about knowing your judge using a clip from one of the greatest lawyer movies ever, My Cousin Vinnie. Between the seven judges, some required hearings on all motions, while some allowed negative notice. Some of the judges allowed declarations to be used for direct testimony, but were unfamiliar with the concept of a proffer (the lawyer saying what the witness would testify to and the witness adopting that statement). The judges also appreciated any attempts to make their job easier, such as preparing a notebook with the two or three most important exhibits in a case with 24 binders of exhibits or using electronic presentation of evidence (something I have only recently attempted).
As I headed back to Austin, I returned with a wealth of materials but the feeling that I only sampled the offerings that were out there. It is a shame to have to choose between two good conferences or to mix and match like I did.