Law Practice


NABA-AZ Native American Bar Association of Arizona  banquet brochures

I am working hard this week to catch up with a few great events I recently attended. Each reminded me how vibrant and healthy Arizona’s legal community is—if we could only take the time to look.

Way back on September 27, I had the privilege to attend the annual Native American Bar Association of Arizona Seven Generations Dinner, held at the Radission Fort McDowell Resort. As always, organizers took the time to recognize leading lights in their midst:

  • Lifetime Achievement Award: Robert Clinton, Foundation Professor of Law, Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at ASU
  • Community Award: Hon. Diane Enos, President, Salt River–Pima Maricopa Indian Community
  • Member of the Year: Diandra D. Benally, Assistant General Counsel, Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation
NABA-AZ 2014 award winners (L to R): Diandra Benally, Robert Clinton, Diane Enos

NABA-AZ 2014 award winners (L to R): Diandra Benally, Robert Clinton, Diane Enos

When he spoke, Robert Clinton admired the fact that “the cadre of Native scholars has grown.” He compared the current day with four decades ago, and was clear in his larger goal: to have Indian country represented by Native attorneys. “Today,” he said, “there is a large cohort of talented, trained Native lawyers.” Nationwide, he said, there are more than 3,000 Native American attorneys.

Diane Enos, the 23rd President of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, told attendees that “Most people I know went into the practice of law because they believed in service.”

Her own service goes back decades. The onetime reporter covered the community for the Scottsdale Progress. She described the steps taken by her tribe to keep secret their decision-making about the then-planned Pima Freeway. The memory of that opacity frustrates her to this day.

“Our people have the right to know what’s going on in their own government, to have a say in what happens.”

Her interest in transparent process led Enos to law school. While there, she ran for a tribal council position as a second-year law student, ultimately being elected to four terms.

You have to act,” she said, “or else who will act?”

Finally, Enos reminded listeners what’s most vital to communities.

“The right of self-representation and dignity are most important. We are all just a part of this whole stream of giving.”

Sculpture from the NABA-AZ annual event

Sculpture from the NABA-AZ annual event (click to enlarge)

NAPABA_logoIn the upcoming Arizona Attorney Magazine, I talk about a national legal event coming to our state—the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association convention. More to come soon.

But in the meantime, convention organizers are putting together an event that helps military personnel. Your help may be needed—and you need not be a convention registrant to step up.

Attorney Jared Leung is President of AAABA, the Arizona affiliate. And he has issued a call for help. When are you needed? Sunday, Nov. 9, from 7 am to noon.

What’s happening? NAPABA is donating money and volunteer hours to assist Phoenix-based “Packages from Home.” Attendees will assemble 300 care boxes of comfort foods for military men and women stationed overseas.

As Jared says:

“The Project is absolutely wonderful, as we are packing food boxes for military men and women based overseas. These boxes must be packed in a certain way and inspected carefully because of security and shipping reasons. You will receive training on-site and assist others volunteers, who are attendees of the Convention from all over the country. You do not need to have registered for the NAPABA Convention to volunteer in this event, and we encourage you to bring a friend, family member, or significant other to come as well.”

See the flyer below for more information.

For more information or to RSVP to lend your assistance, contact Jared at jleung@fclaw.com.

More detail about the Convention is here.

AAABA Packages From Home event

Former Montana Supreme Court Justice James Nelson will speak in Tempe, Ariz., on Wednesday October 22 on the topic of Citizens United and the influence of money in judicial elections.

Former Montana Supreme Court Justice James Nelson will speak in Tempe, Ariz., on Wednesday October 22, on the topic of Citizens United and the influence of money in judicial elections.

The guest speaker at a Wednesday Tempe event will be a retired jurist who is expected to offer frank commentary about the corrosive role of campaign money in judicial elections.

Former Montana Supreme Court Justice James Nelson will offer remarks about the Citizens United ruling—and especially the impact of money on the election of judges—at a mixer hosted by the Arizona Advocacy Network.

As the AAN says, “Learn how to keep Arizona’s judicial system protected from political attacks. Increasingly special interests groups and big money are targeting the courts for their own gain.”

Former Justice Nelson is just as likely to offer a rousing dialogue on a variety of issues. His judicial contributions have sometimes been controversial, outspoken and noteworthy. (You can read more about Justice Nelson here and here.)

The October 22 event, co-hosted by the ASU Indian Legal Program, takes place at the Old Main on the ASU campus, 400 E. Taylor Mall, Tempe (parking is available in the Fulton Center parking garage across University Ave.).

The event is free, but RSVP is required. Register here.

logo-AJS American Judicature Society 100yearA brief and sad item today: The American Judicature Society is closing its doors.

Kind of inside-baseball-ish, I know. But the AJS had a laser-focus mission to safeguard fair and impartial courts. The decision to dissolve comes at a time when courts are under greater attacks than ever before. Here’s hoping others step into the breach.

Among many other things, the AJS publishes the esteemed Judicature. You can read the current issue here.

Here is part of a news release. You can continue reading it here.

“On September 26, 2014, the Board of Directors of the American Judicature Society (AJS) approved a plan to dissolve the Society and wind up its affairs.”

“AJS was the original ‘fair courts’ citizen organization and, for 101 years, has worked nationally to protect the integrity of the American justice system through research, publications, education and advocacy for judicial selection reform. Among its notable accomplishments are the development of the ‘Missouri Plan’ for judicial selection, the creation of state judicial conduct commissions and judicial nominating committees and publication of its award winning peer-reviewed journal, Judicature.”

“More recently, other entities have joined the American Judicature Society’s mission to ensure that the nation’s justice system is fair, impartial, and effective. In the coming weeks, AJS will reach out to these entities in an effort to ensure the continued operation of its Center for Judicial Ethics and Judicature, which serves as a forum regarding all aspects of the administration of justice and its improvement.”

cle snippets teaser logo. This teaser signifies a new and innovative way to combine magazine content with online learning.How enjoyable a snippet can be.

No need to be mysterious. I’m talking about CLE Snippets, those brief-ish video conversations I’ve been having with Arizona Attorney authors. (Read more about them here.)

Last month, I interviewed Ken Motolenich-Salas about his topic: the Washington Redskins trademark cancellations. (You can read his article here.) Fascinating and timely.

Just as fascinating and timely, though, was my dialogue with Anthony Tsontakis yesterday. Fascinating – OK. But timely? That seems surprising, considering Anthony’s topic: a battle over the 1912 judicial nomination of Judge Richard Sloan.

Indeed, our dialogue was timely. Anthony’s article and our conversation focused on how the nomination battle could lead a commentator to say, “No uglier fight was ever made against a man.” Our dialogue reveals just how little we’ve changed in a century. Not a bad lesson to learn in a bruising election season.

I’ll provide links to the videos with Ken and Anthony as soon as I have them.

Anthony Tsontakis (right) and I take a moment before videotaping our conversation about a 1912 nomination battle.

Anthony Tsontakis (right) and I take a moment before videotaping our conversation about a 1912 nomination battle.

Today, I’m pleased to share a guest blog post written by an Arizona attorney. Michael K. Skousen takes up an issue on which most lawyers believe themselves expert: client communication. Of course, we all know we could improve, and Michael provides some pointers that may help you do just that.

Here is Michael, who is a member of Skousen, Gulbrandsen & Patience, PLC, in Mesa:

Pretty good at client communications, are you? Here are some tips. Skousen, Gulbrandsen & Patience

Pretty good at client communications, are you? Here are some tips.

It is no secret that clients are what keep you in practice as an attorney. You have spent years honing your skills in your specific field of law, but all of that can quickly vanish if you do not excel at communicating with your prospective and current clients. When individuals reach out to you for help, it is easy to forget how frenzied and panicked they are because of their current situation. Chances are you have been trained or self-taught to see their situations in black and white, fact from fabrication, cause and effect. However, expressing that viewpoint can come off as cold and callous.

Client communication is a tricky aspect of your job because you want to exude intelligence and confidence while presenting yourself in a professional, yet compassionate manner to your client. Exactly how can you balance all of these traits and secure customer satisfaction? It all starts with your first point of contact with the individual seeking your representation or advice.

1. How quick were you to reply or answer the contact form inquiry or phone call?

Promptness is key in converting the prospective inquiry to an actual client. Understandably, some requests can come after-business hours, but a great rule of thumb is to respond to any questions within one business day. Taking this action can convey courtesy or respect to the prospective (and current) client by recognizing the time-sensitive matters.

2. Do you or your office have a follow-up procedure in place?

Some phone calls or completed contact forms are individuals shopping around, and you respect that. After all, you examine your options before hiring a contractor or medical practice for yourself. Exactly how many of your own experiences in seeking second opinions included the courtesy of a non-salesmanship follow-up? This point of contact could simply be a phone call, an email or even a letter. Here are some guidelines that can impress your prospective client and potentially turn it around into a lead:

  • Set up a follow-up procedure for a three-day-rule of each inquiry not already converted into a client relationship
  • Summarize their original inquiry with the date they contacted you
  • Ask if they have found representation or received the adequate answer for their inquiry
  • Offer your availability for additional questions they may have
  • Provide your contact information
blog post Michael J Skousen

Michael J Skousen

Chances are they will perceive this as genuine, and if they do not need your services at this time, they are more likely to remember you for a matter either of their own or as a referral for someone else they know. Take notice at this last point:

  • Leave the ball in their court, so to speak, as this is your last point of contact with this individual until they contact you again

3. How much time are you really giving to your clients?

Some inquiries and consultations prove to be quick, while others linger on a bit too long. Here are some tips to make the client feel valued yet respectful of your time:

  • Your consultations should be more than 30 minutes but less than an hour
  • Provide adequate time for others to ask you questions about you and your firm
  • Give them your full attention. Keep distractions down to a minimum. This means the office phone, your personal phone and any other electronic devices that prevent you from staying focused
  • Summarize their need, how you can meet their need and your contact information at end of consultation to validate that you were listening to them and can provide a solution for them.

Every lawyer and law practice has their own communication style that works best for them; however, the tips mentioned throughout this article should serve both as a reminder and as a healthy adjustment if your communication record with clients has been less than satisfactory.

Skousen Gulbrandsen and Patience logo

Skousen Gulbrandsen and Patience logo

As a member of Skousen, Gulbrandsen & Patience, PLC, Mesa’s personal injury law firm, Michael J. Skousen has more than 20 years of experience working with victims of auto accidents and wrongful death cases. Mr. Skousen has achieved successful compensation for legal incidents in cases such as these, and his credentials with reputable legal organizations include the Maricopa County Bar Association, the State Bar of Arizona and the U.S. District Court. You can find him on his personal website as well as his law firm’s site, sgplaw.com.

Arizona Justice Robert Brutinel

Justice Robert Brutinel

A panel discussion on Friday, October 17, will cover recent changes to the Arizona rules controlling use of mobile devices in courtrooms. Sponsored by the First Amendment Coalition of Arizona, it will feature Justice Robert Brutinel, who chaired the 2013 committee whose recommendations led to the changes.

Those changes specifically were made to Supreme Court Rule 122.1 (use of mobile devices in courtrooms) and Rule 122 (video, audio and still photography in courtrooms).

As the Coalition describes the free event, “Learn what is permissible use of smartphones, tablets or laptops in Arizona state courtrooms and what is not, as well as the latest regarding use of cameras and recorders in court.”

The discussion will be held at the ASU Cronkite School of Journalism in downtown Phoenix.

The RSVP page (and more information) can be found here.

The local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is a member organization I’m proud to call home. And that chapter is a charter member of the First Amendment Coalition. I hope you come out to join journalists, lawyers, law students and others as we hear about this important and evolving topic.

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