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.

Former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank

Former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank

This Thursday, October 16, former U.S. Representative Barney Frank speaks at the University of Arizona Law School, where he delivers the annual McCormick Lecture.

His topic: “Why We Need More Government and How We Can Pay for It

The event is free and open to the public (though seats may be hard to come by; register here).

As the law school reports:

“Barney Frank served as United States Representative from Massachusetts for more than three decades, starting in 1981. An outspoken and deeply respected legislator, noted for his keen sense of humor, Frank has played a key role in some of the most important legislation of our country’s recent history, including the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’”

“As Chair of the House Financial Services Committee from 2007 to 2011, Frank helped craft the compromise bill to slow the tide of home mortgage foreclosures in the wake of the subprime mortgage crisis, as well as the subsequent $550 billion rescue plan, and the landmark Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act—the sweeping set of regulatory reforms named partly after Frank and signed into law in July 2010, to prevent the recurrence of the financial crisis.”

Arizona Law logoMore detail is here.

School representatives say that they anticipate a large crowd for the event. Capacity is limited to 300 registrants; the first 100 individuals to register will be seated in the Ares Auditorium, where Frank will deliver his lecture. The additional 200 people will be seated in adjacent overflow rooms to watch the lecture streamed live.

Pluto's back? Some say yes it is a planet.

Pluto’s back? Some say yes it is a planet.

OK, so Pluto may not—yet—be considered a planet again. But some scientists who deal with the cosmos (cosmonauts? cosmeticians?) have raised the Pluto banner again, saying it is worthy of the “P” status.

I know, I thought we had come to consensus on that issue. But apparently what is gone has been revived.

Here is a news story on the topic. And then there’s this news story, which I think even asks you to answer their poll of whether you consider Pluto a part of the family of planets. (Experts that we are, I encourage you to weigh in. We’ve dumbed down the Earth; let’s dumb down the galaxy.)

But as we enjoy Change of Venue Friday, that feisty little space rock has given me renewed hope. No, I don’t care one way or another (and I’m gobsmacked by the passionate fight its advocates are waging). But if we’re not sure who is a planet, for goodness’ sake, we really don’t know much. And if Pluto can come back after being down for the count … well, we certainly can have a wonderful—and resilient—weekend.

Pluto planet glow sad

Pluto: a little celestial body yearns for more.

Hermans House movie poster

Herman’s House film poster

Last week, a remarkable film was awarded an Emmy. Herman’s House is a documentary I’ve mentioned and reviewed before, and it examines the use of solitary confinement and incarceration in a compelling way. The award news—plus a free screening—is reason enough to point you toward it.

My review was way back in 2012; you can read it here.

The Emmy, given to PBS’ POV Documentaries for Herman’s House, is described here. This is an excerpt from the press release:

“The POV (Point of View) film Herman’s House won the 2014 News & Documentary Emmy Award for Outstanding Arts and Culture Programming, it was announced on Sept. 30 by the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Herman’s House aired on PBS in 2013 as part of POV, American television’s longest-running independent documentary series. The 35th Annual News & Documentary Emmy Awards were presented at a ceremony in New York City. PBS won a total of 11 awards, more than any other broadcaster.”

The award is bittersweet, for the film’s namesake, Herman Wallace, passed away a year ago.

You can watch a portion of the Emmy Award ceremony here, as the film’s producers accept (click on “Playlist” and select Outstanding Arts and Culture Programming).

Haven’t yet seen this award-winning film? It is screening—free—through October 15 here.

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.

court stenographer

What follows is a guest blog post on a very timely topic, and one that may affect the practice of many Arizona lawyers. It is written by Stinson Leonard Street attorney Blair Moses (whose bio is at the end). Here’s Blair:

Important Changes to the Arizona Code of Judicial Administration (ACJA) Governing Court Reporting and Their Impact on Arizona Attorneys

In September 2013, the Arizona Supreme Court released proposed amendments to the Arizona Code of Judicial Administration (ACJA) governing court reporting—ACJA § 7-206. Arizona court reporters had immediate concerns that the proposed amendments might affect the integrity and impartiality of court reporters and promote unfair billing, exorbitant costs, and a break in the chain of custody of the confidential record. These concerns were due in part to amendments that 1) allowed national court reporting companies, who are not currently licensed in Arizona and have no accountability to the Arizona judicial system, to take control of the confidential record and all production and billing for that record; 2) limited the court reporter’s duty and accountability to accurately write the testimony; and 3) restricted the court reporter’s ability to inquire about and ensure fair dealing and equitable treatment of all parties.

Moreover, these proposed code changes could have negatively impacted an attorney’s duty to safeguard client information and confidences. The proposed amendments allowed the release of testimony and exhibits to an “authorized agent,” such as a national court reporting company, without requiring permission or notification of the witness or any party to a proceeding. Attorneys, like certified court reporters, have ethical obligations to prevent disclosure of confidential and protected information to nonparties of a proceeding and to prevent confidential information from being archived by a third party. Thus, releasing transcripts and exhibits to, and archiving by, a third party may have violated attorneys’ Ethical Rule 1.6.

Following the expression of these concerns at various public forums and through public comment letters from Arizona court reporters, Arizona attorneys, and out of state court reporters facing similar amendments, Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Berch appointed a Task Force to evaluate the proposed amendments, receive input on concerns, and make final recommendations regarding amending the code. And after months of analysis, collaboration, and attendance at meetings with the Office of Administration, the Court Reporting Board, the Committee on Superior Court, Chief Justice Berch’s Task Force, and the Arizona Judicial Council by Arizona court reporters and members of the Arizona Bar, the Arizona Judicial Council (“AJC”) approved significantly revised amendments to ACJA § 7-206 on March 25, 2014. The Supreme Court Order amending ACJA § 7-206 as approved by the AJC was entered May 21, 2014, and became effective September 15, 2014.

The final amended code is a significant improvement over the initial proposed amendments and goes a long way to ensure fair treatment of all parties in an action, including equal billing to all parties, preserving the confidentiality of the record, and preserving the ethical obligations of court reporters and attorneys alike. Accordingly, certain changes in the final code impact attorneys’ interactions with court reporters and reporting firms. A generalized summary of the more important of these changes to ACJA § 7-206 follows:

1. Individuals and entities, such as national court reporting companies, providing reporting services in Arizona must be registered with the Arizona Supreme Court, must comply with all provisions of ACJA § 7-206, including all ethical obligations in the Code of Conduct, and must submit to the authority of the Arizona Supreme Court.

2. Only an attorney, a party, or a registered reporting firm can retain court reporting services in Arizona cases. Arizona Certified Reporters and Registered Reporting Firms are prohibited from accepting assignments from any other individual or entity.

 

3. Reporters and reporting firms must now provide itemized rate disclosures prior to the commencement of a deposition and must charge all parties the same price for the same product or service.

a. Each invoice attorneys receive from a reporter or reporting firm must include a certification that the invoice and other business terms comply with the ethical obligations set forth in ACJA § 7-206.

b. If an attorney wants to review all parties’ invoices, the attorney must make that request of the Certified Reporter. Upon the attorney’s request, the Certified Reporter must provide copies of all parties’ invoices.

 

4. Reporters and reporting firms in a continuing contractual relationship[1] with “a party, attorney, or an entity with a financial interest in a case” must give written notice of that relationship to attorneys in the case and any unrepresented parties

a. The notice of contract must be made by the reporter and/or firm upon retention of their services and must contain the duration of the contractual relationship and whether it is exclusive.

b. Upon receiving written notice from a reporter or reporting firm that they are in a continuing contractual relationship, attorneys and unrepresented parties have five business days to respond with a written objection. If an attorney or any other relevant party objects, neither that reporter nor that firm can cover the deposition.

 

5. To enhance and ensure security, confidentiality and privacy, reporters and/or reporting firms may release (sell) transcripts only to witnesses, parties, and their attorneys, unless authorized otherwise by court order or agreement of the parties.

6. Attorneys and their clients can no longer receive from Arizona reporters, reporting firms, or their affiliates “additional advocacy or litigation support services, including but not limited to claim investigation assistance, trial preparation assistance, and deposition summaries.”

Except as expressly set forth, attorneys cannot waive the Arizona Certified Reporters’ and Registered Reporting Firms’ duties and obligations under ACJA § 7-206 by disclosure, agreement, stipulation, or otherwise.

Blair Moses is an associate in the Phoenix office of Stinson Leonard Street LLP. She primarily concentrates her practice in the area of commercial litigation, bringing a depth of experience that includes the representation of large corporations, small businesses and individuals. She also has experience representing defendants in labor and employment litigation matters. Prior to practicing law, Blair gained extensive experience in the health care field and she now assists in the representation of health care providers.

More information on Blair is here. And she can be reached at blair.moses@stinsonleonard.com

[1] Under ACJA § 7-206(J)(1)(l), a “continuing contractual relationship” is one where a certified reporter or registered reporting firm has a contractual relationship in which reporting services are provided “in multiple cases with a party, attorney, or an entity with a financial interest in a case.” (emphasis added).

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