Law Practice


Would pro bono legal help lead to the patenting of more useful items? (Here, an 1879 plow)

Would pro bono legal help lead to the patenting of more useful items? (Here, an 1879 plow)

I routinely hear about—and share—stories of the need for increased legal services, and how pro bono service fills some of that gap.

The needs are great and often thought of as being in areas such as bankruptcy, landlord–tenant, or employment law.

But what about a more esoteric area of law? Could there be a pro bono need for practice experts like that—such as in patent law?

That was the kind of thinking that led to the creation—the invention, you might say—of a patent law pro bono program. A friend, Diane D’Angelo, shared a recent story with me. It’s from the Denver Post, and you can read the whole thing here.

As the story indicates, the initiative, launched in 2012, involves a bar association and its attorneys in that practice area. The Pro Bono Patent Program is “led by Mi Casa Resource Center and Colorado Bar Association Intellectual Property Section to pair low-income inventors with patent professionals. Since its launch, 67 inventors have begun the application process and two were able to get their ideas patented.”

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office describes the initiative well; it arose from a law signed in 2011:

Patents and the ideas behind them are an engine of the economy (like this Scuderi split-cycle engine).

Patents and the ideas behind them are an engine of the economy (like this Scuderi split-cycle engine).

“The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) understands that one of the main barriers to getting a patent is cost-not necessarily the USPTO fees associated with patents, but the cost of hiring a skilled patent attorney to file and prosecute an application.”

“On September 16, 2011, President Obama signed the America Invents Act (AIA) into law. Section 32 of the AIA specifies that, ‘The Director shall work with and support intellectual property law associations across the country in the establishment of pro bono programs designed to assist financially under-resourced independent inventors and small businesses.’ ‘Pro bono’ is a Latin phrase meaning ‘done for the public good without compensation.’ With this directive, the USPTO effectively switched into full gear to implement its AIA Pro Bono Program, which it had already been developing in anticipation of the legislation. The president’s ink was still drying when the first client signed with the pilot program in Minnesota. Since that date, the program has expanded to connect clients with volunteer pro bono attorneys across the country in multiple regional programs.”

Read the full history here.

Just as important—and why I share the story now—on May 12, “Mi Casa, the Colorado Bar Association and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office announced the extension of the program—or ProBoPat—to the states of New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.”

According to the story, that increases the program’s range to 49 states. And the U.S. PTO shows Arizona as being one of those. Unfortunately, its link to the Grand Canyon State takes you to a California program. So I’m curious: Who in Arizona is participating in or coordinating this program here? (I’m being a little inventive myself and crowd-sourcing the answer!)

If it’s you—or if you know who it is—contact me. I’d like to hear more about patent pro bono in Arizona.

Attorney George Chen, named the State Bar of Arizona 2015 Member of the Year.

Attorney George Chen, named the State Bar of Arizona 2015 Member of the Year.

The State Bar of Arizona has announced the winners of its 10 annual awards. The honorees will be recognized at the Bar Convention’s June 26 luncheon.

I was pleased to see Bryan Cave lawyer George Chen was named Member of the Year. Among many accomplishments, George is currently the President of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association. His full bio is here.

You can read the names and affiliations of all the winners here.

And you can read the entire Convention brochure here (and register to attend here).

The information about the Friday luncheon is here.

Screen-shot of State Bar Governors election for Pinal County, which closes this Wednesday, May 20.

Screen-shot of State Bar Governors election for Pinal County, which closes this Wednesday, May 20.

A funny thing happened on the way to the forum—the election forum, that is.

This month, elections are open for State Bar of Arizona Board of Governors positions for attorney from Pinal County, which is District 8. If you’re in that district and haven’t voted, get to it; all voting is online, and polls close at 5:00 pm this Wednesday, May 20.

More detail about the election is here.

There are a few noteworthy things about that page. First, the functionality is pretty cool. Clicking on the candidates causes their photos to increase in size and their candidate statement to appear. Nicely done by someone in the Bar’s IT world.

But the other interesting things is about the candidate statements themselves. One of the candidates opted not to post a statement (though he may have sent something to voting attorneys directly, as he is permitted to do). And the other candidate statement—well, I’ll get to that in a minute.

The statements (or lack thereof) surprised me, as we published statements for each of the candidates in the print version of Arizona Attorney. You can read them online here. And below is a screen shot of those statements in the May issue.

Pinal County candidate statements in the May 2015 Arizona Attorney Magazine.

Pinal County candidate statements in the May 2015 Arizona Attorney Magazine.

So the changes in the online versions caught my attention. And in fact, one of the statements takes an election tack I have never seen before. As Bret Huggins writes:

“I find myself in a pleasant predicament. I was nominated for the position of Pinal County representative on the State Bar Board of Governors before I found out Denis Fitzgibbons would be a candidate as well.”

“Denis Fitzgibbons is a wonderful lawyer and a very good man.  Denis would be an excellent representative for all of us practicing in Pinal County.”

“Denis runs a prestigious and successful law firm with his brother Dave in Casa Grande. Their practice is primarily business and civil litigation. The law firm has several lawyers and a quality support staff.”

Mr. Huggins has more to say (and you should read it). But he concludes, “I would not be disappointed in the least if I lose this election to such a strong opponent.”

I will be very interested to see how this election concludes. But has anyone seen such a dialogue in Bar elections? If so, I’d like to know. Write to me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org.

It was Bar events like this one in March that made me wonder: Should we publish more member photos?

It was Bar events like this one in March that made me wonder: Should we publish more member photos?

In my work life, I receive a lot of magazines in the mail. A lot.

Most of them come from other bar associations. Between many other tasks, I strive to at least flip through each one, seeking ideas that spur my own thinking and, perhaps, my own stealing.

One idea I routinely see in others’ magazines is the use of member photos from events. Folks mill about, smile (or not), and the publication is able to capture numerous lawyers every month enjoying and engaging.

Arizona Attorney has never done too much of that—with one exception. When I first started as editor almost 15 years ago, our annual Convention coverage included pages of those party shots. I paged through them, grimaced, and deep-sixed them. No one (and I mean no one) complained.

But as I read other bars’ magazines, I wondered if I was too hasty. Maybe those that publish these photos are on to something. After all, if statistics are right, fewer and fewer people want to belong to associations (or participate if they are in a mandatory organization). Would seeing their own faces or the faces of their colleagues turn that frown upside-down?

Lawyers gather at The Duce Phoenix, on March 26, 2015.

Lawyers gather at The Duce Phoenix, on March 26, 2015.

I asked that question in my May Editor’s Letter. I’m awaiting some feedback from readers to my musings: “If lawyers want to gather and nosh and talk and listen, would they like to see those moments captured in photos? Maybe they would. Perhaps it would be useful and entertaining to find a way to publish some event photos in the magazine, in print and online.”

You can read the whole column here.

I can tip my hand about one thing: At our most recent meeting, the Editorial Board offered a resounding blecccchhh at the idea. They reside firmly in the camp that I have occupied for a decade, believing that seeing what may be the same recurring faces month after month won’t do much for readership.

Hmmm. Well, as I say in my column, it does not have to be a feature of the print magazine; we have an online presence too. Maybe those faces of mingling lawyers would do better in the cloud.

Let me know what you think about member photos (especially if you belong to multiple bars and associations that take varying approaches to the issue). Write to me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org.

That's the Institute of Contemporary Art (Boston) to you and me.

That’s the Institute of Contemporary Art (Boston) to you and me.

In late March, I attended a conference at ASU that focused on the value of prison education—a topic easy to overlook, even in a high-incarceration society. (I previewed the event here.)

The conference was terrific, and you may still be able to see tweets by me and others by looking for @PEAC_ASU and the hashtag #PEC15. And as long as you’re online, be sure to follow ASU’s Prison Education Awareness Club.

The topic of education for correctional inmates is pretty specific, one that I would think does not recur in my life too often. But a recent trip to Boston threw the issue in stark relief again.

As I strolled through the Institute of Contemporary Art in that city, I was pleased to see so many compelling and provocative pieces. It is worth a stop—the longer the better—if you get the chance.

This is the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. Yes, it’s as cool as it looks. Yes, you want to visit.

This is the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. Yes, it’s as cool as it looks. Yes, you want to visit.

One particularly striking exhibition (sorry, it closes May 10) was called “When the Stars Begin to Fall.” The ICA describes it here:

“When the Stars Begin to Fall gathers 35 artists of different generations who share an interest in the American South as both a real and fabled place. Key to the exhibition is the relationship between contemporary art, black life, and ‘outsider’ art, a historically fraught category typically encompassing artists who have not received formal art training and who may have been marginalized in society. When the Stars Begin to Fall includes artworks by self-taught, spiritually inspired, and incarcerated artists alongside projects by prominent contemporary artists such as Kara Walker, Carrie Mae Weems, Kerry James Marshall, David Hammons, and Theaster Gates. It presents diverse artworks—from drawing and painting to performance, sculpture, and assemblage—unified by an insistent reference to place.”

Read more about the exhibition here.

The entire show was amazing, but I was especially struck by the work of the incarcerated artists. (That may not be a surprise, given the number of times I’ve covered corrections issues before. For instance, here is my review of the film Herman’s House, about former Louisiana inmate Herman Wallace, whom I’ve written about numerous times.)

It may be more than a coincidence that some of our most evocative art arises from people in adverse conditions. And a few artists represented in Boston cause viewers to stop and consider what we value and how fragile our sense of normalcy is.

Causing me to pause was the work of Frank Albert Jones. As I gleaned from the museum-curated detail: The artist created the drawings with colored pencils he salvaged from the accounting office of the Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville, where Jones was an inmate at the end of his life. The pieces on display were from the late 1960s, soon before Jones’s death.

Here are photos of his pieces on display:

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Also compelling were pieces by Henry Ray Clark, as described by the museum:

“Conjuring alternate realities, Clark creates drawings populated with figures that appear to be from another planet. He builds his compositions by repeating geometric shapes to form patterns and elaborate borders around central subjects. As Clark’s titles imply, his works express feelings of isolation while humorously suggesting possible places where people can exist with their multiple identities.”

Clark also was in the Texas Penitentiary. Upon release, he got involved in Houston’s artist community and participated in community-based organization Project Row Houses. Here is some of Clark’s work:

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The work by Jones and Clark was noteworthy, but I also was struck by the artists who had never been incarcerated but whose work complements and comments on a society heavy on incarceration. Like the dedicated students in the Prison Education Awareness Club, these artists feel that prisons say a lot about us and that they have lessons to tell—about those within the walls and those without.

Among those intriguing people were video artists Kara Walker (and her video titled 8 Possible Beginnings; or the Creation of African-America, A Moving Picture by Kara E. Walker) and Lauren Kelley (and her video titled Unbleached Objects).

Kelley’s work (photo below) communicated consciously with the pieces by Frank Albert Jones on a facing wall. As the museum explained:

“Kelley’s series of videos on view are inspired by the blue and red drawings of Frank albert Jones featured in this gallery. To create these animated drawings, Kelley sourced images of miscellaneous goods on Etsy, an online marketplace for arts, crafts, and vintage items. She envisions these as ‘portraits of the playful spirits captured in the spaces Jones ornately rendered.’ The objects sourced from the free market of the internet contrast sharply with Jones’s reality as a prisoner … but they make reference to the types of mass-produced goods currently made by incarcerated individuals for large corporations.”

Prison arts Boston Unbleached Objects by Lauren Kelley_opt

Unbleached Objects by Lauren Kelley

Here are a few of the inmate-created works displayed at the March ASU conference, as described by Kyes Stevens from the Alabama Prison Arts and Education Project (click to enlarge):

And here are photos from the packed-to-the-gills room as PEAC president Jessica Fletcher opened the conference (click the photos to enlarge):

Given the wall-and-wire chasm that lies between millions of inmates and the society that imprisons them, art may be a necessary bridge. Based on the conference message, art can play a powerful role in humanizing a dehumanizing situation. And based on my visit to Boston, it can play a similarly powerful role in reminding us all of the need to remain fully human, even as we dole out justice and retribution.

Should all law-school graduates be this confident? (Reuters/Jim Bourg)

Should all law-school graduates be this confident? (Reuters/Jim Bourg)

How bullish are you on the practice of law? Are things getting rosier by the month, or is it too early to tell?

I ask because, well, it’s kind of my job to ask. But I also came across two recent articles that suggest the legal profession is in a watershed moment—not entirely great, but cautiously optimistic.

The first article (sent my way by the great communications pro Katie Mayer) examines the starting salaries of new associates, and it offers a more nuanced gaze than you might expect. Yes, the author admits, those salaries are marginally higher. But that may be due to the fact that more large firms are providing data. And even in those big firms, new lawyers are seeing lower salaries than in the heyday of law. Why? As big firms gobble up regional ones, those “new” lawyers in the smaller cities are not being paid close to the $160,000 that their big-city colleagues get.

As Max Nisen writes, “According to NALP, … many large firms have been buying up smaller, more regional firms outside major urban centers where pay is higher. Those smaller firms often don’t pay their associates $160,000, which lowers the percentage of large law firm salaries that start at that rate.”

See? Nuanced.

The second article, in the ABA Journal, explores the job market for new law grads. But its author honestly admits that while prospects may be up, that may be due to having fewer graduates in the marketplace. As fewer people opt to enter the law, those who remain may see marginally better opportunities.

Mark Hansen writes:

“Nearly 60 percent of all 2014 law school graduates were employed in full-time, long-term legal jobs, requiring bar passage, as of March 15, according to data released Wednesday [on April 29] by the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar.”

That is up nearly three percent from last year, Hansen say. You can see that data yourself here.

If this all is the new normal, at least it’s a slightly better version of normal.

Do the two articles reflect your experience? Are you cautiously optimistic too?

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This post is not aimed at lawyers whose practice is sailing along exactly as they would hope it would. Who have ample work, quality work, with clients who pay on time or early, and who never, ever argue about a bill. Who find creative pursuits within and among their legal work. Who have found particularly effective ways to differentiate themselves in a field of talented competitors. Whose hair is always just so.

Those folks will benefit not a whit from a recent blog post (not mine) that touting blogging as one of the top three Internet marketing activities.

And why (once again) does blogging matter? Because the definition of business strategy can be summed up in that one word that starts with “D”—differentiation. And blogging may be uniquely suited to convey an attorney’s talents, approach, and world view.

Um, yes, your world view matters to potential clients. Not your take on politics (better left to yourself). But the way you align yourself amidst challenging and thorny legal issues. The way you think through things, convey your position, and remain focused on the client at all times (the most important thing, of course).

Websites can do some of that lifting, but that’s where clients typically find the milquetoast puffery that reminds the world you are “full-service” (whatever that is), or that you were in an Order that had to do with the Coif (I go to Supercuts myself). That kind of stuff? It’s the opposite of differentiation.

So read this helpful post that describes blogging and two other online activities you should consider.

And if you’re still on the cyberspace fence, read this piece to hear how referral networks—via blogging—may be helpful to you.

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