To young lawyers, new lawyers and visiting lawyers, here’s your top ten things to know about starting up in this state as a practicing lawyer in the view of one opinionated Baltimore County solo attorney.
1) Small. This is a small state with a fairly sophisticated Bar, a very diverse one. But it’s small. If you get a reputation for being a jerk or an incompetent, it’s 4 degrees of separation, not 6. And if you are connected in anyway to Loyola High School, it’s 2 degrees, starting with half the Baltimore County bench (as well as this attorney, ’87.) I am not advocating any of the foregoing, just describing it accurately.
2) Local Rules. This rule has two parts: a) there are no local rules; and b) part a) is complete BS. More accurately, the Rules use the word “may” a lot and “shall” less often. How these rules get interpreted locally varies; get help if you are at risk of getting “hometowned.”
3) There is no “typical” Maryland court. Essentially, Maryland is 6 or 7 ministates united by a tax form. The distance from Hagerstown to Bethesda is about 60 miles, but culturally it’s about the distance from Hagerstown to Brooklyn Heights. Baltimore and Bethesda are 40 miles apart but they are different worlds, united by a tax form. Don’t even go to the Shore for legal business without local advice.
4) Judicial districts and circuits don’t matter. OK they matter internally for budgeting and assigning judges, but they don’t matter. No one talks about circuit or district numbers except for lawyers doing criminal marketing mailings, and even they don’t talk about them but simply acknowledge them on the database. They don’t matter; you will never see a reference to them on a pleading. Counties and Baltimore City matter; counties often have very strong powers of home rule in a manner completely foreign to New Englanders who bumble in.
5) Contributory negligence is real. If you utter “comparative fault” in this state you get the shocked looks that you deserve from working lawyers. Someday it may change if the insurance lobby stops seed-spreading the cash. Until then, expect to have a bear of a time with slip and fall cases.
6) It’s a fairly forgiving Bar here. Maryland ethics rules are fairly forgiving on some of the esoteric advertising nonsense that we hear out of Florida (e.g. no flags?). Then again, Florida has to put up with “Florida Man” and we don’t. Annual bar dues have been the lightest in the country for many years and the bar association is voluntary (which in my view makes it better). CLE is not mandatory, which in my view also makes it better. How to stay out of trouble? Be honest; don’t mishandle other people’s money; know what you are doing and do it promptly, and don’t be a disgrace. The rest is commentary.
7) Sanctions are used sparingly in state and federal court. Both state rules and the local federal rules discourage sanctions filings in theory and in practice. In the state systems, fee sanctions are remedial, not punitive. I have asked for sanctions against opposing counsel three times in my career, and regretted it once. Moral to the story: don’t make yourself a test case, as you will stand out.
8) The Annotated Code of Maryland is the official code. Righteous people who adhere to the Blue Book (which, to my knowledge, has not been made a canonical resource by the Court of Appeals through any official act) will tell you to cite the Code as “Md. Code Ann.” rather than “Md. Ann. Code.” Someone in Massachusetts actually gets paid to issue this rule to us.
9) You should go to Ocean City in June if you can. The MSBA puts on a rather good show, good spread, lots of CLE, most of it very good from working lawyers. You deserve a deductible trip downyocean to learn.
10) Bar members here are, in my experience, exceptionally generous. When I was coming up in the Bar, I was too intimidated to seek out advisers, to ask for help. Part of why I give back now is that I don’t want young lawyers to make my mistake. Lawyers in this state are almost always freely giving of their time to young attorneys when they can, and that’s a very good thing (and something I wish I knew when I was 25.) The MSBA list-serv for small firms and solos is an excellent example of this.