Rebuild It Now

Seven months ago, I joined Jezic & Moyse (then Jezic Krum & Moyse)  in Montgomery County, and soon thereafter I moved to northern Prince George’s County in Calverton, a modest fairly quiet suburb with not much going on. Most of my social network is located “north of the River” – the Patuxent River – and the intense, client-focused work pace at J&M is enough to keep one from developing a massive new social circle (especially for someone like myself, relatively reclusive anyway and focused on fatherhood every other weekend.)

Most of the attorneys I know are north of the Patuxent River, the statistical boundary between the two major metropolitan areas. Back when local calling areas really mattered, most of the people north of the river could call Baltimore for free, most south could call Washington for free. The legal cultures differ, the accents are different. In Baltimore, Senators Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski sound … normal.

Most weekends I am north of the river at least briefly, either to get or drop off my children or to get my mail from the PO Box I have had in Reisterstown for the last ten years. Those from out of town reading this may be aware that the unrest in Baltimore caused the Reisterstown Road Plaza shopping center to close today (27 April); I lived in the outer suburb of Reisterstown connected by Reisterstown Road, formerly Reisterstown Pike, to the City.

Most of my formative experiences happened out there: family, high school, life in the Church (no longer part of my life, but remembered fondly), learning to drive. I remember going on a double date with my buddy Alan, his girlfriend and one of her best friends on Labor Day; we parked the Chevette at what is now the Eutaw Street pedestrian zone in front of the B&O Warehouse, what was then free parking on a holiday behind a warehouse. I lived in the City for three years in law school, started out as a young attorney in Fells Point.

Baltimore is violent, drug-addicted, impoverished, provincial, corrupt, petty. It so rarely misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity. But it is real. I pass by restaurants in Washington with ridiculous pretension in, well, everything: fake food at fake prices sold by fake people to thronesniffers. That’s not the totality of life in DC, of course, but it’s so startling to someone from a city where you find broke-ass residents of every ethnicity. It’s hard for someone from Baltimore not to respond dysfunctionally to the thronesniffers, the patricians who run Washington, Inc., not to puncture the television when the Sunday morning talk show pretenders prance and bray. A Baltimore politician won’t pretend to be some figure of high moral character; he will simply direct you to his bag man for payment. In such small things, one finds integrity.

Former Mayor William Donald Schaefer was known for his urgency in getting things done. His favorite phrase was “do it now.” Schaefer was old Baltimore if old Baltimore ever existed. The Inner Harbor, once a rotting underused waste, became a major tourist draw under his inspiration and drive. Later when serving as Maryland’s governor, Schaefer conceived the current incarnation Baltimore’s Light Rail and got it built fiarly rapidly, warts and all (and it has warts.) Schaefer wasn’t perfect, but he never claimed to be and did not expect humanity to be “perfect” either. He was always looking for the chance to do it now, build it now, not to wait for perfect conditions. He knew that conditions aren’t perfect and that imperfect is the permanent condition.

I don’t have anything to say about the demonstrations regarding the death of Freddie Grey and the riots (these are two different things that happened in the same time in the same city) except to say that people don’t go from organized protest to busting down Italian grocer and food distributor Trinacria on North Paca Street, and that “they” didn’t riot. We, or some of us, did. They didn’t demonstrate. We, or some of us, did. The “they” that comes so easily to white people, especially in the suburbs, is part of the problem that holds the City back. If politics and civic life mean a damn thing, it’s that this “they” barrier needs to do. One of us got died in police custody due to a severed spine. We demonstrated. We burned the City down and shut it down. It is as true as saying that “we” won the Second World War; I didn’t fire a shot, wasn’t born until 24 years later.

I commend my colleague in the Bar J Wyndal Gordon for organizing a lot of attorneys to help with the aftermath of the unrest in Baltimore.  His perspective is distinct and focused on protecting the civil rights of Baltimoreans from police brutality; he is working with the National Bar Association, an association of predominantly African-American attorneys. One of the best ways to reach him may actually be Facebook, a medium at which he excels. What he is doing is very important, but the crisis of the events of this past week will eventually subside. The aftermath will be much longer and more severe.

Baltimore still has not recovered from the 1968 riots after the death of Martin Luther King. Much of West Baltimore is still in economic disarray; a walk down North Avenue from the JFX west will show that. It’s going to be easy to isolate Baltimore politically; Baltimore’s population has shrunk over the last thirty years (with tiny reversals) and Montgomery County has by now 1 million people and so much of the money in this state. More importantly, economic rent-seeking from the government can’t last and cannot solve the core problems in the City.

As an attorney, I am obliged (encouraged strongly) to provide pro bono services to people who need it. Lots of people are going to need pro bono help in the aftermath of the unrest (which included riots, but wasn’t just riots.) There will be people needing lots of help probably for the next 18+ months due to this unrest; the economic damage the City under curfew (no pub crawls, that means you, Fells Point) alone will damage people, cause businesses to shut down. Unemployment hearings, foreclosures, fights with insurance companies, evictions, you name it. The City will be a “target-rich zone” for unmet legal needs even more than before. Accordingly, I intend (subject to practical requirements of the Bar, geography and the entirely justified business-side expectations of my employer) to meet my advisory pro bono requirement by helping people who suffered losses and need legal help in the aftermath of this mess in the City.

Somebody should help; if you have a Maryland law license, you are “somebody” who can help. We need to rebuild it now, and lawyers can help. Don’t wait for Chief Judge Barbera or some MSBA functionary to send you a letter. Your name on the attorneys’ Test Book in Annapolis is your invitation. Rebuild it now. Do it now.

New location pending for the law office

My law office will be relocating from 301 Main Street in Reisterstown to a new location, effective the end of September 30 August 31, 2014. I want to thank attorneys Susan Bell and Diana Denrich for being great landlords for the past two years.  There are several possibilities for the new location of the office depending on a number of factors.

August 16, 2014 UPDATE: Please see this Major Announcement Page for additional information about a major development.

Poor Advocacy Choices: “I am the [*******] lawyer”

Scene: Essex (“of course”, said every Baltimore area practitioner to her/himself), afternoon docket. I am there with my client, about whom I will make no comment.

The Court heard a “not guilty agreed statement of facts” (tantamount in general to a guilty plea) for a woman (not my client) who was accused of drunk driving and hit-and-run violations, in colloquial terms. The narrative was that she tied one on at a eastern Baltimore County bar (“of course”), tapped/scraped one or more cars on the way out and went home without doing a proper job of inspecting/notifying the owners.  Officer “responded to the scene” (“of course”), investigated the scene replete with witness statements and paint scraped, determined a suspect’s identity and home address and drove to that suspect’s home.  On the officer’s arrival, the suspect regaled the officer with a lot of helpful information, such as “I don’t have to f****** talk to you” (true) and “I am going to get off on this, I work for a f****** lawyer” (proven false in this case.) The officer ultimately arrested the defendant.  The Court found the defendant guilty of the lesser of Maryland’s alcohol charge, essentially by plea, and the attorney proceeded to mitigation.

The first words out of the attorney’s mouth were, in substance, “Your Honor, the defendant works for me; I am the f****** lawyer”, without euphemism. The Court was visibly taken aback and ultimately deferred sentence to near the end of the docket, citing her discomfort with the nature of the language used in court.

Why is this bad? Well, here’s why….

1) If you are the “f****** lawyer” to whom the defendant makes reference in her drunken tirade, and your employee/prospective client asserts you as the reason why she will not face consequences, don’t take the case.  Refer it out.  At a minimum, it has the spirit of a conflict if not a black-letter rule conflict, in that your own interest in keeping your good name as a working may conflict remotely with the client’s liberty interest. Refer it out.

2) If you do take the case, against advice, do not refer to yourself as the “f****** lawyer.” Why? Because it tells the Court that you find what happened funny when you shouldn’t. Because it’s a terrible thing to say in open court. Because you want the Court to FORGET that your client said that, and being that lawyer and reminding the Court of her words is directly counter-productive. Because your own dignity as an attorney mandates that you define yourself in professional terms, not the terms of your drunk client. Because your lack of dignity tells the Court that you don’t care enough about your client’s case to do even a minimally sensible job, and therefore perhaps your client deserves some severity. Because it proves that you are stupid when your stupidity doesn’t advance the interest of your client.

Don’t know what the Court ultimately did to the client or the attorney – had to step out with my client – but it was embarrassing.

R.I.P. Amira Milad

Last week I learned of the passing of Amira Milad, an IT administrator in a medium-sized law firm where I worked for many years in Pikesville. That firm and I severed ties some years ago, but I recall Amira warmly for her decency and generosity with her time on many technical issues that can arise in a working law office.  My condolences to her family and loved ones. R.I.P.

Sexual harassment, Miss America and the outrage of young, polite optimism

Sexual harassment cases under Title VII are difficult for many reasons. The alleged harassers are often mortified by the accusations, regardless of the degree of truth or falsehood therein. The claimants are generally hurt, angry and financially wounded, often humiliatingly so. Reputations of alleged harassers and claimants are on the line, especially in image-conscious professions like finance, law and politics. Juries vary in their level of sympathy for claimants and alleged harassers. The facts in some harassment cases are usually distasteful and sometimes, in the era of the publishing and photo studio that is the text message app on most cell phones, outright disgusting, outrageous and frightening. A lot of money can be at stake, particularly when a young claimant is beginning a high-income career and gets her career derailed. In addition, recent jurisprudence (Vance v. Ball State) makes it a good deal harder to take action against mid-level management abusers without an “according to Hoyle” and possibly career-jeopardizing formal report to management by the worker.

I know honorable attorneys who represent management, though it pleases me to have my clients and not theirs.

When a pre-eminent blogger sets her sights not on the target-rich environment of corporate sexual predators, abusers of young, low-wage workers who don’t know about law and don’t know any lawyers, on-the-job sexual assailants, but on … a high schooler who took a long shot and asked Miss America out on a prom date, what’s a working sexual harassment plaintiff’s lawyer to do? Start drinking scotch at 7 AM?

It’s conceivable that a celebrity would accept a long-shot prom date. The prominent actress Mila Kunis accepted from a stranger and Marine a date to a Marine Corps Ball, a formal event comparable to a high school prom. Last month, ESPN host Michelle Beadle accepted the prom date offer of Jack Jablonski, a high school athlete who suffered catastrophic injuries during a ice hockey check gone horribly wrong. Actress and model Kate Upton similarly accepted a prom date offer last year. I do not think that the young men in these cases deserve reprimands or moral reproach. Nor did the young man who extended the prom invitations to Miss America, aka Ms. Nina Davuluri, who visited Central York (PA) High to urge students to consider careers in science, math, engineering and technology. For its part, the Miss America Organization has asked the school system to rescind the suspension that the school imposed on him for asking this brilliant, unmarried woman out on a date.

Sexual harassment is about power. What power does some high schooler have to damage a visiting Miss America with one (admittedly long-shot) offer of a prom date? I look at my married clients with children who have lost their jobs and sometimes their houses from the retaliation by their harassers, who have suffered sexual crimes, and I just shake my head. Miss America can handle the worst that Central York High’s most incorrigible optimist can throw at her, and did so with exemplary grace. For my clients who have suffered actual – not ideologically contrived and “constructed” – harassment with ruthless retaliation, humiliation, fear and outrage, it’s no invitation to the prom.

Latest News from the Office

This is a brief update on the happenings here at the law office.

1) The Law Office has registered its Reisterstown office with, a international directory for LGBT and LGBT-friendly legal resources.  According to its mission statement, provides access to the latest LGBT legal news and the “simplest access to a gay or lesbian (or gay or lesbian-friendly) attorney….” I note to avoid misleading potential clients that the practice is LGBT-friendly but not LGBT-owned.

This affiliation is consistent with the LGBT-friendly policies of the Law Office from its 2009 opening and its affiliation as a Maryland/DC Cooperating Attorney with Lambda Legal.

2) Mentoring through the Maryland Center for Professionalism. It was a great experience serving as a mentor through the Maryland Center for Professionalism’s mentoring program last year; I may have the opportunity to do so again this summer with the new admittees in June.

3) Pro Bono Success. A pro bono client of the firm enjoyed a victory in Circuit Court in Baltimore County this week. More info to follow.  Other pro bono work through the firm continues, including one federal case as local counsel, several referrals from MVLS and routine work at Jewish Legal Services in Baltimore (on hiatus for April due to the Passover holiday.)

4) A personal note.

Running a law office isn’t easy. Running a solo law office that charges affordable rates to real people, while co-parenting two autistic pre-teen sons 6 nights out of 14, is not easy. But it’s absolutely worth it.

In the last six months, I have experienced and seen things that I never thought I would experience and see, the sorts of things that one doesn’t just blog about. And I am not referring to the record cold weather and volume of precipitation in Winter 2013-2014, as intense as those were. I refer to the opportunity that I have had to take stock, at now age 45, and observe what matters most.

Success isn’t about money. Money is important – both to me and to clients, of course. But money isn’t success. Success is living with meaning and without shame, with pride, with full appreciation and gratitude for what one has, whether it’s Donald Trump’s towers or an honestly-earned bowl of bean soup. It means having a relationship with the mirror such that you look forward to the face looking out of the mirror at you, whether it’s in a fancy bathroom or in a modest apartment in a run-down neighborhood. It means that you look into that mirror and see a human face, and not some cracked Picasso deconstruction of a “face.”

What matters most to me is that I get to remain self-employed, so that I don’t have to negotiate with a bean counter or a clerk when I need to take care of my autistic sons when one of them is sick. With a court clerk, maybe, but not with a corporate functionary. Fortunately, as an attorney I can be self-employed; an assembly line worker needs a corporation with an assembly line, but I don’t. By being self-employed, I can turn down senseless legal work that another lawyer wants done just to churn the bill, even if that means ripping a client off against one’s better conscience. I can speak the truth without fear that I will lose all my clients; I might lose one client, but there is no boss telling me to “churn the file” or I am fired and lose all my clients.

Self-employment has its challenges, as anyone who has prepared form Schedule C, form 1065 or form 1120S knows. But self-employment, despite its “fragility”, is actually robust or even “antifragile” (i.e. actually benefits from challenges and stresses) against many types of challenges, per the terminology of Nassim Taleb. It’s relatively robust against stresses of many unforeseen family and personal events (though not absolutely so.) It rewards creativity and disciplines the attorney to take responsibility in a way that an attorney more shielded from consequences, with less “skin in the game”, without her name on the front door every day, might not learn.

The people to whom I am grateful are, of course among others, my clients. They have given me the chance and the trust to do meaningful work and to enable me to live a meaningful life as an active attorney and parent of special-needs kids. I am grateful to colleagues and friends in the profession who have entrusted my modest practice with their clients’ care. I am grateful to loved ones, whose support through many challenges, professional and personal, has meant so much.

An attorney acquaintance of mine, roughly my age, once approached me about forming a partnership or alliance with other attorneys. He and I gave a presentation together at College Park to students considering law school a couple years ago (yes, I tried to dissuade them, but also gave them some useful info.) My colleague had served in the military as a JAG officer before going into private practice in an urban setting in Maryland, handling most criminal defense work. He is a very dynamic, high-energy guy. And he is handling a current professional and personal challenge: the loss of one leg in the two weeks or so after a catastrophic car accident.

Human nature is to complain and compare one’s own lot to others’; the whole “grass is greener” tendency known to the ancient Greeks and evidenced in today’s daily life everywhere. Yet I have two legs, and deserve them no more than my injured colleague. I survived the risk of dying in a car crash, while my dear law school friend Nancy Yellin died in her third year of practice, when a drunk driver struck her and other members of her family dead. I deserved my good fortune no more than did she and perhaps deserved it less. I have survived the risk of cancer, so far, when contemporaries of mine have fallen to cancer or suffered greatly from it. Other examples abound.

The point of all this is that I feel exceptionally lucky to be alive, to be an attorney in a basically free and largely (though NOT completely) fair society, to have good enough health to practice law, to get to practice in a way that I get the chance to “do good” and also “do well” while remaining a family man and father to my boys and an active co-parent with their mother. I feel lucky, most fortunate.

Lawyers don’t often talk this way on their websites, about gratitude; mostly, lawyers talk about how great/aggressive/experienced/yawn/yawn/zzzz they are, and bore their readers to death. I think a lot of us lawyers need to talk about gratitude more, if only to encourage the others, to humanize us and humanize the profession. We are human. Pretending we are not human is a false front; human is what we are, for better or worse, and we should not be in the business, as attorneys, of false fronts about what we are. If we are human and alive, we should feel fortunate that that is the case.

It’s spring now. The Orioles are 1-0. And I feel lucky to be alive, to be a father and practicing law. If you have any connection to my practice, as a family member, friend, client, attorney, vendor, judge, neighbor, even a prosecutor or opposing counsel, thank you. You are part of why I feel very fortunate.

Unemployment News: Extended Benefits HALT Nationwide

CNN Money, December 27, 2013:

Michelle Marshall is one of the 1.3 million long-term unemployed Americans who is losing her jobless benefits.

Marshall, 56, has been out of work for a year, since she lost an administrative assistant job that paid her $44,000 per year.


But Marshall will stop getting these checks next week.

That’s because Congress failed to extend the recession-era program when it passed a budget deal last week.

I normally do not “get political” on this blog, as this is a law practice and not a political consultancy. That stated, many of this law office’s current and recent clients will suffer with the termination of extended UI benefits in Maryland.

We aren’t out of the woods yet, notwithstanding some improvements. I hope I live long enough to see once again the economy of the second Clinton presidential term, and to see my unemployment practice shrink in the face of a strong economy with near-full employment.

Jan-Feb Issue of MD Bar Journal is worth reading

The Maryland State Bar Association’s Bar Journal is always a worthy read but there are particular articles worth reading for many solo attorneys in the most recent issue.  Preeminent attorney discipline attorney Alvin Frederick, Esquire, of Eccleston & Wolf and Associate Bar Counsel James Gaither, Esquire, provided an article on online professional ethics and cybersecurity, respectively.  Each article merits your time if you practice in this state.

I was interested to read that the Office of Bar Counsel of Maryland is now, as of the last 60 days or so, running a paperless office.  My own office is making that transition and it would be worth reading how the Office of Bar Counsel undertook the process; that fact was not the central point of Mr. Gaither’s piece, but of interest to me.

Mr. Frederick’s piece (which I believe he co-authored, will give full credit when I return to the office tomorrow) discussed among other topics the issue of online puffery in attorney ads.  While puffery in attorney ads is not a new ethical concern, the Internet seems to have instigated (or at least accompanied) a race to the bottom.  The Bar Journal article noted that an attorney who claimed in such an ad to be the “most aggressive” would be engaging in misconduct unless the attorney could substantiate the claim objectively – a likely impossible task.  In my experience, the more common forms of online puffery are claims to be the “best” attorney in some field under either no objective criteria or under paper-thin rent-an-award standards from some attorney marketing company without peer review, comment or objective measurements.

I used to put my Avvo rating on this site; I won’t name my current rating but it presents me very well.  On the other hand, I have a substantially higher Avvo rating than some of the undisputed leaders of this state’s Bar.  There’s no way that I am a superior attorney to the some of the attorneys who were already Bar leaders on the day that I sat for the Bar exam in 1994, but Avvo will tell you that I am superior to them.  With some regrets, as there are things about Avvo that I did and do like, I no longer list that score here because to do so would be at least theoretically misleading to some clients.  Avvo unfortunately has the problem of profiting from this sort of serious misinformation.  Long-time attorney rating service Martindale-Hubbell (now owned by Lexis) has similar, though perhaps smaller, problems.

Just test this out: google “Best attorney [town]” and watch what comes up.  You can also google “attorney specialist [field of law] Maryland” and see the same sort of thing.  This blog has an attorney “specialist” [sic] finder for Maryland attorneys through Google some months ago, but I took it down because it seemed like overkill.  Many attorneys claim to be the “best” or the “top” attorney, in suspect if not outright definite violation of the rules against lying to clients about attorney skill sets and quality.

Every attorney should be and accordingly feel proud to claim to be competent.  Competence is Rule 1.1 of the ethics rules in Maryland and in most states; it’s at the top of the rule book.  Know what you are doing, or at a minimum associate with attorneys as needed to fill in the knowledge gaps.  But any claim above competence needs to be verifiable objectively if it’s designed for, or has the effect of, inducing a client to retain or keep the attorney.  If something is objectively true and verifiable as such, it’s probably fine to state that it’s true, but the number of attorneys (particularly new to practice) who claim to be “the top” or “the best” attorneys is almost staggering.  Many of the those attorneys may actually fall short of technical competence, let along being better than the attorneys who have been doing CLE for junior attorneys for 20 years or who wrote the Maryland hornbooks or standard manuals for their practice areas.

When I judge another attorney’s skill or leadership, here’s what I look for:

  • Peer-reviewed scholarship or publication, either in
  • Providing CLE in that’s attorneys field (if you have been teaching the material for a while, you are going to be getting it right in all likelihood).  Maryland doesn’t have much of a problem of garbage time-filler CLE because CLE is not mandatory (yet.)
  • Mentoring roles in helping other attorneys
  • Leadership in speciality bar associations
  • Pro bono work
  • Consistent high ratings over time from peer-reviewed ratings services
  • Appellate work in the practice field
  • Peer Review Committee work with the AGC
  • Representing other attorneys in any litigation, disciplinary or otherwise
  • The opinions of attorneys who fulfill 3-4 or more of the above
  • A website that deals in substance and actual practice issues, and not mere puffery
  • Humility regarding skills or experience – this actually makes me up-rate the attorney in my mind, for ethical caution and long-term thinking

An online ad claiming that the attorney is “top” or “best” is likely to make me down-rate the attorney, under the theory that the lawyer is both minimally accomplished and reckless regarding ethical compliance.  An online ad stating that the Maryland attorney “specializes” (or using any other part of speech) tells me that the attorney either is reckless regarding ethical compliance or is at least negligent regarding the supervision of the social media hacks that the attorney hired to “get eyeballs” or “make good SEO.”

Gaudeamus igitur! A warm welcome to the Maryland Bar to Bennett S. Ostroff (UPDATED December 18, 2013)

Bennett S. Ostroff, Esquire is a friend, mentee and has as of today (December 18, 2013) become a professional colleague. Bennett has taken the Lawyers’ Oath and signed the Test Book bearing the signatures of many generations of admitted attorneys in this State.

I take great pleasure in celebrating his triumph, as I still after 19 years recall the ordeal that precedes that triumph.

Bennett has expressed to me his desire to form a law practice in his new Hunt Valley office that will, even more than mine does, support progressive causes and the rights of the weak against the power of the strong, in reflection of his values and life priorities of long standing. I wish him well and believe that, all miserable factors in the economy and profession to the contrary notwithnstanding, he is far likelier to succeed than to fail. Bennett has rather specific personal reasons for entering this difficult profession and a strong personal ethic that will keep his compass pointing North.

Let us therefore rejoice – congratulations to Bennett S. Ostroff, a fine addition to the Bar of Baltimore County and of Maryland.

New Maryland Unemployment Premium Rates Announced

Per the October 16, 2013, Daily Record, unemployment insurance premiums for Maryland businesses will drop down to their lowest statutory rate bands, i.e. from .3 to 7.5 percent of the taxable wage base, currently $8,500.00 per worker per annum for most workers.  Governor O’Malley opines that many businesses will realize an 86% reduction in premiums from 2012 to 2014, though his figures are not self-evident.

To what extent the reduction of premiums represents workers who have simply run out of eligibility due to exhaustion of benefits or a lack of a taxable wage base period over the last two+ years is unclear.  Many workers have simply given up, and it’s easy to believe that many workers will suffer displacement in the aftermath of the federal shutdown (now ended.)  While most federal workers cannot get unemployment during the furlough, many workers who depend on the federal government (contractors, food service workers near federal enclaves, retailers with cash-tight customers, etc.) in suburban Maryland and throughout the state may be eligible for unemployment as a result of federal furlough job losses.  While some spending will return when federal workers get their back pay, some of the damage is not merely deferred to later spending but outright lost.  Time will tell.