Articles Posted in Legal Profession

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The families of the Georgia Southern nursing students killed or injured this week when a tractor trailer ran over them on I-16 bear a huge burden of pain and grief. As a parent, I cannot imagine anything worse than the sudden death of a child who has had you wrapped around her finger from the first time you held her in your arms.

The families need time, space, privacy and gracious consideration from others to have space to grieve, each in their own way.

After any such tragedy waves of welcome and unwelcome people descend upon the survivors.

First may come the well-meaning relatives, friends, neighbors and pastors. I can imagine that each family’s home has been deluged with casseroles and that parents’ Sunday School classes have signed up to provide meals for the next month. That loving embrace can help one keep going through the early days.

But then, after the funeral, folks go back to their everyday lives, leaving parents and siblings to sit in the departed child’s bedroom and weep for hours in the dark. Each must process the stages of grief.

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In my commercial trucking accidents law practice, we often need to subpoena business and medical records from other states, especially in interstate trucking personal injury and wrongful death litigation. In cases filed in state courts of Georgia, rather than federal courts, it has been necessary to comply with an arcane variety of differing state laws in order to do so.

Until recently in Michigan, for example, it was necessary to retain a lawyer in that state and spend roughly a thousand dollars just to get a routine subpoena for documents issued and served.

Last week, the Georgia legislature passed the Uniform Interstate Discovery and Depositions Act has finally passed in Georgia. This new uniform law, when enacted in all states, will make interstate discovery for cases in state courts almost as easy as it is in federal courts. It will enable Georgia lawyers to get subpoenas for depositions, document production and inspection of premises in other states that have enacted the same uniform law, and will make it easier for lawyers in those states to do the same in Georgia.

HB 46, sponsored by Representatives Jacobs, Lindsey, Willard, Oliver, Lane and Weldon (all friends of mine), almost passed last year but got caught in the legislative traffic jam in the Senate at the end of the 2011 session. It was one of the first substantive bills to pass this year and go to Governor Deal for signature.

This is reciprocal, and only available to lawyers when both states have passed the same law. At a meeting of the Southern Conference of Bar Presidents next week in New Orleans, I plan to make a pitch to my counterparts from other Southern states that have not yet enacted this law to put it on their State Bar legislative agendas. As shown on this map, the Southern states that have not yet passed it Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas.Those that have passed this law include Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi.

Here is what the new law provides:
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Recently a Texas law firm has begun aggressively advertising for Georgia trucking accident cases through Google and Youtube, directly soliciting for Georgia cases even though that firm has no Georgia attorney and no Georgia office.

To a consumer looking at the Texas firm’s web content, without reading the fine print, it looks like the firm is in Atlanta or Savannah. However, the Texas firm has no “boots on the ground” in Georgia. This presents a substantial danger for consumers responding to that firm’s advertising.

While Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations are the same throughout the nation, the laws of torts, civil procedure and evidence vary from state to state. We don’t market to target cases in other states. When we get cases in neighboring states, the first thing we do is associate local counsel with intimate familiarity with the specific court where the case would be tried.

Although an out of state firm has some latitude in handling matters up to the point of filing suit, ignorance of local rules and practice creates great danger for anyone hiring a Texas law firm for a Georgia case. Lack of familiarity with Georgia laws, court rules, legal culture and practices can be deadly.

If you have a serious case in Georgia, you need a seasoned Georgia trial attorney who knows the lay of the land in Georgia, and who is known in Georgia.
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Lawyers who rely on traditional referrals and upon informed consumers researching experience and qualifications are at a distinct disadvantage these days. Many people just respond to a TV or billboard ad because they have no idea how to intelligently choose a lawyer.

Recently I ran across an e-book which you can download — The Smart Consumer’s Guide to Hiring a Great Lawyer. The book lists some excellent criteria for selecting a lawyer, which I have shamelessly annotated with references to yours truly.

* The number of years the attorney has been practicing law. I have practiced law for 32 years, since 1977. That includes a hitch as an Assistant District Attorney prosecuting the full range of state criminal cases, three years in small town general practice, and a decade in an insurance defense firm defending personal injury, wrongful death and insurance coverage lawsuits for insurance companies, corporations and government agencies throughout Georgia. Since 1991, I have had a plaintiffs’ personal injury and wrongful death practice.
* The attorney specializes in the area of law that pertains to your case. For 18 years, my practice has been almost entirely representation of plaintiffs in personal injury and wrongful death cases. For a decade before that I handled the defense side of such cases. About 75% of my practice now involves commercial truck and bus crashes.
* The lawyer has good trial experience — actually takes cases to trial — not just going to court for hearings. I have tried about 125 cases to verdict before juries. I have had to document my trial experience for board certification with the National Board of Trial Advocacy in 1995, and for re-certification in 2000 and 2005.
* The attorney has a good track record and wins at trial. Recently, I have won jury verdicts for $2.3 million in a broken leg case in a conservative rural county in northwest Georgia, and $1.25 million for a cervical fusion despite strong evidence of assumption of the risk. Other cases during the same time period have settled favorably before or during trial because the other side knew we were prepared to take them to verdict.
* The lawyer has a good understanding of or experience with injury cases that are similar to yours. I have successfully handled cases involving wrongful death, spinal cord injury, brain injury, burns and back injuries, Competent handling of any of these cases requires a solid understanding of insurance law.
* The attorney has been recognized with awards and distinctions. Read my bio. Among other things, I’m a Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy, rated as a “Super Lawyer” in Atlanta Magazine, listed among the “Legal Elite” in Georgia Trend Magazine, have an AV rating in Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, and am in the Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers. Currently, I am the elected Treasurer of the 40,000 member State Bar of Georgia. (“He who tooteth not his own horn, getteth it not tooted.”)
* Quality of the lawyer’s website content is high and is very informative. See atlantainjurylawyer.com, georgiatruckingaccidentattorney.com, https://www.georgiatruckaccidentattorneyblog.com and atlantainjurylawblog.com. I had the first law firm website in Georgia (1996) and the second lawyer blog in the state.
* The attorney is the author of instructional books, articles, videos, etc. In addition to the links above and numerous articles and seminar papers, I am nearing completion of a book, tentatively titled Georgia Personal Injury Practice, with publication by West anticipated in early 2010.
* The lawyer is often called to speak to professional legal organizations and law schools. For a decade I served on the faculty of Emory University Law School’s Trial Techniques Program. In the past 16 years I have spoken at dozens of continuing legal education seminars. That has included chairing the Georgia Insurance Law Institute, Georgia Personal Injury Practice seminars for several years, and the Southeastern Motor Carrier Liability Institute. Currently, I am a trustee of the Institute for Continuing Legal Education in Georgia. Within the past three years I have spoken at seminars on trucking trial practice in Atlanta, Chicago, New Orleans, Nashville, St. Louis and Las Vegas. This month I am scheduled to speak on trucking litigation at seminars in San Francisco and at Amelia Island, Florida.
* The law office offers real client case studies. In the interest of client confidentiality, and to avoid giving opponents insights into litigation strategies, we don’t put much of that online. However, I can discuss relevant experience in past cases when we meet in person, though the identifies of client are always fully protected.
* The firm or lawyer has excellent client references or testimonials. A couple of years ago in the midst of a tough case, a client called me a “sheep dog.” (Read the explanation.) Also see references and testimonials at Kudzu.com and Avvo.com.
* The attorney is knowledgeable and confident. See everything linked above.
* The lawyer understands that your case is unique and listens to your needs. Check.
* The law office staff (receptionist, legal assistants, and paralegals) is courteous and responsive. Check.
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On Saturday, I became the sole nominee for election as Treasurer of the State Bar of Georgia for a one-year term beginning in June. Fortunately, the Bar is in good financial condition and has an excellent CFO on board. I expect to spend a lot of quality time with spreadsheets over the next 17 months.
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