Monthly Archives: April 2008

Stupid Things Lawyers Worry About

Every lawyer has a fear that some little thing he/she did or didn’t do will eventually ruin someone’s case. Sometimes the fear is justified – missing a deadline or failing to disclose an expert can have serious consequences.

Some fears aren’t as justified. For example, I’m often so careful in my language in my complaints/petitions that they are often nearly unreadable. Here’s an example, highlighted to show my thought process:

1. Defendant did then and there operate a motor vehicle in such a manner as to cause it to collide with the rear end of the vehicle plaintiff was operating.

What I’m really thinking:

1. Defendant crashed her car into plaintiff’s car.

Why I don’t say it (with my own thoughts in italics)

1. Defendant did then and there (because if I don’t say that, it won’t establish that the accident happened at the same time I mentioned in the other paragraph, and suddenly the whole complaint is legally inadeaquate) operate a motor vehicle (because what if it’s not a “car,” what if it’s an SUV, etc) in such a manner as to cause it to collide with the rear end of the vehicle plaintiff was operating (not “plaintiff’s vehicle” because what if plaintiff doesn’t own it, what if she owns more than one vehicle – we need to show that she was in the vehicle (not “car”) at the time, and that the vehicle defendant(‘s car, not defendant herself) struck wasn’t say, a vehicle in a garage somewhere) .

You get the idea. A non-lawyer will read that and think I’m joking. A lawyer will read that and know I’m not. It’s neurotic to a certain extent, but I think there’s a legal basis for it, especially in Illinois where “fact pleading” is the rule.

Another such neurosis is found in the insistence in making sure doctors phrase their opinions with the words “to a reasonable degree of medical certainty.” It’s archaic, cumbersome, and I don’t think juries know what the heck it means. But the fear is that, without proper foundation, the opinion can’t get into evidence.

Never mind the fact that the phrase itself isn’t necessary… see an old post on the Illinois Trial Practice blog for the Illinois rule, or for the Iowa rule, see Hansen v. Central Iowa Hosp. Corp., 686 N.W.2d 476, 485 (Iowa 2004).

But still… this is the kind of stuff I think about.

(Howard Zimmerle is a lawyer in the Quad Cities)

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How people value their own cases

Anyone who has been in an accident or has been hurt by someone else’s negligence tends to put a high value on their own case. Why wouldn’t they? They had to take time out of their regular schedule to see doctors, had to feel pain, maybe had to miss work, etc.

But do jurors feel the same way? And why does it matter?

My favorite psychology blog, PsyBlog, has a post discussing studies of how a person’s ownership of something affects their perception of its value. The bottom line: if we own something, we think it’s worth more than other people do. Here’s the money quote:

We assume others share our perspective: Surely potential buyers understand how strongly we feel about our dusty old vinyl records? No, they don’t care – in fact they’re far more likely to notice how badly we’ve stored them or what poor taste in music we have.

This is important for injured people to understand. A jury isn’t always going to value your case the same way you do. Just because you feel your case is worth 12 million dollars doesn’t mean a jury will agree. It’s important for attorneys to have a realistic talk with their clients early and often regarding the potential value of a case.

(Howard Zimmerle is a personal injury and workers compensation lawyer in Rock Island, Moline, Davenport and Bettendorf).

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Ever wonder why there’s no “Wal-Mart Law Firm”?

For you non-lawyers out there, you’ve probably wondered why all law firms seem to be named something like “Smith & Jones, P.C.” or “Peterson Law Firm.” What’s with all these last names? Are lawyers that vain? That uncreative?

Yes and yes. But that’s not the end of the story.

Lawyers are held back to an extent by the rules of professional conduct. Iowa Rule 32.7.5(e), for example, does not allow an attorney to practice under a trade name. Hence, no “Wal-Mart Law,” no “Quality Divorce Law” or “The Injury Specialists.” This has always seemed a little wierd, as doctors and other professionals can name their practice “Neurology Associates” or “Orthopedic Specialists.”

Another thing that strikes people when reading the yellow pages is that nearly all law firm ads look alike – and in a very boring way. How many ads just say “Workers Compensation” in bold letters or something like that? Well, one reason for this, again, is the professional conduct rules. I can advertise the “Best Carpet Cleaners in Town!” or “Quality Muffler & Brake” but under Iowa law, an attorney can’t even call herself “Experienced.”

I wonder if its time for some of these old rules to go.

(Howard Zimmerle is an attorney with Michael J. Warner & Associates in Rock Island, Illinois)

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