General Practice conference attendees gain practical advice from experts

Issue July/August 2007 By Bill Archambeault

The second General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Conference offered a full day of practical advice to attendees of the June 7 program, which was held in Western Massachusetts this year.

"I can’t tell you how many people thanked the Bar Association for bringing a program like this out here," said MBA Vice President Denise Squillante, the conference’s program chair and moderator.

"What I’m trying to hammer home is that the Mass. Bar is committed to bringing programs across the state," she said, noting the range in ages of the 40 people who attended the conference, which was held at the Sheraton Monarch Place Hotel in Springfield.

Carmina D. Fernandes, a lawyer in Ludlow, said the conference was "fantastic."

"As a solo practitioner, you dabble in a little bit of everything and get information on a lot of things in one day," she said.

The conference offered programs including "Quick Tips on Hot Topics in Managing your Office" and "How to Stay Out of Trouble in Solo Practice" to two judicial panels and breakout sessions in the areas of civil litigation, family law, business law and real estate.

During the "Tax Issues for Marital Agreements" breakout session, Mary E. McNally, of the Law Office of Mary E. McNally in Springfield, explained that tax issues can be a real problem for women in their 50s who have been married for 25 years and don’t have any experience managing their money.

"There’s a real fear factor. (Your client) might have a portfolio and might have some cash and might have the house, but they don’t know what to do with it," McNally said. "Tax consequences are important in divorce cases. They’re very vulnerable and totally dependent on the advice you give them."

It’s important that attorneys help their clients plan out their taxes, she said.

Paul L. Mancinone, of Paul Mancinone Co. PC in Longmeadow, told the audience, "

The first thing you should always do is get in touch with your client’s tax preparer."

In the "Divorce Basics" breakout session, Veronica J. Fenton, of the Law Office of Veronica J. Fenton in Pittsfield, told the audience that she will sometimes have potential clients come to her office up to three times before deciding to hire her. It’s important, she said, that the client be comfortable with their divorce attorney.

"I tell clients they can come back for another consult if they can’t decide," Fenton said.

And though divorce attorneys often have to "say the tough stuff," she said, "You never want to be the one who makes things worse than they are."

While some clients may be looking to hire a ruthless divorce attorney, it’s important that the attorneys involved keep things as civil as possible. For example, Fenton said, she refrains from filing restraining orders unless they’re actually needed. And mailing a letter is usually preferable to sending a sheriff to a client’s ex’s place of work to serve them.

Susan A. Huettner, of the Law Office of Susan A. Huettner PC in Falmouth and co-chair of the General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Section, agreed that civility is usually preferable in emotionally charged divorce cases.

"If you don’t have to do an affidavit, don’t," she said, explaining that the potentially embarrassing details of the marriage will become public and ratchet up any hostility.

It’s also important for divorce attorneys to be even more reserved when dealing with their client’s ex who’s not represented by an attorney.

"These days, you’re dealing with pro se’s quite a bit, and there are special ethical issues in those cases as well," Huettner said.

During the "Choice of Entity and Practical Formation Issues" breakout session, David A. Parke of Bulkley, Richardson & Gelinas LLP in Springfield, ran through comparisons of setting up sole proprietorships, C-corporations, S-Corporations, partnerships, limited liability partnerships and limited liability companies.

He noted, for example, that corporations are a good choice for those planning on attracting investors, but "A LLC is still a more flexible choice for someone looking to do business in Massachusetts."

LLCs also have fewer tax restrictions than corporations do, he noted.

The morning judicial panel dealt with district court issues.

In the afternoon judicial panel, the focus was on probate and family court issues, featuring moderator Kathleen A. Townsend of Kathleen A. Townsend, Attorney at Law, of Springfield and Probate & Family Court Judges Anne M. Geoffrion and Stephen M. Rainaud.

Geoffrion and Rainaud gave their views on issues like individual calendars, time standards, limited assistance representation and the advantages of giving children input into a divorce case.

"I think individual calendars are great," Rainaud said. "You know the case is going to be yours in perpetuity. Overall, I think it’s a very nice way to handle cases."

In the case of time standards, Rainaud said that while it’s helped keep cases on track, there are cases where they don’t work. For example, he said, if a couple is divorcing after 45 years of marriage, he’ll give them the time they need instead of forcing them to meet court-imposed deadlines for finalizing their divorce.

In response to what attorneys can do to make things easier on judges, Geoffrion said she finds it frustrating when lawyers who hate each other come into her court unprepared because they’re unwilling to talk to each other.

"I can’t tell you how often experienced lawyers haven’t talked (before appearing in court). But you have to if you want my time," Geoffrion said. "Even if lawyers hate doing it, having them talk will save time. You may hate the lawyer on the other side, but you have to talk. It’s a huge issue."

Regarding LAR, Geoffrion said she was initially skeptical, but she now thinks "At least you can provide some representation in a case instead of none."

While there have been serious problems implementing it, Geoffrion said, it deserves a chance.

Huettner and GPSSF Section Co-Chair Patrick Francomano, of the Law Office of Patrick Francomano in North Attleborough, said they were encouraged by what they’d seen at the conference and in their dealings with the new section, which was formed in January. The GPSSF Section is currently developing programming for the next six months they said.

Huettner estimated that about 20 percent of the conference attendees are looking to launch their own practice.

"There’s been a great deal of networking going on in addition to the programming. I’ve seen a lot of cards being exchanged," Huettner said.

"Our mission is really multifaceted," Francomano said, noting the information and networking elements of both the conference and the section. "We want our membership to realize that we’re here to support them."