Advice for LIT attendees includes both practical, big picture issues

Issue June 2007 By Bill Archambeault

The first Lawyers in Transition Conference offered advice and insight on a variety of topics to new lawyers and those re-entering the profession. Attendees of the daylong May 3 conference were able to choose from panels featuring two dozen experts in everything from family law to criminal defense.

 General career advice was also provided. In the “Divorce Basics” session, Family Law Section Chair Fern L. Frolin, of Grindle, Robinson, Goodhue & Frolin in Wellesley, provided practical advice. “I use a written fee agreement in every case, and you should, too,” she said. She also strongly suggested considering hiring forensic accountants to help with cases.

 “You’re going to need to unscramble these people’s tax returns,” Frolin said. “It’s much more efficient to hire an accountant to do it than to take three or four courses (to learn how to do it) yourself.” Frolin said it’s frustrating to hear prospective clients tell her they want to hire her because they heard she was “tough” and expect her to be ruthless in negotiations.

 “I’ve made my reputation being honest and reasonable, and that’s more important than any client,” she said. In the “Basic Estate Planning” session, Carol D. Kimball and Peter E. Bernardin, of Plunkett Law Firm PC in Salem, explained the differences in handling trusts and wills and ensuring that clients understand the need for both.

 In “Basics in Civil Litigation,” Ellen Rappaport Tanowitz of Tanowitz Law Office in Newton listed the books that new or returning lawyers would need, including Massachusetts Rules of Conduct. “They’re the rules of the game and if you don’t know them, it’s going to impede your ability to practice efficiently,” she said. While some books can be acquired over time to minimize expenses, others are essential to have from the beginning, she said, urging attendees to obtain copies of the “Massachusetts Lawyers Diary and Manual” (also known as the “red book”), the “Bluebook” and “Evidentiary Foundations,” which she said was “absolutely indispensable” because it gives specific examples for getting evidence admitted in trials.

 “I find it to be very, very valuable in helping to get all of your elements in,” she said.

 The “Update in Criminal Law” session featured one former lawyer in transition speaker, Reynold A. Ilg Jr., of the Law Office of Reynold A. Ilg Jr. in Lowell. Ilg was a state trooper for 22 years before becoming a lawyer.

 On that panel, Criminal Law Section Chair Lee J. Gartenberg talked about the impact that the Supreme Judicial Court’s decision in the Commonwealth v. Dwyer case on obtaining privileged treatment records. “The SJC issued an opinion that was basically an earthquake” that undid years of precedent, Gartenberg said.

 Ilg explained that Dwyer is “opening doors for getting information that literally, we could not get before.” But, he said, “You can’t go on a fishing expedition. You can’t use it as a discovery tool.”

 When one audience member asked for tips on selecting jury members in OUI trials, MBA Past President Edward P. Ryan Jr., of O’Connor & Ryan PC in Fitchburg, said that while there are limitations, it’s important to push the judge to ask pertinent questions, even though he cautioned that judges will generally give more leeway to more experienced attorneys.

 “You’re trying to get people out of the game who have particular biases,” Ryan said. And while it will be harder for newer attorneys to get their questions asked, “Don’t be afraid. That’s the big thing.”

 He also urged the audience to generally ask for help. “When you don’t know something, don’t be afraid to say you don’t know” and find someone to help, he said. “Reach out to people. The Mass. Bar’s a good source. E-mail me. Reach out to other lawyers.” Reaching out to court officers and clerks is also a good idea, Ryan said.

 “Don’t be afraid. Make yourself known and let it be known you’re trying to get a lay of the land.” In addition to a session on “How to Stay Out of Trouble” that included Board of Bar Overseers General Counsel Michael A. Frederickson and Massachusetts IOLTA Committee Director Jayne Tyrell, there was a general career advice panel discussing “Setting Realistic Expectations and Boundaries When Facing Re-entry.”

 Barbara Bowe of Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers Inc. in Boston, encouraged attendees to think of the job search process like dating and do due diligence about the places they apply to. She and other panelists urged audience members to focus on what they can offer a firm rather than dwell on any shortcomings, like being out of practice.

 “Just because you’ve been out of practice a while doesn’t mean you’re less of a lawyer,” she said. During the final panel on “Re-entering the Office: New Technology,” audience members heard about the opportunities that technology provides.

 Law Practice Management Section Chair Denise M. Guérin, of the Law Office of Denise M. Guérin PC in Cambridge, explained how, after giving her opening remarks that morning, she used her laptop and a Web site to do work and log a couple of billable hours. Andrea Goldman, of the Law Office of Andrea Goldman in Newtonville, said, “I’m astounded. I’m getting a surprising number of clients through the Internet.”

 The conference wrapped up with a mentor networking reception.