The listserv may be the single greatest tool the solo or small practice lawyer has. And this post explains why.
This is also a story about some of the best lawyering I ever did, and its connection to a listserv. While I suspect that the lesson may be old hat to many readers — since you are obviously already connected or you wouldn’t have found this blog — I’m going to spill forth anyway on the odd chance you do not already belong to a listserv, or that this gets passed by a friend to at least one less-than-connected attorney.
The story involves the case I just blogged about in June that went to verdict. But if you think I’m going to brag about a brilliant legal argument or devastating cross-examination tip that I picked up and used, don’t worry. It isn’t about that.
Rather, it’s about how a good listserv can spill forth a spectacular amount of small nuggets of information, any one of which can help turn a case. In the one I just tried, I had been alerted to an imminent change in the law. That change turned a 100K case into a seven figure case.
By way of background to appreciate this, you have to know that the car accident that injured my client occurred in July 2005, and that the car that did the damage was a leased vehicle. The Graves Amendment was then passed by Congress just three weeks after the accident. And that amendment destroyed the vicarious liability that existed in New York that held leasing companies responsible when their drivers caused accidents.
Within days of being retained by my client, and while she was still institutionalized in rehab, I learned through a listserv that a House-Senate conference had agreed to this amendment that would eviscerate her rights to recover for her injuries. I learned of the legislation just one day before I was to go on vacation, and I had no idea when President Bush would sign it. So I typed up a Complaint at home and rushed it into the courthouse the next day for filing, beating the presidential signature.
I’d like to tell you the best lawyering I ever did had something to do with one of my trials with fancy openings or summations, a great bit of research finding an obscure case or a brilliant legal argument. Or perhaps a story of an argument from the Second Circuit or New York’s First or Second Appellate Departments.
But instead, the blunt reality is that the simple participation in a listserv alerted me to the passage of damaging legislation. Being connected kept me up to date. Being connected got my client to the courthouse door in time. There was another person injured in this accident, by the way, and his lawyer didn’t file in time. I never asked, but I think it is safe to assume he was not connected to people who were discussing the latest of legal events.
So the utterly simple and routine act of typing up a standard personal injury complaint and getting it filed right away turned out to be one of the best things I’ve ever done for a client. Without it she would have been stuck with the insurance policy limits of the two cars involved, 25K and 100K. Instead, she was able to proceed against the owner/lessor for injuries that clearly exceeded those minimal policies, for an ultimate recovery that exceeds those numbers by seven figures.
And so if you are not connected to such a group in your geographic area, or at least your practice area, then find one. Or create one. This is all the more important for the legions of solo and small firm practitioners, giving you not only the opportunity to swap the latest in news, but the latest in court rules, judicial temperaments and local gossip that just might one day mean all the world to your client.
The constitutionality of the amendment, by the way, is currently on appeal.
Update: Just one day after posting this, the Graves Amedment Was Upheld by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals