[Update: Unfortunately, the “Fair Share Act” passed. Stuart Carpey has some details.]

It’s that time of year again. As The Legal Intelligencer and other sources report, Pennsylvania’s joint and several liability laws — which ensure that the economic damage caused by negligent companies falls on insurers and other defendants proven to have

Since I spent Sunday with my family and Monday working, I’m late to the Joseph Rakofsky story. The criminal defense blogosphere has all piled on (Jamison Koehler, who as a DC lawyer, has a particular interest, Mark Bennett, Scott Greenfield, Eric Mayer) as did the generalists like Carolyn Elefant and reporters like Elie Mystal and Debra Cassens Weiss.

In short, a judge declared a mistrial in a murder trial because the defendant’s lawyer, who had never tried a case before, didn’t understand the rules of evidence and was caught instructing his private investigator to "trick" one of the government’s witnesses. The lawyer then ended up bragging(!) about it on Facebook while his client sits in jail for an indefinite amount of time awaiting a new trial. The posts linked above collect even more disturbing information about the case, all of which would make a hilarious sitcom but are in fact a sad reality.

There’s obviously not much to be said in Rakofsky’s defense. A lawyer who has never tried a case should not start with an unsupervised felony trial, much less a murder trial. There’s no gray area here; his lack of experience made him plainly unfit for the job, and he should never have accepted it in the first place, not even if he retained local counsel to assist.

But I really wonder if the issue that Bennett, Greenfield, and Elefant et al focus on — the deceptive nature of his internet advertising — was the real problem. I don’t mean to defend his websites or his listings on lawyer directories, both of which imply more experience than he has, but I don’t think his websites really caused the problem here.


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Fred Wilson, the always inspiring venture capitalist, posted yesterday A Challenge To Startup Lawyers:

We closed an investment recently. It was a seed round. Our firm priced the round and we were joined by a number of small VCs and a few well known angels. We agreed to close on a standard set of "light preferred" documents without negotiation. There was no investor counsel on the transaction. We just signed the standard documents which were tweaked to reflect the round size, share price, and board provision in the term sheet.

The legal fees for this transaction were $17,000. I talked this over with the entrepreneur and we agreed to pay the legal bill. We are both big fans of the law firm involved and felt they earned their fees on this transaction.

But I’ve been thinking about this situation over the past week and I’d like to issue a challenge to startup lawyers. When you have a seed stage company that needs to incorporate and close a seed round where all parties are willing to close on a set of standard docs without negotiation and where the investors agree to go without counsel, I think the legal fees for such a transaction should be $5000 or less. I just don’t see why it should cost more than that.

Down in the comments, DGentry asked:

Why have a lawyer involved?

If the documents are standardized and previously vetted, then what value does the presence of a lawyer provide?

To which Fred replied, "maybe that’s what we have to do. but there are filings to be made, the charter, the state forms, etc. i think you need someone to do this stuff for you."

There’s an unspoken requirement in Fred’s reply: Fred doesn’t want just anyone to do that "stuff," or else he’d ask someone at his office to do it. He wants a lawyer to do it.

Why?


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It may sound strange coming from me, but I don’t like suing people, particularly not in personal injury or professional liability actions where the real target of the suit is not even the company that employed the negligent person, but really the employer’s insurance company.

But I often end up suing everyone I can, including

[UPDATE: Complicating matters, on June 29th, 2011, a Third Circuit panel ruled in the Tristani v. Richman case (PDF) that Medicare / Medicaid has the right to assert liens, and that the default medical expenses apportionment scheme under 55 PA. CODE § 259.2 is appropriate. Expect more litigation and appeals to follow, likely

I am a fan of the American court system. There is no natural law requiring people to resolve their differences by asking third parties to represent them and advocate on their behalf in front of impartial decision-makers. The folks in classical Athens and Rome thought it was a good idea, the Europeans rediscovered the practice

The American Tort Reform Association’s Annual Report on “Judicial Hellholes” is out again.

Whoops, I mixed up my link — that’s a link to reasonable commentary by the Center for Justice & Democracy. The actual misleading, faux-scientific report is here. My take is similar to The Pop Tort’s ode to the judicial hellholes list:

At the Weekly Standard, art critic Lance Esplund has an essay decrying the upcoming move of the Barnes Museum from Lower Merion, Pa., to Philadelphia:

Now after years of litigation, Albert Barnes’s intentions have been subverted and his will broken. And the Barnes Foundation is scheduled to be moved. Galleries have already been closed. Ground