Monthly Archives: December 2008

Starting Salaries for Baltimore Lawyers

Today at lunch I was reading Baltimore Magazine.

This month’s issue includes the 2009 Salary Survey.
The material accompanying the survey states that the sources of the information used include first person accounts, publicly filed documents, and various trade asssociation and labor statistics.
The survey lists the average salary for a starting lawyer in Baltimore as $92,550.00.

My initial reaction was that I can’t see how this figure could possibly be accurate. I would love to know the specifics of where this figure was obtained. Outside of a few large, well-known firms, the typical starting salary for a new lawyer is nowhere near this figure.

For one thing, new lawyers don’t really know how to do a whole lot. This alone makes it hard to justify a 92k salary. Ron Miller blogged about the following survey in May, 2008:
McGuire Woods LLP: $145,000
Miles & Stockbridge P.C.: $140,000
Ballard, Spahr, Andrews & Ingersoll LLP: $140,000
Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office: $52,800
Baltimore City Public Defender’s Office: $52,949
It is easy to see the disparity between what “biglaw” pays its first-years and what young lawyers make working for the government. Where the data gets difficult is for private employers of attorneys.

Salary data is typically not available for Plaintiff’s firms or small to mid-size firms.
Ten years ago, when I was a new lawyer who didn’t know how to do anything, I was working at one of the best-known plaintiff’s firms in Baltimore. My starting salary was $35,000.00. At the time, this was about what new prosecutors or public defenders were paid. I can’t believe the salary landscape has changed that much in the last ten years.

I can’t help but wonder if the authors of Baltimore Magazine’s 2009 Salary Survey contacted the career services offices of the local law schools. I can’t prove the $92k salary quoted is inaccurate. If it is, I would love to see the raw data, because it sounds awfully high.

Also, congratulations to Miller & Zois lawyers Laura Zois and Rod Gaston, who were named Maryland Super Lawyers for 2009 by the publishers of Law & Politics and Baltimore Magazine. This is a second award for both. (Note: five lawyers from Miller & Zois, including me, were listed in SuperLawyers in 2010.)

Now For Something Completely Different

I usually write this blog solely about topics of interest to personal injury lawyers, such as trial strategy, legal news, and “from the trenches” trial reports. This is for two reasons. First, I want my readers to get the most value from each post, and that is the content people come here for. Second, nobody really cares what I think about anything else.

Today I depart from that because the holiday season is a great time to reflect on the year that has been, and to prepare for the year that will be. Accordingly, here are some thoughts for the past and upcoming twelve months:
1. One of the things that has always struck me about being a personal injury lawyer is the way my relationships with clients begin. I have often observed that nobody calls me because everything is fine. They say that about fire and police- every day when they go to work they step into the middle of someone else’s worst day ever. Now, what I do is a far cry from that kind of work, but it is helpful for me to remember that I am rarely dealing with clients or potential clients at their best.
One goal (or “resolution”, if you like) for the new year is to keep that in mind by being more empathetic and patient in dealing with others, particularly those who are having hard times. What is routine for most personal injury lawyers is an extremely frustrating and upsetting event in the life of an injury victim. I resolve to do a better job in explaining how to resolve property damage, how to prove medical causation issues, and how the litigation process works. Anecdotally, I think these are three of the most confusing and frustrating issues for my clients, and a big part of my job is to act as a guide through the unfamiliar landscape of a personal injury claim.
2. I resolve to build better and stronger relationships with family, friends, clients, co-workers and colleagues. I think happier people make better lawyers, and there is a direct correlation between happiness and the quality of the relationships in one’s life. My goal is to try and learn one new thing about each client I speak with. I am representing individual people, not phrases on a pleading form.
3. I resolve to be more efficient with my time. Self-explanatory. Improving my efficiency as a lawyer will help my clients by allowing me to get more done for them more quickly. The idea is this will also improve my non-work time through lower stress levels and providing more time to be a well-rounded person.
4. I resolve to avoid legal jargon in my writing. I think most readers, particularly judges with busy dockets, value brevity and clarity above all else in legal writing. I want to get my point across clearly and succinctly to make it as easy as possible to persuade my audience.
5. I resolve to look for the brighter side of life. To be more effusive in my praise and more gentle in my criticism. To be more thankful for what I have and more generous with my resources. To give more to my community, both the legal community and the community as a whole. In general, to use my knowledge, emotions, training and time to do more good.

In conclusion, I am thankful for my family and friends. I’m thankful I have the opportunity to help people. I’m thankful I work with a group of people I care about and respect. To paraphrase a Native American blessing I learned from Henry “Wild Goose” Niese, I am thankful for every day I walk on the earth and do not lie under it.
I wish everyone the best in this holiday season and for the coming New Year.

Anne Arundel County Personal Injury Trial

I spent this morning in the District Court of Maryland for Anne Arundel County trying a personal injury case where my client was injured in a car accident.

This was a contested liability case, with somewhat interesting facts. The defendant crossed a median strip, two lanes of travel, a front yard and a curb before crashing into my client’s car where she was stopped at a stop sign on an intersecting street. His defense lawyer from Progressive Insurance argued the accident was not the defendant’s fault because he had recently begun taking the medication Lyrica, which caused him to “black out” and lose control of his car.

For some reason, he had not had this reaction the first three days he took the medication. He also went out driving alone despite being aware that the patient information sheet for the drug states “[d]o not drive a car, work with machines, or do other dangerous activities until you know how Lyrica affects how alert you are.” There was no medical documentation that the medication affected the defendant’s driving.
My client suffered a concussion, a neck strain and a shoulder injury. She was treated by her primary care doctor and the orthopedist he referred her to. The court’s verdict was $15,000.00, including my client’s $6,000.00 in medical bills and $1,200.00 in lost wages. Progressive Insurance’s last settlement offer was $11,500.00.

This was a good result, and an interesting case to try.

Verdict in Prince George’s County Car Accident Injury Case

Last week I wrote about a car accident injury case I tried in the District Court of Maryland for Prince George’s County. This was a rear end collision with a soft-tissue injury. The damage to the vehicles was extremely minor- about $400.00. My client had $4800.00 in medical expenses.

The insurance carrier was GEICO. This was a “no offer” case. We just got a letter from GEICO saying they “were unable to understand the nature of the injuries claimed due to the minor damage to the vehicles involved.”

Today I called in to the court to find out what the verdict was. It was $10,500.00. That is a very good result for this kind of case, especially considering I only sued for $10,000.00 in the first place.
Even if a motion is filed to reduce the verdict to the ad damnum, I am happy with this result. So is my client. Again, plaintiff’s lawyers need to try these cases. 10k is a lot better than zero.

Prince George’s County Car Accident Trial Report

Today I had a trial in a car accident injury case in the District Court of Maryland for Prince George’s County.

Most Maryland personal injury lawyers consider this to be a good venue for injury plaintiffs. My personal experience has shown that the Prince George’s County District Court bench does a good job of fairly evaluating these cases.

Today I was in a position most personal injury lawyers like to avoid. My client sustained a soft-tissue neck injury in an accident that only caused minimal damage to the cars involved. As expected, the defense attorney from Geico Insurance put into evidence photos of the cars to argue that the accident was so minor that it couldn’t cause injury, or that any injury caused must have been minor.
I have blogged before about the Court of Appeals of Maryland’s opinion in Mason v. Lynch that says it is not an abuse of discretion to admit property damage photos for this purpose. The opinion does not say, however, what weight the trial court should give such evidence.

Today I tried a new argument. I quoted from the dissent in Mason v. Lynch, which was written by Judge Raker and joined in by Chief Judge Bell. The dissent reviews all of the scientific literature opertaining to the issue and concludes that “there is no correlation… between vehicular damage and personal injuries….”
I argued that just because the evidence may be admitted, the trial court is not obligated to give that evidence the weight the defense suggests. The court would have the discretion to give that evidence very little weight because the overwhelming bulk of the scientific authority says the inference the defense wants is incorrect. I am hoping that this will at least get the trial court thinking that if Judges Raker and Bell agree with my argument, there must be something to it. I know there are several trial court judges in Maryland that worked as law clerks for these two judges, and probably think they are pretty smart.

I wish I could say this resulted in a great verdict, but the fact is I don’t know yet. The court held the case sub curia, and will announce its damages verdict Friday.

So stay tuned.

Mandatory Mediation in Baltimore City Car Accident Injury Cases

The Baltimore City Circuit Court has recently announced that it has changed its scheduling and procedural requirements for motor tort cases, to require mediation in all such cases with claimed damages exceeding $20,000. Mediation will be required to be completed no later than 30 days after the discovery deadline, the court said in a release, subject to the right to request exemption from mediation within 60 days from the date of the order. If the parties engage in mediation, either party may choose to opt out of the scheduled pre-trial conference upon demonstrating that mediation was completed in accordance with the order. Motor tort cases scheduled on a Short Track Schedule – cases where damages claimed are $20,000 or less and cases forwarded from the District Court due to a jury trial prayer – will not be referred to mediation.

I’m not sure how much this will help, though. I think the success of the program depends largely on the skill and experience of the mediators. If they use experienced personal injury lawyers or defense counsel, the mediation may be valuable. If not, I expect it will be a waste of time.

Judicial Selection in Maryland

I periodically blog about judicial nominations and vacancies on Maryland’s trial courts because I think a working knowledge of the local bench is important to properly advise clients in personal injury cases.

This is less important for cases in the Circuit Courts because those are usually jury cases where the injured victim’s damages are determined by the jury, rather than by the judge. In contrast, in District Court cases, damages are determined by the judge hearing the case. Because of this, knowing your factfinder is essential to evaluating a settlement proposal or tailoring your presentation to your audience.

As I have noted in previous entries, there is a vacancy now on the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, and there is an upcoming vacancy on the Circuit Court for Baltimore County. Today I was reviewing the nominees for the Baltimore City vacancy and I noticed something I can’t quite figure out.

In Maryland judges are appointed by the Governor, and then must run for retention in the next general election for a full fifteen year term. Putting aside the issue of whether electing judges makes any sense in the first place, there are some things about the process that make no sense to me.
The Governor selects from a pool of applicants that have been vetted by the Trial Courts Nominating Commission for each jurisdiction. Once the vacancy is filled, the unsuccessful applicants are put in a “pool” which is then automatically submitted to the Governor for every vacancy on the same court for the next two years. Why? Since new applicants emerge with every vacancy, at least some new applicants are submitted every time. If the idea is to submit to the Governor only the best qualified applicants, why send the same names as before with a few new faces added?

I think the issue of judicial selection is a complicated on on both the state and federal level. It clearly makes no sense to have judges elected by the public, since only a very small pool of litigation attorneys has a real appreciation of the skill level and aptitude of trial court judges. The process of judicial appointment by a President or Governor is also inherently political. I wonder if there may be a better way to ensure that the public gets the best judges? I don’t know, but I can’t help feeling there must be a way to improve this process.