Dueling lightsabers in space environment

A Star Wars Exploration of the Law of Armed Conflict—Part I

With dozens of large-scale armed conflicts going on in the world, in Ukraine and elsewhere, a prospective client is bound to walk through your door one day, accused of war crimes. Well, the chances are at least higher if you practice this area of law. Should you receive such a client, this article will prepare you for your first war crimes case by exploring the violations of the law of armed conflict (LOAC) committed by everyone’s favorite war criminal, Darth Vader.

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Federal Court Disqualifies Law Firm for Conflict with Key Witness

The federal district court in Spokane recently disqualified a law firm for a conflict with a key adverse witness. Caldwell v. United States, 2022 WL 17408818 (E.D. Wash. Nov. 9, 2022) (unpublished), was a malpractice case stemming from the plaintiff’s treatment at a government medical facility. Although the U.S. government was the sole defendant, the focus of the case was on the doctor who allegedly failed to diagnose the plaintiff’s cancer. The plaintiff’s law firm had also represented the doctor in an unrelated employment matter.

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A lawyer questioning a witness in front of the judge in a courtroom.

Federal Court Rules Tardy Disqualification Motion Waived

The federal district court in Seattle recently issued a pointed reminder on disqualification motions: move promptly or risk waiver. Olson Kundig, Inc. v. 12th Avenue Iron, Inc., 2022 WL 14664715 (W.D. Wash. Oct. 25, 2022) (unpublished), involved patent and trademark claims between the plaintiff designer and the defendant manufacturer. The plaintiff’s law firm had done transactional work in the past for the defendant, but that work had concluded, and the defendant was a former client of the law firm.

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Lady Justice

Court of Appeals Discusses Professional Judgment Rule for Legal Malpractice

Division I of the Washington Court of Appeals in Seattle recently discussed the professional judgment rule in Dang v. Floyd, Pflueger & Ringer, PS, Wn. App.2d, 2022 WL 9732289 (Oct. 17, 2022). Under that rule, a lawyer is generally not liable for legal malpractice if the lawyer was simply exercising reasonable professional judgment. The plaintiff doctor in Dang argued that his defense counsel in a regulatory hearing before the Washington Medical Quality Assurance Commission made decisions on witnesses and exhibits that led to an unfavorable outcome. The defendant law firm in the subsequent legal malpractice case moved for summary judgment relying on the professional judgment rule. The trial court granted the motion. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

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How Legal Name Changes Affect the Patent Application Process

There are many reasons why an inventor might undergo a legal name change, whether as part of a marriage or divorce, as part of a gender transition, or out of a desire for a name that better reflects the inventor’s sense of self. Even though name changes are handed through state-level legal procedures, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has specific rules about using legal names that can result in costly delays or even an abandoned or invalidated patent if not followed. With the patent application process often taking several years, consistency of inventor naming and compliance with state-level rules about legal names is important to avoid issues down the road.

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Vintage illustration of President James Buchanan meeting chiefs of the Pawnees and Poncas in 1858.

A Reservation Attorney’s Thoughts on the Castro-Huerta Decision

Several members of the U. S. Supreme Court deem themselves originalists or strict constructionists whose duty it is to decide cases based upon constitutional intent at the time of its adoption as reflected in its original terms. This nation could not have made it through its formative years without recognizing its dependence on what were then powerful sovereign nations with whom a solemn pact was made and never to be broken. The recent Castro-Huerta decision bodes well for the elevation of state sovereignty. For tribal nations, not so much.

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Close up of an attorney's hand holding a pen and using a laptop to calculate taxes.

How the IRS Views Structured Legal Fees

All lawyers pay taxes and know that legal fees are income. They are ordinary income and even subject to self-employment taxes. But what about timing? Much in the tax law is about timing. A classic tenet of tax-planning is to try to defer income and to accelerate deductions. For generations, tax lawyers have explored all manner of tax-deferral strategies. According to the IRS, you have income for tax purposes when you have an unqualified, vested right to receive it. Asking for payment later doesn’t change that. The idea is to prevent taxpayers from deliberately manipulating their income. A classic example is a bonus check available in December, where the employee asks to have the employer hold it until Jan. 1. Normal cash accounting suggests that the bonus is not income until paid, but the employer tried to pay in December and made the check available. To the IRS, that makes the bonus income in December, even though it is not collected until January.

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Court of Appeals: New Management Entitled to Law Firm File

Division I of the Washington Court of Appeals in Seattle recently held that new management of an entity is entitled to a law firm’s file involving work prepared for the entity under prior management. Although the case does not plow any new conceptual ground, it offers Washington support for this general proposition with specific reference […]

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Books

What You Need to Know About Washington’s Silenced No More Act

On March 24, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law the Silenced No More Act, greatly restricting the scope of nondisclosure and nondisparagement provisions that employers may enter into with employees who either work or reside in Washington state. Effective June 9, the new law prohibits employers from requiring or requesting that an employment agreement contain a provision: “Not to disclose or discuss conduct, or the existence of a settlement involving conduct, that the employee reasonably believed under Washington state, federal or common law to be illegal discrimination, illegal harassment, illegal retaliation, a wage and hour violation, or sexual assault, or that is recognized as against a clear mandate of public policy….” However, employers will still be able to enter into agreements that (1) prohibit the disclosure of the amount paid in a settlement agreement; and (2) protect “trade secrets, proprietary information, or confidential information that does not involve illegal acts.” An employer that violates the law can be found liable in a civil action for “actual damages or statutory damages of $10,000, whichever is more, as well as reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs.”

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Washington Court of Appeals Addresses ‘Professional Judgment’ Rule in Legal Malpractice

Division I of the Washington Court of Appeals recently addressed the “professional judgment” rule in Angelo v. Kindinger, 2022 WL 1008314 (Wn. App. Apr. 4, 2022). The rationale of the rule, which is a long-standing part of the decisional law of legal malpractice, is that a lawyer should not be held liable for malpractice for a good faith judgment within a range of reasonable alternatives.

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Decorative Scales of Justice in the Courtroom

Federal Court Finds No Personal Jurisdiction Over Out-of-State Attorney

The federal district court in Tacoma recently concluded that it did not have personal jurisdiction over a Mississippi attorney and his law firm who handled matters in Louisiana and Virginia for a Washington client. Bullis v. Farrell, 2022 WL 656204 (W.D. Wash. Mar. 4, 2022) (unpublished), involved claims for legal malpractice, breach of fiduciary duty, and violation of the Washington Consumer Protection Act by a Washington resident living in Dupont against a lawyer and his firm officed in Jackson, Mississippi. The claims arose out of lawsuits the lawyer handled for the client in Louisiana and Virginia. Neither of those involved conduct in Washington and the lawyer was not licensed in Washington.

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Strange New Trip: The Emerging World of Psychedelic Law and Decriminalization

After substances like LSD (acid), MDMA (ecstasy), and notably psilocybin (magic mushrooms) were classified as federally prohibited Schedule 1 drugs, a new wave of research into their therapeutic potential is growing, state and local governments are decriminalizing their use, and new areas of law are opening up. “Now there’s what’s referred to as a psychedelic renaissance …,” said Kathryn Tucker, special counsel at Emerge Law Group. “It’s just an incredible surge of interest.”

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Books

Washington Supreme Court Outlines Contours of Confidentiality Rule

The Washington Supreme Court recently addressed the scope of the confidentiality rule RPC 1.6 in In re Cross. Cross had represented a client in a criminal case arising out of an accident involving an all-terrain vehicle the client was driving. When the criminal case resolved, Cross and the client held a confidential discussion about the possibility of pursuing a product liability claim against the ATV manufacturer. Based on Cross’s advice, the client decided not to file a product liability claim. A passenger in the ATV accident later sued Cross’s by-then former client. When the former client’s defense lawyer in the civil case moved to add an affirmative defense attributing the accident to a product defect, the passenger opposed the motion. To support the opposition, the passenger’s lawyer obtained a declaration from Cross in which he disclosed the confidential conversation he had with the former client evaluating the possibility of bringing a product claim and revealing that the former client had decided not to pursue such a claim in light of the costs and risks. A bar grievance followed.

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