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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Downtown Colville under blue sky

Coming Back to Colville

Afew minutes after entering the offices of McGrane & Schuerman, PLLC, it occurs to me that Alison McGrane has barely sat down. Even on her first day back at work after a San Diego vacation with her husband, daughter, and son, she was scurrying from one end of the office to another, walking and talking, standing and talking, standing and reading, standing and signing.
Picture the high-velocity energy of a character in an Aaron Sorkin show.
Except that when you compare this image to that of a rural attorney stereotype, things don’t square up. McGrane has been on the receiving end of these stereotypes. Lawyers from big cities are sometimes prone to treating their rural counterparts as less capable in the law, simpler, less complex—in other words, stupid. That type of assumption is, of course, stupid in itself, and despite the extreme ruralness of the place McGrane calls home, she and the rest of the team at McGrane & Schuerman are anything but stupid.

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Two farmers in a field, shaking hands with an attorney.

Far-Flung Places: A WSBA Travel Series on Rural Legal Practice

In 2019, a group of WSBA volunteers and staff began what was then called the Rural Practice Project (RRP) to analyze the state of legal services available in rural Washington, as well as other jurisdictions in the country, better understand the problems, and identify potential paths forward that the WSBA could take to address access to justice gaps in Washington’s rural communities. In 2021, upon the RPP group’s recommendation and with a unanimous vote and approved budget from the WSBA Board of Governors, the Small Town and Rural Practice (STAR) Committee was formed to build upon the work of the RPP as a long-term, multi-faceted endeavor of the WSBA.

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Shot of a young male lawyer standing by his desk in the office

Should I Open My Own Law Firm?

How do you know if going independent and starting a law firm business is the right choice for you? In this article, I’ll give you some of the tools you need to determine whether it’s time to ditch a traditional office role and strike out on your own.

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Abstract Technology Banner

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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Green ethical business preserving resources, reducing CO2, caring for employees.

ESG and Law Firms Part 2: Understanding Emissions and Where to Start

In the first part of this series, we explored Environmental Social, and Governance (ESG)—what ESG is and the basics of what lawyers and law firms need to know about ESG. After reading part 1, you may be thinking: How will ESG impact my practice and my firm? We will answer that question here by exploring one of the ways that ESG may impact your law firm operations: client requests for ESG metrics and, specifically, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

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Farmer shaking hands with a lawyer in front of tractor in field

The State of Rural Practice in Washington: Urgent Needs for Moderate Means Program

Finding affordable legal services in Washington state is challenging, the problem only intensifies in Washington’s rural counties. Consider the WSBA’s Moderate Means Program (MMP), a statewide program that matches moderate income clients with a network of legal professionals for assistance on issues of family, housing, consumer, and unemployment law cases at reduced fees. The scarcity of attorneys creates a significant challenge in finding meaningful referrals for this program. As a result, Washingtonians in need of lower-cost legal help often receive no successful or meaningful referral, leaving them without affordable help and rendering the MMP mission nearly impossible to accomplish.

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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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Legal Tech & Practice Management Part 2: Transform Solo- and Small-Firm Billing with Software

During a recent consultation, a lawyer shared that they regularly did not bill the clients until the end of representation. Fortunately, most clients paid after their case had concluded. Unfortunately, one client stiffed the firm on a $50,000 bill for a multiyear-long matter that even proceeded to trial. To make matters worse, the firm had not sent any bills until the matter concluded, and the large outstanding balance enraged the client. After multiple failed efforts to collect the fees, and not wanting to risk a bar complaint, the firm elected to accept its losses and walk away from the fees. The lawyer I consulted with was seeking practice management help to learn about billing software solutions and best practices. I further learned that the firm was struggling to get bills out on a regular schedule, which delayed its own timekeeping and contributed to an overall time-consuming billing process.

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Hands holding crystal globe with ESG icons. Using technology of renewable resource to reduce pollution

Environmental, Social, and Governance: What Lawyers and Firms Need to Know About Accountability

Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) is essentially an investing framework that brings a broad range of what have traditionally been considered nonfinancial factors into financial decision-making and risk analyses. ESG expands corporate accountability beyond shareholders to include external stakeholder expectations on a variety of factors such as climate change, use of consumer data, and racial justice (among many others), which we broadly group into the three buckets of environmental, social, and governance.

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Digital law and justice graphic with document, gavel, and scale icons

Legal Technology and Practice Management, Part 1: Practice Management Software as a Hub for Your Practice

Making technological investments in a law firm is fundamental for planning for the life of the practice. According to the Thomson Reuters’ 2021 Report on the State of the Legal Market, 84 percent of surveyed partners expected their firms to increase investments in technology after the pandemic. The pandemic has forever changed the use of technology in law firms and altered consumer expectations. Firms who fail to adapt will be left behind.

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Smiling female lawyer

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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New Advisory Opinion on ‘Reply All’ Emails

Is it OK to hit “Reply All” when responding to an email from another lawyer when that lawyer cc’d their own client on the initiating email? Have you just violated RPC 4.2? Or is including the other client permissible because they were already included in the initial email?
There’s a new advisory opinion which helps you answer this question. The Committee on Professional Ethics just posted Advisory Opinion 202201 on the WSBA website, which takes a comprehensive look at the issue.

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Finance ledger and calculator

Legal Fee Tax Deduction Gets Easier

Since 2018, it’s been tough to deduct legal fees, and some plaintiffs in contingent fee cases are even taxed on their gross recoveries, not net after legal fees. Creativity is needed in this new age, since sometimes the rules seem to say you shouldn’t be deducting fees at all. Fortunately, the mechanics of deducting legal fees in employment, whistleblower, and civil rights cases have been improved, at long last.

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