Technology and Other Reasons to Hire a Boutique Law Firm

reasons to hire a smaller law firm

Tollefsen high school technology

In the not too recent past, the large firm had several advantages: 1) It could afford a large library and the staff needed to keep the library up to date by inserting pocket parts, adding and deleting pages in loose leaf services, and ordering updated copies of the books and materials. 2) It had better technology from document retrieval to word processing allowing superior response time. 3) Its lawyers often had more in-depth experience in the law due to the availability of superior resources and greater numbers. The downside was extravagant bills.

But that was then. Times have changed. Technology has provided law firms, regardless of size, with solutions that have leveled the field. Any firm can have complete electronic libraries and research facilities online through the Internet. There are many new software and hardware solutions that increase productivity and reduce cost. Now the question you should ask your law firm is what technology it has adopted, what experience it has, and how it controls the cost of legal services. Tollefsen Law scores well in all three areas.

Cases in the Press Handled by Tollefsen Law

1982 technology

Tollefsen state-of-the-art technology in 1981

Reasons to Hire Boutique Law Firms

If you hire a technologically savvy, experienced smaller law firm, you can have the former exclusive advantages of large law firms at lower cost and better service. At the right small firm, you can be assured of partner-level experience along with efficiencies often not found in large law firms. Here is a partial list of what you need to ask to evaluate a law firm:

reasons to hire a smaller law firm

Tollefsen technology today

1) Does the firm subscribe to a fixed cost online electronic library so that it does not charge clients access fees for routine legal research? Many firms still charge hourly fees for accessing online libraries in addition to the hourly charge of the researcher.

2) Does its fixed fee electronic library subscription include all state and federal cases and statutes? If not you will probably be charged access fees.

3) Does the firm have comprehensive practice management software that tracks all communication connected to your file (email, telephone, fax, and postal mail) as well as calendaring, documents, and contacts? There are several software solutions available to law firms. If a firm has not made an investment in practice management software, it is likely that the firm has not made a commitment to increase its productivity to reduce costs for clients. It is also more likely that something important to your legal affairs will be overlooked.

4) Has the firm purchased automatic OCR and scanning software that allows it to manage production of discovery requests and productions? If not, it is likely that your costs will increase due to inefficient document management procedures. Discovery is usually the most expensive phase of a case. Software is available which makes it easy to create paperless offices which provide flexible and inexpensive tracking and management of all documents connected to your case.

5) Does the firm have case management software? If not, it is likely that complex cases will be more expensive. In addition, the likelihood that an issue will be overlooked increases. Case management software is used in many federal investigations and cases to provide better issue management, better chronologies, and better courtroom exhibits.

6) Does the firm minimize its office rent and allow its staff and attorney to work virtually from home or does it continue to incur high costs in expensive downtown offices?

Our Fees

Tollefsen Law PLLC is a Leader in Law Office Technology.

Tollefsen Law is a “paperless office.” Documents are scanned and filed electronically. All cases are managed electronically allowing staff to access complete information from any computer any place in the world. Potential evidence is managed by computers and electronically identified with appropriate issues in the case. Declarations, timelines, and trial exhibits become easy to produce and the chance that evidence or arguments are missed is reduced. In addition to in-house resources, Tollefsen Law has searchable access to all state and federal law and cases. It has thousands of treatises and law journals at its disposal. These services are part of TL overhead and are not charged to clients except in extraordinary circumstances and with prior client approval.

Tollefsen Law has state of the art communication equipment including forwarding voice mail by email and forwarding faxes through its fax servers by email to its staff. Staff have IP extension phones in their homes to offer maximum telephone availability. The firm uses a national SIP phone network. Clients are not charged for long distance calls in the United States or Canada.

The following is a partial list of software installed on Tollefsen Law servers: Amicus Attorney Professional/Billing Premium Edition, Master File, Evidence Cruncher, Lotus Notes database, MS Sequel Server, MS Terminal Server, Adobe Acrobat Professional, MS Exchange, and MS Office 2010 Enterprise Edition. Tollefsen Law uses Lexis-Nexis, Loislaw, and other vendors for research services. (The names listed in this paragraph are trademarks and service marks of their respective owners).

Comparing Tollefsen Law with a Large Firm.

Tollefsen Law has the following advantages over a large firm: 1) We offer personal attention from our senior staff. You will not see your case shuffled off to a junior associate without your express authorization. 2) Every staff member has complete access by computer terminal to all your records including everything done in your file from phone call summaries to pleadings. 3) Our policy is to avoid charges for “extras” like long distance services and on-line research time. We consider most third party expenses (other than court fees and significant duplication charges) to be part of our overhead part of our hourly fees. 4) We have carefully pared our overhead to minimize our costs. We do not try to impress you with expensive offices and furniture. 5) Our hourly fees are 40-50% lower than similarly experienced professionals in large cities. 6) We have no minimum billing requirement reducing the pressure to create large bills. 7) Our lower fees and overhead allow us to take cases we want, not cases we need to pay overhead. 8) We focus on discovery that is really needed to prove the issues rather than conducting expensive “scorched earth” discovery. 9) We have several lawyers with over thirty years of legal experience in business law and litigation. 10) We are committed to increasing productivity and reducing costs for legal services.

To be fair, we must disclose our weaknesses compared to large firms. Tollefsen Law has the following disadvantages compared to large law firms: 1) We do not have as many people to assign to a file. We solve this problem by adding outside counsel as needed. 2) Since we are smaller in number, we may not have experience in every legal issue. We solve this by diligent preparation after full disclosure to the client.

You may be surprised to hear that a smaller firm with the property technology can compete with a big firm.

American Bar Association Technology Resources

There are many good reasons to hire a smaller law firm.

U.K. Begins to Advance Protection of Whistleblowers

U.K. Begins to Advance Protection of Whistleblowers Jes Staley, the American CEO of Barclays went after whistleblowers the American way – “get that rat!” This time the U.K.’s Prudential Regulation Authority and Financial Conduct did something about it. They called it an ethical breach and put pressure on Barclays to do something. Barclays issued a statement stating it reprimanded Mr. Staley and will make a “significant” cut to his bonus. How does this balance out? The whistleblower loses his or her career and the executive who cause that damage may lose some part of their future bonus. In the U.S., the SEC insists on revealing the name of the whistleblower if there is a settlement. The SEC justifies its policy by claiming it is merely trying to buttress internal reporting. In my experience, corporations circle the wagons when there is credible whistleblowing. Corporate counsel interrogates and human resources attempts to find legal grounds to terminate. Investigators comb the whistleblower’s computer and office looking for something negative. Usually whistleblowing is a career ending exercise in the U.S. The U.K. does not give rewards to whistleblowers. The SEC does but refuses to allow anonymous filings. It allows temporary anonymity if the whistleblower uses an attorney to file the claim. Like many CEOs, Mr. Staley apparently thinks whistleblowers are disloyal and he felt in this case it was “an unfair personal attack.” After he was told it was not appropriate to inquire into the identity of the whistleblower, he continued to pressure his internal security investigator for the information. A U.S. law-enforcement agency was asked to help. Consider Wells Fargo Bank. It...

OSHA Issues New Guidelines for Whistleblower Case Settlements

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has published new guidelines for approving settlements between employers and employees in whistleblower cases to ensure that settlements do not contain terms that could be interpreted to restrict future whistleblowing. The guidelines, issued Sept. 9, 2016 make clear that OSHA will not approve a whistleblower settlement agreement that contains provisions that may discourage whistleblowing. OSHA enforces more than 20 federal whistleblowing statures, perhaps the most well-known are the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. § 9610, Section 1057 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, 12 U.S.C. § 5567, and Sarbanes Oxley Act (SOX), 18 U.S.C.1OSHA has jurisdiction over the whistleblower provisions of the following statutes: Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA 11(c) ), 29 U.S.C. § 660(c); Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA), 49 U.S.C. § 31105; Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA), 15 U.S.C. § 2651; International Safe Container Act (ISCA), 46 U.S.C. § 80507; Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), 42 U.S.C. § 300j-9(i); Federal Water Pollution Control Act (FWPCA), 33 U.S.C. § 1367; Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), 15 U.S.C. § 2622; Solid Waste Disposal Act (SWDA), 42 U.S.C. § 6971; Clean Air Act (CAA), 42 U.S.C. § 7622; Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. § 9610; Energy Reorganization Act (ERA), 42 U.S.C. § 5851; Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century (AIR21), 49 U.S.C. § 42121; Sarbanes Oxley Act (SOX), 18 U.S.C. § 1514A; Pipeline Safety Improvement Act (PSIA), 49 ii U.S.C. § 60129; Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA), 49 U.S.C. § 20109; National...

Local EB-5 VISA Fraud

Local EB-5 VISA Fraud SEC Complaint: 15-sec-v-dargey-complaint Recent Seattle newspaper headlines have informed us that Lobsang Dargey, a local real-estate developer, has agreed to plead guilty to EB-5 fraud allegedly involving at least $125 million from 250 Chinese investors. This type of fraud is a form of securities and immigration fraud and has become more common on both sides of the transaction: investors make fraudulent claims regarding their eligibility for the program and promoters misappropriate their investments. EB-5 was enacted by Congress in 1990 to stimulate the U.S. economy through job creation and capital investment by foreign investors. Under a pilot program enacted in 1992, and regularly reauthorized since then, investors may also qualify for EB-5 visas by investing through regional centers designated by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) based on proposals for promoting economic growth. On September 29, 2016, President Obama signed Public Law 114-223 extending the regional center program through December 9, 2016. Ten thousand visas are allocated each year and processing times can be two years. Not only does the investor and family need to be vetted for the visa (e.g. where did the money come from?). There are two investment amounts $500,000 and $1,000,0000. Both require creation of ten full time (35 hours per week) permanent jobs. The $500,000 is by far the most popular and is only available in rural and high unemployment area. This is where the developers get involved. They package a deal, arrange for USCIS processing, and arrange permanent management. Teams of well-paid sales agents sell the package in China and elsewhere. Since the package involves an investment with an expectation...

One-year statute of limitations – Embezzlement

ONE-YEAR STATUE OF LIMITATIONS – EMBEZZLEMENT Copy of case: (Travelers Casualty & Surety Co., v. Washington Trust Bank, No 92483-0) 1611-travelers-casualty-surety-co-v-washington-trust-bank Often the only hope of financial recovery from an embezzlement, other than from insurance policies, is from a bank which paid on forged endorsements (also spelled “indorsements”). A recent case (November 3, 2016) held that the statute of limitations in such cases is only one year in Washington State.1Travelers Casualty & Surety Co., v. Washington Trust Bank, No 92483-0 An employee of a nonprofit serving disabled adult client~ used her position to embezzle more than half a million dollars held by the nonprofit for its clients. She did this by drawing checks from the nonprofit’s account payable to its clients, signing the back of those checks with her own signature, and cashing them at the nonprofit’s local bank. The embezzlement was discovered in an admission in the employee’s suicide note. The Bank sent monthly bank statements during the embezzlement period. These statements included copies of the fronts of the checks that had been cashed at the Bank. The statements did not include copies of the backs of the checks, which would have readily revealed the embezzler’s signature. During the relevant period of time, the victim could access its checking account online at any time to view both the front and backs of checks that cleared its account. The online process required clicking an account to view, clicking a link for the front of the check, clicking a link for the back of the check, closing the check, and repeating as necessary. RCW 62A.4-406(f) provides: “Without regard to care or lack...

National Whistleblower Appreciation Day

CELEBRATING WHISTLEBLOWING Where were you on July 30, 2016? The United States Senate unanimously declared July 30, 2016 as “National Whistleblower Appreciation Day” in a resolution adopted on July 7, 2016. It stated “. . . in 1777, before the passage of the Bill of Rights,10 sailors and marines blew the whistle on fraud and misconduct harmful to the United States. . . . the Founding Fathers unanimously supported the whistleblowers in words and deeds, including by releasing government records and providing monetary assistance for reasonable legal expenses necessary to prevent retaliation against the whistleblowers. . . . on July 30, 1778, in demonstration of their full support for whistleblowers, the members of the Continental Congress unanimously enacted the first whistle blower legislation in the United States that read: ‘Resolved, That it is the duty of all persons in the service of the United States, as well as all other [of] the inhabitants thereof, to give the earliest information to Congress or other proper authority of  any misconduct, frauds or misdemeanors committed by any officers or persons in the service of these states, which may come to their knowledge’” The 2016 resolution further provided: “. . . . it is the public policy of the United States to encourage, in accordance with Federal law (including the Constitution, rules, and regulations) and consistent with the protection of classified information (including sources and methods of detection of classified information), honest and good faith reporting of misconduct, fraud, misdemeanors, and all other crimes to the appropriate authorities at the earliest time possible. . .” The resolution was cosponsored by Grassley and Wyden...

Federal Anti-kickback Statutes

There are at least three federal anti-kickback statutes the anti-fraud community should be familiar with. A fourth is the Stark Law (anti-physician self-referral). Federal Anti-kickback Statutes The earliest of the three is the Copeland “Anti-kickback” Act (Pub.L. 73–324, 48 Stat. 948, enacted June 13, 1934, codified at 18 U.S.C. § 874) which supplements the Davis–Bacon Act of 1931. Congress discovered that employers during the Depression were scheming to get around the prevailing wage provisions on federal contracts by requiring wage “kickbacks” from employees. The Copeland Act prohibits a federal building contractor or subcontractor from inducing an employee into giving up any part of the compensation that he or she is entitled to under the terms of his or her employment contract. The second anti-kickback statute was enacted as part of the Social Security Amendments of 1972 to make efforts to prosecute Medicare and Medicaid fraud easier. The statute was broadly construed in United States v. Greber (3rd cir., 1985).  Dr. Greber was convicted by a jury on 20 of 23 counts in an indictment charging violations of the mail fraud, Medicare fraud, and false statement statutes. His defense was that the payments were for professional services. The court held a jury could find him guilty if part of the reason for using the service was the payment. “If the payments were intended to induce the physician to use [the] services, the statute was violated, even if the payments were also intended to compensate for professional services”. The ruling prohibited business transactions that were once fairly innocuous, leading to the creation of safe harbors. (See e.g. 42 CFR 411.355). The safe harbors are now complex and detailed. The third federal statute...

Regulatory Compliance: It’s the Little Things…

Regulatory penalties can be devastating for a company, yet many companies, especially small companies, fail to plan for or devote resources to regulatory compliance. These companies can be confused and incredulous when they become the focus of investigations or sanctions and may delay responding until their very existence is at stake. Proper counsel can help companies understand regulators’ focus which helps them to prepare for and address compliance issues in a timely manner.

Fair Chance – Washington

 Ban-the Box Legislation Fair Chance – Washington h-3695.1-fair-chance-act New legislation beginning to emerge around the country may initially seem counter-intuitive to CFEs. The new laws prohibits employers from asking an applicant about his/her criminal history on a job application or during initial screening and delays that inquiry until after an applicant is determined to be otherwise qualified for the job. There is something in us CFEs that wants to know all but it is becoming clear that many of those caught up in the criminal system have little chance of becoming contributing citizens once they are  branded as a criminal. On November 3, 2015, President Obama signed a ban-the-box (aka “Fair Chance”) executive order addressed to federal agencies (referring to the box to check on an employment application affirming a criminal conviction). According to the National Employment Law Project there are more than 100 cities and counties around the country that have adopted ban-the box rules. Effective October 27, 2015, the New York City Human Right Law was amended by The Fair Chance Act.1N.Y.C. Administrative Code §8-107(11-a) . Guidance which promises vigorous enforcement was published. 2 http://www.nyc.gov/html/cchr/html/coverage/fair-chance-legalguidance.shtml In December of 2015, Portland, Oregon adopted a Fair Chance Law. Under their version of the law, employers are prohibited from inquiring about or even accessing an applicant’s criminal history from any other source before making a “conditional offer of employment.” This is defined as being any offer that is conditioned solely on the results of the criminal background inquiry or some other contingency that is expressly communicated to the applicant at the time of the offer. There currently is a Ban-the-Box bill...

WA Consumer Protection Law applies extraterritorially

Under the CPA an out-of-state plaintiff may bring a claim.against a Washington corporate defendant for allegedly deceptive acts. Similarly, an out:of-state plaintiff may bring a CPA claim against an out-of-state defendant for the allegedly deceptive acts of its in-state agent.

Collapse of building for insurance purposes

QUEEN ANNE PARK HOMEOWNERS  ASSOCIATION, a Washington non-profit corporation,  v.   STATE FARM FIRE AND CASUALTY  COMPANY, a foreign insurance company, June 18 2015 Copy of Case 2015-Queen-Anne-Park-v-State-Farm The Washington Supreme Court held that collapse means substantial impairment of structural integrity. The dissent argued collapse means “collapse”. Part or all of the building fell down. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals asked the court to decide this question: What does “collapse” mean under Washington law in an insurance policy that insures “accidental direct physical loss involving collapse,” subject to the policy’s terms, conditions, exclusions, and other provisions, but does not define “collapse,” except to state that “collapse does not include settling, cracking, shrinking, bulging or expansion?” The insured building was found to have “hidden decay” that  had substantially impaired the walls’ ability to resist lateral loads according to the owner’s inspector. Hidden decay that caused a collapse was expressly covered by the policy. “Construction of an insurance policy is a question of law for the courts, the policy is construed as a whole, and the policy ‘should be given a fair, reasonable, and sensible construction as would be given to the contract by the average person purchasing insurance.”‘1Queen City Farms, Inc. v. Cent. Nat’l Ins. Co. of Omaha, 126 Wn.2d 50, 65, 882 P.2d 703 (1994) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Grange Ins. Co. v. Brosseau, 113 Wn.2d 91, 95,776 P.2d 123 (1989) ). The court held that “collapse” is ambiguous because it is subject to more than one reasonable interpretation. In this case there were two conflicting rules of interpretation: 1) plain meaning versus 2) favor the insured if...