ALR Student’s Corner: The Firm: What Can Overbilling Do For You?

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There are several areas of the legal profession which will remain timeless; it is from these areas that learning from the mistakes of others is critical to ensuring long, stable careers for ourselves.  Better yet, learning from mistakes made by fictitious characters has become the standardized norm by which the rules of professional responsibility is taught.  The Firm, a film adaptation of John Grisham’s novel by the same name, teaches attorneys about the repercussions which may results from their glaring professional responsibility mistakes. (SPOILER ALERT).  Mitch McDeere, played by Tom Cruise, is a recent law school graduate who has been hired by a blue chip firm half-way across the country.  After becoming deeply entangled with the firm, he learns the firm represents a mob family.  McDeere’s dilemma becomes whether to risk his life leaving the firm or continue representing an alleged crime family.  Ultimately, McDeere uses the information that the firm had been overcharging the family/clients to convince the family to pardon him for having likely exposed them to scrutiny by the FBI.

The message we may take away comes from what McDeere’s mentor, Avery Tolar played by Gene Hackman, tells him once he joins the firm: “Everything depends on billing, how many hours you spend even thinking about a client…I don’t care if you’re stuck in traffic or shaving or sitting on a park bench.”  Rule 1.5 of the North Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct covers fee and fee-related conduct.  Briefly, a lawyer shall not make an agreement for, charge, or collect an illegal or clearly excessive fee or charge or collect a clearly excessive amount for expenses. The factors to be considered in determining whether a fee is clearly excessive include the time and labor required relative to the novelty of the issue, likelihood that employment by potential client will preclude other employment, customary fees, time and limitations, relationship with the client, whether the fee is fixed or contingent, etc.

Here, the mob family had deep ties with the blue chip firm for some time.  There was no exclusivity in time spent relative to other potential work the firm may have conducted outside of illicit activities conducted through the firm (i.e., hiding mob proceeds offshore).

McDeere learns the firm is overcharging the family and uses this information to get out of potential trouble with the family.  McDeere tells the family he needs their permission to forward the family’s invoices to the government in order to take care of the overbilling.  The error in regard to procedure is McDeere’s explanation to the mob family/clients that the FBI has any hand to play in attorneys overcharging their clients.  The use of mail fraud to give the federal agency leeway to investigate the firm is a completely separate issue from the compensation agreements between the firm and the family relative to the family receiving any type of remedy.  This is another example of where films take poetic license for the sake of the plot and do not differentiate between criminal and civil liability.

Procedurally in North Carolina, subsection (f) of Rule 1.5 provides disputes regarding a fee for legal services must go through the North Carolina State Bar’s program of fee dispute resolution.  Attorneys must provide proper notice if they are claiming the dispute; attorneys must act in good faith if the clients submit a proper dispute request.

McDeere had made backups of the family’s legal files as insurance in case his plan did not go smoothly.  Ultimately, he explained to the mob family, “Whatever I know, wherever I go, I am bound to attorney-client privilege.  I am exactly a ship carrying a cargo that will never reach a port.  As long as I am alive, the ship will always be at sea.”  McDeere receives the authorization from the mob family to release copies of the family invoices to the FBI, and ultimately leaves the firm with his life.  The moral of the story is attorneys should not overbill their clients; also, attorneys should not overbill the mob. The Firm is available in the Charlotte School of Law Library DVD collection.

For more information about the Rules of Professional Conduct or for specific attorney lookup, visit http://www.ncbar.gov/public/.

~ Ray Olang, L’15 ~

Class Advisor – Susan Catterall, Esq.

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Charlotte School of Law Moot Court Volunteers Time

Charlotte School of Law  Moot Court members volunteered to work with students associated with Classical Conversations, an organization supporting homeschooled families, in a Mock Trial event on Tuesday, May 5, 2015 at the Union County Courthouse.

District Court Judge Tripp Helms preside over the mock trial event while CharlotteLaw student Moot Court members served as jurors.  Current students as well as CharlotteLaw Moot Court alums engaged in individualized coaching with the 8th grade equivalent students to prepare them for the demands of the legal profession.  The case for the day pertained to a woman who possibly suffered from battered woman syndrome and who killed her husband, and attorney.

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“The kids didn’t seem like children playing at being attorneys,” said Shanna Rivera, CharlotteLaw Moot Court Honor Executive Board Member.  “They were laying foundations and impeaching witnesses like the best of the best.  Some of the girls almost brought me to tears with how much emotion they invested in portraying battered women.”

After the success of this event, CharlotteLaw Moot Court members are looking forward to participating in this exercise again soon.  For more information, contact Professor Ashley London, alondon@charlottelaw.edu.

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Compliance Officer: A Career in Demand

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Compliance has become one of the biggest buzzwords in corporate America and one of the hottest areas of the job market. In some sectors, new compliance jobs are growing at rates that are more than double the growth rate for non-compliance jobs. Many of those jobs command six figure salaries and there is a big demand at every experience level. Jack Kelly of Compliance Search Group said, “Hiring has gone up across the board … from senior level to junior level and everything in between.”[1]

WHAT THEY DO

Corporate compliance officers have a broad array of duties. The 2014 Compliance Trends Survey, conducted by Compliance Week and Deloitte, identified four core responsibilities that over 80% of survey respondents agreed were primary areas of focus[2]:

  • Compliance with domestic regulation
  • Compliance training
  • Code of conduct
  • Complaints and whistleblower hotlines

With these primary concerns in mind, it is easy to see that you don’t have to be a compliance specialist to benefit from increasing your compliance knowledge. Businesses expect many non-compliance professionals to be more knowledgeable in this area. Human resource professionals, accountants, paralegals, and many other professionals have a growing need to understand the complexities of compliance requirements that apply to their work and their organization. The big key in compliance today is being proactive in order to prevent problems.

WHERE THEY WORK

One of the biggest growth sectors for compliance professionals is financial services. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures for compliance officer jobs in finance and insurance show projected growth of 11.1%[3] through 2022. That’s more than double the projected growth rate for non-compliance jobs in this sector. Many other industries are also hiring a multitude of compliance professionals.

Accounting, technology and healthcare companies have a huge and growing need for compliance professionals. Industry leaders like PWC, Deloitte, Oracle Corporation, and Healthcare Corporation of America (HCA) are just a few that top the list of companies with major hiring initiatives.

HOW MUCH THEY MAKE

Salaries for compliance professionals are strong and growing. According to the staffing firm Robert Half, even without a law degree, salaries for compliance analysts at midsized companies are between $67,500 and $89,000.[4] According to CareerBuilder, within accounting and finance, the median salary for regulatory compliance professionals is $93,550[5].

While a law degree is not required, there is huge demand for attorneys with compliance knowledge. “Compliance has opened up a whole new area for law school grads,” says Jason Wachtel, Managing Partner of executive search firm JW Michaels & Co. Chief Compliance Officers at large companies earn annual salaries in the range of $141,750 to $197,000[6]. At large multinational companies, the salaries are even higher.

HOW TO PREPARE YOURSELF

Whether you want to become a compliance professional or you want to enhance your compliance knowledge to be more effective and marketable in another profession, the best way to gain that knowledge is through a compliance program like the one offered though the Charlotte School of Law. This will ensure that you get the right information about the most relevant compliance issues that are up-to-date, which is extremely important in the rapidly changing environment businesses operate in today.

CLICK TO LEARN MORE


[1] Reuters, U.S. compliance salary report: More jobs, higher pay, but post-crisis boost is limited, May 29, 2014. http://blogs.reuters.com/financial-regulatory-forum/2014/05/29/u-s-compliance-salary-report-more-jobs-higher-pay-but-post-crisis-boost-is-limited/

[2] 2014 Compliance Trends Survey. https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/us/Documents/risk/us_aers_dcrs_deloitte_compliance_week_compliance_survey_2014_05142014.pdf

[3] Risk and compliance specialists in high demand at banks. http://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/business/banking/article9157889.html#storylink=cpy

[4] Robert Half Salary Guide 2015. http://s3.amazonaws.com/DBM/M3/2011/Downloads/Salary_Guide_Robert_Half_2015.pdf

[5] 2015’s Best Finance and Accounting Jobs and Their Salaries. https://www.randstadusa.com/workforce360/jobs-the-economy/finance-accounting-jobs-in-demand-for-2015/256/#regulatory

[6] U.S. News & World Report, Jump-Start a Legal Career With a Job in Compliance Law, March 1, 2015. http://www.usnews.com/education/best-graduate-schools/top-law-schools/articles/2015/03/16/jump-start-a-legal-career-with-a-job-in-compliance-law

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Student Spotlight: Carol Naples

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On April 10, 2015, Charlotte School of Law’s Immigration Law Society hosted Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author of national best seller of Enrique’s Journey, Sonia Nazario, through the leadership of 3L Carol Naples, child immigrant, loving wife, mother of two, and aspiring North Carolina and New Jersey immigration law attorney. Prior to coming to law school Naples worked in the not-for-profit and financing realm. However, her work experiences is not what peaked Naples interest in immigration—her life was.

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Naples, was born in San Jose, Costa Rica and came to the United States when she was six years old. As a first grader, she struggled with speaking English and had a hearing impediment which made the first few years of elementary school difficult. Growing up in a military family, Naples moved from Fort Bragg, North Carolina to Tampa when she was nine. By the time Naples graduated high school, she had been through twelve different schools. After high school, Naples married her husband Alexander, who was also in the military. Immediately after giving birth to her two sons, Naples and her husband moved to Germany. In Germany, while Naples’ focus was on being a wife and mother, she attended college as a non-traditional student and obtained an Associate in Science in paralegal studies. When Naples’ sons were in high school, Naples stressed the importance of going to college. After pushing her sons for a couple years, Naples felt convicted to move forward with her studies. As a result, Naples pursued her Bachelors of Science in Management in 2011 from Montreat College. Fueling her passion for law, Naples applied to Charlotte School of Law and Charleston School of Law in 2011 but was not admitted. At the beginning of 2012, Naples’ undergraduate business law professor informed Naples about AAMPLE (Alternative Admission Model Program for Legal Education)—which offers determined individuals with lower traditional applicant criteria the opportunity to earn a place in the classroom by successfully completing two upper-level law school courses in six weeks followed by two law school final exams. Naples was accepted into the AAMPLE program and passed the required courses. Upon completion of the required courses, Naples was admitted into the fall 2012 class.

“This is a big accomplishment for my family and me,” Naples exclaimed. “My grandmother only had a second grade education level, and taught herself how to read by reading the Bible,” she said. Naples mother only completed a sixth grade education because she had to go to work to help feed the family. Naples is the first woman in her family to complete an education beyond elementary school. “Law school is a dream for me, but for those who came before me, it is a realization of the power of education,” Naples said.

Naples has been appreciative of all of her experiences at Charlotte School of Law. Although her law school journey has been a hard road to travel, Naples has usurp each obstacle as an opportunity to learn something new about the legal field and herself personally. During her time at Charlotte School of Law, Naples has enjoyed her Immigration, Race Law and Public Policy, Criminal Law, Interviewing, Counseling and Negotiations, and Advanced Legal Research courses. However, her clinical experience in the immigration clinic has had the most impact on her. “It has set me up to hit the ground running in my legal career,” said Naples.

Naples will be graduating from Charlotte School of Law with her J.D. on May 16, 2015. While Naples has been offered an opportunity to go into private practice, she is exploring a partnership opportunity with a CSL alumnus to establish an Immigration law firm. “I wanted to go to law school to become an immigration attorney, and because of [the opportunity that CSL has given me], I am going to make a difference in a person’s life—one person at a time,” said Naples.

 

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North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Sam J. Ervin IV participates in Charlotte School of Law’s “Law Week 2015”

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Photo courtesy of indyweek.com

Charlotte School of Law’s (Charlotte Law) Student Bar Association (SBA) 2015 Law Week was held from April 6-10, 2015. This year’s Law Week theme was: Practice Readiness. With the assistance of 2L Spring Start Senator, Jhonathan Morales-Najera, Delta Theta Phi’s Dean, Mairim Zalez was able to host North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Sam J. Ervin, IV (Justice Ervin) at the law school. On Monday, April 6, 2015, Justice Ervin addressed a room full of over 70 Charlotte Law students about the transition from law school to the bench.

Justice Ervin is a graduate from Davidson College and Harvard Law. Upon graduation, Justice Ervin returned back to his hometown of Morganton, North Carolina where he practiced law with the Morganton firm of Byrd, Byrd, Ervin, Whisnant, McMahon, P.A. for eighteen years. In 1999, Justice Erwin was nominated for a seat on the North Carolina Utilities Commission by Governor James B. Hunt, Jr. Justice Erwin was nominated for a second term on the Utilities Commission by Governor Michael F. Easley in 2007. Justice Ervin was elected to the North Carolina Court of Appeals at the November 4, 2008, general election, and served on that body until he took office as a Justice of the Supreme Court of North Carolina on January 1, 2015, after being elected to that position at the November 4, 2014, general election.

During his speech, Justice Ervin discussed how he appreciated the direction that Charlotte Law as taking in integrating practice-readiness in its curriculum. Justice Ervin candidly shared that upon graduating from law school that he knew nothing about the real-world practice of law. Justice Ervin shared his first experience on the job where he didn’t know what pleadings were or how to properly filed documents with the court. Justice Ervin emphasized about how important it was to ask for help and to seek advice from senior partners. “Senior partners lived the situations that new attorneys are facing and most of the time are enthusiastic and willing to help,” said Justice Erwin.

Justice Erwin then opened up the floor for questions. One student asked, “What are some of the qualities that you expect from a law clerk?” Justice Erwin responded, “I expect my law clerks to have good research and writing skills, and have the ability to give good advice.” Justice Erwin explained how important it was for his law clerk to embody all three skills. “If you can research and present pertinent case law, have the brevity in writing to analyze the case law, and then give advice to your senior partner or judge as to how to rule or argue, you are gold,” Justice Erwin said.

Justice Ervin continued to elaborate on why it was important for his clerks to be able to give him advice on how to rule so that he can either use their recommendation in his decision or explain to them why he is going to rule contrary to their advice. This led Justice Ervin to his next point about how important it was for clerks to have good communication skills. Not only the kind that is good when arguing a case in front of the court, but throughout all aspects of the practice of law itself.

Finally, one student asked the question that many Charlotte Law students often think about: “Being that Charlotte Law is a new school, how do I overcome the barriers and stigmas associated with the school?” Justice Ervin quickly responded, “Charlotte Law is a great school and people always have something to say about something new.” “After ten years of practice, people will ask, and you should also ask yourself, what kind of an attorney are you?” Essentially, Justice Erwin placed the reputation of the school back in our hands. Justice Ervin alluded that it was our responsibility as graduates to be the best attorney that we can be so that we could increase the school’s reputation. In closing Justice Ervin stated, “After ten years of practice, it won’t matter where you went to law school or where you come from but instead what kind of reputation you are able to establish for yourself.” To connect with Justice Ervin and to learn more about Jhonathan Morales-Najera, see JMN Student Spotlight.

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Pictured L to R: Jhonathan Morales-Najera, Student Senator; Justice Ervin; Mairim Zalez, Dean of Delta Theta Phi; and Marlowe Rary, 2015-2016 SBA President

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