Do I Have a Case? Let’s Talk About It

By Marc E. Gustafson

“Do I have a case?” It seems like such a simple question. One that would seemingly lend itself immediately to an IRAC analysis (that’s Issue, Rule, Analysis, and Conclusion for those of you who have effectively blocked out your first year of law school). This question, maybe more than any other, is littered with legal booby traps for the unwary. But it also presents an opportunity for lawyers to have a full and frank conversation with prospective clients about not just legal merits but the legal process.

I get it. Just like I do with my Internist, potential legal clients want to jump right to the diagnosis. Is my hamstring torn? Do I have [name the disease]? And just as I get frustrated or impatient with my doctor wanting to run some blood work, to try physical therapy, or to just wait and see, it is easy to appreciate why those who are seeking legal advice regarding a potential employment matter can’t understand why there’s no quick (and cheap) answer.

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“When I’m 64”

Leslee, a white woman with light brown hair and dark brown rimmed glasses, wears a navy dress with red and white flowers, a navy sweater, and a gold kangaroo pin. By Leslee Ruth Sharp

The Beatles released that song in 1967. I was much too young to appreciate how far away the age of 64 was or what my life would look like. Although had you asked my mother, she would share I knew I was going to be an attorney since about the age of 3. I’ve been preparing to be or engaged in being a lawyer almost my entire life. I have been extremely fortunate to practice in two main areas that I truly enjoy: real property and elder law.

Like many attorneys, this is not just my career; it is who I am. I chose a life with no children (being the favorite Aunt has its perks). Instead, I built a practice using my time, my focus, my energy, and certainly the support of colleagues, family and friends. But still.

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Of Competition, Stress, and Well-Being

Will, a white man with a brown beard, and grey glasses, wears a blue and peach plaid shirt. By Will Graebe 

Like many other lawyers, I grew up in a competitive family. The dinner table was a debate stage. Jeopardy was a full-contact sport. Performance and achievement led to reward and affirmation. This environment prepared me for many of the challenges I would face in my adult life—law school, the bar exam, and the stress of practicing law. Somewhere along the way, though, I realized that something was missing. This way of living was not sustainable for me. So, I set out on a journey ten years ago to explore my own well-being and to redefine what flourishing looked like for me. I’d like to share some of what I have learned.

This is not another article encouraging readers to meditate, write a gratitude journal, practice mindfulness, exercise, sleep and eat better, engage in service work, get out in nature, or change their mindset. While these are all valuable practices, by now, most of us know what we can do to improve our well-being. We have been inundated with well-being content offering specific wellness tools. Instead, what follows are principles that I have found helpful in guiding my well-being journey.

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How Should We Deal With Conflict?

Adam a white man with light brown hair, wears a white shirt, red tie with light polka dots, and a white shirt. He is smiling. By Adam G. Linett

A pro se opponent continues to file nonsensical pleadings. An opposing counsel is obnoxious and rude in a deposition. A family law case is on a roller coaster of one crisis after another, created by your own client, the other side, or both.

As legal professionals, we are often called upon to deal with one sort of conflict or another. For those of us who make our living as litigators, all of our cases are “adversarial” in nature. But if we are honest, some of the players—whether parties or our colleagues at the bar—are easier to deal with than others. The question is, then, how do we handle these more contentious situations without allowing it to rob us of our peace of mind?

First, we need to remember that we were retained because a conflict of some sort already existed. In the case of individuals, organizations, or governmental entities, the dispute could be over a contract, a tort, a family law matter, or many other areas. In the criminal law context, the client may be accused of committing a crime and is facing prosecution by the state or the federal government. Thus, the issue is not that conflict itself is inherently bad or must be avoided at all costs. Rather, the existence of a conflict shows that there is a need for some change. The conflict is also an opportunity for us to use our legal education, skills and abilities to assist our clients.

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AI Is Adapting, and Lawyers Should, Too

By Marc E. Gustafson

We’ve all been there – negotiating with opposing counsel over a nuanced situation, only to get a run-of-the-mill response. These types of conversations can be frustrating, if not downright maddening. More importantly, they have the potential to spell a hard road ahead for our profession.

Over the last year, there has been a fair amount of gnashing of teeth by lawyers and law firms over ways Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools like ChatGPT and the like will affect the legal profession. If your head has been anywhere but buried in the sand, you’ve likely seen examples of articles and briefs, with varying degrees of accuracy, composed using some form of AI. And these tools are going to get better.

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BarCARES Board Nominations Are Open!

Kayla, a woman with dark brown hair, wears a pale pink blouse, bright pink jacket, and gold fairy pin on the lapel.By Kayla Britt

Do you care about the mental health of lawyers, law students and paralegals? Would you like to serve on a board that works towards making a variety of mental health services readily available for colleagues? BarCARES does that and is seeking nominations for Board members.

For those who don’t know, BarCARES is designed to offer no-cost assistance in dealing with problems that might be causing distress and can be used to help with such matters as personal issues, anxiety, substance use, financial concerns, family matters, work issues, professional stressors, and to provide help with case-related stress as well as student coaching on all matters including time management.

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The North Carolina Guardian ad Litem Program – What Is It, and What Does It Do?

Michelle, a white woman with blond hair, wears a blue blouse and is smiling. By Michelle FormyDuval Lynch

The Juvenile Justice and Children’s Rights Section of the NCBA includes attorneys and child advocates who are committed to excellence in the direct representation of North Carolina youth. Three of the most common areas of direct representation of children and juveniles in court are child welfare, juvenile delinquency, and family law proceedings. Attorneys with the North Carolina Guardian ad Litem Program (NC GAL Program) represent children in child welfare proceedings in North Carolina district and appellate courts. This article is a short summary of the NC GAL Program, its purpose, duties, and role in that representation.

Guardian vs. Guardian ad Litem vs. NC GAL Program

A guardian of the person is one who generally has the duties of care, control, and custody of their ward. The term “guardian ad litem” comes from the latin phrase “ad litem” which means “for the purposes of the suit.” A guardian ad litem is usually an individual appointed to appear in a lawsuit on behalf of a minor party or incompetent person. While guardians ad litem may be appointed in a variety of civil and criminal proceedings in North Carolina,[1] the NC GAL Program is only appointed to represent children in abuse, neglect, or dependency (“AND”) proceedings, or termination of parental rights (TPR) proceedings under Subchapter I of the NC Juvenile Code. These cases are initiated when a county department of social services files a juvenile petition; they are sometimes referred to as “DSS court,” but a more accurate name is “child welfare court.”

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How to Promote a Positive View of Lawyers and the Legal Profession

Adam a white man with light brown hair, wears a white shirt, red tie with light polka dots, and a white shirt. He is smiling. By Adam G. Linett

Why are lawyers often mocked and despised in the media, and what can we do about it? As professionals, we have spent years studying the law, and we have dedicated our lives and careers to this profession. So while we may take ourselves seriously, sometimes, it is a shock to walk into a courtroom or to face a group of people from the public who view us no differently from the proverbial “snake oil salesman” or as someone out only for ourselves and prepared to pull a fast one.

Admittedly, some members of our profession have broken the law, stretched the rules of ethics, or generally made themselves a nuisance. But we cannot allow these individual examples to define, or to continue to define, us or our profession. Is there anything we can do to raise the public perception of lawyers, defend our profession, and represent our clients effectively at the same time? Let’s consider three goals we can set this year to push back on these common negative impressions.

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BarCARES Seeks Nominations for Board Members

Ann, a white woman with short blond hair, wears a white blouse and teal jacket.By Ann Anderson

Do you care about the mental health of lawyers, law students and paralegals? Would you like to serve on a board that works towards making a variety of mental health services readily available for colleagues? BarCARES does that and is seeking nominations for Board members.

For those who don’t know, BarCARES is designed to offer no-cost assistance in dealing with problems that might be causing distress and can be used to help with such matters as personal issues, anxiety, substance use, financial concerns, family matters, work issues, professional stressors, and provide help with case-related stress as well as student coaching on all matters including time management.

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“The” Ohio State University and the Trademark Protection of Cultural Identity

By Andrew McClain Adams

College football season is upon us, and The Ohio State University is in the hunt for the playoffs. As good as they have been on the field, the school’s first win came before the season started. In June, the United States Patent and Trademark Office granted Ohio State an unusual trademark: the word “The.”

For those unfamiliar with Ohio State, the attempt to claim ownership of a definite article may seem absurd, but the word “The” holds a special place in the heart of Buckeyes everywhere. While it has been a part of the school’s name since 1878, the university made a push in the 1980s to emphasize the word “The” as part of the college’s brand and to distinguish it from other OSU colleges such as Oregon State University and Oklahoma State University.  Since then, the word has appeared on Ohio State merchandise, promotional materials, and is emphasized in the pre-game introductions of Buckeyes competing in professional sports. The school’s first application for the trademark was denied, since the USPTO was skeptical that the word was being used as an indication of source, but their second attempt was approved after demonstrating the sheer amount of marketing and advertising they had poured into creating a link between the word and the Ohio State brand.

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