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Still down, but not out (access required)

Business isn't bullish, but it's not barren, either. That's the most recent verdict handed down from leaders of the firms ranked in Big 25, Lawyers Weekly's annual survey of the state's largest law firms. Nationwide, the past three years were marked by doomsday headlines that reported floods of layoffs for both attorneys and staff at large firms as a result of the recession. Firms hunkered down by cutting costs, freezing summer programs and deferring starts for new associates. North Carolina's Big 25 weren't exempt, either.

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Debtor wins rare verdict in federal collections abuse case (access required)

A federal jury has returned a verdict in favor of a debtor whose suit against Absolute Collection Service resulted in what attorneys say was the first-ever Fair Debt Collections and Practices Act jury trial and verdict in North Carolina. Plaintiff Diane Russell's victory in the case may change the way attorneys for debtors and collection agencies handle such claims in the future, said Sanford attorney Angela Martin (pictured), who represented Russell.

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DAs’ PowerPoint budget presentation piques defense lawyers (access required)

Lawyers at Indigent Defense Services, the agency that provides representation to criminal defendants who can't afford attorneys, are fuming over claims by the state's prosecutors that the prosecution is getting the short end of the stick when it comes to state funding. The feud was sparked by a PowerPoint presentation given to legislators by the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys last month. During the presentation, the organization said legislators should consider sparing the district attorneys' offices from budget cuts and look for savings in the office of Indigent Defense Services instead, saying prosecutors were "outspent" every day in court.

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Drawing boundaries with clients (access required)

While many lawyers pride themselves on client service, few enjoy losing their nights and weekends to client calls and emails. Lawyers must balance their need for personal time with the importance of providing great client service, advises Erik Mazzone (pictured), director of the Center for Practice Management at the North Carolina Bar Association in Cary. That said, "being a lawyer is a hard job and having the time to recharge your batteries allows you to be better at your job," Mazzone says. "I'd go home and ask my spouse: ‘Do I need boundaries?'"

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Medical errors study fuels med-mal reform debate (access required)

As lawmakers continue to push a bill that would limit medical malpractice lawsuits, opponents are boosting their criticism of the measure, pointing to a recent study showing that hospital errors occur ten times more frequently than previously thought. "We have always discussed the 98,000 patients who die from medical errors each year," said Sue Steinman, director of Policy at the American Association for Justice, referring to the 1999 estimate by the Institute of Medicine. "This study reinforces the fact that the numbers we have been talking about are in actuality extremely low."

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Lender sanctioned for repeated violations of automatic stay (access required)

A lender that repeatedly entered a couple's property despite the fact that an automatic stay had been imposed during bankruptcy proceedings has been sanctioned for the violation. The sanction came in In re Sands, a matter in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District of North Carolina. HSBC bank was ordered to pay the Sands' $1,200 in attorney's fees incurred when Winston-Salem attorney Kristen S. Nardone brought the motion for sanctions and appeared at two hearings on the motion.

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Bills would bring sweeping changes to workers’ comp system (access required)

North Carolina's workers' compensation system has been around since the late 1920s. Every few decades it gets a bit of an overhaul, with the last one coming 15 years ago. But the renovations anticipated in a Republican-backed bill under consideration in the General Assembly could lead to seismic changes in the system, which is designed to make injured workers whole and prevent lawsuits against employers. Critics of the current system say it can reward people for staying out of work and provides the potential for abuse. But those who support the status quo say the changes being proposed are draconian and would unfairly limit the rights of injured workers.

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Pending bills would revamp points of family practice (access required)

Matters at the heart of the practice of family law in North Carolina are the focus of several bills pending in the state's legislature this spring. Two bills address the payment of child support by non-parents, two would alter provisions relating to protective orders and one would mandate the awarding of attorney's fees to prevailing defendants in cases.

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Womble Carlyle to take on Charleston’s Buist Moore (access required)

North Carolina powerhouse Womble Carlyle is entering the Charleston, S.C., market by acquiring the city's largest law firm. In a merger fueled by the prospect of rapid economic growth in the Charleston area, North Carolina's largest law firm is joining forces with Buist Moore Smythe McGee. They will complete the deal on April 30, partners at both firms told Lawyers Weekly. "We're just very excited. We think this is a great opportunity," said Henry B. Smythe Jr. (pictured), managing director of Buist Moore.

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Senator urges more transparency on law school employment data (access required)

A high-profile voice has joined the call for the American Bar Association to change its rules for how law schools report employment and salary data to prospective students - a push for transparency that North Carolina educators welcome, especially given the increasing recognition that schools nationwide are fudging statistics to elevate their rankings. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., sent a letter to ABA President Stephen Zack on March 31 seeking a "detailed summary" of the organization's plans to implement reforms.

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