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It's Sunday afternoon and the neighbor kid's drone comes buzzing over your yard, maybe 50 feet overhead. Like any good lawyer you ask yourself, "Is this drone flight violating my airspace?" (If you're a really good lawyer, you refer to "airspace" as "vertical curtilage.")

The short answer is yes, writes Elizabeth Austermuehle in the April ISBA Real Property newsletter. "[I]n the absence of federal or state regulations granting drones the right to fly over private property without the property owner's permission, drones do not have the right to do so," she writes. Though Illinois has passed legislation ordering up a task-force report on drone regulation (due July 2017), state law does not currently regulate drone use.

As for federal law, the FAA has long permitted flights over private property in "navigable airspace," which generally applies to the space 500 feet and higher above ground, Austermuehle writes. But it hasn't had much to say about drones - at least not until June 2016, when the agency "released its first operational rules for routine use of small [unmanned aircraft systems]," she writes. "The rules offer safety regulations for UAS weighing less than 55 pounds conducting non-hobbyist operations. Among other things, the rules require drone operators to keep the drones within their visual line of sight and prohibit flights over unprotected people on the ground who are not directly participating in the UAS operation."

John J. Castaneda, owner of Castaneda Law Office, discusses how utilization review pertains to medical care or work-related injuries.

All attorneys have opinions about judges. Those opinions are sometimes negative and are often shared around the office, or when talking shop with a colleague.

But lawyers should beware of voicing those opinions in a more public forum. Rule 8.2 of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct prohibits attorneys from knowingly making false statements concerning the qualifications or integrity of a judge.

So when do opinions become lies? The First Amendment protects people who are stating opinions. It doesn't protect defamatory speech. And the issue gets even more complicated when that speech is part of a document filed with the court.

Some years back, the seventh circuit considered the nexus between the First Amendment and ethical rules in In re Palmisano70 F.3d 483 (7th Cir. 1995). There, the court reviewed a rule to show cause why an attorney who had been disbarred in Illinois should not be disbarred by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois as well.

Before 4:30PM on Thursday, May 4, please take a moment to do the following:

1.  Visit isba.org and ensure the information in your ISBA account is accurate.

  • To do so, simply login to isba.org by clicking on "ISBA Member Login" in the upper-right-hand corner of your screen (if you're already logged in, click on "My Account" in the same location).
  • Please pay particular attention to the information under the "Your Addresses" and "About You" sections because this information will become publicly available.

2. While on your ISBA account page, choose your "Online Public Directory Settings."


Asked and Answered

By John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

Q. I am the sole owner of a two-attorney firm in Atlanta. I have been in practice for 13 years. I have one associate who has been with me for one year, one full-time paralegal, and two part-time assistants. I have a general practice. Revenues have stagnated and I need to identify strategies for getting to the next level. My practice is struggling. I have been thinking about narrowing my practice and focusing on five or six practice areas. I am ready to invest in marketing. I would appreciate your thoughts.

A. This is the age of specialization – less often results in more. Many attorneys in small general practice firms are afraid to specialize and focus on three areas of practice or fewer. The concern is that by specializing, there simply will not be enough business of keep the attorneys busy generating sufficient revenues.

I have worked with several firms that have shifted their practices from general practices to practices limited to estate planning and elder law and they have performed far better as specialized practices than they did as general practices. I suggest that you consider focusing your practice on on no more than two or three key practice areas in which you can differentiate yourself.

Here are a few thoughts:


The Illinois Supreme Court has adopted a statewide policy statement for pretrial services. The statewide policy statement is a continuation of the advancement of pretrial services in Illinois.

"This policy statement seeks to serve as a guide for all of our trial courts," Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Lloyd A. Karmeier said. "The goal of pretrial services is to reduce the pretrial incarceration rate while ensuring that defendants comply with approved pretrial release. This process includes the application of a validated pretrial risk assessment tool which aids judges in making research-based decisions about whether defendants should be detained or released prior to their criminal trials.”

The statement is as follows:

J. Timothy Eaton, partner at Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP, discusses when and whether you should appeal.


Twenty years ago, law firm document management revolved around meticulously organized manila files, metal drawers, and bankers boxes, with instructions not to fold, spindle, or mutilate them as they were being physically transported to another attorney or a courtroom.

While those physical manifestations still remain to varying degrees in law offices, document management today is more likely to focus on electronic files that need to be created and managed on a server or in the cloud, with instructions to ensure they're adequately encrypted before being electronically transported to one of the aforementioned destinations.

Paul Unger, a partner with Affinity Consulting Group who works with attorneys and law firms, recommends that legal offices use a top-shelf, sophisticated electronic document management system to handle the creation and storage of most types of documents.

"If we're talking about transactional attorneys - or even if it's litigation, but it's your own work product, your own correspondence and responses - anything we would draft ourselves, pleadings, motions, I would recommend in today's age that a firm have a document management system," he says. Unger recommends four primary choices: Worldox, NetDocuments, iManage (formerly Interwoven Worksite), and Open Text (formerly Hummingbird). Find out more in the May IBJ.


Asked and Answered

By John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

Q.  I am a partner in a 14-attorney business litigation law firm in New Orleans. There are five partners in the firm. We are a first-generation firm and all five partners are the original founders. Each partner has equal ownership interests and is compensated based upon ownership points. While this approach to compensation worked for many years, this system is no longer working for us. Performance used to be pretty close but this is no longer the case. Your suggestions are welcomed.

A. This is a common problem that new law firms eventually face. Here are a few thoughts:

A leading appellate attorney reviews the Illinois Supreme Court opinion handed down Thursday, April 20. The case is People v. Way. 

People v. Way

By Kerry J. Bryson, Office of the State Appellate Defender

Ida Way was driving a vehicle when she crossed into oncoming traffic and struck another vehicle head-on, causing injuries to the driver of that vehicle as well as a passenger in her own car. Subsequent forensic testing revealed the presence of cannabis metabolite in Way's urine. She was charged with aggravated DUI based upon her having "any amount" of a drug, substance, or compound in her urine.

Way sought to defend against the charge by introducing evidence that a sudden, unforeseeable medical condition that caused her to lose consciousness was the proximate cause of the accident. She offered that her passenger would testify that she lost consciousness, three eyewitnesses would testify that they saw her shortly before the accident and she did not appear impaired, and her doctor would testify that it was possible that her loss of consciousness was due to her low blood pressure. The trial court rejected her request, concluding that the statute was one of strict liability "as to the accident." The appellate court looked to the law of proximate cause in civil cases and held that Way should have been permitted to present medical evidence.