Donald J Schutz

Attorney At Law

Member Of The Bar FL CA NY DC

Navigating the Law Since 1979

Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea

The Clearly Different Law Firm

I am a solo attorney, first admitted to practice law in 1979. My practice has included many different areas of the law and I am admitted to practice law in numerous states and courts.

Judges have specialized expertise in many areas of the law.  For example, in the 1980s,  I was attending a scheduled hearing on a motion to suppress evidence in a criminal case before the Hon. John Sirica, the Watergate judge.  When I entered the courtroom, he was hearing arguments in an international trade dispute.  He told them to sit down for a moment, called my case, resolved a nuanced evidentiary issue in my criminal matter,  and at the conclusion  immediately began again with the international lawyers.

Although the legal community recognizes that judges  must have the ability of a specialist in many areas of the law, the legal community has convinced the public that attorneys do not have the same ability.  The story of legal “specialization” starts for the most part around 1960 when two-thirds of attorneys were sole practitioners.   At the time, due to the developing complexity of the law, there was a movement for attorneys to organize into partnerships of specialists.  While this may have been necessary before the internet, it is less true today.  Before the internet, legal research was conducted by working through law books called digests and reporters.  After a relevant court opinion was found, the review of another set of books was necessary to see if the case had been limited or reversed. Court opinions took days or sometimes months to show up at a library.  Most law firms did not maintain complete libraries, and trips to law schools or local bar associations were often needed.  Legal research was incredibly time-consuming.  In today’s world, computers sort through thousands of cases and will find an exact word or phrase in a matter of seconds.  The internet has flattened the learning curve and has lessened, if not eliminated, the validity of the claim that law is so terribly complex and inaccessible that attorneys must dedicate their careers only to a limited area of practice.  The law is complex, but so are the modern tools to access the law and I use those modern tools.  

The prevailing wisdom is that if a case has two issues, the client requires (at least) two attorneys.   If a patient is suing a physician and the physician goes bankrupt, the patient needs a bankruptcy attorney; if the physician dies, a probate attorney; if the physician has a tax lien and the IRS is attempting to foreclose on his practice, a tax attorney; and if the physician’s insurance company denies coverage, an insurance attorney.  Multi-discipline issues are common in personal injury litigation when settling Medicare and Medicaid liens, insurance subrogation liens, and allocating the taxable portion of settlements.  In wrongful death cases, a probate proceeding is normally required.  I successfully handle all these matters without the need for additional attorneys.  

Specialization comes with the danger of failing to spot issues outside of a specific area of expertise.  For example, a personal injury lawyer within a boutique personal injury law firm may fail to investigate and recognize tax and criminal issues in a plaintiff’s lost wage claims where a plaintiff has underreported income.  With my broad range of experience, I may able to spot issues affecting the client that are outside of a limited scope of practice. 

In contrast to specialized boutique law firms, consider the large international law firm with hundreds and sometimes thousands of specialists known as “Biglaw.”  Biglaw firms have specialists in many areas and represent clients by deploying multiple attorneys with specialized areas of expertise.  Biglaw clients think of legal fees as an investment deployed to exhaust the opponent.  In my experience, Biglaw clients frequently defer the decision-making to their Biglaw attorneys as a more defensible management decision than overriding the Biglaw advice.   Biglaw firms make tough adversaries, but only when the Biglaw client has the money and the willingness to pay Biglaw fees.  Early settlement overtures to Biglaw are often cast by Biglaw to their client as a sign of weakness and lack of commitment and they pour on the expenses waiting for me to quit.  But when I believe in a case, I do not quit.  When I believe in a case, I can sink Biglaw. 

Consider insurance defense attorneys and their clients who understand that legal fees and expert witness fees are expenses, not investments.  Insurance companies evaluate cases on a risk versus reward financial analysis.  The adjusters, not the attorneys, make the decisions. The insurance adjusters value cases based primarily on how much they think that they are going to spend in litigation, how much they think they could lose, and the risk of losing.  Valuations are typically based on databases of past settlements for similar injuries.  In reality, settlements for similar cases actually have nothing to do with any given case.  At trial, insurance companies are not permitted to explain to the jury the claims history on similar cases.   In addition, insurance law issues, including bad faith and the duty to defend, may arise and personal injury attorneys may not fully appreciate the significance of the underlying insurance law issues. I value cases on what can be won balanced against the hazards of litigation and the risk of losing, not what the insurance company’s database says a case is worth.

The toughest adversaries are state attorneys general and the U.S. Department of Justice because they are not constrained by financial budgets on specific cases, the lawyers are not charging by the hour, and decisions are interwoven with policy and politics.  My approach is to develop a reasonable legal theory, facts that fit the theory, and focus on articulating to the judge why the government is wrong. 

Consider that many law firms are, in reality, just a group of sole practitioners who split overhead to put more than one name on the letterhead.  Law firms with the name, “and associates,” often have no “associates” and a “law group” may be a group of one. Even Biglaw firms may have only a few attorneys assigned to a case.  The Biglaw “expert” the client hired may bill a small percentage of time reviewing the work performed by relatively inexperienced, generalist, associates.  A “law firm” lawyer may in reality function more like a sole practitioner.

In addition to my experience in a broad range of subject areas, I am admitted to practice law in multiple jurisdictions.  I am a member of the Bar of the state and federal courts, trial and appellate, of California, the District of Columbia, Florida, and New York, and I have represented clients in all of these jurisdictions and by special permission of the courts in Ohio, Washington, Illinois, Louisiana, Missouri, and other jurisdictions.  When a Court transfers venue to another state, or when a case must be filed in another state due to a venue provision, I may be able to provide a solution that does not require another attorney.   I am admitted to practice law in, and I have filed cases in, the United States Supreme Court, federal Tax Court, and the United States Patent and Trademark Office.  I will bring cases to the United States Supreme Court if the facts and law warrant the underlying effort and if there is a chance of success.

I will work with co-counsel or in-house counsel on cases and may do so when joining cases already in progress.  I am willing to try to fill in gaps in current representation while maintaining the continuity of the current team. 

I do not charge to evaluate a case for representation.  I often put in days and weeks of fact and legal research at no cost when deciding whether to take a case.   If I take the case, I will not get outworked or outmaneuvered by the opposition. If you would like a free evaluation of your case and an explanation of what I believe I can do to assist you and what the representation will cost,  please contact me. 

“I may not be as strong as I think, but I know many tricks and I have resolution.”  Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea.