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Moore & Van Allen beefs up Charleston office  (access required)

Moore & Van Allen continued the growth of its Charleston office by absorbing the operations of nearby Hagood & Kerr, expanding its presence in the city to 35 lawyers. The deal was effective Jan. 1 All four Hagood shareholders — Ben Hagood, Rob Kerr, Beth Settle and Wendy Wilkie — plus other attorneys and staff made the move and will be located for the short term in the Moore & Van Allen offices on Calhoun Street, until the firm finds new space in Charleston’s downtown area.

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Judging the judges (access required)

An unprecedented survey based on the opinions of thousands of lawyers across North Carolina seems to paint a rosy picture of the state’s judiciary. The N.C. Bar Association’s judicial performance survey gives a big thumbs-up to almost all of the 168 trial judges who will have to survive this year’s election to remain on the bench. None of the 17 Superior Court and 151 District Court judges who were evaluated received the lowest possible overall performance rating on the survey. Coincidentally, the survey’s glowing results were released Jan. 3, one day before Gov. Beverly E. Perdue announced that she had filled all 18 seats on the state’s new Judicial Nominating Commission. The commission, created by executive order last spring, was trumpeted as a historic step toward improving the quality of the state’s judiciary.

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LegalZoom, N.C. Bar scrap over court designation (access required)

Do-it-yourself law website LegalZoom.com is fencing with the N.C. State Bar over the venue for a lawsuit that could eventually clarify what constitutes the unauthorized practice of law. The California-based company sued the Bar in late September after the agency refused to withdraw a public cease-and-desist letter it issued in May 2008, and because it will not register the company’s prepaid legal services plans. If the plans are not registered, LegalZoom cannot operate legally in North Carolina. Alfred P. Carlton Jr. (pictured) of Allen, Pinnix & Nichols in Raleigh, is an attorney for LegalZoom.

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A game-changing challenge? (access required)

In late December, Circuit Court Judge Roger Couch finalized a $327 million verdict against pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson for the way it marketed its antipsychotic drug, Risperdal. On or about the same day, he also gave another drug maker, AstraZeneca Pharmaceutical, the green light to move forward with a challenge to South Carolina’s action against the company for the marketing of its own antipsychotic drug, Seroquel, on the grounds that the state attorney general’s office had compromised its independence in pursuing the case.

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The healer departs (access required)

Not everyone was thrilled when Don Carroll was chosen as the first paid director of North Carolina’s Lawyer Assistance Program. He had a flaw: He wasn’t an alcoholic. For nearly 15 years, the assistance program essentially had been an ad hoc network of lawyers in recovery volunteering their time to help other lawyers get sober. So when Carroll applied, and was chosen, as the first real employee of the program, some volunteers were angry – even though Carroll, as the child of an alcoholic, knew plenty about how addiction could ruin lives.

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Contract attorneys a growing presence at firms (access required)

Demand for contract attorneys is higher than ever and the work is expanding far beyond the menial scope of document review and electronic discovery, according to legal staffing agencies throughout the Carolinas. Over the last decade, an increasing number of law firms have turned to contract lawyers to handle temporary projects at relatively low pay rates. But the trend really accelerated during the last four or five years as the economy tanked and firms looked to cut costs and meet client expectations.

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Insurance rates are about to skyrocket, study says  (access required)

Insurance industry executives across the country are making a concerted effort to raise coverage rates and boost profits, and they plan to use natural disasters and sue-happy lawyers as scapegoats, according to a Dec. 15 study. Americans for Insurance Reform, a coalition of nearly 100 consumer and public interest groups, concludes in its study, “Repeat Offenders: How the Insurance Industry Manufactures Crises and Harms America,” that insurers periodically cry wolf not only to fatten their wallets but also bolster calls for tort reform.

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It’s not easy being an expert these days (access required)

Tort reform and the stagnating economy have taken a toll on the expert business, though not necessarily to the extent some might expect. “With tort reform hitting hard in a lot of states, we’re seeing a big push towards mass tort work by the plaintiff’s bar,” said Eric Eckhardt, head of development and sales for Pennsylvania-based Robson Forensics. “So for example, if plaintiff’s lawyers can’t try a case effectively in Texas, they’re moving towards trying cases nationally. They’re networking with other plaintiff’s lawyers to get the payout.”

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Social media a game-changer in litigation (access required)

Facebook is the new smoking gun. In Spokane, Wash., police use a thief’s posted video showing suspected stolen loot as evidence against him. In Suffolk County, N.Y., a judge admits photos and messages posted by a woman claiming to be homebound as a result of injuries from a defective office chair, showing her active and on vacation. And in divorce cases in courts around the country, postings are being offered to support adultery claims.

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Survey: Corporate legal spending shows upward movement (access required)

For the first time in several years, corporate law departments appear to be loosening the purse strings when it comes to spending on both in-house staff and outside counsel, according to a recent survey. The 2011 Chief Legal Officer Survey of 176 corporate law departments throughout the country revealed that those departments, when taken as a whole, are increasing their overall budgets and spending more on outside legal services. While the survey statistics do not show dramatic spending increases, the numbers signal the start of a rebound for the legal industry, said Daniel J. DiLucchio, principal at Pennsylvania-based Altman Weil, a legal management consulting company that conducted the survey in October.

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