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RDM attorney Sarah Schwartz discusses legal services supporting veterans.

For my very first job as an attorney, I got to work with veterans as an Equal Justice Works fellow starting Legal Services of Eastern Missouri’s Veterans Project. It was the most rewarding way to begin my legal career that I could ever imagine. I had the honor of representing veterans and their family members in the St. Louis region over the course of two years. These cases arose from a variety of significant civil legal needs that are common among veterans and their families including housing, public benefits, family law, domestic violence, and consumer issues.

I am not being hyperbolic when I write that there was a massive number of cases that flooded into our office. While we were successful in helping numerous veterans who contacted us, there were still many we could not represent due to the limits of our own resources. For every veteran we could help, there were more who were unable to access the legal assistance they needed. According to the Legal Services Corporation, in 2017, “71% of households with veterans or other military personnel reported experiencing a civil legal problem in the past year.” Furthermore, veterans and military personnel reported receiving “inadequate or no professional legal help for 88% of their civil legal problems in 2017.” These issues persist to this day and have also been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

So, how can the legal community help tackle these overwhelming needs?

Attorneys Volunteering to Help Veterans

In addition to the clients we were able to represent, the project also worked with even more veterans to provide brief legal consultations and give them referrals to other organizations, including networks of private attorneys who could accept their cases pro bono.

I cannot express how impactful volunteer attorneys were in these roles, helping to fill the gaps as much as they could. Those who chose to utilize their law license to help a veteran keep a roof over their head, stop a predatory lender from financially exploiting them, or get out of an abusive relationship reported a sense of personal fulfillment in serving those who served our country.

This Veterans Day, I wholeheartedly encourage every member of the legal profession to assist our nation’s veterans and their families in addressing these outstanding legal needs. There are excellent organizations out there that you can contact and connect with abundant opportunities to serve our nation’s veterans.

Volunteer Opportunities

The need for legal assistance among veterans and their families is vast. There is no shortage of volunteer opportunities for attorneys seeking to serve veterans through pro bono work. Below are just a few of the organizations addressing the legal needs of veterans in our local communities.

The Kaufman Fund serves veterans and their families in the St. Louis, providing a number of services for low-income veterans. Their Veterans Legal Referral Program offers assistance with both civil and criminal legal matters. Attorneys interested in volunteering with The Kaufman Fund can apply here.

Legal Services of Eastern Missouri provides a broad array of services to the St. Louis region, including for veterans in our community. Find out more about volunteering with LSEM.

In the Metro East, Land of Lincoln Legal Aid serves veterans in the state of Illinois who need civil legal assistance. Attorneys can learn more about volunteering with Land of Lincoln Legal Aid here.

Kansas City Area Legal Resources for Veterans

Legal Aid of Western Missouri supports veterans needing civil legal assistance in Kansas City area and other portions of western Missouri. Their Veterans Relief Project helps veterans navigate legal issues including bankruptcies, foreclosures, student loans, and acquiring VA benefits. Western Missouri attorneys interested in volunteering can find out more about the Volunteer Attorney Project here.

Across the state line, Kansas Legal Services offers extensive legal assistance for veterans and their families. Interested attorneys can find volunteer opportunities here.

Los Angeles Area Legal Resources for Veterans

Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles’ Veterans Justice Center assists low-income veterans with a variety of legal issues. Attorneys interested in volunteering with LAFLA can find more information here.

Nationwide Legal Resources for Veterans

The U.S Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hosts events and law clinics across the country. You can find upcoming events and points of contact at the Veterans Justice Outreach Program website.

Books in a law library. RDM carefully studies contract language and contract law to ensure our clients know what they're signing.

The Eastern District of Missouri recently highlighted the importance of plain language, or the ordinary meaning doctrine, which suggests words in contracts should be given their everyday meaning unless the context of the contract indicates an alternative.

Pelopidas v. Keller

Pelopidas v. Keller involved a dispute between a previously married couple and their respective interest in a company. After divorcing, the couple agreed to retain their respective 50% ownership of the Pelopidas holding company. One spouse remained the owner/manager of the company and the other was an owner/employee drawing salary and benefits.

The owner/employee brought claims for breach of fiduciary duty in 2016. Ultimately, the owner/manager ex-spouse resigned from the company in 2019 and the company’s largest client and primary source of revenue terminated its business relationship with Pelopidas. Following these events, the parties mediated the lawsuit and entered into a written agreement titled “Memorandum of Settlement” outlining an agreed transfer of interest from the owner/employee to the owner/manager in exchange for a monetary payment.

The contract language included “Plaintiff’s stock shall be surrendered/sold, escrowed and pledged back to Plaintiff” and included a payment schedule over three and a half years. There was no effective date for the transfer of the owner/employee’s interest. In early 2020, the parties reached an impasse regarding finalizing the settlement and transfer of stock. The owner/employee then filed suit to enforce her version of the transfer of stock settlement which included a different effective date than that proposed by the owner/manager. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the owner/manager on the grounds that the effective date of the transfer of stock was the date in which the settlement was executed. The owner/employee appealed.

The Eastern District reversed the trial court’s ruling, instead directing the court to enter summary judgment in favor of the owner/employee. The Eastern District stated, “It is well established that the cardinal principle for contract interpretation is to ascertain the intention of the parties and to give effect to that intent.  To that end we use the plain, ordinary, and usual meaning of the contract’s words and consider the document as a whole.”

What’s The Difference Between Language of Performance and Language of Obligation?

The appeals court went on to determine the plain meaning of the use of “shall be” in relation to the transfer of the stock to determine the intent for whether it imposed a future obligation or immediate performance. The Court stated, “very simply, it is the only reasonable interpretation of the words “shall be” in [the contract clause], which clearly commands that each of these requirements occur sometime after [the date the settlement was executed].”

The Court went on to cite to the American Bar Association’s A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting which notes the differences between language of performance and language of obligation.

Language of Performance: Expresses actions accomplished by means of signing the contract itself, is typically accomplished by use of the word “hereby.”

Language of Obligation: States any duty a contract imposes on one or more parties and is typically accomplished by use of the word “shall” or “will.”

The Court noted that this plain language interpretation is reinforced by the fact that the dismissal of the underlying lawsuit was accomplished with the same language “shall be” with the intent that the lawsuit be dismissed at a future date following the execution of the supplemental documentation related to stock transfer.

“Hereby” vs. “Shall Be”

The takeaway lesson for businesses and contract drafters is to avoid utilizing any language of obligation if the intent of the parties is to effectuate the date of the agreement at the time of execution. In fact, the ABA manual specifically states in Section 3.72, that the word “shall” should not be used to express anything other than language of obligation in a contract. The alternative language to effectuate the date of the stock transfer as the date of the settlement execution could have been, “Plaintiff’s stock is hereby surrendered/sold, escrowed and shall be pledged back to Plaintiff.”

When drafting a contract, the details are of utmost importance. RDM’s Business Law Team understands the ins and outs of complex contractual agreements and can help you ensure that what you see is what you get. Contact RDM before you sign on the dotted line.

RDM associate attorney Jay Gillen.

Meet John A. “Jay” Gillen III, Rasmussen Dickey Moore’s newest associate attorney based in our Kansas City office. Although Jay only recently passed the Missouri bar exam, he is more than prepared to take on our clients’ cases and deliver the dedication, flexibility, and value for which RDM is known.

Why is Jay such a suitable fit for the RDM Team? He’s already spent three years with the firm as a law clerk, getting to know our attorneys, clients, and business.

The Summer Law Clerk Job

After graduating from Emory University in Atlanta in 2018, Jay was preparing to enter Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law. Initially, he planned to study Constitutional law. But by chance, Jay was introduced to RDM founding member Clayton Dickey. Clay invited Jay to interview for a law clerk position with RDM. Before long, Jay found himself immersed in the litigation world.

During his first summer on the job, Jay worked closely with Clay to prepare deposition summaries and do background research on plaintiffs. “Reading through depo summaries gave a better insight into what happens and helped me to develop specialized knowledge,” says Jay of his first summer at RDM.

The following summer, Jay was part of a Trial Team, working closely with RDM’s seasoned trial attorneys to provide research assistance on cases. Jay suggests going beyond just what the attorneys tell you to look for. Take initiative and focus on the details. “It’s always fun to come up something and see the attorneys get excited. If I were doing this, what would I look for to win this case?”

Working summers with RDM was exceptionally valuable. Clay recalls, “As a summer clerk Jay got well-versed in a fun and interesting array of topics such as marijuana, genetics, and cattle farms.”

“A lot of law students looking to go into big law firms get thrown into a back room doing document discovery for years. At RDM, I was able to work closely with attorneys and start drafting memos and motions,” Jay says. “It was a big advantage.” Heading into his pre-trial litigation course in the fall of 2020, Jay was able to take the lead on group projects with his previous experience preparing deposition summaries and motions.

During his final school year, Jay was able to stay on the job remotely while finishing his final year at law school and studying for the bar exam through the summer. Jay had been working closely with Clay and associate attorney Farhan Zahid on a case and was able to continue contributing as he wrapped up his studies.

Member attorney Nathan Lindsey recalls similar valuable experiences. Starting as a law clerk with RDM as a 2L student, Nate worked on dispositive motions and international choice of law issues for cases headed to trial. “Those type of early opportunities sold me on the firm,” says Nate. The following year, Nate had a very unique opportunity when he was able to cross Missouri to assist in opening RDM’s St. Louis office.

From summer clerk to partner, Nate’s experience demonstrates the career possibilities made available at RDM. “We are truly a career-oriented firm. The firm values every one of our employees and provides opportunities to grow and fulfill their potential.”

Becoming an Associate Attorney

After having demonstrated exceptional skills and dedication to his work over three summers, RDM of course extended an offer to Jay to become an associate attorney once he passed the bar exam. Jay transitioned into the job quite smoothly, as he was already wrapped up with the cases and clients that would soon become his.

The expectations are elevated, however, and as an attorney, the work becomes more intense and more time sensitive. “It surprised me to find out just how much our attorneys handle,” Jay says. But having already developed a deep familiarity with the work done at RDM, he has been able to take it all in stride.

Member attorney Joseph Dioszeghy began his long career with RDM straight out of law school in 2001. “One of RDM’s strengths is treating our employees and young attorneys as adults,” says Joe. “They immediately assigned me a trial set case and put me to work.”

“We train you, we help you, and we prepare you in every way we know how to be successful. But at the end of the day, we trust you to do your job. We let young associates take very important depositions. We let young associates argue important motions.”

Young associates receive opportunities to take on challenging work from the moment they start. First-year RDM associate Dillon Williams recently wrote about some of his newly acquired experience in drafting summary judgment motions as a new attorney who was able to take on challenges from the start.

Looking Forward to a Career with RDM

“Part of the fun is being able to work with the attorneys and trusted to handle the work,” says Jay. Now that he’s a full-fledged attorney, Jay wants to diversify the types of work he’ll be involved with. Beyond products liability and toxic torts, he hopes to delve into the fields of commercial litigation and healthcare law soon as well.

“Everyone at RDM has been great even since I started as a law clerk,” says Jay, “and now I can do more to help them out.” RDM founding member Steve Moore has brought Jay in to help with a number of asbestos cases. And he still works closely with Farhan, currently assisting with pro bono family law cases. “It’s emotional but exciting,” Jay says of the family law work. He hopes to continue to do pro bono work, also in the fields of Social Security and disability, as he did while working at Indiana University’s Community Legal Clinic.

“Jay is inquisitive, insightful, a quick study, enthusiastic and knows how to apply the law to the facts at hand,” says Clay Dickey. “He’s mature beyond his years. We are lucky to have him.” The attorneys and staff at Rasmussen Dickey Moore are excited to support this promising young attorney as he continues on his career path at our firm.

Career Opportunities

As RDM continues to grow, we’ll have more excellent career opportunities for new and experienced associates. Visit our Careers page or follow Rasmussen Dickey Moore on LinkedIn to stay up to date on available opportunities.

The futsal court in Marquette Park.

Rasmussen Dickey Moore member attorney Nate Lindsey recently participated in the kickoff event for the first outdoor futsal court in St. Louis. As part of his work with Dutchtown Main Streets, a volunteer-run community development non-profit, Nate teamed up with the organization’s subcommittee Allies of Marquette Park to usher in a new era of soccer to Marquette. Nate organized and collaborated with St. Louis CITY SC, the St. Louis Parks Department, and a host of private donors, community organizations, and contractors to have the futsal court installed at Marquette Park.

Continue reading RDM Attorney Nate Lindsey Helps Bring Futsal to Dutchtown
RDM associate attorney discusses the process for filing a motion for summary judgment in Missouri.

As a first-year associate, the responsibility of drafting your first motion for summary judgment is daunting. Law students are introduced to the basics of the summary judgment standard in their 1L Civil Procedure class, and—depending on what route you took through law school—reacquainted with the standard when preparing for the bar exam.

After three years of school and a summer of studying, any law school graduate can likely rattle off the summary judgment standard without missing a beat. But what I’ve come to learn in actual practice is that understanding the dos and don’ts of drafting the motion is a skill that is learned through careful guidance from senior attorneys, a little bit of patience, and some trial and error. There are key aspects to the motion that first year associates should learn to start looking for, such as knowing the right time to file and the facts you will rely on as the basis for the motion.

Where it all begins though, is understanding the required framework for drafting this motion. In Missouri, knowing the applicable law is critical to learning this framework. And in my short time since I began practicing law, I’ve already seen opposing counsels make the fatal mistake of failing to subscribe to it.

Continue reading Drafting a Summary Judgment Motion in Missouri