How to say “Thanks”

There have been many instances where a client has retained me to fix something that their prior attorney didn’t do right the first time; or even worst, they were their own attorney and they didn’t do it right the first time.  If there is one piece of advice I would give all of my potential clients, it is that you should not do it yourself without seeking the advice of an attorney.  Many attorneys will be willing to give you advice on how to do it yourself and then, at least you can contact that attorney to help you if things are not going well in the DIY world.
When you are preparing to enter into a contract, it is always better to have your attorney look at it.  The attorney will point out where the contract should be more specific to protect you (especially with dates) because there are almost no circumstances under which having a vague contract will protect you better.
If you find that your attorney did a good job for you, you should refer your attorney to your friends and family members.  I am an attorney that does not have a presence in the phone book and getting referrals is the best “thank you” I can get.  If you know an attorney that has been honest with you and has done a good job informing you of your rights and obligations, you should tell your friends and family members so that they are not left playing eenie meenie miney mo through the endless list of attorneys in the phone book.
I get all of my clients through face-to-face introductions and referrals from my existing clients (along with a small presence on the internet i.e. this blog).  A yellowpages ad is just too expensive for my taste and I am able to keep busy with my current system.  My personal belief is that if an attorney has to advertise in the phonebook to get clients, that attorney either has such a small niche that it is difficult to find prospective clients, or that attorney’s previous clients are not satisfied enough to recommend that attorney to others.

Mother’s Day Gift

Perhaps the best gift you can get your mother (and yourself) for Mother’s Day is an estate plan.  I tell my clients that it is their responsibility to make sure that their parents have estate plans.  Why?  Because when your parent dies, as the child, you (and your siblings) will have to organize and wrap up their affairs.  You can make your job much easier and you can save a lot of money by making sure that they have a well thought out estate plan. 
Estate planning does not just mean preparing a will.  A good estate attorney will not only prepare a will, but will also help you decide which property should pass outside of probate by way of transfer on death designations and can prepare a living will, power of attorney and health care power of attorney in the event that the testator becomes incompetent or incapacitated. 
Transfer on death designations are viewed as an easy way to save money and time because they give the beneficiaries immediate access to those assets rather than having to wait for a distribution through the probate court; however, transfer on death designations are not right for all people and all property and legal counsel should be sought before filling out any TOD paperwork.
Estate planning can keep family assets in the family in several ways.  You can express your wishes about how your assets should be divided after you are no longer able to make that determination by having a will prepared.  When the decedent’s wishes are expressed in a will, family members are less likely to fight over how the assets should be divided.  This will cut down on attorney’s fees and court costs that would arise if there were a dispute.  In addition, a testator can ask that the court waive a bond which can be costly depending on how large the estate is.  TOD designations are difficult to contest successfully and any assets transferred by TOD will go to the beneficiaries regardless of whether someone contests the testate or intestate distribution in probate court.
Estate planning will not only make your life easier if the worst should happen, but it will also give your parents peace of mind that they didn’t have before; something that every parent deserves.

The Tax Holiday

With taxes due in exactly one week, procrastinators everywhere are scrambling to finish their taxes so as to avoid the IRS radar.  My initial advice is to not wait until the week before taxes are due before starting them.  However, we are a busy society and if you find that you are a procrastinator, that advice is too little too late.  As an attorney, many of my family members have asked me if I do taxes.  The truth is that I was never very good at numbers and I dread doing my taxes more than the average person.  Being an attorney and having some knowledge of the tax laws, you would think that I would be willing to endure that torture in order to avoid paying an accountant.  The truth is that the process and anticipation is too painful. This year, I hired an accountant to do my taxes.

It is not that I don’t know how to fill out a 1040, its just that my taxes are no longer that simple and even if they were, I don’t enjoy filling out a 1040.  My disdain for doing my own taxes is such that I encourage our government to change the income based tax system to something less citizen-accountant driven.  The only problem with that kind of extensive overhaul is that it would put all accountants out of business, which might be counter-productive.

Although attorneys are capable of doing your taxes, an attorney is not necessarily going to do a better job than an accountant, and the attorney is probably going to charge more.  If you do have an attorney complete your taxes, my advice is to choose an attorney that generally does transactional work, rather than litigation.  Transactional attorneys are generally more comfortable working with numbers and litigation attorneys work more often with the written word.  Find an attorney that you know has done yours or someone else’s taxes in the past.  Although you won’t find me doing individual taxes for clients, other attorneys market that practice area and are good at it.  Remember: Just because your attorney agrees to do the work, does not mean that your attorney is good at it or has experience doing it.  It is your job to check credentials, if you don’t, you may find yourself in an expensive, intrusive, & exhausting audit.

April Fool’s

I was never much of a prankster on April Fool’s Day.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a practical joke as much as the next person.  Its just that April first sneaks up on me so quickly, and good practical jokes come in one of two ways: they are either carefully planned out to perfection, or they just fall into your lap in a way that could not have been planned and unfold perfectly by coincidence.  I was never very good at creating practical joke plots just for the sake of the first of April but for those that can pull it off, I have some advice.

Through marriage last year, I inherited a family full of April Fool’s jokesters and I wanted to provide some practical advice that may prevent a fun joke from turning into major legal trouble.

According to the law, if you intend your actions, you are responsible for the consequences, regardless of whether you intended or could have foreseen those consequences.  If your joke does not go as planned, you may be responsible for damage to personal property or injury to a person.

My advice is to save your practical jokes for your close friends and family members at home and opt not to participate in April Fool’s jokes at work.  If you save your pranks for home, you will avoid the potential for getting fired and from having to continue to work with someone that doesn’t think you are funny.  Things are more likely to go awry when there are many people involved and the more people involved, the more humiliated the subject will feel.  If something does go wrong, your friends and family members will be more forgiving and will be less humiliated.

If you do choose to participate at work, do not set up scenarios where someone could get hurt or property could get damaged.  Most importantly, consider all possible consequences of your actions.  By doing so, you can avoid becoming a fool of April Fool’s.

Communicate about Communication

While in law school, I completed an externship in the Ethics Department of the Columbus Bar Association.  That department was created to handle complaints of attorney misconduct.  The complaints that we received fell into one of two categories: 1) complaints about an attorney’s lack of communication with his clients 2) all other complaints.  By far, the complaint we saw most often resulted from an attorney’s lack of communication.  Now that I am a practicing attorney, I can tell you that there are several reasons why an attorney does not communicate as often as the client may like.
1. Attorney fees are high and most attorneys bill hourly.  Some attorneys do not communicate as often as a client may like because the attorney believes she is doing the client a favor by trying to keep the client’s bill as low as possible.  If you would like to communicate with your attorney more, you should tell her; just be aware that your monthly bill may be a little higher than it was in the past.
2. Sometimes there isn’t anything happening in the case and there is nothing to report.  If you prefer that your attorney communicate with you at some regular interval regardless of progress, you should tell your attorney how often you would like to hear from him.  The other option is to just check in with your attorney at those regular intervals to see if anything new has come up in your case.
3) Your retainer may be exhausted.  If you remedy this problem by replenishing your retainer, you should  have very little difficulty getting in contact with your attorney thereafter.  You must be careful following this rule, but in general, the more matters an attorney has to take to make a living, the less time the attorney will have to give you personal attention.  If you feel that your matter will require a lot of the attorney’s attention, you should find an attorney that has the time, and more than likely, that attorney will charge higher rates.

There are many plausible reasons why an attorney does not communicate as often as clients like; however, the lack of communication can rise to an unacceptable level.  If you have called your attorney and left 3 or more messages over a week period and you have not received a telephone call (or any communication) back,  (with the exception of a vacation that the attorney gave advanced notice of) it is my opinion that your attorney’s lack of communication has risen to a level that is unacceptable and I would advise you to begin a search for a new attorney.

New Blog

One thing is for sure, now that the economy is in the dumps, the last thing people want to pay for is attorney fees.  People think that attorneys make a lot of money, but the truth is, we end up writing off many client bills.  I have decided to start this blog to post my thoughts about many things, but mostly I want to inform people about how they can save money when they hire an attorney.  Believe it or not, there are many things that clients can do to save money when they hire an attorney.  Attorneys do not tell clients this because we make our living by selling legal advice.  People want to believe that their attorney will only do what is best for them, the client; however, attorneys are salespeople.  We want to sell our legal services to you and some attorneys will go so far as to sell you things that you do not need.  I would like to dedicate this blog to helping you understand a little bit about the law, attorneys, fees, and other law-related topics so that you can save money when you meet with your attorney.  If you have questions for me, I would be happy to answer them; however, nothing in this blog should be construed as giving legal advice.  You should meet with an attorney to talk about your specific situation and hopefully, if you use my tips, it will cost you less when you do!