Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Filing a Will for Safekeeping

Questions sometimes arise about where to keep a Will, and who to tell about a Will. In a perfect world, where families are close and people communicate openly, this would not be an issue. The person who makes a will should discuss it with his trusted family members and tell them where the will is, confident in the knowlege that when the time comes, the will will be found and its terms carried out. There are times when it's not that way, and even times when clients want and need to resort to deception and skullduggery to make their will, but keep it safe and a secret until they pass.

I always look at whether anyone with access to the will would benefit from its disappearance. I had a client recently whose closest living relative is a nephew. He likes the nephew well enough, but they are not close. He has the nephew in the will for about $50,000, has some other cash bequests, and leaves the rest (about $400,000) to his best friend, and if his best friend dies first, to his friend's family. I know him long enough and well enough to know it's legit, but he is very concerned that his nephew would be called to his residence if he died, and the will would be gone. He also is uncomfortable keeping it in a safe deposit box, and uncomfortable about leaving it with me. I suggested that we file it for safekeeping with Surrogates Court, while he is still living. Many people, and many lawyers, don't know you can do this, but it can be very useful. It costs $40 to file. Whenever anyone files an Administration proceeding (claiming there is no will), the Clerk ALWAYS checks for wills on file. I have filed wills for safekeeping about 10 times in the last 25 years. I don't know if it ever stopped skullduggery, but whenever I do it, the clients always appreciate the advice.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Isn't it True.....????

As I start my second 25 years in practice, here are a few observations about lawyering......

Isn't it true......

.....that most criminal clients are nicer than civil litigants?

.....that Judges who have never practiced can really hurt you?

.....that getting a retainer is not so hard, getting paid beyond the retainer is harder?

.....that in practice, it never matters where you went to school or what your grades were?

.....that whenever a new client tells you that people involved in the case have been "paid off", you know they are nuts and you want out?

.....that you could have been a psychologist?

.....that truth IS stranger than fiction?

.....that when you deal with extended families, very often "stupid is as stupid does"?

.....that small money cases drive you crazier than big money cases?

.....that some files are jinxed?

.....that when a client wants you to send a "lawyer letter", you know it isn't going to do anything?

.....that you don't know what people who have "real jobs" actually do?

.....that people who have real jobs have no idea what YOU actually do?

.....that you have thought about changing careers many times?

.....that you could write a book?

.....that the longer you practice, the more you realize how much you don't know?

.....that knowing how much you don't know is not only OK, it's one of the best parts about lawyering?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Fathers Day 2007

Top 10 things I learned from my father:

10. Think BIG.
9. Always reverse your exactas.
8. Give people a ride all the way home, no “dropping off”.
7. Tip generously.
6. Winning is not the only thing, fun and sportsmanship count.
5. Don’t use racial slurs.....he never did, and still doesn't.
4. Try to see things from both sides.
3. You can try to make everyone like you, but not everyone will.
2. Brothers should stick together and help each other.
1. Being a good father is very important. He grew up without one, and did his fathering without having anyone to show him how. I was luckier.


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Per diem update

The per diem (court coverage) business is getting tougher all the time. Here are the main reasons:

1. The overall volume of personal injury cases is down. This is primarily due to the vigorous defense on these cases by the insurance carriers. It has become unprofitable for most plaintiff firms to accept the lower level cases, so now, these cases are simply not in the system. This puts pressure on the per diem business because not only are there less "jobs" to cover, but many firms who used to use per diems are now covering the appearances "in house".

2. Many of the civil defense lawyers are now victims of their own success. They beat the tar out of the plaintiffs, so now there are less cases, and the insurance companies have either laid off lawyers or stopped hiring. Many of the displaced lawyers try per diem work. Some can make a go of it and some can't. The bottom line is there is more competition for less available work.

3. The competition for work has kept the fees down. I would love to raise my per diem fees, but the problem is all my competitors would love me to do that, so they could undercut me. I recently told another per diem lawyer that in this environment I would lower my fees before I raise them. He seemed to think I was nutty. He can follow his business model, I'm going to stick with mine.

4. Many of the per diem players are marketing and advertising much more than before. I suspect some of them have actively pursued my attorney accounts, and sometimes in the course of marketing they "inadvertently" have gotten in my kitchen and taken some clients. Fair is fair, and my view is it works both ways and evens out. In the end, quality will tell. One thing is for sure, the per diem business is no different than any other, you have to service your existing clients AND market for new business.

5. Some of the downturn in lawyer business spills over into accounts receivable. There are some really bad attorney clients in this biz. I've learned who they are, the hard way. I am tempted to name names, but I won't. What I will do though, is let my new competitors scoop up all THAT business, and then struggle to get paid from these deadbeats. Here's when I knew the depth of sleaze from one of these firms.......He ran up a $10,000 tab with me (you may ask, how did you let that happen? and the way it happens is every so often they send in $3-4000 when you really need it, so you stick with it, and then it gets out of hand) and forced me to sue him. We negotiated a settlement, which I had to chase him for. After it was all over, I called him and said "No hard feelings, I have a business proposal.....I know you have volume in Queens, and I would like the work, but I must get paid, SO, I will give you very VERY low prices, lower than anyone else, EVER, and I only have one condition.....I want to bill a credit card once a month". He said no. He then proceeded to stiff my biggest competitor for $6000!!!!
Yipes!!!! and I am usually the guy who defends other lawyers.

The business still has a lot going for it, but anyone thinking about trying it should remember, it IS a business.

Monday, June 11, 2007

DOH! Immigration Bill Going Nowhere

President Bush really looked like Homer Simpson (or any other doofus paradigm you prefer) on this one. My faithful blog readers know that I nailed this situation.....I should only pick horses this well.

You have to give the Democrats credit, they lured Bush into a "compromise" that NONE of them would have actually voted for, and waited for his cretinous cronies to rail against it and "defeat" the bill before it went anywhere. It does not appear that the issues will actually be publicly debated. That seems like a constructive way to handle the most important social issue in our country.

What could Bush and the remaining upright-walking Rebublicans have done. Consider this scenario.....they all supported the bill despite stating certain reservations about it, but express a willingness to compromise further and work out any differences in the best interests of the country. They further trumpet their support of those things that would have forced the Democrats to actually talk about the bill (provisions regarding returning home, fines, waiting, elimination of certain family preferences, and English language encouragement). How many Democrats would have actually supported or voted for a bill with all those provisions? How different would this all look if the Democrats would have been the ones who "defeated" the bill, or at least contributed to the defeat.

The way this played out shows an appalling lack of political skill from the White House. It could also be that nobody in Congress, especially the Republicans, can gain anything from an association with the President. Bush is so far down that his best political ally is now Ted Kennedy.


Friday, June 1, 2007

Immigration Bill......I'm on the right track

Here's a link to a fascinating op-ed piece from today's Wall Street Journal

It's based on interviews with President Bush regarding the immigration bill. I realize that some of my "liberal" readers will have difficulty reading anything emanating from "that man". I would say this.....the column is impressive, and explains many of the difficulties inherent in reaching a consensus for immigration reform.

In past posts, I have stated my basic position: President Bush wants and needs to enact a comprehensive immigration reform bill, and the Democrats will never let this happen until 2009. Furthermore, the present bill is all about changing the nature of the future debate, embarrassing the right wingers, and keeping the democratic Presidential candidates (primarily Hillary and Edwards) out of the fray.

There was one section of the article that really let me know I'm on the right track. Please read the whole piece for context, but here is the section that really caught my attention:

"When I ask if Mr. Bush thinks any of the current GOP candidates are proving to be leaders on immigration, he again flips the issue around (while still managing to sneak in one candidate's name): "I would rather refer you to those in the Senate that are doing a standup job. Of course, that would be Jon Kyl and Lindsey Graham and [Mel] Martinez--I hate to name them because I'll leave somebody out--John McCain has been very strong in the Senate, Ted Kennedy." He goes on to praise Mr. Kennedy, noting that an "untold" story is just how many Democrats are against this bill, and that Mr. Kennedy's leadership will thus be necessary to get a bill through the Senate. "

Yes, that is the "untold" story, because this bill is way too stringent for most Democrats, and there will not be any "leadership" from Senator Kennedy to get it throught the Senate. Neither Senator Kennedy nor any other Democrats have any intention of passing this bill, and that is the REAL story.