To Small Business Owners— Remember, Your Small Business is a Customer Too

May 17th, 2012

By: Brian A. Mills, Esquire

The first rule of small business is that the customer is always right. Have you ever made a concession for a customer or client because he or she asked? And why do you do this? Because you value the relationship with the customer and want their business.

In the same vein, small business owners should remember that the businesses with whom they do business similarly value the relationship. All too often, we come across small business owners who are having difficulty with their bank, landlord or other vendors and when we review their loan documents, lease or business agreement, we find provisions that likely could have been negotiated to alleviate the burden of the situation for which the client came to us.

Don’t be afraid to tell your landlord that you want to have your lease reviewed by an attorney. Perhaps you can negotiate more favorable terms such as eliminating or limiting any personal exposure pursuant to a personal guaranty. Likewise, your lender might agree to eliminate prepayment penalties or other punitive provisions within the standard form loan documents. These are but two examples where an ounce of prevention might be worth a pound of cure. The bottom line is that when your business is doing business, it never hurts to ask. Seek the advice of a good attorney before signing a lease, loan documents or other agreements for your business. Your lender, landlord or vendor wants your business too and will likely make reasonable accommodation to keep your business happy– after all, the customer is always right!

How do I get child support/alimony modified?

April 17th, 2012

Courts use a case called Lepis v. Lepis, and the factors contained in (called Lepis factors) in order to determine a modification in child support or alimony. Here are those factors:

In accordance with this general principle, courts have recognized “changed circumstances” that warrant modification in a variety of settings. Some of them include

(1) an increase in the cost of living.
(2) increase or decrease in the supporting spouse’s income.
(3) illness, disability or infirmity arising after the original judgment.
(4) the dependent spouse’s loss of a house or apartment.
(5) the dependent spouse’s cohabitation with another.
(6) subsequent employment by the dependent spouse.
(7) changes in federal income tax law.

Courts have consistently rejected requests for modification based on circumstances which are only temporary or which are expected but have not yet occurred. In other words, temporary unemployment isn’t going to get you a modification.

The most annoying part of these standards is that courts do not apply them uniformly. There is a lot of variation at the edges where one judge might grant you a different result than the other. In these cases, although most of the motions are filed without an attorney, a consultation with an attorney might be the best way to increase your chances for success on a motion of this sort.

Would you Post Your Credit Score on Facebook?

April 12th, 2012

I would advise against it, but this site lets you do just that. I understand that Facebook encourages (some would say it does more than encourage you, but I digress) you to spread private information about yourself to every corner of the internet. However, this is a little like teasing your social security number, one digit at a time, so thieves can have whatever access they need to your information.

These services can be useful under the right controls as a cheap first line of defense against identity fraud and similar scams. However, broadcasting any information about your credit or personal financial status defeats the purpose of the protection the company is offering.

How Reachable Should a Lawyer Be?

April 9th, 2012

Alexi Darling: “Marky, Give Us A Call 970 4301…Or At Home Try 863 6754…Or My Cellphone At 919 763 0090…Or You Can Email Me…At Darling Alexi Newscom Dot Net…Or You Can Page Me At *answering machine beeps*

-from the musical “Rent”

I mean, I understand that clients need to know your office address. They want the office phone number, and maybe even a direct line. They want your office email address. But a home phone? A cell phone? (Nevermind a pager almost nobody wears a pager nowadays.) A home email address?

They’re called “office” phone numbers for a reason. Theoretically, there is supposed to be a dividing line there somewhere. If you have to give somebody eighteen different ways to contact you so that you’re sure they can reach you, then it’s time to rethink your communication standards, your work life balance and style, or how important this client really is.

In Soviet Russia…Lawyer Fires You?

April 3rd, 2012

In Soviet Russia

Can your lawyer fire you? Some people don’t realize it, but a lawyer absolutely can fire a client. When you become a client, you usually have to sign some sort of agreement or retainer letter. It outlines the responsibilities of the lawyer to you, and of you toward your lawyer. Mostly, the requirements are that you follow the lawyer’s advice, pay the bills on time, and return phone calls and provide information the lawyers needs to do his/her job. When a client cannot do so, the lawyer can sometimes have no other choice but to file a “Motion to Be Relieved As Counsel” and, in effect, fire the client.

Do I Have to Live in New Jersey to File for Divorce in New Jersey?

March 22nd, 2012

I have quoted the statute below that determines whether two people can get a divorce in New Jersey based on their residency.

1. When, at the time the cause of action arose, either party was a bona fide resident of this State, and has continued so to be down to the time of the commencement of the action; except that no action for absolute divorce shall be commenced for any cause other than adultery, unless one of the parties has been for the 1 year next preceding the commencement of the action a bona fide resident of this State; or

2. When, since the cause of action arose, either party has become, and for at least 1 year next preceding the commencement of the action has continued to be, a bona fide resident of this State. (New Jersey Statutes – Title 2 A – Chapters: 34-8, 34.10)

Basically translated, this means that if one of the two spouses is a resident of New Jersey, and either has been for a year before the filing for divorce, or for a year before the “cause of action” arose (whatever is complained of to cause the divorce), then the divorce can be filed in New Jersey.

What were you thinking? Actually, don’t answer that.

March 20th, 2012

An ordinance in Blairstown, NJ regulates the planting of shade trees:

171 2. Shade trees. The streets of the township shall be used for the purpose of public travel only, with such other use of the same as is necessarily connected with public travel. Shade trees may be planted along the streets, highways, and alleys, but not within the prescribed limits of the same. Such trees shall be planted so as not to obscure light and air [Ed: ?!] and shall not be so close as to interfere with the lawful use of such streets, highways and alleys. They shall be properly trimmed by the owners of adjoining premises. No person shall wantonly or negligently cut or destroy any such shade trees without the consent of the owner of the adjoining premises and of the Committee and occupants.

Is Avvo a Good Substitute for Legal Advice?

February 25th, 2012

Asking Questions on Avvo: Illustration by Example

I’m going to make my point just by showing you a few things. Let me first make clear that I really like Avvo and I think sometimes it even helps people out. I also like it because they get a ton of traffic and their visibility is wonderful.

But watch this. Here is an excerpt from the terms of use on Avvo, put in very tiny print so that it doesn’t take up the whole page:

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And yet, when you ask a question, you will often see this as a substantial portion of the answer:

LEGAL DISCLAIMER
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Quick Thought On Rental Properties: What is the Rent Security Deposit Act?

February 25th, 2012

N.J.S.A. 46:8 19 is where you can find what is called the Rent Security Deposit Act in New Jersey.

The Rent Security Deposit Act requires the landlord to put your security deposit in a separate bank account that pays interest. The landlord must tell you in writing the name and address of the bank where the deposit is being kept, the amount of the deposit, the type of account, and the current interest rate for that account all within 30 days of getting it from the tenant, and annually thereafter.

If the landlord does not comply, the tenant can give the landlord written notice telling the landlord to use the deposit, plus seven percent interest per year, toward the rent. This is nice to know because it protects tenants from landlords who might run off with the tenants’ money.

But please be careful: when you use this act as a “sword” rather than as a “shield,” being aggressive (or worse, being a bully and using it as a “club!”) you take the grave risk of alienating your landlord. And unless you’re looking to move anyway, think twice before making an enemy out of your landlord.

PSA Topics, Part 2

February 25th, 2012

Here are some other topics you might see addressed in a PSA:

Health Insurance
Disposition of the Marital Home
Pension Plans
Tax Issues
Future Dispute Settlement

Health insurance becomes an issue if only one party has access to it, or if children are involved. Pension plans and tax issues are often dealt with in conjunction with the equitable distribution of property (see last post). Disposition of the marital home is sometimes a little trickier, because it is often the parties’ largest asset, and often one or both parties for many reasons do not want the home sold (for stability, or because it will continue to appreciate, or for children).

Among the most important provisions of a PSA is that of future dispute settlement. Divorcing couples will have disputes; that is often why they divorced in the first place. A well written PSA can minimize the number of times that those disputes end up in Court, where neither side is liable to get the kind of results they want, and lawyers will become expensive in a hurry. A PSA that notes a neutral third party and ways that the two ex spouses can address their complaints is one that will save the parties thousands in legal fees, and hours of headaches, down the line.