Archive for February, 2012

Is Avvo a Good Substitute for Legal Advice?

Saturday, 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:

9. No Attorney Client Relationship
Information posted or made available on or through the Site, including without limitation any responses to legal questions posted on Avvo Answers, information provided in Avvo Legal Guides, and any other comments, opinions, recommendations, answers, analysis, references, referrals or legally related content or information (collectively “Legal Information”) is not intended to create an attorney client relationship between you and any attorney. Such Legal Information is intended for general informational purposes only and should be used only as a starting point for addressing your legal issues. It is not a substitute for an in person or telephone consultation with an attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction about your specific legal issue, and you should not rely upon such Legal Information. You understand that questions and answers or other postings to the Site are not confidential and are not subject to attorney client privilege. Company does not select, screen, approve, endorse or limit who can post Legal Information, including those who contribute responses to Avvo Answers and Avvo Legal Guides (“Contributors”). Designation as a Contributor at a particular level is based solely on the number of contributions made and user ratings as to helpfulness of such contributions and does not reflect any endorsement or approval by Company. In addition, although we reserve the right to review, remove or edit any content from the site, we do not routinely screen, monitor, or review the content of any such Legal Information. As a result, we have no control over and we do not warrant or guarantee the accuracy, adequacy, applicability, completeness, currency or quality of any such Legal Information or the qualifications of those posting Legal Information. AVVO SHALL HAVE NO RESPONSIBILITY OR LIABILITY OF ANY KIND FOR ANY LEGAL INFORMATION YOU ENCOUNTER ON OR THROUGH THE SITE, AND ANY USE OR RELIANCE ON LEGAL INFORMATION IS SOLELY AT YOUR OWN RISK.
10. Disclaimers and Acknowledgements Regarding Use of Site Information
THE SITE, THE SITE MATERIALS (INCLUDING ANY LEGAL INFORMATION) AND THE SERVICES ARE PROVIDED ON AN “AS IS” AND “AS AVAILABLE” BASIS WITHOUT WARRANTIES OF ANY KIND, EITHER EXPRESS OR IMPLIED. COMPANY DISCLAIMS ALL WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING, WITHOUT LIMITATION, IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY, FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE, TITLE AND NON INFRINGEMENT AS TO THE INFORMATION, CONTENT OR MATERIALS IN THE SITE. COMPANY DOES NOT REPRESENT OR WARRANT THAT SITE MATERIALS, INCLUDING THE INFORMATION AVAILABLE IN OR ON THE SITE, OR THE SERVICES ARE ACCURATE, COMPLETE, RELIABLE, CURRENT OR ERROR FREE. COMPANY DOES NOT REPRESENT OR WARRANT THAT THE SITE OR ITS SERVERS ARE FREE OF VIRUSES OR OTHER HARMFUL COMPONENTS.

While Company endeavors to provide and to allow others to provide useful information regarding attorneys, legal services and the law, you acknowledge that such information is reliant upon third party data and contributions, that there are certain inherent limitations to the accuracy or currency of such information, that attorney and other information may be incomplete or may contain inaccuracies (including without limitation any interpretations and reviews of such information and Site Materials, such as Avvo Ratings and Legal Information), and that information on the Site may be outdated or contain errors, omissions or misinterpretations of information. You further acknowledge that an Avvo Rating and the other information contained in an attorney’s profile, such as descriptions of an attorney’s areas of practice (including percentages devoted to each), and other data, summaries or descriptions on the Site, are based on the data obtained by or submitted to Company, which may be incomplete or inaccurate, and rely on automated interpretations of the information gathered by or submitted to Company. An Avvo Rating reflects the Company’s assessment of a given attorney, based upon the information obtained by or submitted to Company; someone else’s assessment of the same lawyer may be different or based upon different information. Neither Avvo Ratings, Legal Information nor any of the other information contained on the Site or provided through the Services, are an endorsement of any particular attorney or are a guarantee of an attorney’s quality, competency, qualifications, experience, resources, character, honesty, integrity, responsiveness or other personal and professional characteristics. Nor are they a predictor of the outcome of a legal matter handled by such attorney. The information provided on this Site is intended to be a starting point to gather information about legal issues and attorneys who may be suitable for your legal needs, but you should not rely solely on such information in deciding whether to hire an attorney or how to resolve a legal matter. Furthermore, you should independently verify the accuracy of any information you obtain on the Site before using it, and you should obtain independent references for any attorneys you are considering hiring. You agree to be solely responsible for your use of the Site, the Site Materials and the Services and for determining the suitability of, and the results obtained from, any attorney you hire.
Additional information about Site Materials, the Services, the Avvo Rating, Avvo Answers, Avvo Legal Guides, the sources of information displayed on the Site, and other important matters is contained within the Site itself, including in the User FAQ, Lawyer FAQ, and Community Guidelines, and you acknowledge and agree that your use of the Site, or of any information or features in or on the Site, is informed by and subject not only to these Disclaimers and Site Terms but also by the information and explanation available on these pages.
COMPANY IS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ERRORS OR OMISSIONS IN ANY INFORMATION OR MATERIALS CONTAINED ON THE SITE, INCLUDING WITHOUT LIMITATION ATTORNEY PROFILE INFORMATION OR LEGAL INFORMATION. WHILE COMPANY ATTEMPTS TO MAKE YOUR ACCESS AND USE OF THE SITE SAFE, COMPANY CANNOT AND DOES NOT REPRESENT OR WARRANT THAT THE SITE OR ITS SERVER(S), OR ANY CONTENT OR MATERIALS ARE FREE OF VIRUSES OR OTHER HARMFUL COMPONENTS; THEREFORE, YOU SHOULD USE INDUSTRY RECOGNIZED SOFTWARE TO DETECT AND DISINFECT VIRUSES, SPYWARE, MALWARE, AND OTHER HARMFUL OR OTHERWISE UNDESIRABLE COMPONENTS FROM ANY DOWNLOAD.
Company reserves the right to change any and all content contained in the Site and any Services offered through the Site at any time without notice. Reference to any attorneys, law firms, or other legal service providers or organizations, educational institutions, courts, associations, organizations, publications, licenses, accreditations, ratings, evaluations, endorsements, reviews, products, services, processes or other information, by name, trade name, trademark, manufacturer, supplier or otherwise does not constitute or imply endorsement, sponsorship or recommendation thereof, or any affiliation therewith, by Company.

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

LEGAL DISCLAIMER
[Attorney] is licensed to practice law in [state or states]. [Attorney’s] response here is not legal advice and does not create an attorney/ client relationship. The response is in the form of legal education and is intended to provide general information about the matter in question. Many times the questioner may leave out details which would make the reply unsuitable. [Attorney] strongly advises the questioner to confer with an attorney in their own state to acquire more information about this issue.

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

Saturday, 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

Saturday, 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.

PSA Topics, Part 1

Saturday, February 25th, 2012

These are some of the issues you might see addressed in a property settlement agreement (PSA) in New Jersey:

Visitation
Child Support Payments Under New Jersey Law
Spousal Maintenance Under New Jersey Law
Property Division
Division of Debts

Visitation and child support are issues only relevant if you have children, obviously. Spousal maintenance may be an issue, especially if one spouse is the primary breadwinner (and the other one was at home taking care of children, or if the other spouse could not or did not work). Division of debts can also be important, if the couple has incurred large debts through credit cards, car loans, mortgages, or other debts.

The main issue in any PSA, though, is division of property. As I explained earlier, New Jersey follows an “equitable distribution” rule, which splits property fairly (although not necessarily equally). The Court can make the decision of how to split the property, but oftentimes the parties are much more satisfied (and spend much less on lawyers) if they can make the agreement themselves, and specify it here.

I Love Law & Order, but I Hate Jack McCoy

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

And the thing is that I really do like him, as a character. Sam Waterston is absolutely brilliant.

The only point I’m trying to make is that Jack McCoy, the lawyer, is everything you DON’T want to do in trial. People watching him (unfortunately, now in reruns) elegantly and succinctly tear down defense attorneys and defendants, summing up each case in two minutes flat and often using some sort of physical gimmick, get the idea that this is how you conduct yourself in court. If a lawyer actually acted like this in court, they’d get fined, laughed at, and thrown out. Not necessarily in that order.

If you think that you have any idea how to conduct yourself in court or in legal proceedings as a result of watching legal shows on TV, you are dangerously deluded. I’m as big a L&O junkie as anybody else, but it’s just entertainment. Please, nothing more.

What is a Divorce “from Bed and board?”

Thursday, February 9th, 2012

There really is no formal proceeding to have a legal separation in New Jersey. There is an outdated legal proceeding called a “divorce from bed and board” that is similar to a legal separation. Basically, a divorce from bed and board is a legal proceeding that is not really a divorce, but it is more than a legal separation. A divorce from bed and board was very popular in the 50’s and 60’s. Many people believed that getting a divorce was a mortal sin. These kinds of beliefs were especially prevalent for people of the Catholic faith.

To address these concerns the courts developed a legal proceeding called a “divorce from bed and board.” In this type of proceeding, the parties are economically divorced but are still legally married. The parties receive a judgment that equitably distributes the assets, support awards are issued, and debts are apportioned. In these types of cases alimony is usually not awarded.

These proceedings are helpful in limited legal circumstances, such as if one spouse has a health condition and cannot get affordable health insurance. However, the parties are still legally married to one another, and that can cause all sorts of problems, especially if the parties are not civil to one another, and/or if they intend to remarry at some point in the future.

Are the people you meet giving you energy or taking it away?

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

Matt Homann posted the following tidbit on his blog:

Not sure whether to take that client? Here’s a great test from Milton Glaser he uses to avoid toxic people:

[T]here is a test to determine whether someone is toxic or nourishing in your relationship with them. Here is the test: You have spent some time with this person, either you have a drink or go for dinner or you go to a ball game. It doesn’t matter very much but at the end of that time you observe whether you are more energised or less energised. Whether you are tired or whether you are exhilarated. If you are more tired then you have been poisoned. If you have more energy you have been nourished. The test is almost infallible and I suggest that you use it for the rest of your life.

[end of Matt’s post]

I really wish I would have thought of this, because you can use this well beyond the client-lawyer relations arena.

The full blog post is available here.