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‘Tis the Season…for Con Artists and Scams

Image  It seems that in light of the rough economic circumstances, more and more con artists and scammers are finding ways to take what little people have with get rich quick schemes.  No one is immune – just this week I was subjected to the famous South African bank account email.  Apparently I could receive 25% of $37,000,000 that sits unclaimed in South Africa if I’d kindly send my pertinent information to a generic email address.

Now, reading that, I’m sure you’re thinking, “Of course that’s a scam. You’d have to be stupid to fall for it.”  Well, not all scams are that blatant.  My brother, just graduated from college, was job searching and found a job as a production assistant for a film that was about to shoot in LA. They offered a flat salary for one week’s work, gas & mileage, and per diem.  They would even pay him up front and sent him a check for $3,000.00 when the pay was only $1,500.00.  Here’s the catch: my brother was told the director didn’t have a bank account and as the PA, could he deposit the check into his account, withdraw the cash, keep his share, and send a money order to the address enclosed.

Lucky for him, he was smart enough to ask big (attorney) sister if that was kosher.  Taking one look at the obviously fake check, I called the bank to verify the funds and was told there was no such account.  We turned over the fraudulent check and sent over the correspondence too in hopes that these scam artists would get caught.  Had he not asked, he would have cashed the check and sent $1,500.00 out, but when the check got returned, would be on the hook for $3,000.00!!

Young, old, college grads or not, all people are susceptible to fall victim to scams because, for the most part, we don’t want to be jaded, cynical, and distrustful.  We all want to believe people are good and aren’t always looking for an angle.

But here’s a few tips, especially during the holidays when heartstrings are easily pulled:

1.  Verify the source.  If someone is asking for donations, ask for the tax ID number of the non-profit they’re collecting for or call the main office; this not only protects you, but it ensures that legitimate charities are not tarred with the same brush as the shysters.

2.  If someone asks you to sign documents, take them to an attorney.  It isn’t very expensive to have documents reviewed and spending a little now will eliminate having to spend a lot later.  If you do get caught up in a scam, report it to the local police right away and, if possible consult with an attorney – you may have some legal recourse.

3.  Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Happy Holidays!


New Year Resolution: Meet with Attorney

It’s the start of a new year.  Resolutions are fresh, commitment high, and hope springs eternal.  Among the vows to get healthy, quit smoking, or take up yoga, there should be an entry that reads: “Meeting with attorney.”

The start of the year is a great time to meet with your attorney and review those documents that people generally toss into the safe: Wills, Trusts, Corporate documents. If you do not have an attorney that you work with regularly, you should consider consulting with a few to find someone you would like to retain on a regular basis.

Making it a standing appointment at the beginning of the year gets it out of the way and ensures that all the important documents are updated and reflect your wishes.  If you would like to consult with one of our attorneys, please contact our office at (818) 986-9100.

Debt Settlement

With the economy lagging and many people experiencing long bouts of unemployment, it is no surprise that consumer priorities have changed.  Many people have had to deal with a reduction in salary or wages, a wage increase freeze, or unemployment altogether.  This, however, does not mean that bills stop showing up in the mail.

Many consumers need a reprieve – maybe nothing as drastic as a bankruptcy filing, but perhaps just a reduction in their debt so that it is more manageable.  You may decide to go with a debt consolidation office, however this is not always the best method as the account may get charged off and/or a negative reporting made to your credit report.

Some consumers seek to settle the matter before it gets to a collection agency; this means dealing with the bank that extended the credit in order to convince them to take less money to settle the account.  This is not always easy and, from time to time, you will have to deal with an unscrupulous agent who promises one thing and then changes the terms or conditions the settlement on a lump sum or higher payment.

To get through the slump, you may want to consult an attorney to assist you with the settlement negotiations.  Although attorney’s fees are inevitable for the service,  when $30,000 of debt settles for anything less than the total amount, paying someone to make sure it is done right seems like a good trade off.

Get it in Writing

A lot of people go into business with family and/or friends.  A majority of people enter into these business relationships with a shake of the hand, maybe a couple emails back and forth, and an oral agreement.  People think it’s uncouth to request that everyone sign a contract; the excuse I hear most often is that it shows that you don’t trust the other person.  And really, who can you trust if you can’t trust family or a life-long friend, right?

Well, business and money and debt do strange things to people.  Business decisions that were once easy to make become points of contention and reasons for arguments.  One party may have invested more money that the other, but is expected to share in the proceeds equally.  We have seen brothers sue each other over small sums of money, marriages fall apart, and 20 year friendships go by the wayside.  Whatever the issue, you can be sure that at least one argument will come up that could have been avoided if there was some kind of agreement in place.

I tell people who are hesitant in asking their business partners to sign agreements and concerned with the cost that it is better to spend some money now to ensure that the original terms of the agreement are documented in order to protect both parties.  This will avoid the problems, headaches, heartaches, and costs later because you will have a document, which spells out the original intentions of the parties, to refer back to if there is a problem or dispute.

If you would like more information, or would like to discuss your business transaction needs, please contact our office at (818) 986-9100.

Travelling with a Record

In today’s celebrity-ridden news, it seems that Paris Hilton may be denied entry into Japan due to her plea in the Las Vegas cocaine case.  She’s apparently holed up in an airport area hotel waiting on the decision of Japanese immigration officials.  (Ed. Note: As of September 22 Japanese immigration has denied Paris entry and she’s had to post-pone her trip)

This is not anything new.  Many countries deny entry to people with criminal records regardless of how minor the charges or whether it is a conviction resulting for a plea agreement or a trial.  For example Canada will not allow someone in if they have a DUI or drug possession conviction on their records.

You should check the visa requirements of the country you are planning to visit – if you have enough time, consult an attorney in order to expunge your record (if possible) in order to try to have the conviction removed and looking into the requirements of the country your are going to visit in order to ascertain whether they require the filing of any documents, clearances, or additional immigration procedures that need to be address in order to allow for your travels.  Case in point, Canada has been extremely stringent in the application of their immigration requirements as of late – people have been turned away at the border for blemishes on their record which are over 10 years old (some convictions as old as from the 60s!).

Obviously there is no guarantee that a judge will expunge your record in time for your trip, if at all, or that the foreign country will process any filings or requests to be allowed to visit, but is worth the effort to try as the alternative is spending part of your vacation at the airport hotel and then going home.

A Look Back on Summer Internships – A Primer for Law Students

It’s hard to believe that summer is almost over – didn’t it just begin?!   But with the end of summer comes the start of the school year and the end of our summer internship program.  As the head of the internship program at our office, I thought it to be a good idea to give law students some insight as to what we’re looking for in an intern…just in time for the fall internships to begin.

1.  Be on time and dress appropriately! This goes without saying, but if you agree that your hours are 9-5, don’t start coming in at 10 and leaving at 4:45.  Also, even if the attorneys dress casually, you should dress professionally and in line with the office dress code.  You never know when you will have to greet a client if the receptionist is out, have a chance to sit in on a client meeting, or accompany an attorney to a hearing – you can’t do that in jeans, no matter how expensive.

2.  Take the initiative. Attorneys are busy people.  In smaller firms like ours, we are busy lawyering and, at times, handling administrative matters.  Do not just sit around checking your emails or Facebook waiting to be given an assignment.  Check in with the attorneys, the office manager, the receptionist, the secretaries.  We may not realize you have nothing to do or sometimes even forget you are in that day.  Pitch in on even the most nominal task and it will be noticed.  No job should be too small.

3.  Read the file. When given an assignment, it is likely you’ll get an overview of the case and what the assignment is – if you need more information, read the file.  Make notes and ask intelligent questions all at once.  Assume that each attorney has no more than 5 minutes to discuss the case further and use that time wisely.

4.  Proofread your work. I cannot tell you how many times I given an intern a contract to type up or asked for a pleading to be written and when I get it back the first line has 4 typos…including my name and the firm’s name.  Check your work!  Get your fellow interns to proof read for you and then read it again.  Read it out loud if you must (that helps me).  Remember, if I have to go in and re-read the document for typos, I might as well have done it myself.

5.  Be resourceful.  No one likes to do research, but someone has to and that someone will be you – the intern.  When you are asked to do research on a topic, be resourceful.  Use everything available to you: lexis, westlaw, google, bing, forums, blogs, court websites…the list goes on.  Do NOT tell the attorney who gave you the assignment that you couldn’t find anything after 30 minutes.  I had this happen to me and I found what I was looking for in 5 minutes…this, of course took away from the agreement I had to finish on a deadline and made it harder on me.  Not the reason I hire interns!

6.  Go the extra mile. If you are asked to do research, write a memo; do not just send via email a list of cites and cut and past some text from a case or statute.  Read the case, brief it so that the attorney can make sure it applies to their case or what they are writing.  We can’t tell if the case you lifted a cite from applies to our case or is the complete opposite.

Remember, you are trying to impress your future employer and/or the source of a referral or reference.  Make your summer or semester with the firm count.  I have gone out of my way to not only write letters of recommendation for past interns, but also called the person hiring them to sing their praises – because they deserved it.  My recommendation reflects on me and, by extension my firm, thus I give it sparingly.

Lindsay Lohan’s Sentence – Unusally Harsh or Business as Usual?

With the latest starlet in trouble with the law being sentenced to jail time, many people are misinformed as to the possible sentences given in DUI cases.  Some think she’s getting off easy, others too harsh.  Below is a basic primer regarding the possible sentences when dealing with a DUI case in California.  Please note, however, that each case, prosecuting attorney, judge, and defendant is different and plea offers and sentences differ from case to case.

A first time DUI offense carries penalties of 96 hours to 6 months in jail and a fine of $390.00 to $1,000.00 plus penalty assessments and fees (which can triple the fine).  The DMV usually imposes a 6 month license suspension.

A second DUI within 10 years of the first carries a jail term of 90 days to 1 year in jail and a $390.00 to $1,000.00 fine plus penalty assessments and fees (which, again, can triple the fine).  The DMV will impose a 2 year license suspension.

Reckless driving caries 5 to 90 days in jail or $145.00 to $1000.00 fine or both.

In Lindsay’s case (and when a defendant hires an attorney to handle their case), she entered into a plea agreement and in exchange for her plea (and avoiding trial), was ordered to attend alcohol classes.  It is typical when a plea agreement is reached that the above sentences are adjusted to reflect the same.   Probation is usually ordered and the jail time is suspended in some cases.  The Court decides what conditions to apply and, if the defendant complies completely (not substantially as it seems that Lindsay was coached to say again and again), then the terms of the probation are deemed met and, if jail time was suspended at the outset, it is then usually completely waived.

All in all a 90 day sentence, of which, according to all accounts, she will serve about 25%, is not harsh, it is not outrageous or unfair.  It is what happens when you do not do exactly what the Court orders, when and how it orders you to do it.  The system did not “fail” Lindsay, as her father stated, Lindsay failed herself.  Defendants do this often and believe that the Judges will just shrug and say, “Good try” when they explain why they did not fulfill their obligations to the Court, but this is not the case.  There are statutory requirements that must be met and, generally, when a judge orders a defendant or party to do something, he or she expects their order to be followed to the letter – it is not open to interpretation.

So, if you find yourself on the wrong side of the law, a word to the wise is: hire attorney to help you navigate these perilous waters and listen to your attorney.  Do as they say and do as the court says.  Otherwise you too may find yourself in the same situation as Lindsay did this week.