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Hindsight is 20/20

I had the pleasure of sitting in conference room with a client yesterday for 4 hours trying to settle a case during court ordered mediation.

While sitting waiting for the mediator to come back with the counter offer on the settlement, I looked at the “contract” that started the whole mess again.  It was clearly written by a non-lawyer and, since I had time to kill, I had to ask him why, if he’s got a firm of lawyers who he calls on a various other inconsequential matters, did he not call us to review this piece of paper. His response was that they were in too much of a hurry to get the deal done and start working with the Plaintiff and didn’t what to put the brakes on the deal by getting lawyers involved.

Now, I realize that time is sometimes a factor and businesses don’t want to invoice lawyers because we start nitpicking and arguing over whether it should be “and” or “or” in the sentence. Believe it or not, sometimes it DOES make a difference.  In this case, the difference between that document and the one I would have written would have protected them as opposed to opened them up to litigation.

Other times I’m told that they didn’t want to pay our hourly fee to have the deal reviewed because they thought it was fine. Well, it is until someone breaches the agreement, which is what happened in this case.  Before I could start my lecture, the client admitted that he should have had us look at that agreement, regardless of how much he would have paid.  Because now, it cost him more than $20,000 PLUS our hourly litigation fees to settle this case that could have been avoided had the agreement been drafted properly in the first place.

So, whether you are a multi-million dollar company or a small mom & pop shop, you should have an attorney review all documents you sign.  Sure there is a cost involved, but if you do your research, you’ll be able to find an attorney that suits your needs, both legal and financial.

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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!

Contractual Arbitration Clauses…Or How Charlie Sheen Got Kicked Out of Court and Into Private Dispute Resoltuion

The events in Charlie Sheen’s life have become very public, for better or worse.  Regardless of your opinion of what is going on with him, the latest legal maneuverings by his attorneys and those of his opponent have provided a topic for this blog and information that is important for anyone who has ever or will ever sign a contract.

Very few people read the agreements they are signing from start to finish, and in neglecting to do so they do not know what the terms of the agreement are when it comes to dispute resolution.  Most people assume that if the contract is breached, there will be a lawsuit; this is generally the case, however more and more parties are including arbitration clauses in the deals.  What this means is that instead of taking a dispute to court and letting a judge and/or jury decide who is at fault and who is not, it goes to a private service and they assign it to an arbitrator – usually a retired judge or attorney – who acts as the decision maker.

The pros of working with an arbitration service is that the matter is private (court proceedings are public record) and it’s supposed to be on a faster schedule.  This may or may not be true as it can take the same amount of time to arbitrate as it would to litigate.

The cons are primarily the cost.  The parties must pay for the administrative services as well as the fees to the arbitrator who is the decision maker.  This can amount in to the tens of thousands of dollars and if one party can’t pay, the others have to pony up that share.  Additionally, unless it is decided prior to the arbitration in the agreement, the parties may not have any true procedural rules as you do in court.  Further, the arbitration fees and costs do not include your attorney’s fees which will also start to add up.

Now, if you, like in Charlie’s case, decide to file a lawsuit in court when you have an arbitration clause, the opposing party will likely file a Motion to Compel Arbitration – or basically a request to send the case to arbitration per the agreement.   So, if you don’t think you want to pay a lot of money to a private company for something that you can submit to the court and not have to pay all the extra fees, you would do well to contact a lawyer at the outset to review your contract before you sign it.  Forewarned is forearmed.

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.

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.

Robert Evans & PTC Announce Financing of SecretStone Project

As reported by the Daily Variety (http://bit.ly/cvYnKq), Robert Evans Company and Pacific Transmedia Corporation announced the backing of Sean Stone’s directorial debut, SecretStone.

Written by Stone and Alexander Wraith, the storyline revolves around a group of filmmakers who are shooting inside a haunted psychiatric hospital famous for its radical treatment of patients. They quickly discover they are not alone.  Sean will be directing his father, Oliver Stone, in a cameo for the film which also features a cameo from screen legend Monique Van Vooren.

The film is produced by Giulia Prenna and Kaila York, and Executive Produced by Henri Kessler of PTC.  Production Legal being handled by Michelle Seañez of Beitchman & Zekian, PC.