Beitchman & Zekian Blog

Legal Information in Plain English

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.

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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.

An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure

That’s the way the saying goes and it is true with respect to business formation regardless of the size of your business.  As an attorney who works with people in structuring their business entities as well as advising them with regards to the legal, day to day operations, I see too many clients taken in by DIY legal companies the creation of too many shoddy Limited Liability Companies (LLCs) and corporations.

Sure it costs $395.00 including the state filing fees to set up a corporation or LLC using DIY forms, but you miss out on the discussion about what kind of entity is best for your business purpose.  You also do not get the follow-up by an attorney to ensure that you have all the necessary corporate documents needed to do simple things like open a bank account, issue shares or interest in the company, or lease an office and/or equipment.

It may be a bit of an expense to hire an attorney to file and document your company properly, but even if the attorney’s fees are 3 times the amount of the DIY fees, it is preventative in nature.  When clients walk in with a DIY LLC/Corporation I have to tell them that it will cost them about twice as much to redo and/or fix everything that was done incorrectly (plus any late fees or penalties) as they would have paid me at the outset to set up their company.

When it is something this important, it is worth spending a little more at the start to get it done right.  If you’d like to discuss the organization of your corporation or LLC, please contact our office at (818) 986-9100.

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.

Love & Marriage…and a Prenup

Spring.  It’s the time of year when a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of love.  Or so they say.  With about one third of first marriages ending up in divorce and approximately half of subsequent marriage coming to the same conclusion, it is no wonder that more and more savvy brides and grooms to be are addressing their financial planning through a prenup, especially those who own their own businesses, real estate, or, as we are in LA – home of the entertainment business, have worked for years on their scripts, music, or other intellectual property.

We all know the stigma of the prenup – why start the marriage with the idea that it will end?  For the same reason it is recommended that you speak with an estate planner sooner rather than later.  It is a contingency which provides for the financial security and well-being of the individuals who are making a commitment to stay together for the rest of their lives, but are realistic enough to know that marriage is not only the uniting of hearts, but of bank accounts and finances and when it comes to romance and money, one cannot know what the future will bring.

A prenuptial agreement (or sometimes an antenuptial or premarital agreement) serves the purpose of providing a roadmap with respect to the distribution of assets should a marriage end in divorce or death.  These agreements set out the consequences should one or both of the parties commit adultery, separate or divorce before a certain amount of time passes, or for the birth of children.  There are, of course, some prenups which address less common topics, for example monetary benefits or detriments based on weight gain, drug use, or spending habits.

Now, many people believe that because they are not heiresses, or multi-millionaires they do not need a prenup.  This is not true.  A prenup is useful to people of all socio/economic classes.  In fact if you have assets such as real property, stocks, retirement funds, intellectual property such as scripts, lyrics, songs, or films, or certain personal property you wish to protect and ensure is established as separate property; if you are pursuing or have already obtained a degree/license in a possibly lucrative profession (ie: law or medicine),  if you own all or part of a business, if you have elderly parents or family members who need care, if you have children or grandchildren from previous relationships, if one person earns more than the other or if you might be receiving an inheritance, you would do well to discuss a prenuptial agreement with your soon-to-be spouse and consult with an attorney.

If you have questions, or would like more information about prenuptial agreements or what can be protected under the prenup, please contact our office to schedule an initial consultation. If you’ve been asked to sign a prenup and you’re not sure about the conditions of the agreement or whether you and your property are protected, we can assist you with that as well.