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3 Things to Consider When Choosing A Divorce Lawyer

September 26th, 2020

If you are reading this article, you have my condolences. You are probably either about to file for divorce or you have just been served with divorce papers. Divorce is an emotional and extremely stressful time in a person’s life, whether you are filing or responding, as you are dealing with the end of your marriage. During this time, people often reveal their true character. People who are jerks become even bigger jerks because a former loved one is now the enemy. In some instances, the person you thought you married becomes a complete stranger, doing spiteful things you never imagined possible. That adage that, “Hell hath no fury like a woman (or man!) scorned,” holds true in the divorce context. A jilted lover is ever that much more jilted when they’re about to lose half their house and pension. And so, with the battle lines drawn, when you choose your legal champion, consider the following three factors:

1. Communication Is Key

You will probably be on an emotional roller coaster for the duration of the proceedings, so it is important that you find an attorney with whom you can comfortably communicate and express your feelings. (Aside – don’t use your attorney as a therapist! It’s much cheaper to use a counselor.) Many people prefer either a male or a female attorney for whatever reason. Some people prefer their attorney to be one gender or another or to have a certain kind of demeanor, whether it be aggressive or more conservative. The important thing is that you have a feeling of rapport with your attorney and be able to communicate with your lawyer. Using the battle metaphor from above, what’s the point of having a “warrior” if he attacks the wrong target or leaves your important issues undefended? You must not only be able to communicate, but also the attorney must be able to hear what you want to get out of the proceedings and be able to respond to you. A good attorney will listen to you and help you set reasonable expectations about the resolution of your issues and (hopefully) the entire case. Communication is not just taking orders from a client (or the opposite – the attorney telling the client how the case will unfold). If every attorney blindly followed their client’s orders, the courts would be even more crowded than they already are. So true communication between the attorney and client is paramount. In a similar vein, if your lawyer doesn’t return your phone calls and you still have money left in your retainer, that may be a sign that communication is a problem.

2. Experience Is Vital

At the risk of sounding jaded, it is more likely your attorney went to law school to become rich than to help others. Most of my original lawschool classmates did not drive fancy cars, mostly because it snowed heavily where I originally attended law school and a jeep or other 4 wheel drive vehicle was the practical choice. When I went down to Southern California to finish law school, I was shocked to see a large number of Mercedes and BMWs in the student parking lots, driven of course by kids who had yet to work an honest day in their lives. They had access to money and had a very expensive lifestyle to maintain once they were taken of their parent’s dole. Quite a few fledgling attorneys hang their own shingle after passing the bar and set their hourly rate at $250 or more. It is engaging in a bit of speculation to say, but I would guess that they are merely playing a confidence game and that they get away with it because clients for the most part do not know how to tell how experienced a lawyer is. Well, here’s a litmus test. In California, the lower the bar number, the older the lawyer (in “bar” years). At the time of this writing, bar numbers for new California attorneys is in the 270,000’s (more than 40,000 California attorneys have entered the profession since I was minted). Put another way, you have a 20% chance of hiring a lawyer out there in the marketplace who’s been at his or her job 5 years or less! To put that in perspective, consider how long you’ve been at your job and how good you are at it. Lawyering is a complicated job requiring many different skills. Accordingly, it takes quite a bit of time to develop good lawyering skills. You should be blunt and ask your attorney how many cases of your particular type or with your particular issues have they dealt with. Another word for a generalist is someone who’s done a lot of different things once or twice. Compare that to someone who restricts his or her cases to a particular branch of law. When interviewing a lawyer, don’t be led astray with puffing like, “I’ve never lost at trial.” The logical thing to ask is, “How many contested trials have you had?” How many divorce cases have you handled from start to finish? How many domestic violence restraining orders have you defended? or brought? Experience and expense generally go hand in hand. If your attorney is charging you $300 or $400 per hour, they had better have quality time in the trenches to back up their hefty price tag.

3. Cost Is Always A Factor

Your attorney’s hourly rate should be a function of experience and skill, not of your attorney’s desire for the latest sports car. Once you have established your attorney’s skill level (even as a layperson you should be able to use your common sense to estimate your attorney’s experience and skill), you should ask yourself whether the attorney’s hourly rate is in line with other attorneys of similar skill and experience. A newbie might charge you $150 per hour, but may be charging you for their learning curve. A simple motion to compel, for example, should not take 40 hours of research and drafting. Granted, your newbie might take twice as long to do something as a lawyer who charges $300 per hour, so perhaps you may think you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t, and you’ll wind up paying the same total fees for essentially the same “product.” However, this is not true because, if the billing was grossly out of line, (i.e., a reasonable and reasonably competent attorney would have spent half the time), then you have some justification in disputing the bill. You shouldn’t have to pay for something that’s clearly part of the attorney’s learning curve.

Generally, however, the more experienced lawyers will spend their time more efficiently than the less experienced lawyers. So your $400 per hour lawyer (if you’ve satisfied yourself that they are rationally charging such a rate) should be significantly (not marginally) more efficient than your newbie lawyer, etc. It’s up to you where you stand on the continuum of experience versus cost. The mid-career lawyers are probably the sweet spot in the curve for the consumer because they may not have ratched up their fees so high and they certainly know the ropes. In Southern California, it is not uncommon to see veteran family law specialists charging $500 or $600 per hour. (Aside – I once saw a family law specialist who charged $800 per hour. I nearly fainted…then nearly fainted again when I heard his client had paid $50,000 and the divorce was just starting!) With newbies likely charging their time out at $200 per hour and old guard specialists at perhaps $600 per hour, a seasoned “journeyman” lawyer of 10 or so years who may bill you around $300 per hour could be a wise and economical way to bring balance to the force…or, rather, your bank account and still get competent help.

As another aside, flat fee arrangements/unbundled services may be a way for consumers to cut costs of legal fees, but you should understand that you are only engaging someone for “piecework” and not full representation. You should remain alert at the wheel if your “ship” needs to change course or some wrinkle in the case comes up, such as an ex parte hearing. You still represent yourself and are only outsourcing certain tasks.

If possible, see if you can peg your lawyer down to an estimate of what your case is likely to cost. There are never any guarantees of course, because the other side might do something out of left field, but an experienced lawyer should be able to provide a range within which costs are likely to fall.

Of course, as the client, you would probably have some control over costs in that you would either approve or disapprove of a major discovery undertaking or the hiring of certain experts. Do you want to turn over every last stone or just the ones big enough to hid something under? The level of discovery and litigation can add considerable expense to your legal costs. A cost/benefit analysis might be done with your lawyer to assess the risk/reward and necessity of any particular course of action.

Conclusion

The above three factors, the ability of you and your lawyer to communicate, the experience level of your lawyer, and the cost of legal services, are three important things to consider when choosing legal representation. Each person has their own preferences, as one person may value communication more highy than experience and cost. For many people, price is definitely an object, and they’re willing to settle for less in terms of the other two factors. Personally, I wouldn’t settle on communication. There are enough lawyers out there so you can probably find with similar cost and experience profiles. Once you’ve decided on the cost/competence factors, communication does not cost anything extra, so it makes sense to find the lawyer with whom you can really work and with whom you can really communicate, all other things being equal.

Facts Every Lawyer Should Know About Hispanic Marketing

June 2nd, 2020

Hispanics remain one of the fastest growing segments of the population. As a result, Latino communities across the United States have a rising need for legal representation.

Consider these Facts:

1. 75% of Latinos speaks Spanish at home

While roughly 44% of Hispanics report performing their online searches in English, more than half of them stated that they still prefer to do business with companies that offer their services in Spanish, even if they do not require it.

2. Hispanics are the biggest users of mobile devices

Whether streaming, texting or searching online, Hispanics report nearly 10.5 hours per week of smart phone usage, versus the overall average of 8.4 hours for other ethnic groups.

3. Hispanics are the largest users of Social Media platforms

Current reports suggest 75% of Latinos use social media for entertainment and research compared to 68% for the remaining ethnic groups; spending roughly 7 hours per day accessing the various social platforms.

Are you doing enough to effectively market your law firm to the Hispanic community?

Here are a few ways to attract and develop a relationship with Latinos and Hispanics in your marketplace:

1. Advertise on Local Platforms in Spanish

Local radio channels, billboards, bus stops, local magazines and newspapers are still ways to keep your name and face in front of your local community. Bilingual advertisements, or entirely in Spanish, will garner the trust of local Hispanics as a professional who will welcome them and speak to them in the language most comfortable without fear of judgment.

2. Latino Community Participation

Especially in the larger urban areas, more and more cultural groups are organizing street festivals and fundraisers. Be a part of the events. Sponsor a booth or a lunch. Talk with the people around you. They may not need legal services at the moment, but they will remember you were there and took the time to talk.

3. Your Website is your 24-Hour Law Firm

Featuring “Se Habla Espanol” on your website is not enough. If you are a Spanish-speaking lawyer, or if you have staff that can assist with translation, then market yourself in Spanish. Have an entire section, or an entire website dedicated to offering your legal services in Spanish.

Mobile-friendly designs are important. Since statistics are pointing to Hispanics using their mobile devices at a higher rate than non-Hispanics, it is imperative your website be self-formatting to fit any device automatically.

Hispanic marketing businesses like MediaDvine.com offer website services, translation services and original content writing to help you with your website needs.

4. Build Traffic to Your Legal Practice

There are a few legal directories online that heavily optimize for Spanish and bilingual searches that are trusted within Hispanic communities across the country, such as SeHablaLaw.com and AbogadosLegal.com. Link building from premium sites will help your SEO efforts.

For more than a decade search engines have relied heavily on links to gauge popularity and domain authority. Backlinks from relevant domains are regarded as votes and importance. Search engines use link data and algorithms to evaluate websites as well as individual pages based on this information.

Lawyers’ Professional Liability Insurance for the Distressed Risk

March 17th, 2020

Professional liability insurance is a necessity for lawyers. Unfortunately, not all lawyers are able to secure the coverage they need in the standard marketplace because they are considered to be a “distressed” risk. The question is, what exactly does “distressed” mean?

A “distressed” risk is one that has difficulty securing professional liability insurance because of claim frequency, claim severity or disciplinary complaints or actions. While “distressed” is often used interchangeably with “hard to place”, the two terms are different in that “hard to place” generally means the lawyer or law firm practices in a more risk prone practice category such as Personal Injury Plaintiff or Patent but is usually claim and disciplinary action free. If the term “distressed” describes the loss or disciplinary history of a law firm, the firm faces many more challenges in finding professional liability insurance and generally has to settle for less coverage at a considerably higher premium. The good news is that there are a few markets available, operating on a surplus lines basis, to meet the professional liability needs of the “distressed” law firm.

Surplus lines is often referred to in a negative connotation because the insurance product is not protected by any state insurance guaranty association nor is the policy form and rates charged subject to regulation and approval of the State Insurance Commissioner. However, not all surplus lines insurers are created equal. Surplus lines insurers are subject to review by the insurance company rating agencies such as A.M. Best and are generally published as an “Approved Surplus Lines Company” by state insurance departments. Before committing an insurance purchase to a surplus lines company, law firms should check with their state insurance department to be sure that the company is an approved surplus lines insurer and that it carries an A.M. Best rating of at least A VII. Many admitted professional liability companies will have a surplus lines facility to accommodate those applicants or insureds that do not qualify under their standard program guidelines, but would be acceptable on a surplus lines basis if a more acceptable premium could be charged for the exposure presented. There are several A and even A+ markets to approach in this arena.

To find an adequately rated surplus lines insurer that can be trusted to provide the needed coverage should a claim be presented often involves finding a broker that specializes in professional liability and deals regularly with distressed placements. As a general rule, most brokers that offer lawyers professional liability as a full time product line will have an insurance company or “distressed facility” that they have worked with successfully in the past. It is best to find a broker that is familiar with the policy form and claims handling ability of the company they are recommending.

Here are some valid questions to ask a broker about the insurance company offering coverage:

o Does the insurance company specialize in professional liability?

o Is it an approved surplus lines insurer in the state and rated at least A VII by Best?

o Does the insurance company oversee its own claims handling or farm that responsibility out to an independent adjustment firm or third party administrator?

o Will the claims adjuster provide you with a listing of law firms in your state from which to choose your defense counsel and will the company work with you to consider a firm you recommend?

o Is the insurance company willing to defend a spurious claim in order to protect your reputation in the community, or do they have a “get out the check book mentality” to close the claim regardless?

o Will the insurance company regularly communicate the status of the claim with you and seek your input as to settlement or defense strategies?

Once a viable insurance company has been identified, it pays to examine the policy form and discuss strengths and weaknesses of the coverage provisions with the broker. The broker should provide a list of “coverage highlights” that discuss not just positive marketing advantages, but important coverage restrictions as well.

One of the most important coverage features to be aware of when purchasing professional liability coverage is the availability of prior acts coverage under the policy. Distressed markets often offer terms “retro inception” which means that the policy’s prior acts retroactive date will be the same as the policy’s effective date. On a Claims-Made policy, the act(s) that resulted in the claim must have occurred after the policy’s retroactive date. That situation is also known as a “no prior acts” or “restricted prior acts” policy. If the policy has restricted prior acts coverage, an Extended Reporting Period (ERP) option will need to be purchased from the expiring insurance company. An ERP can be a very economic decision as, often times, the terms will be based on rates that were provided by the standard marketplace and not surcharged for claims or disciplinary problems. A broker should be able to advise the pros and cons of purchasing this option, but two things that should be considered are:

o Is the option cancelled automatically if your license to practice is suspended?

o Will open claims exhaust the limit of liability under the policy?

Other policy provisions that can be restricted on a distressed policy form are:

o Policy’s consent-to-settle provision

o Specific exclusions for certain practice areas such as SEC

o Specific exclusions for certain types of legal malpractice actions such as a counterclaim as a result of a fee collection suit

o Defense costs are generally included within and erode the limit of liability

o Coverage is generally limited to acts performed on behalf of the named insured named in the policy declarations which can limit predecessor firm coverage, individual prior acts coverage and outside moonlighting activities

o Extended reporting period options are restricted in length to 12 months or 36 months and are considerably more expensive than the standard marketplace

To receive the most favorable terms possible when submitting an application for professional liability insurance, a good point to remember is that you are the best representative of your practice exposure going forward. Underwriters that offer a distressed facility are not so concerned with the number and amount of past claims or even that the firm has been censored by the state bar, but that the underlying problems leading up to the claims or disciplinary ruling have been identified and addressed. A sincere, honest approach with full disclosure on claims or any other problem that has put the firm in this situation is always the best approach. Include a narrative of the systems and procedures that have been put in place to reduce the likelihood of similar claims in the future. Include comments on the merits of the claimant’s claim. Tell the underwriter what was done right during the representation. If at all possible, include loss reports from previous insurers showing actual paid and reserved amounts. If the underwriter has to interpret the value of the claim, it will likely be higher than the actual reserve that the insurance company has set. Take an active interest in the payments and reserves set for the open claim and be informed on the status of the claim on a regular basis.

Marketing, Promoting and Advertising Your Business

February 28th, 2020

One thing that goes without saying in today’s business world, is that regardless of the nature of your home based business, a website is an absolute MUST. Whether you have a product or service to sell, whether local or global, your business will go nowhere fast if you don’t have an online presence. If you need internet marketing help, you’ve landed on the right article. I’ll give you some home based business marketing ideas that will help you promote your business successfully.

The first step is choosing a domain name and getting it registered. You can build your own website (if you have the time) and host it yourself or you can have everything done by another company (if you have the money). Either way, you have many options and tools at your disposal that can align with your business plan and budget. Also note that you can still start your own home based business even if you don’t have a product or service to sell. There are thousands of individuals and companies that have products you can sell for them while earning a commission, called affiliate marketing.

Of the many business marketing strategies known to man, internet marketing is, hands down, the best strategy to use for promoting a home based business as it is the cheapest method and has the potential for reaching millions of people all over the globe. Driving traffic to your site through online resources is like killing two birds with one stone. You can tackle print advertising by writing articles and publishing them to directories and ezines and by submitting ads to the many available (and most of them free) classified ad sites. Online media advertising encompasses writing press releases and distributing them to press release sites. One of the biggest and most popular online advertising trends today is via social media advertising through sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn where you build relationships with your customers. Forums and communities are also great ways to build relationships which helps promote your home based business in the long run. Simply Google your market or industry with the word ‘forum’ or ‘community’ behind it and search for one or two that seem to be the best fit for you.

All of these methods of online advertising contribute to search engine optimization (SEO), which is to say improving your online visibility and escalating in the search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing. Your goal is to claim the #1 spot in the organic search results (the results on the left, not the right side which are paid ads). This is where your traffic will come from. If you are 800 in the list of search results, no one is ever going to see your site because very few people have the time or patience to scroll through 800 search results. Research shows that people typically won’t even scroll past 4 or 5 search results, let alone 800.

Can you grasp the importance of internet marketing for any business? If you are new to the internet marketing phenomenon and don’t know exactly where to start, there are many great programs or systems online that walk you through every aspect of marketing your online business. A lot of these systems were created by online entrepreneurs who have spent thousands of their own dollars trying to figure it all out over the years and finally DID. Their sacrifices have made it easier for newbies to become successful at their own online home based business. If you are new to running your own home based business, I recommend you find a great system (do your research, read reviews, ask questions in forums) and start marketing your home business from there. Don’t waste the time and money that so many of us have in going it alone, without a proven system, as it will just set you back further and hinder your progress.