Why Googlevoice might help you with your case.

January 14th, 2011  |  Published in Uncategorized

Googlevoice is a powerful free tool from Google that gives you the ability to save and access to voicemails pretty much indefinitely and to easily download and store important voicemails as mp3 files. Moreover, it keeps a history of all your incoming and outgoing calls — pretty much indefinitely as well.  This can be tremendously helpful where you have a voicemail from someone that can help make your case.  For example, I had a client who received a voicemail from his mortgage company the day before they foreclosed on his house. The fact that the mortgage company made a routine call to him the day before the foreclosure helped strengthen his case that it promised him it wouldn’t foreclose while his loan modification application was still pending. His phone company only kept voicemails for a limited time and he had no way of downloading the voicemail. He tried to record it by holding his phone up to an mp3 recorder, but his equipment wasn’t sensitive enough to pick up the voicemail. So all we have now is his statement that he received a voicemail from his mortgage company, which is not nearly as powerful as actually having the voicemail.

The other thing that Googlevoice does, which might not work for everyone, depending on your state laws, is that it gives you the ability to record incoming calls. There are state and federal laws that regulate your ability to record calls so before you do this, make sure that you’re not doing anything illegal. But with that in mind, using the record feature can be enormously helpful – for example, if you’re getting harassed by someone by phone, a debt collector gets abusive on a call, your ex denies you ever spoke to him about changing the pickup time for the kids, etc. These are situations where what was said matters and having a recording of the conversation is going to much more helpful than your testimony about what was said.

What’s an “answer” to a complaint?

November 29th, 2010  |  Published in basics

When a person gets sued, as part of the paperwork they originally get is a notice that says something along the lines of “You must answer this complaint in ____ days. If you fail to answer or otherwise appear, a judgment may be entered against you.” The number of days you have to answer the complaint will depend on what type of court you’re being sued in (state or federal) and what type of case it is. For example, in Oregon, for most civil cases in state court, you have 30 days to file the answer.

I’ve already talked a little about what a default judgment is in an October 2009 post.

Before I explain a little more what an answer looks like and what it does, I want to be clear that I don’t recommend that you file an answer yourself. My explanation below is doesn’t address all the subtleties and traps involved in creating an answer. Also, you only file the answer if you’re litigating the case and it’s a very difficult thing to do successfully without an attorney.

That being said, I think it’s important to understand the concept of what an answer is: basically, it’s your response (or answer) to what’s in the complaint. A complaint consists of paragraphs, each of which should contain some information about what the case is about — for example, it should identify the plaintiff (the person bringing the lawsuit) and the defendant (the person being sued). It should state the facts that support the plaintiff’s right to bring the lawsuit, identify what type of law or legal theory the plaintiff is using and also what kind of result the plaintiff wants (also known as the “relief”). Usually these paragraphs are numbered.

The answer responds the facts in each paragraph. There are three basic responses: admit that the facts are true; deny that the facts are true; or say that you don’t know if the facts are true or not. Usually, if you deny the facts you have to say why — i.e., it happened a different way, or this didn’t  happen at all. The answer should also raise all your defenses and also any counterclaims. Defenses are reasons why the plaintiff’s case won’t succeed. Counterclaims are new claims that you are bringing against the plaintiff in response to their lawsuit.

Why avoiding the process server won’t make your problem go away

December 12th, 2009  |  Published in Uncategorized

A lawsuit doesn’t officially start against you until you’ve been “served.” This means that you have been given a copy of the complaint (the document explaining why you’re being sued in an official way. For most law suits, someone must first try to give you a copy of the complaint personally. This is called personal service.

Personal service is required because the legal system wants to make sure that a defendant in a lawsuit knows about the lawsuit and has a chance to defend his or herself. Usually, personal service has to be done by a person over 18 who is not involved in the lawsuit. A process server is a person who delivers complaints as a job.

Being served personally does not mean that the person being sued has to accept the complaint directly from the process server. If this was the only way a lawsuit could start, people might be able to duck the lawsuit by ducking the process server. Hiding from the process server may delay the the start, but it won’t stop it.

If the process server tries but can’t find you, then the plaintiff can ask the judge to serve you in a different way — for example, by publishing notice of the lawsuit in a newspaper, posting the complaint at your last known address.

So the bottom line is, you can delay the start of a lawsuit by avoiding the process server, but you can’t stop the suit by hiding from the server.

Being sued v. being threatened with a lawsuit

November 20th, 2009  |  Published in basics, legal system

I think it’s hard sometimes for people to figure out whether someone has actually sued them or whether they’ve just been threatened with a lawsuit. Here are some ways to tell.

You’ve been sued when someone has filed a complaint with the court. In order for the lawsuit to properly begin, you have to be “served” with the complaint. Being served means that you got “official” notice of the lawsuit. I’ll talk about the different types of proper service in another post.

Keep in mind that each court has its own rules about what exactly needs to happen to start a lawsuit — the things I talk about below are general rules, but your state might tweak them slightly. Also, some types of lawsuits, such as restraining orders or protection from abuse order, can start before you actually get notice of them.

You can tell it’s a complaint because at the top of the first page, it will have the name of a court (as in “In the Circuit Court of the State of Oregon for the County of Multnomah), the name of the person suing you and your name.

Usually, the complaint will have something called a “summons.” This paper is usually in front of the complaint and tells you you’re being sued, tells you that you should respond within a specific period of time, and gives you information about getting an attorney — usually the number of the state bar’s referral service and/or legal aid.

If you get a letter from an attorney threatening to take legal action against you, that doesn’t mean you’ve been sued. You might be, but the letter isn’t enough to start a lawsuit.

Communication is key add-on

November 7th, 2009  |  Published in interacting with lawyers

Just a quick update to my previous post. I spent the last two and half days at a training put on by my state’s legal malpractice insurer. And yes, this training was voluntary.

Apparently, the biggest source of client unhappiness with their lawyer is lack of communication — my lawyer doesn’t listen to what I say and I don’t understand what my lawyer says.

Obviously, lawyers need to work much harder at being good listeners and learning to speak plain English. But it’s also up to the prospective client to make sure they feel they can talk to and understand a lawyer before hiring the lawyer.


Communication is key

October 30th, 2009  |  Published in interacting with lawyers

It can be hard to judge whether the lawyer you’re hiring or have hired is any good. One of the problems is that there are many, many variables in any legal situation. Lawyers aren’t supposed to guarantee a particular result or outcome and you should be very, very suspicious of one who does.

One of the most important tools a lawyer has is her ability to communicate – basically, we try to convince people that we’re right. And there is no right way to be a good communicator — some people do great with table-thumping and using big word, others are low-key but effective.

So one way to judge the quality of your lawyer is how she talks with you. If your lawyer listens to you, understands your story, and explains to you how the law affects your story in a way you understand — then chances are, you’ve probably found a good lawyer.

So, make sure you can talk to your lawyer and your lawyer can talk with you.

How to find a lawyer

October 16th, 2009  |  Published in interacting with lawyers

If you find yourself in a jam and need a lawyer, how do you find one? One of the best way to find one is the same one that you’d use to find a family doctor, mechanic, or insurance agent — ask people you know if they can recommend one.

The problem with this approach is that, while most people have a mechanic and a doctor, not all of them have a lawyer.

It’s always worthwhile contact your local or state bar association. Most bar associations have a referral program that will give you the names of two or three lawyers who have experience with your legal problem.

Do some web searches — one of the most basic is your city or zip code and the type of lawyer you need. If you’re not sure what type of lawyer you need, here’s where the bar referral program can come in handy — most of them will help you identify what your legal problem is and the type of lawyer you probably want.

Remember, an attorney’s webpage is advertising, it’s supposed to make the lawyer look good.  A good site should still give you a sense of the lawyer’s personality.

No matter how you get the referrals, make sure that the attorney doesn’t have any disciplinary action against them. You should be able to look up the lawyer on the state bar association’s website or the state Supreme Court’s website. If the attorney is in “good standing,” then he or she is up-to-date on their law license fees, has complied with the required Continuing Legal Education requirements, and is not currently disbarred or suspended from practicing law.

The American Bar Association has a great webpage, findlegalhelp.org that gives you one-stop access to all the information I discussed above — local bar association referral services, free and low-cost legal aid, and information on how to check on attorney licensing. Simply chose your state from the main page.

Default judgment

October 9th, 2009  |  Published in legal system

If you get served with a complaint and do nothing, eventually the court will issue a default judgment against you. Basically, the default judgment is the court’s way of saying: “you were told someone was suing you and you were told to respond with your side of the story. Since I didn’t hear anything from you, I am going to assume the plaintiff’s side of the story is true and I am going let the plaintiff win.”

A common reaction to getting sued is, well, not to deal with it. No one wants to get sued and most people don’t really know what to do — so they have a tendency just to ignore the problem.

Not dealing with it is a really bad idea, because it will lead to a default judgment. If you get served with a complaint, you get legal advice right away and I’m not just saying this because I’m a lawyer. Once you get a default judgment against you, it can be extremely hard, or even impossible, to do anything about it later. If someone’s suing you for money, once they get the default judgment, they can start to collect their money.

I know most people don’t have a lawyer, so I’m  going to talk about some ways to find a lawyer and things to think about when hiring a lawyer in a later post.

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Pro se

October 6th, 2009  |  Published in basics, legal system

When a person is not represented by a lawyer in court, then that person is acting pro se.  Pro se means “for oneself” in Latin. In some legal proceedings, like divorces or probate (handling a person’s affairs after they’ve died)  many people appear pro se. Sometimes the court will have written instructions or special forms to help people who are pro se. If you don’t see any forms available, you should ask the clerks (people who work at the courthouse and handle filings). Ask nicely — if the clerks deal with a lot of pro se people, they will appreciate it if you are polite to them.

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October 2nd, 2009  |  Published in basics

scales_dreamstime_10249487Welcome to Lawsense — in this blog, I try to explain the  law and the legal system so that everyday folk who may find themselves caught up in a lawsuit can understand what’s going on. I’m only going to talk about civil law, not criminal law, because I don’t practice criminal law.

So this leads me to my first topic — what’s the difference between criminal law and civil law? The easiest answer is that civil law is everything that’s not criminal law. Another way to think of it is that civil law deals with disputes between people and criminal law deals with disputes between the State (i.e. the police, the prosecutor, the government) and people.