Archive for October, 2009

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, 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.