Thursday, September 04, 2014

Excerpt from conversation on LinkedIn Integrative Law Group

Director, Executive Communications at Pace University
I once spoke to an attorney who summed up family law perfectly. He said, "In a divorce it isn't just two people getting divorced, it's the two people plus their attorneys. And any one of the four can screw up the process at any time."

To compound matters, the family court system in our country is often antiquated and ill-equipped to deal with many of the very difficult issues that litigants bring to courts these days. Attorneys who exploit every crack and loophole in this antiquated and broken system may be working in their clients' best interests, but they do nothing to refute perceptions of unprofessionalism and self-service.
Judge -- NY State Courts
Jeff -- well said. I do believe that lawyers should advocate wholeheartedly for their clients, but there is a line to be drawn in the sand. We need to remember that we are professionals who are trained to legally strategize the issues. Acting as street fighters demeans yourself as well as the profession you represent.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Court As A Last Resort

Got a dispute? With the cleaners, the shoemaker, the neighbor, or even a family member? We are talking money here, or losses incurred from property damage. My advice: the last place to go is to court.

The first place to go is a conversation with the party who "wronged" you. I can hear the groans and envision the eye-rolling of the cynics. Trust me, the key is communication. Court is time-consuming, expensive, and nerve-wracking, and, once there, you will have to have that conversation, anyway. There is one major difference, however; the court, and I mean, the judge, decides the outcome.

At court, there is generally only one winner and, hence, a resultant loser. One party leaves happy, the other, deflated. A possibility lies in the realm outside the system where you and your antagonist may reach a satisfactory resolution. Since you must face the inevitable conversation, then it makes sense to initiate it on your own and eliminate the additional expenses that tally at court.

Here's the tip: practice what you must do at court, i.e., to stay calm. Focus on the problem - the loss, the damage - and not your personal vendetta against your antagonist. Whatever you may think of his/her/their behavior is not the issue. It will take some effort, but that's what works.

Believe me, most of the issues that come before me as judge could, and should, have been resolved outside the court's jurisdiction. What have you got to lose? If you lose your cool or cannot settle the dispute, you can always come to court.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Prejudiced? Who Isn't?

It's that time of year:  love is in the air, peace on earth, goodwill towards men (and women).  You are either frantically shopping the aisles for the right gift, or fighting a depressive funk from the stress of frantically shopping for the right gift.  All is well with the world and hate or prejudice is forgotten.   Perhaps, for the moment.

The truth is that our bias is never forgotten.  It comes with the package that we are.  It springs up spontaneously and, in our minds, is factually justified.  For instance, the person serving us is too slow, or looks different, or doesn't speak properly, or has a "cultural" attitude (fill in whatever reason that works for you).   It is the machine that runs and ruins our coexistence.  So, what do we do about it?  Nothing.

Prejudice is not a "bad" thing unless you act upon it.  And, you are not a "bad" person if you have it, unless you act upon it.  A thought is just a thought.  It has no power as long as it stays a thought.  And, you need not feel guilty about having that thought.  You will never like everybody, and not everybody will like you (oh no, that can't be).  So long as you keep your thoughts to yourself and keep your hands in your pockets (so no one gets hurt), who cares what you think?  Of course, if you have some good ideas to share, we will want to know what you think, but that's a topic for another article. 

Think about some "evil" thoughts that you may have harbored during your lifetime.  You want to kill him for doing that, get rid of him/her so you could be free, take that ----(whatever) from them.  You know what I mean.  They start in childhood and grow stronger in adulthood.  Chances are that you never fulfilled on any of those thoughts, although some nations and criminal minds have. 

So, you can stop beating yourself up about your prejudices.  You don't like blacks, whites, Indians?  Jews?  Christians?  Muslims?  Fat people?  Thin people?  Rich?  Poor?  Midwesterners?  (Who doesn't like Midwesterners?)  Urbanites?  Immigrants?  Pick the national origin that irks you.  Forgive me if I miss the particular prejudice that you have.  My response is:  so what! 

Your thoughts are your thoughts, and you are entitled to have them.  But, here's the hitch.  Keep your thoughts where they originated, in your mind, and no one gets hurt.  You don't have to invite the people you dislike to dinner, but you do have to live in the world with them.  Sorry about that.  Believe me, they don't like it as much as you don't.  Prejudices are part of the human condition.  Embrace them, acknowledge them, and live with them.  Just don't act on them.  Maybe, just maybe, if we all did that, there really would be peace on earth.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

So You Have a Small CLaims Case? I Have Two Words For You.

The courts are choking with small claims cases (people demanding reimbursement under $5,000.00) brought by parties in dispute with the neighbor, the auto dealer, the furniture company, the floor contracter, the plumber, the dog walker, .... you fill in the blank. There are two very important words that must be remembered before you even bring the action, and they are: BE PREPARED.
Time and time again, I see litigants appear before the judge (which may be me) without any evidence to substantiate their claims. A small claims hearing is a mini trial. That means that you must show cause or reason for making your claim against the other party. As a defending party, you do not carry the burden of proof unless you are bringing a counterclaim. However, the defendant should "be prepared" if he/she wishes to refute any discrepancy in the claim or monies demanded. Even if the defendant does not appear for the trial, the claimant must still prove the claim. If you need a receipt, bring it; if you signed a contract, show it; if you need pictures, take them; if you have a witness, bring him or her along -- whatever will be necessary to show the judge that you are entitled to the amount you want reimbursed.
Remember, that small claims court is for money only, but the court will not pay you back for aggravation, emotional distress (unless there are related medical bills), or any other annoyances that have no monetary value. There may be other remedies for that - which is another topic of discussion.
What will happen if you come unprepared to court? The chances are quite good that you will lose your case - and you may never bring that same case against that same person(s) again. If you forgot any items that you think you may need for your case, you may request an adjournment for another trial date. So, whether or not you were a girl or boy scout, use their motto and BE PREPARED.