Monday, July 18, 2011

Not The Best Weekend to be From New York Law School

It's been a busy weekend around here in Brooklyn, especially with the big feature on my alma mater, New York Law School in the weekend New York Times (here).  This was piggy-backed on the recent study that New York has more than 7,000 more lawyers than available legal jobs (7,687 last year to be exact).  The next closest state?  California at 2,951.

Normally, I don't think too many of my friends read the New York Times (or atleast they don't dump links to stories on me), but this weekend I got the story about New York Law School emailed to me more than a dozen times.  It had been a weird couple of months for me in relation to NYLS and I recently received the infamous email from the outgoing dean that he was stepping down from his position.  For a few weeks now, we've been wondering what was about to come out, why would he step down at such a time that the school seemed to be enjoying such success?  Maybe this article had been in the works for longer than we knew.

Since starting my own firm, I've been congratulated by friends and colleagues on making such a big move, especially in this job market.  Now, after reading all this negative recent press, I'm staving off the inclination to get nervous.

Atleast I have some issues to work out with Time Warner to keep my mind distracted...

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Dear Time Warner Cable

A short divergence from the usual fare of this blog...


July 15, 2011

Via Certified Mail
Time Warner Cable
Attn: VP of Customer Care
5520 Whipple Avenue NW
North Canton, Ohio 44720

            Re:      Account # 815XXXXXXXXXXXXX

Dear Sir/Madam:

Today I was scheduled to have a service appointment to replace our cable box, which was not recognizing our service according to your technicians.  As a history, our cable stopped working on July 11, 2011.  When I called, I was told that your company had done system upgrades, and that some cable boxes needed to be replaced.  I was given an appointment for July 18, 2011, but was told that I could bring my cable box in to a service center to switch it out and thus alleviate the need for the appointment.

On July 14, 2011, I went to the service center on East 23rd Street in Manhattan and was given a new cable box.  When I got home, the new cable box did not work.  When I called your company, I was told that they could move up my appointment to today, July 15, 2011, between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m.  As that was sooner than July 18 2011, I agreed.

Today, I was home throughout the day and no technician showed up or called.  At 6:07 p.m., I called your customer service phone number and spoke to Marybell.  She looked into the details of the appointment and told me that the technician had been to my apartment at 5:10 p.m. and had called the telephone numbers I had given the company when setting up the appointment.  I was told that the next available appointment was July 22, 2011, a week from today.
 
After hanging up with your customer service department, I spoke to my neighbor, Carol, who was outside of our building all afternoon starting at 4:00 p.m.  Indeed, I confirmed with her that she and I were outside talking to each other at 5:10 p.m. and my phone did not ring and no technician from your company appeared at the building to provide service.

I returned to my apartment and called your customer service again at 6:26 p.m. and when I got a representative on the phone, I requested to file a complaint about what had happened.  The representative offered to find a “supervisor” and put the call on hold.  I waited approximately 27 minutes without any “supervisor” or any other individual picking up the phone.  In disgust, I hung up the phone and left to meet my family for dinner.

The treatment I received by your company today is absolutely appalling.  That I pay for my service in full each month and have been a customer for nearly a decade clearly does not factor into your calculations or business models.  A simple telephone call today that the technician was “running late” or needed to “reschedule” would have been satisfactory and evidence of a modicum of respect for my time as a professional.  Instead, your technician blatantly lied, likely to allow him to avoid work on a Friday afternoon.  That your customer service representatives refuse to even document a complaint is just plain offensive to the notion of a “customer service” business.

While I would appreciate the simple courtesy of a reply to this letter, I will operate under the assumption that my treatment by your company will not improve at any time and that I offer no value to your business.

Friday, July 15, 2011

In New Jersey, Don't Use GPS to Find Your Mistress

In one of the first cases to allow such evidence to be used, the New Jersey Appellate Division last week allowed the use of data from a man's GPS device to be used in his divorce case.

The Appellate Division in Villanova v. Innovative Investigations, Inc., dismissed Mr. Villanova's claim of a violation of his right of privacy by a private investigator who suggested that Villanova's wife install a GPS device in a family vehicle to help track Villanova's travels.

As the Appellate Division noted, to track Mr. Villanova, his wife installed a GPS device in the glove compartment of the car that he frequently drove.  Mr. Villanova claimed, unsuccessfully, that he also used the car for his professional use as a corrections officer, which was discounted by the Appellate Division.  When his wife admitted to placing the GPS in his car, Mr. Villanova amended his divorce complaint to include the private investigator as a party to their divorce action.  When the divorce matter was finally resolved, the action against Mrs. Villanova for an invasion of his right of privacy was waived, but he retained his rights to sue the private investigator.

In his suit against the private investigator, Mr. Villanova claimed that the GPS intruded upon his "solitude and seclusion" and thus violated his right of privacy.  The private investigator's report detailed their actions, including surveillance of Mr. Villanova, attempts to find his alleged mistress at an address they had on file and following him and a female while they were driving in his car.  The Appellate Division noted that everything in the report occurred on "public roads" and not, as Mr. Villanova argued, in secluded places, and upheld the summary judgment dismissal of the claims against the private investigator.

The Appellate Division specifically held that
  • We hold that the placement of a GPS device in plaintiff's vehicle without his knowledge, but in the absence of evidence that he drove the vehicle into a private or secluded location that was out of public view and in which he had a legitimate expectation of privacy, does not constitute the tort of invasion of privacy.
In the end, it seems like Mrs. Villanova went a long way to attempt to prove that her husband was cheating on her.  It almost seems like a movie script, where the invisible GPS tracker is attached to the underside of a car so that James Bond can track down the bad guys.  But if courts are going to allow this kind of evidence to be submitted in cases, it will open up a whole new avenue for private investigators in a variety of matters.

This is reminiscent of back in 2001 when rental car companies hit the news with claims that they were utilizing the GPS in the rental cars to impose fines on drivers.  The data returned by the GPS indicated that the renters had been speeding and the rental car companies charged them for violations of their rental car agreements.

It seems like only a matter of time before the GPS chips in our cell phones are turned against us in the same way, especially since Apple seems to have already started the process.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

My (Un)Healthy Obsession With Technology

When I started my own firm, I was convinced that it would be simple to just sign up for different technology programs, login, and they would all just work together without any glitches.  You would think that these days, with all this information stored in the "cloud" and the readily available technology options, it would be simple.  And you, like me, would be wrong.  But the good news is, that with enough work, you can actually get everything to work together.

I recently had lunch with an old friend, who's had a solo practice for years, and most of the time was spent talking about the technology set up and how it lets me service clients in a more constructive and effective manner.

Hardware

My first challenge was deciding what hardware would be needed to keep me mobile, nimble and accessible to clients.  With all of my hardware in place, it was just a matter of getting a Windows 7 desktop, a MacBook, a WindowsXP Netbook, an iPad and a Blackberry to work together - raise any eyebrows yet?

Software

The next challenge, working with software that would be able to operate across all of these platforms so that I can grab whatever technology I need on my way out the door to meet with clients.  I began with GoogleApps to host my email, get my website up and running and manage my contacts, calendar and other tasks that it loves to help with.  To work with Google, I did some research and found a handy practice management software, GoClio, that integrated my calendar and contacts directly from my Google account.  I have found it easy to use and intuitive, but I have had clients who have worried about setting up another account on the web to connect through their service, and I'm waiting for more reactions from clients.

Telephones/Faxes

This actually turned out to be even easier than I anticipated, with a nice VOIP system that allows my calls to be routed to wherever I am and forwards all of my faxes to me as .pdf files.  In setting this up, I'm available to my clients at more times than just 9 - 5, in a manner that is unobtrusive to my home life (if a client calls and I'm with my family, I just hit a button, it goes to voicemail and I can retrieve the message and call them back if it's an emergency).

The Result

After a few tries, I think I've finally been able to get all of my technology to play nice together and allow me access to my practice on a variety of devices.  The biggest challenge, and it was a big challenge, was getting the Blackberry, Google and iPad to work together - in my earliest attempts, every time they attempted to synchronize, they would create duplicates in my calendar and contacts and my files became unwieldy!

Going forward I'm going to continue to try new applications, especially for the iPad, to try to optimize my practice through all of the glorious technology that is now available.  If I find something I like, it'll find its way onto this blog.

Monday, July 11, 2011

High Profile Cases and the Cocktail Party

I doubt I have to mention which "high profile" case was all the talk at the parties this past weekend (and on principle I refuse to even type her name and give her or her attorney more publicity).  It is when these wonderful cases are decided that our attendance at law school makes us the immediate expert on all things whenever we meet anyone new at a social occasion.

This past weekend, the constant query was how in the world did the jury find the woman not guilty.  Everyone I spoke to seemed to think there's a special ring of hell waiting for her after what the media told them she had done to her daughter.  The juror who was all over the news poignantly said that they didn't vote for her "innocence" but rather, they couldn't find her guilty behind a reasonable doubt.  I spent my time attempting to defend the legal system and the processes we all go through.

The interesting divergence came when I spoke to attorneys, who really weren't shocked about the verdicts, but rather, were amazed that an attorney with no experience could bungle his way through a trial where his client was facing the death penalty and emerged unscathed (so far).  Despite all of the statements from the judge about how upset he was from the antics of the attorneys involved, it doesn't appear that there will be any sanctions leveled.  Even more appalling to my fellow lawyers were the reports of "champagne fueled parties" and how excited her attorney was that his career was on the rise, that good things were going to happen and his hiring of an agent to represent him.

I had to admit to many that I really didn't follow the trial closely - in fact, the last real coverage I watched was years ago when my wife watched the Today Show each morning and they seemed to have a daily feature on the case while the beautiful little girl was missing.  It was a tragic case, regardless of who was at fault, what crazy stories were presented at trial and all of the media hype around it.  In the end, a young life was ended under suspicious circumstances and our system may never be able to attach a criminal conviction to that travesty.

So I may be naive, but I hope that this past weekend is the last time I'll have to spend my time at a party discussing this case and we can all find more entertaining pleasantries to occupy our time.  It is my sincere hope that the woman, her attorney and the entire case just disappear from our collective conscious and let them fade back into the obscurity from whence they came so that I can actually look forward to social interactions again.

Friday, July 8, 2011

A "Bucket List" of Documents

This past weekend, the Wall Street Journal featured a great article by Saabira Chaudhuri in their Weekend Investor Section on "The 25 Documents You Need Before You Die" and how they can impact you and your estate after you're gone.

They broke the documents into 6 categories
  • The Essentials
  • Proof of Ownership
  • Bank Accounts
  • Health-Care Confidential
  • Life Insurance and Retirement
  • Marriage and Divorce
The Essentials included the documents that most people are likely to have, their Will, Letter of Instruction and Trust documents (which of course, all of us have, right?).  Especially after major life events (i.e. marriage, birth of a child, divorce), it is important to review these documents and update them as necessary.  I am always amazed when in a client consultation, I am told that the prospective client has a will, from about 20 years ago, which was before they got married, had a couple of kids, maybe even got divorced, and that they never thought to update it.

Proof of Ownership also included documents that we all deal with as we acquire major property and things throughout our life (housing documents, vehicle title, loans, investments, tax returns).  The article points out the importance of having these documents and identification of assets and liabilities available to ease the distribution of your estate after you are gone.

I was a bit concerned about the suggestion of providing a "list of all user names and passwords" in connection with your bank accounts, especially in this age of online security threats and unauthorized access to supposedly secure data.  While it's important that your heirs have access to this information at some point, make sure there is an understood protocol and system to safeguard any document that would contain such information.

The health care documents are one area that I find myself clearly at fault for not having everything together at this time.  Even at my last checkup with my dermatologist, I realized how little I knew about the health history of those in my family and the impact that genetics may play in our overall health and illnesses.

Most people probably have a folder in their desk or file cabinet for their life insurance and retirement account information.  You get your monthly statements, file them away (maybe even scan them into digital format and destroy them?) and never really think about them again.  But what happens after you are gone and your perfect little filing system is incomprehensible to those who are trying to administer your estate?  Time to update that system?

Finally, the Marriage and Divorce documents (marriage license, divorce papers) are ones that people seem to underestimate the importance of.  True, your marriage license probably won't be needed for many things beyond a name-change on your accounts, but your divorce papers seem to be needed everywhere.  These days, Judgments of Divorce are readily available from the Courthouse where your divorce was granted (prices vary for "certified" copies, which are often required) and it's usually a good idea to pay for a few copies at the time of your divorce and keep them handy.  Normally you won't need them, but what else are you going to do when your ex-spouse's creditor pops up on your doorstep and tries to hold you liable for some debts that the ex ran up?  Surprisingly, they won't take your word for it and will probably need more proof from you.

Overall, this was an excellent article that is worth a read to get your mental house in order as you plan for the future.  You can generate many of the documents yourself, file away the ones that you have lying around, but most importantly, contact your attorney or financial planner if it's been a while since you've thought about your Will, Trusts, Health Care documents and retirement accounts.  What may have been the right choices for you 20 years ago may be quite a headache for your family these days.