Monday, December 17, 2012

Preparing for 2013

Come December 17, 2012, and there are just two weeks left in the year. After a grueling couple weeks of court appearances and trial work, it feels good to settle back in to my office and get prepared for the final push of the year.

My phone has been ringing with a variety of clients looking to get prepared for 2013, whether it’s a small business getting their house in order, preparing corporate filings, collecting on outstanding invoices and other year-end documents or individuals concerned about the “fiscal cliff” that the media will not let us ignore and how they can be prepared.

The week after the Christmas holiday is always a great time to reflect on the year that was and get your planning together for the upcoming year – and a good time to throw together those resolutions and review last year’s resolutions that (hopefully) have steered you well for the year. As the cookies are all eaten, the presents opened and the children over-stimulated on both, don’t forget to plan ahead.

For more information or to schedule a consultation, please call my office (718.568.0221) or visit my website (

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

The Quotation of the Day from today's New York Times:

"In my opinion, it's not a national tragedy if Walmart can't open at 8 o'clock on Thanksgiving Day."
BARRY FINEGOLD, a Massachusetts state senator, on the Colonial-era blue laws in his state that prevent retailers from opening their doors on the holiday.
Stay safe and enjoy your holiday, especially if you are partaking in the shopping sales.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Black Friday Shopping & The Need to Hold on to Your Receipts

Thanksgiving week has turned into the opening whistle on holiday shopping season, with stores now preparing to open on Thanksgiving Day itself. It seems like this continues to erode the family aspect of the holiday as dinner will now be moved (or interrupted) so that families can go stand in line in the cold weather waiting to save $5 on a gift. Personally, I don’t think the $5 is worth it, but that’s just my opinion.

In addition to beginning your holiday shopping, this week is also a good time to look back on the prior 11 months and get your documents together for the end of the year and the upcoming tax season. I have friends who keep track of their spending to the penny and keep every receipt in the most hyper-organized system I have ever seen.

Their approach is not workable for most people, but a good document retention system can go a long way to having important documents at your fingertips. Whether it is receipts for major purchases, your health care expenditures for the year, tax documents and receipts for deductions or whatever other spending you need to track, this week is a good week to tweak your system and make it work for you. This will be especially helpful if you find yourself in some kind of lawsuit down the road – your lawyer will thank you for your organization and your bill will be much lower.

Years ago, I had a client who had a multitude of bank accounts with various banks and what would have amounted to boxes of paper for my review. Luckily for me, when any statement came in, the client scanned the paper into his system and one day he appeared on my doorstep with a CD-ROM with nearly 25,000 pages of statements ready to go. If you need a good holiday gift for someone this season who needs to organize their paper, you can’t go wrong with the Fujitsu line of ScanSnap scanners (Full Disclosure: I have 3, one at the office, one at home and a portable one for meeting clients outside of the office).

For more information or to schedule a consultation, please call my office (718.568.0221) or visit my website (

Friday, November 16, 2012

Splitting Up the Holidays

It seems like Thanksgiving has just appeared on the calendar out of nowhere and with it comes the annual issues of dividing up the holiday time, especially for people going through divorces. Many people run into issues with where to go and when for the holidays, but those going through divorces go through it in a very amplified and adversarial manner (at least most of them do).

The December holidays are usually a bit easier to split up because they last longer and people have a variety of traditions for their families. But when it comes to Thanksgiving, being only one day, it seems to be a time that people really dig their heels in and refuse to budge. This week I spent nearly an entire day in Court dealing with just that issue when no one was willing to cede any time on the day, split it up, or agree to alternate it going forward.

A common question in my recent consultations has been what to do with holiday times, or more specifically, what does everyone else do. Unfortunately, everyone’s case is different and what works for one family will not work for the other. The easiest cases involve two families who celebrate the holidays in different ways at different times that allow the children to be with both sets of families for their respective holiday traditions.

If you want to see a judge who is unhappy with a couple of litigants, tell the judge that you are unable to agree upon a holiday schedule. It should be a simple calculation, and would show the Court that you are able to be reasonable in the best interests of your children. But if you can’t, you can always let the judge decide and I can guarantee that no one will be happy with what the judge comes up with.

So in the spirit of the holidays, try to work it out yourselves!

For more information on divorce practice and the ways to move your matter forward or to schedule a consultation, please call my office (718.568.0221) or visit my website ( for more information.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Payday Loan Scammers Lose a Friend

The big news this week is that MoneyGram has agreed to forfeit $100 million to settle charges that it aided wire fraud and failed to police against money-laundering. (Reuters) This news crossed my desk from a few clients who had previously used MoneyGram in connection with Pay Day Loans and found that the money the supposedly sent had not received the recipient and had disappeared.

In connection with its settlement, the U.S. Department of Justice says that MoneyGram processed thousands of transactions that were used by their own agents to trick people into wiring money to people they believed to be their relatives or with the promise of large cash prizes. The settlement money will be used to create a fund from which victims of the scams can be repaid.

Across the past months, many of my meetings with those who have been the victim of Pay Day Loan scandals have involved companies demanding payment through services like MoneyGram where there was not a truly “traceable” receipt of the money. The companies, who are often scammers located overseas, demand payment by a money-wiring service and won’t accept a check or other payment method that would be traceable. If you refuse to use their companies, they immediately threaten you that you will be arrested if you do not use their service and pay the money. Of course, once you’ve made the payment, you do not hear from them again and never receive any confirmation that the payment was actually made.

With this settlement, hopefully another way to scam people is being closed down, but at the same time, these scammers will often just move on to another scam to get their money.

For more information on defending yourself against these scams or to schedule a consultation, please call the office (718.568.0221) or visit my website ( for more information.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Day After the Election: Now What?

The election is over. Like many, we wake up the following morning, after months of being inundated with political ads, calls at home and a full mailbox, to wonder what is next?

On a national level, the presidency, the Senate and the House of Representatives appear to all be staying in the same political party hands as before the election. At the state level, each state is different, but with last night’s results, we can all begin to plan for the next two to four years and predict what the legislatures will be doing with our laws.

The past few months I’ve seen an uptick in consultations for people who want to revise their wills or create a new estate plan in anticipation of the outcome of the election. One of their biggest concerns is the $5 million gift tax exemption, which is scheduled to sunset at the end of 2012.  With the estate tax rate likely rising from 35% to 55% and the lifetime gift tax exemption decreasing from $5 million to $1 million, now is the best time to review your personal estate plan and see if you should take advantage of these changes now.

For more information on estate planning or to schedule a consultation, please call my office (718.568.0221) or visit my website ( for more information.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Debt Collection: The Prosecutor's Office Joins the Fray

As if there was not enough stress associated with receiving debt collection notices in the mail, this weekend's New York Times included an article detailing that debt collection agencies are now partnering with local district attorney's offices around the country to assist with their efforts (NYTimes article here).

According to the article, the debt collection letters appear to have the seal (and signature) of the local prosecutor's office, but are really sent to individuals by private debt collection companies that are essentially "renting" the letterhead to intimidate people who have written bad checks. By using the local prosecutor's office, the demands also include additional fees for financial responsibility programs or other additional costs that are recoverable by the state. It appears that the extra revenue is the "rent" for the use of the letterhead.

The initial problem with all of this is that these letters are often sent without any district attorney reviewing the case or a determination that the individual receiving the letter is subject to criminal charges. Although it is claimed that the merchant has made demands for the repayment of the fees, with the major debt-collection clients being listed as Safeway, Target and Walmart, it is likely that the letters are sent as a matter of course, as happened in the case of Ms Kathy Pepper who bounced a check for $68 while in the middle of a divorce action.

This practice has been challenged by consumer lawyers across the country, including a pending class action in federal court in San Francisco. Indeed, some individuals are even testing their luck and refusing to pay the additional fees demanded by the prosecutor's office.

The bottom line is that debt collectors are trying to be as creative as possible to collect on debts these days and when in doubt, it's worth it to at least speak to a professional before your credit is ruined - or you are forced to attend a financial responsibility class. Even if it's only for peace of mind, it will help you sleep at night knowing what the debt collectors can and can't do to you.

For more information on defending yourself against collections actions or to schedule a consultation, please call my office (718.568.0221) or visit my website ( for more information.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Hot Summer Days and Gearing Up for the Fall

The waning days of summer, the end of August, and a bit of a lull in life in general for most people. Most of the Courts run with a lighter schedule, people and businesses take their summer vacation, trying to squeeze that last bit of sanity out of their summer vacations. It’s also a great time to take use the downtime to prepare for the upcoming school year, even if you aren’t in school and don’t have children.

Even after we are no longer in school, it’s still ingrained in our subconscious that Labor Day rolls around in September and life begins to get serious again. Those summer Fridays with their reduced hours are gone and the economy seems to pick up momentum as we head towards the end of the year.

Have you checked over your estate planning documents? Do you have estate planning documents? Your will is up to date, your beneficiaries on your accounts are up to date? Did you get married over the summer? Have a child? All of these life-changing events are a good time to re-evaluate where you are legally and where you plan on going from here.

Running a business? How are all those vendors doing? Those folks who begged for more time to pay their bills because of the summer slow down could probably use a call about now. No more secretaries answering the phone and covering for their boss while she is on the beach. It’s a good time to review your receivables.

It’s also a good time to check your corporate books. Normally you have filing requirements at a variety of times throughout the year and with the slow days of August upon us, it’s a good time to dust off that black binder and check to make sure your documents are up to date.

Whatever your situation, use this late-August time as a productive time to plan out your fall and take the initiative for the rest of the year.

For more information on litigation or corporate planning or to schedule a consultation, please call my office (718.568.0221) or visit my website ( for more information.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Return of the Pay Day Loan Scam

Just like a media news cycle, it appears that the pay day loan folks are at it again. After a few months of peace and quiet, there has been another uptick in consultations with prospective clients who are being harassed by the pay-day loan companies. Now added to the mix are the folks from the American Indian reservations who have also jumped into the game, attempting to take business from pay day loan companies by claiming to have better rates than the pay-day loan companies.

The scam continues to operate the same way. You take a pay day loan to help you get through a rough time, and end up paying the amount back with a significant amount of interest. For example, you borrow $500 at a 20% fee, so you end up paying them back $600 at the end of the loan (an annual interest rate of more than 500%). If you need more time to pay them back, they usually offer an extension that will cause you to incur more costs. If you have approved them to automatically debit your bank account and the money isn’t there, guess what? More fees are added on to what you owe.

When the day finally comes that you have paid off the loan, you feel good and are happy to move on with your life. Until the calls begin to come to your home, threatening you with arrest if you do not pay more money to pay off the loan. There is often a “problem” of some type with your final payment and you are asked to immediately wire money or utilize some other non-traceable form of payment to “pay off” the loan (that you already paid off).

The problem, of course, is that this company is usually located overseas, using a “spoofed” telephone number to appear to be from the United States. They are not actually owed any money and are simply phishing for someone to be scared enough to send them money without confirming the actual debt that is owed. In order to scare you, they will rattle off a list of pay day companies until you confirm that you had taken a loan with one of them and then claim to be working on their behalf and with the local sheriff’s department.

The simple answer to all this is to force them to provide you accurate information and pay attention to the details (or lack thereof) in their telephone spiel. It is an intimidating call, but one that consumers should not necessarily be afraid of.

For more information on defending yourself against these scams or to schedule a consultation, please call my office (718.568.0221) or visit my website ( for more information.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A Long Trial and a Lost Summer

Image cc: Kids_Gifts on

A long hot summer has somehow led me away from this blog for too long. Well, that, and a five-week trial that put my entire life on hold and made a day at the circus look like a mundane 9-5 job. In the span of those weeks, there were full days of trial, half days of trial, adjournments for fake medical emergencies and entertaining games of “Where’s Waldo” in the courthouse as we attempted to locate the opposing party so we could continue. Those long days taught me many a lesson:
  • Have Additional Copies of Your Evidence. A good portion of trial time was spent waiting for the opposing party to find additional copies of his evidence. Rather than have any organization, he showed up with a large pile of papers and spent time just going through the documents, page by page, introducing some documents, reading from other documents and generally engaging in a level of filibuster that would make a politician proud. Instead, my client and I have our exhibits pre-marked, with copies for the opposing party, the witness and the Court (when requested) and my copies on my iPad with my notes for examination.
  • Remember What the Case is Actually About. When we finally got to the actual allegations at trial, opposing party spent his time, hours upon hours, on issues that were not jurisdictionally before the Court. Many of the issues had already been decided more than five years ago and had been upheld on appeal on multiple occasions. Despite the wild and irrelevant assertions, it was important to stay on message and stick with our trial plan and not get sucked in to the morass caused by the opposing party. It was tempting to deviate from our strategy, but our strategy, hatched five months in advance of the hearing, had been battle tested and planned out deliberately and worked better than allowing the trial to degrade further.
  • A Summation is the End of Your Case. When the Court finally decided to conclude the case, both sides were allowed 30 minutes for closing. Opposing party did his closing, I did my closing, and then opposing party demanded a rebuttal. As there were a few minutes remaining before the Courthouse closed, the Court allowed the rebuttal. But then at the end of the rebuttal, the opposing party began to produce more papers and attempted to add more evidence to the record. What ensued was an entertaining explanation that a summation is the end of your case, not a pause in the case.
  • Leave the Evidence, Take the Cannoli. At the end of the case, for reasons unbeknownst to anyone, the opposing party attempted to leave the courthouse with some of the documents that had been placed in evidence during the trial. The Court officers had to chase him down before he left and made him return the documents to the Court’s file. Rule of thumb, the evidence stays behind.
For more information on trial practice or to schedule a consultation, please call my office (718.568.0221) or visit my website ( for more information.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Divorce Hotel: A Weekend of Mediation?

This weekend's New York Times had a feature on a Netherlands based company that provides a "Divorce Hotel" where couples can spend a weekend mediating their disagreements in the hopes that they can resolve their issues and get a divorce.  So far, the company has struck up deals with six hotels in Netherlands, where the staff are advised that the guests participating in the program are to be treated differently than a regular hotel guest.  When the couple checks out, they are hopefully ready to show papers to a judge to finalize their divorce.  The article does point out, however, that "most breakups are too complicated - or, frankly, too acrimonious - to be worked out in a cozy hotel room somewhere."

According to the story, of the 17 couples who have tried it so far, all but one left "divorce ready", but that doesn't mean they are actually divorced.  The purpose of the weekend is to create a settlement agreement that would be ready to present to a judge.  While the process is different in each state here in the United States, this approach ignores many of the ancillary required filings to formalize a divorce judgment.  The resulting document would likely be similar to the legal document preparation services online these days, they provide you with forms, but it is left to you to get it right.  If the form is incorrect, they assume no liability for the problems that result.

In the case of individuals with child custody concerns or complex financial arrangements, a weekend spent in a hotel attempting to mediate your differences will likely lead to more frustrations than answers.  Especially where one spouse has been hiding assets or engaging in other spurious behavior, a weekend of mediation may result in a very unfair settlement for the spouse who is unaware of what is truly going on.  And while the cost for the program range from $3,500 to $10,000 depending on the complexity assigned to their relationship by the company, for that same price, many couples would benefit from actual legal advice to help them resolve their divorce matters.

Of course, because we live in a voyeuristic society, the article also points out that Base Productions is planning a reality show around participants in a weekend at a divorce hotel.  The producers believe the audience could be huge, despite the obvious privacy concerns of letting a television crew film what is probably the most dramatic and sensitive arguments you may ever encounter.

In the end, the hopes are that couples could avoid the length and delay of proceeding with a divorce in the court system, but such an informal process seems fraught with problems and concerns for couples who need legal advice when divorcing.

For more information on divorce practice and the ways to move your matter forward or to schedule a consultation, please call my office (718.568.0221) or visit my website ( for more information.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Can I Claim My Child as an Exemption on My Taxes?

The question of which parent can claim their child as an exemption on their tax returns after a divorce comes up very often, even being litigated on occasion by parties.  Last week, the U.S. Tax Court issued a Summary Opinion in Scalone v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, again explaining the requirements for claiming a child as a dependent exemption.

The Scalone's were divorced years ago (in 2001) and under the terms of their separation agreement, Mr. Scalone was entitled to claim the parties' child as a dependent on his tax returns going forward from the year 2000.  In 2006, Mrs. Scalone refused to sign the required IRS form and when Mr. Scalone claimed the child on his taxes for that year by attaching a copy of the parties' separation agreement, litigation ensued.

The opinion does a good job of explaining the basic operations of the child dependent exemption, including the use of IRS Form 8332 for filing with the tax return.  Using that form usually resolves these matters and no red flags are raised.

The underlying issue is what qualifies a child as a "dependent" under the tax regulations.  As the Court describes it

But "dependent" is one of those English words that the Code tortures into having a very specific meaning: A "dependent" child in tax law means a child who gets more than half her support from a taxpayer with whom she lives for more than half of the year.  See, sec. 152(a)(1), (c)(1).  The general rule for children of divorced parents is that the "custodial" parent gets to claim them as dependents, but the divorce decree or separation agreement can say otherwise.  Sec. 1.152-4(c), Income Tax Regs.

The Court explains that the above is a "general" rule with a variety of exceptions, including using a declaration from the custodial parent that they won't claim the child and the declaration is attached to the non-custodial parent's tax return.  In Scalone, the Court looked into the attachment of the separation agreement and if it provided enough information to entitle Mr. Scalone to claim the child as a dependent on his tax return.

In the end, the Court found that although the separation agreement didn't include the parties' social security numbers, that oversight wasn't fatal and the agreement was treated as a declaration entitling Mr. Scalone to taking his child as a dependent in 2006.

For more information on family law and the dependent deduction for purposes of your tax return or to schedule a consultation, please call my office (718.568.0221) or visit my website ( for more information.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

When Will the Court Sign My Divorce Judgment?

There are many people who experience the agony of a lengthy wait for their divorce judgment to finally be signed.  While Kim Kardashian may find ways to speed up the process, many people are stuck waiting for months.  A novel way to send a message popped up online this week, a holiday poem that has gotten an attorney in a bit of trouble.  The poem, posted on Above the Law, details yet another lengthy divorce that seemingly will never end, but it seems that the poster may be in a bit of trouble for his creativity.

The frustration of a litigant trapped in a seemingly never-ending family law matter is all too common.  This week, I had a consultation with a woman whose child is already past the age of emancipation, but the father of the child continues to file applications with the Court to change custody, to get child support and for other relief.  Despite the child being an adult, being pregnant and getting ready to get married, the father will not allow the mother and the daughter to move on with their lives.

It is these types of cases that are the source of endless frustration for litigants who are forced to pay years of legal fees for cases that should have been resolved.  Although the Court has a role of gatekeeper to hopefully stop these baseless claims, they always seem to find their way through and get on the court's calendar.  Currently, a good portion of my family law practice is taken up with these types of cases that seem to have no end in sight.  Even with motion practice and aggressive representation, to many clients it appears that their case will never end.

While I don't recommend the approach used by A. Todd Merolla in his case, there needs to be some way to ensure that these cases are wrapped up in a timely manner for the mental well-being of all involved.

For more information on divorce practice and the ways to move your matter forward or to schedule a consultation, please call my office (718.568.0221) or visit my website ( for more information.

Monday, May 7, 2012

What Do I Do When My Spouse Hides Assets?

It used to be a lot easier to hide assets and money from your spouse.  Often, it took a lot of detective work, subpoenas and forensic accountants to uncover the true nature of your spouse's assets.  Now as more people use online banking and online access to financial and real estate records, putting together a dossier of a person's actual financial picture can be done in a cost-effective way.  Last week, the Wall Street Journal focused on this issue in its Wealth Adviser Section article Why Hiding Money From Your Spouse Has Gotten a Lot Harder.

The article cites to some interesting statistics, including

  • 31% of adults who have combined assets admitting they have been deceptive about money;
  • 58% of those adults admit they hid cash;
  • 15% of those adults hid a bank account; and
  • 34% of them lied about finances, debt or money earned.

With the exception of hiding cash, these statistics play directly into the ever expanding world of "e-discovery" that is used in the practice of law - the production of electronic records and information.  As odd as it seems, the low-tech method of cash stored in a shoe box in your attic (which I have seen employed by plenty of individuals over the years) seems to be one of the better methods to hide your money these days.

The Wall Street Journal also looks at statistics tied to lawsuits, including

  • 92% of divorce lawyers seeing more cases using evidence from smart phones in the past 3 years; and
  • 66% of the lawyers citing Facebook as the top source of compromising information online.

With all of the information available online and the ability to quickly get access to this information, it is important to consider all of the information you post online, no matter what forum.  It's no longer just your employer that is monitoring you, it is likely your spouse as well.

For more information on family law and the discovery of assets or to schedule a consultation, please call the office (718.568.0221) or visit my website ( for more information.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Kim Kardashian and Kanye West Getting Married?

Apparently it hasn't taken long for Kim Kardashian to get ready to walk down the aisle again, this time with Kanye West.  While most people love weddings, Ms. Kardashian may have forgotten a little fact: she is still married to Mr. Humphries and it's hard to find a place to allow you to get married to someone else when you are still married, or bigamy as the legal statutes define it.

This situation arises more often than you would think, but without the publicity that comes along with a celebrity wedding.  Even this week, a former client reached out to me to help obtain certified copies of her divorce judgment because she was getting re-married and had to provide a certified copy of the judgment to get her marriage license here in New York.

One of the more common cases when this arises is a case that is similar in a way to Ms. Kardashian, when you've submitted your divorce documents and are awaiting your Judgment of Divorce and meet someone else and would like to get remarried.  Unfortunately, the paperwork process of a divorce can take a significant amount of time, up to one year after the submission of the papers, and can cause a barrier to the perfect summer wedding that you want to plan with your new beau.

When this happens, it helps to have a lawyer on call to help you speed things up.  With a certain amount of evidence on your side, you can petition a Court to review and sign your divorce paperwork sooner than scheduled.  I have a feeling that if Ms. Kardashian (or more likely, Ms. Jenner) really wants this marriage to Kanye West to happen immediately, we'll see some type of legal machination to get the divorce from Kris Humphries resolved quickly so that perfect summer wedding can make it on to E! this summer.

For more information on divorce practice or to schedule a consultation, please call the office (718.568.0221) or visit my website ( for more information.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Payday Loan Scams

Recently I've encountered an increase in consultations for people who are getting harassed by "payday loan" companies who have allegedly hired a law firm to collect money for them.  This week's scam was particularly worrisome as they were preying on a retired client of mine who lives on a fixed income and is now without more than $1,000 that he could use to live on.

The scam seems to go like this: you get a call from a "lawyer" representing a payday loan company who informs you that if you do not pay them within a few hours, you will be arrested.  When you attempt to arrange for a payment by check, credit card or other means, you are told that only cash or a "MoneyPak" will suffice (MoneyPak must know that they are being used this way as there is even a "Fraud" warning section on their product).  You get the MoneyPak, you provide them the number, and you never hear from them again, at least until the next time they attempt to prey upon you.

It appears what has really happened is that the money has been sent overseas to a company that is using VOIP technology to fake their presence in the United States.  If you ask the person on the phone any questions, they get angry at you, refuse to answer and say that they are sending an officer to your home or work to arrest you.

If they do provide you any information, it is usually the name of a law firm (who has no connection to the scam and who has no idea their identity is being used for collections purposes) who is supposedly collecting the debt for the loan company.  They will refuse to tell you their name, the information regarding the loan you supposedly owe money upon or any other information regarding the debt.

Unfortunately, if you send them any money, you will likely never see it again.  When you look up the telephone number they called from on the internet, you will find a list of people who were also scammed. When you look up the attorney who supposedly called you, you find it's from a state where you've never been and an attorney who does not practice collections law.  When you contact MoneyPak to get your money back, you'll find that there is no way to get your money back.

The FBI is aware of this scam,, but unless people actually question the caller and ask the questions, this scheme will continue to prey upon innocent people who can't afford to lose their hard earned money.

For more information on defending yourself against these scams or to schedule a consultation, please call the office (718.568.0221) or visit my website ( for more information.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Collecting on that Super Bowl bet

I've been blindsided by a pretty nasty head cold for the past week or so, which has made court appearances more unbearable than normal.  In the midst of my misery, I met with some interesting new clients, one of whom had impressively represented himself in court so far.  While you can't use his tactics to collect on that super bowl bet with your wayward cousin who never actually pays up, he is still a good reminder that you can make the system work for yourself.

At the heart of his problem was a dispute with his old landlord.  When he was unable to work out the issues with the company directly, he took the landlord to court to collect money that he felt was owed to him.  The company hired an attorney and tried a variety of litigation "tricks" to beat the litigant representing himself.  When all of those failed, he still showed up at court on the date that the case was supposed to go to trial and, when the landlord's attorney tried to get an adjournment, he stood up and told the court he was ready to proceed.  Against an unprepared adversary, even a person representing himself stands a good chance and this man beat a seasoned attorney at trial and won a judgment.  Not surprisingly, the landlord has refused to pay any money and that's how this individual ended up in my office.

In most of the cases I have dealt with over the years, the client comes to you with a much more convoluted story and many legal issues that cause barriers to the simple collection of their debt.  This client, however, has done the work, received a judgment with interest, and just needs assistance collecting the debt.  In fact, at the meeting, he even told me that he had gone to the web and downloaded forms for information subpoenas to assist in finding the landlord's assets.  My initial reaction, and we joked about it, was why in the world does he even need an attorney, he seems to be on the right track.  But as he pointed out, he knows nothing of collection practice and that he would rather hire an attorney and do it right so as to close this chapter of his life.

When your cousin refuses to pay up on his Super Bowl bet, you probably shouldn't go to the courthouse and file a lawsuit against him, but it never hurts to remember that a little hard work and preparation will be respected by the courts and can put you in a great position to collect on your debts.

For more information on collecting on your debt or to schedule a consultation, please call the office (718.568.0221) or visit my website ( for more information.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

That Late Night Call

I had lunch with a fellow attorney the other day who practices in an area of law that has no court appearances, no real client contact, just a lot of legislation and other transactional work. When we discussed how we could both expand our practices, he made an interesting admission to me that he didn't even really know how to do a client consultation and wouldn't know what to do with himself if he had to do a court appearance.

As we discussed it further, I realized that he has the wonderful ability to go home at night and not have to be ready for that "late night call" - the one you always see in the television shows and late-night commercials.  The one where the client is in dire straights and you're the person they call to get them out of the mess they are in at 3 in the morning.

Years ago, if the client did not have your home number or cell phone number, they would be forced to leave a number and hope that you would call them back.  With all the advancements in technology, I am at least able to relax (a relative term while the family blasts Glee) during the evening with the knowledge that if anyone needs to find me, even a call to my office number can find me and, if I'm not available, can immediately alert me of a message or call from a client.

Last night was one of those evenings where I was relaxing and enjoying myself when the call got re-routed  and I was on the phone with a friend, who is also an attorney, because child protective services was on the way to his client's home and they needed someone to talk to.  As he doesn't have a significant background in family law, I was the one who got the call to help him walk his client through it and be there on the back end in case more legal work was done.

Luckily, all involved will be able to sleep tonight and with all of the wonderful technology these days, we no longer need to fear that late night call.

Monday, January 30, 2012

"Downton Abbey" and the Need for Estate Planning

It seems like my entire family has become obsessed with PBS' Downton Abbey and have re-arranged their Sunday nights so that they don't miss an episode.  When I watched the first episode, I was subjected to repeated questions about the terminology regarding the future of the estate after the current Lord dies.  Of course, as it is set in the early 1900's in England, the terminology is a bit dated for today's purposes.  However, the underlying issues surrounding the future of the estate are ones that are faced by many people today, although most of us don't have to wear the fancy outfits on a daily basis.

Specifically, the show revolves around who will inherit the estate when the current Lord dies.  After the death of the presumptive heir (I'm not spoiling much, it happens in the first episode), the family is forced to examine whether the estate will be passed along to the Lord's eldest daughter or to the next of kin, who is unknown at the time.

Luckily for us in 2012, our intestacy and estate laws are not nearly as arcane and a random cousin who no one has ever met is unlikely to show up and claim your estate.  However, the show does serve as a great reminder that as the calendar turns to 2012, the Premiership clubs enter the FA Cup and it's a good time to review your estate planning documents and make sure they are up to date and really reflect what your plans are for your estate after you pass.

This is especially true if 2011 was a year of big changes as it was for many people in my life.  Maybe you had a child, bought a home or, if you're really lucky, hit the lottery.  Regardless, you should be checking your will and other documents to be sure they are accurate. 

Some will design a will that lasts for the next 30 years and doesn't need to be revised, but it should still be considered at least once a year.  For others, life is constantly changing and you want to make sure your documents are up to date and accurate so that the cousin you've never met doesn't ride in on the (hopefully proverbial but possibly literal) white horse and inherit your assets.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Preparing For Trial

I'm just winding down a week that apexed on Wednesday with what was supposed to be the continuation of a trial where I was in the middle of my cross-examination.  Even with a trial that started back in October, it was amazing to see the various levels of preparation for the attorneys involved in the case when we appeared for the trial.

While it seems obvious to me, apparently not everyone works with their clients to have them at the height of their preparedness when a trial comes along.  Over the years I have met many attorneys who waited until the last minute to prepare their clients and find a major hole in their case on the eve of trial, with little or no time to correct it.  One of my personal favorites was the attorney who was intending on calling an accountant to testify, only to find out the day before the trial that the accountant was, in fact, no longer a licensed accountant and when the indignant attorney asked why he had not told him this up front, the accountant simply said, "because you never asked me."

For this particular trial, one of the attorneys involved is also a solo practitioner, but one who appears over-extended with all of her cases and unable to spend the appropriate amount of time on each case, or maybe it was just on the case we had together.  For months, letters and requests for documents went ignored and even attempts to get her on the telephone went unanswered.  She showed up for court with documents that she claimed were faxed to me at 2:15 a.m. that morning, only to find that at such a late hour, she must have faxed them to the wrong fax number.  I still wonder what the nursing home who received the documents must have been thinking when they received them in the middle of the night.

With paper files falling out of her briefcase and no real hold on the case or the client, one side of the courtroom looked almost comical.  On the other side, I sat with my client and our exhibits for cross-examination and our computers (my iPad, his netbook) ready to proceed.  Further down was another attorney assigned to the case and his tablet managing his files as well.

So just as we were prepared to proceed, the Court finally issued its decisions on motions that had been undecided for months, including all the requests for documents that were outstanding.  Before the Court even finished its decisions, the other attorney announced that her client was withdrawing her case and just like that, another litigation was concluded.

It's always "Murphy's Law" when you have a trial: when you are prepared, the case either settles or resolves itself some way.  When you aren't prepared, it always goes forward with a trial.