Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Get Those Agreements in Writing

Lunch at the local pizzeria today provided some entertaining people watching. My favorite table included a group of older gentlemen who were attempting to work out some kind of deal. When they got to certain portions of the deal, they would switch languages to Italian, presumably so no one would be able to pick up on what they were dealing with.

As I finished my lunch, they were wrapping up their deal negotiations and ended their discussion the way things have been handled for years: a good and proper handshake. While probably perfectly acceptable for what they were discussing, it reminded me of a few of my open cases right now where people made similar deals, but never got anything in writing, and now are trying to get their money back.

For those unlucky souls who never get their agreements in writing, the legal process can be an uphill battle, filled with intricate legal theories to try and justify the recovery of their money or items. The flip side of that coin are those who get their agreements in writing, usually drafted by an attorney, and are able to sleep much better at night knowing that their agreement is protected.

The challenge of all of this is what to do when the amount being loaned or the value of the items is too small to justify paying an attorney to draft up a formal contract. Is it better to just go with the handshake and hope? Or maybe overpay an attorney to draft a complex agreement that costs more than the money exchanging hands? It is that precise spot that many people find themselves in, which represents a big hole in the legal market from both the attorney and client standpoints.

Even if you aren’t going to go to an attorney to formalize your agreement, at least make sure you have something in writing to show that attorney later when everything goes awry.

Monday, May 18, 2015

How Do I Pay For Medical Expenses For My Child That I've Never Seen Before?

This morning’s trial confronted one of my favorite conundrums that people seem to create: how to make someone pay for expenses they don’t know about? In this case, it was a Family Court proceeding where the Petitioner was requesting reimbursement for medical expenses incurred by the parties’ child. Seems straightforward enough, right? There’s a court order that tells the parties how much they are responsible for, the child has been to the doctor a few times in the last 18 months, so the math shouldn’t require a genius.

But then comes one of my favorite tricks in the book: the Petitioner had not told my client about the expenses. Included in the expenses were trips to the emergency room (which he was similarly never told about). However, we’re in court because he failed to pay expenses that he never knew about. Our judge seemed a little less than pleased.

So now that we got to the bottom of the magic, the next question to answer was… how would my client know to pay expenses he didn’t know about? Well, that’s simple (says the Petitioner), he knows now because she filed a case against him with the Court. So, the judge and I open our workbooks to the documents that had been filed with the court and we see yet another look of displeasure from the court.

When we review the documents and exhibits from the Petitioner, there aren’t any medical expenses listed. Maybe the Petitioner brought them with the files to trial today? Nope. Now the judge is left to figure out how to make my client pay for expenses that haven’t been seen by the court or the client.

Pure magic is needed to get to the bottom of that one. But since we didn’t have any of that today, our trial is adjourned and we’ll reconvene in the future when hopefully, from somewhere, these magical medical expenses will appear.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Dumplings and the Need for More Paper Signatures

It’s been a busy week of getting closure for a variety of clients. Every now and then, I end up with a run of cases that settle or go to trial and leave me with a bunch of work to close up files and get ready for the next challenges that await.

This week has included finally tracking down some missing defendants and filing some settlement paperwork with a variety of courts so that we can all move forward.

Working with one client highlighted the inefficiencies of our system where the court still required original, notarized documents to be filed with the clerk’s office. Both my client and the defendant work in the technology industry and are used to working with electronic signature protocols that are prevalent in many industries (although not yet in the legal field). So it came as a shock to the parties that we had to actually have documents physically signed in the presence of a notary public instead of their electronic certification software that they utilize (I won’t name any software because I can’t really vouch for them as effective or safe software).

The documents we needed to sign were not particularly sensitive or unique, but since the court requires it, we went through the necessary motions to get all the physical copies circulated and signed and then filed with the correct clerk. With the documents filed and the case wrapped up, the client and I had a lovely lunch of tasty dumplings where we closed up the matter and bemoaned the lack of technological acumen that still exists in the legal system.

Some day, the law will move forward and we’ll slowly embrace many of the technologies that the creative thinkers of today are creating. Until then, I’ll have another dumpling and apologize to another client for the inefficiencies in our system.