New Year New Beginnings

nyearsbaby2As we enter into a new year, it’s always tempting to think about how things will be different this year. Almost everyone I know has some version of a New Years resolution (including me), but on the eve of one of my very good friends getting married, I wanted to share a few thoughts on new beginnings.

1. Welcoming A New Addition to the Family

If you’re the proud parent of a newborn, it’s a good idea to start planning for your child’s future. If you do not have a last will & testament, now is the time to write one. It is important that you designate who you want to act as the guardian of your child in the event you and your spouse pass away before your child reaches the age of eighteen. It’s also not too early to  begin saving for your child’s education. Talk to a financial planner about what steps to take to secure your child’s future as soon as possible,

2. Entering a New Phase in Life: Marriage/Divorce

Tying the knot is an exiting time for any couple. Combining your finances and creating a life with another person requires careful planning and open communication. Although it sounds unromantic, a premarital agreement will clearly outline the expectations that each of you have about how you will handle your income and what arrangements will be made in the event you do not make it as a couple. Even if you decide against a premarital agreement, open discussions about these issues will give you insight into your partner’s point of view. The more you know about each other, the better prepared you will be for married life.

Similarly,  if your divorce has been recently finalized, you are entering a new phase in your life. If you have life insurance policies naming your ex as a beneficiary, you want to be sure to submit the proper documentation to change your beneficiary designations.  If you were awarded the family home in your divorce decree, you also want to be sure that your former spouse has executed a special warranty deed to transfer his or her share of interest in the home to you.

3. Starting a business

New businesses often start at the beginning of a new year, and entrepreneurs tend to dive into their new ventures head first. Lack of proper documentation is a trap for the unwary. If you are a sole proprietor, you must decide if you want to incorporate your business or simply file a DBA at the outset of your company. Partners in a partnership are doing themselves no favors if they do not have partnership agreements in place. Taking the time to speak to an attorney before your operation runs into any issues is the best step you can take to protect yourself from potential liability and start your business off right.

What Happened to Thanksgiving?

As I was getting ready for a holiday party a few days ago, I noticed all of the TV ads were about ttronslien-0825Black Friday sales, Veteran’s Day blow-out specials, and Christmas close-outs. Every few minutes, these advertisements were clamoring for my attention. My sweetheart yelled at me from the other room, “What happened to Thanksgiving? Did we jump from Halloween straight to Christmas?”

I had no good answer to that question. Seriously, what did happen to Thanksgiving? Most years go by with at least a cursory acknowledgment of the concept of gratitude, even if that comes in the form of reruns of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and vague references to turkeys being pardoned by the President. Personally, I bristle at the jilting of Thanksgiving. Halloween is fun. Christmas is great for the economy, but Thanksgiving is special. It’s a time for self-reflection, family, and football. It doesn’t get the attention it deserves. It’s the Jan Brady of the holiday season. Even though advertisers don’t care about giving thanks, I must do my part to make note of what I have to be thankful for, so here are the 4 things I’m most thankful for this year.

1. Good Health. This year I only took one sick day. Without my health and strength, I’m not able to effectively advocate for my clients. Thankfully, 2015 was very kind to me. Taking more interest in self-care and wellness has paid off in increased productivity, more efficiency, and better balance in my work and life. I have just enough time for my clients, my friends, and my family.

2. The National Spotlight on Police Brutality. Some shocking things happened in 2015. From Sandra Bland’s death to the riots in Ferguson, this year the intersection of race and our nation’s police came into the national conversation. People are becoming more aware of the inequalities present in American society, and we are finally starting to talk about the issues publicly. Sadly, people had to die to bring these issues to the forefront, but clearly their deaths were not in vain. We honor them with every step we take to hold overreaching police accountable and prevent these tragedies from happening in the future.

3. Marriage Equality.  This summer, the United States Supreme Court issued a landmark decision in United States v. Windsor that made marriage equality the law of the land. Same-sex couples now have the right to marry in all fifty states. The benefits that heterosexual couples and their children have are now afforded to all couples in this country. Religious groups still have the right to refuse to perform marriages that conflict with their religious views, but civil marriage is now a right that everyone can freely enjoy. Some of my friends and family have been able to solidify their loving relationships with the rite of marriage this year, and I am happy that this exciting time is now a reality for so many who were once deprived of a right to love in their own way.

4. Wonderful Clients. My business would not be possible without people entrusting me every day with the most important aspects of their lives. I handle some very sensitive topics for my clients. I listen to their stories of heartbreak on the verge of divorce. I walk them through the shambles of their finances when they contemplate bankruptcy. I welcome their new children into the world as we fashion an appropriate estate plan to protect their growing families. I meet their parents, their spouses, and their children. I become intimately familiar with my clients because I truly care about each and every one of them. My success depends on theirs, so anything I can do to help them is a step in the right direction for my firm. I fight hard for my clients. I tell them when they’re wrong, and I celebrate them when they’re right. We have ups and downs together, and I’m a better attorney because of those experiences. I am so blessed to have been able to serve my clients this year, and it’s my sincere prayer that I can continue to serve them and others in 2016.

If you’re looking for a lawyer who cares, look no further. For sound legal advice and a listening ear, call me at (713) 574-8626 to schedule your initial consultation. You’ll be glad you did.

 

3 Scary Halloween Facts

DSC_0594Halloween is right around the corner, so I thought it would be fun to celebrate the season with a few little known facts about the holiday. Whether you celebrate with costumes, decorations, and a posse of trick-or-treaters or simply leave the porch light on to pass out candy, these are a few things to keep in mind to keep yourself and your family safe this year.

1. Halloween is the most dangerous night of the year for pedestrians. AAA reports that the combination of children running around in costumes, along with drunk drivers on the road, creates a perfect storm. It is suggested that parents accompany kids if possible, make sure they are visible, and coach them on road safety. Reflective clothing as well as portable lights should be a part of your Halloween gear this year to ensure you’re visible to any vehicles you may encounter on your way, if you plan to trick-or-treat by foot.

2. Your Halloween celebrations are giving the economy a boost. From its vampy costumes and sweet treats to macabre household decorations, Halloween is big business. So big, in fact, that it’s the second-largest commercial holiday in America—only Christmas surpasses it in sales. According to the National Retail Federation, consumers spent $5.8 billion in 2010, and in 2015, Americans are set to spend $6.9 billion on Halloween.

3. In some places, the oldest you can be to legally trick-or-treat is twelve (12) years old. In 2010, Belleville, Illinois, became the latest city to ban trick-or-treating for kids over 12. Teens can face fines from $100 to $1,000 for going door-to-door (although according to officials, more often than not, over-age Halloween-goers are just given a warning). This city found that children over the age of twelve were using Halloween as an excuse to loiter in public places, commit random acts of vandalism, and basically be a nuisance. If you’re over the age of twelve, and still going door to door, perhaps it’s time to pass the baton to the next generation.

For more fun facts and great legal advice when you need it, feel free to call me at                    (713) 574-8626 to schedule your initial consultation. I’d love to hear from you.

Happy Halloween!

The Challenge Presented by Difficult Clients

ANGRYThis week I’ve been confronted by the reality that a large part of what I do involves dealing with people at their worst. My clients are going through divorce. Some are facing bankruptcy. Others have been personally injured, and still others are facing jail time. Stress can do a number on a person’s ability to cope and adapt to life’s ups and downs. Sometimes that stress gets taken out on me. Occasionally, my clients will lash out at a staff member, and while I’m sensitive to what they’re going through, a vital part of my job is to remind my client that it’s never appropriate to take their frustrations out on me or my staff because we’re here to help. We’re all on the same team, and as the old adage goes: don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

There are times when I’ve had to escort clients out of meetings to remind them of the fact that while I’m sensitive to their emotional upset, at no time is it okay to curse or yell at me or anyone who works for me. How can I effectively advocate for a person who can’t maintain his composure in our private interactions? If I’m not able to reign in an irate client in private, I run the risk of allowing that person’s bad behavior to impact the outcome of his case in the eye’s of the judge when we make it to court. That’s not a risk I’m willing to take. I’d much rather offend a client and obtain the desired outcome he seeks than placate a difficult person to his own detriment.

Contrary to popular belief, lawyers are people too. We have good and bad days like everyone else, but the lawyer who can’t control her emotions is the one who cannot keep a cool head to make sound decisions for her client, and I refuse to be that type of attorney. I’ve seen lawyers in screaming fits, in tears, and visibly shaken in the hallways of court rooms, but once those lawyers reach the presence of the judge or the jury, their game face is on in spite of how they may be feeling. An important part of our job is how we relate to our clients. Any attorney who has been practicing for any amount of time has more than a few stories about the time they had to talk a client off of the ledge in order to get past the strong emotional component of their case and make sure the job is done.

We can’t always be your friend. We’re also not your therapist, although we are definitely legal counselors. Boundaries have to be maintained for our welfare and for the benefit of our clients. Keep that in mind the next time you blow off some steam on a customer service rep or anyone else you may encounter on a bad day. That person has feelings and is just trying to do his job. We’re all doing our level best to help you, and that’s made much easier when you cooperate and keep your emotions in check.

For professional advice and to schedule a legal consultation, be sure to give me a call at (713 ) 574-8626.

4 Things You Need to Know about Plea Bargains

While my practice doesn’t focus exclusively on criminal law issues, I do take criminal court appointments and receive questions about this area of law quite frequently from my friends and family. Bad things happen to good people, and my hope is that, no matter what challenge arises, my blog can be a consistent source of quality information for people who are looking fDSC_5510or answers. One of my relatives got a DWI, and she was totally thrown for a loop about what to expect, how the criminal justice system works, and specifically what were the consequences of entering into a plea agreement. I felt like this topic was so important that I would share a few thoughts about it on the blog so that it could reach as many people as possible.

1. Plea bargains are incredibly common. Although most people are steeped in the knowledge of criminal trials and the right to a jury, it’s estimated that over 90% of criminal cases are resolved through plea agreements. Courts are presented with a high volume of criminal cases to handle, from traffic tickets to serious felonies. Judicial economy requires that a certain percentage of those cases move through the system outside of a trial setting. While no one but you can decide if a plea agreement is the right decision for you to make, it’s good to know where the pressure to take the plea is coming from. Most people don’t want the hassle or expense of going to trial, so they take the deal most favorable to them to move on with their lives.

2. Deferred adjudication is not the same as probation. This point is crucial and surprisingly comes up in conversations with clients quite frequently. Deferred adjudication is a court mandated agreement where a defendant pleads “guilty” or “No Contest” to criminal charges in exchange for meeting certain requirements laid out by the court within an allotted period of time also ordered by the court. It often includes community supervision, fines, and other restrictions relevant to the crime alleged. Deferred adjudication in Texas is often offered in such a way that if the defendant successfully completes the program, the charges are dropped and the case is dismissed. Violating a deferred adjudication plan can result in a conviction. Probation, on the other hand, is simply the release into the community of a defendant who has been found guilty of a crime, typically under certain conditions, such as paying a fine, doing community service or attending a drug treatment program. Violation of the conditions can result in incarceration.

3. No contest and guilty pleas are final convictions. People ask me the difference between guilty and “no contest” or “no lo contedre” quite often, so here it is: a guilty plea is an admission of guilt that results in a court finding the person guilty of the crime they are alleged to have committed. No contest or no lo contendre is a plea that has the same effect as a guilty plea except it does  not include an admission of guilt. It’s basically like saying, “I neither confirm nor deny.” Either type of plea will typically result in a finding of guilt by the bench and result in a final  conviction.

4. Not all criminal cases have to remain on your record for life. All of this talk about the criminal justice system would be incomplete if I failed to mention the fact that in Texas most crimes that have been dismissed, no billed, or for which a defendant is found not guilty, can be removed from the defendant’s criminal record through expunction or non-disclosure. Check out my blog on expunction and non-disclosure here.

If you’re looking for common sense legal advice, don’t hesitate to call me at (713) 574-8626. Knowledge is power!

 

Should I Hire a Lawyer or Handle It on My Own?

ttronslien-8953 (1)I get asked this question in different ways from time to time, so I thought it would make a great blog topic. Is it a good idea to hire a lawyer or go pro se?

In most instances, we have no problem going to a professional for services. Car making a funny noise? Go to a mechanic. Need a haircut? See a barber. Broke your key in the door? Call a locksmith. But when it comes to legal services, people with absolutely no legal experience or training strangely believe that they can do it themselves, get the outcome they want, and successfully represent themselves in court. This is almost always a terrible mistake.

“I have the right to represent myself in a court of law”, you may be thinking. This is true. You absolutely do, but just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Abraham Lincoln famously said, “He who represents himself has a fool for a client.” Like me, President Lincoln was an attorney, and he had a great reason for making this remark: the law has its own set of rules, guidelines, and vocabulary. There is a reason lawyers have to attend several years of school and pass their state bar examinations. Competence in the courtroom comes with years of experience handling legal problems again and again. A person without this background is simply not prepared to properly represent him or herself.

Typically when a person goes pro se, that person quickly realizes they’re in over their head and hires an attorney. When I meet someone who has filed their own lawsuit, I look at what they have done on their own and determine what, if anything, I can do to fix their mistakes and protect their interests. This often results in my new client paying more than he or she otherwise would if they had simply come to me with their legal problem from the very beginning. The additional work needed to pick up where a pro se litigant has left off usually results in me having to spend more time on their case, and therefore a higher bill. Sometimes they’ve waited too long to seek my help, and I can’t do anything for them because the case is too far gone.

Even a skilled lawyer who represents himself is at a disadvantage. We are humans, and our emotions tend to cloud our judgment when it is our own personal interests at stake. I take my own advice in this regard. When my grandmother passed away, I advised my mother (her executor) to hire an attorney. I did not want to bungle my grandmother’s estate. I had recently graduated from law school and had not yet learned how to handle probate matters. I wouldn’t pull my own tooth if I had a toothache, and something tells me you wouldn’t either. The same principle applies to the law: when in doubt, hire a professional.

How to Safely Interact with Police Officers

IMG_9754Recently a young woman named Sandra Bland was pulled over in a routine traffic stop. She and the officer who pulled her over got into a verbal altercation that resulted in her arrest; she died under suspicious circumstances three days later.  This incident and the fact that several members of the public have had interactions with the police that resulted in arrests, injuries, and death led me to want to shed some light on how best to avoid confrontational situations with the police. Every circumstance will be different, but there are some general guidelines that people should be aware of when they are pulled over, questioned, or otherwise interacting with police officers.

1. You Have the Right to Remain Silent. Use it.

In the case of Sandra Bland, the police officer and Ms. Bland had a series of arguments about issues like whether or not she had the right to smoke a cigarette in her car, whether she had to get out of her car at the officer’s command, and whether or not she had the right to film her interaction with the officer. As a general rule, it’s a good idea to say as little as possible to the police. You have the right to remain silent for a reason. Anything you say to a cop can and will be used against you in court, so it’s best to remain mum to the extent possible. Even before you’ve been formally arrested, the police officer is conducting an investigation. In the event of traffic stops, the officer is observing you to determine whether or not you’re intoxicated and clues such as your breath, demeanor, and tone of voice can be used to convict you if you are arrested, so why give them any additional cues? Nothing good comes from arguing with a police officer.

2. Obey Their Commands 100% of the Time

People often get in trouble with the police when an officer gives an order that they ignore. Even if you don’t agree with with what you’re being instructed to do, always, always, always obey a uniformed officer’s directions. Failure to obey a police officer can result in your being charged with resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, or worse. More often than not, the officer is simply trying to do his or her job. It’s never worth the risk of being arrested, so when in doubt, simply do whatever he or she is telling you to do.

3. Never Ever Run Away from the Police

Under no circumstances should you ever run away from a police officer. Countless individuals have been injured or killed because they chose to run away from a uniformed police officer in hot pursuit. Once you’ve been chased, apprehended, and caught, the police officer is not going to be very friendly, and you are absolutely going to jail. If you’re being approached by a police officer in a vehicle  or on foot, never ever run away. Running away endangers your life and the lives of others around you, particularly if you’re fleeing in a motor vehicle.

It’s a sad state of affairs in America when the police are as much of a threat to the general public as are “bad guys,” but it’s irresponsible to ignore a problem that has been plaguing the black and Hispanic youth in our society for decades. The advent of camera phones and social media has simply made this problem come out of the shadows. It’s time for people to smarten up about the way they deal with interactions with police officers because as a general rule, if you didn’t call the police, they are probably not on your side. You may be a suspect. Until you find out the reason for their inquiry, follow these simple guidelines and leave with your reputation and your life in tact. For more common sense advice about life and the law, be sure to contact Kimberly Moss at (713) 574-8626.

Video: Straight Talk with Moss

In an effort to make my site a bit more personal an interactive, I decided to start a video blog series called Straight Talk with Moss. I want to invite every viewer, web crawler, and internet citizen to ask me any legal question. The purpose of this video blog series is to find out what issues people are concerned about and talk about those things in an easily accessible way. My goal is to be the go-to source for general legal information, like a Miss Manners for the law.  🙂

So send me any and every legal question you’d like to discuss at my email address: kimberly@mosslawhouston.com. Enjoy the first installment of Straight Talk with Moss!

Domestic Partners: Are you Ready to Get Married?

married_car_02This seems like a slightly rude and obtrusive question, but it’s a good one. If you have filed for domestic partnership instead of getting married (either because you’re LGBTQ and it was previously illegal or because you and your partner wanted benefits through your jobs without being married), pay close attention.  The New York Times wrote a very interesting piece on this topic that I strongly suggest you read. In part, it discussed how certain companies have rescinded their domestic partner benefits to employees living in states where same-sex marriage was legalized and has given these employees a few options. The legalization of same-sex marriage has touched on some very interesting questions: namely, is it fair for married couples to have exclusive benefits simply because they are married? Also, is it fair to coerce couples to marry for purely economic reasons now that they can do so without interference from the state?

Last July, Verizon gave its employees until the end of the year to decide whether to marry. IBM gives employees a one-year grace period, though a spokeswoman said the time frame was under review; Delta said it provided a grace period as well, about two years. And some states have sought rollbacks as well.

Many employers extended the benefits only to partners of gay employees because they did not have the option to legally wed. Plenty of other organizations, however, extended domestic partner coverage to opposite-sex couples as well — and those companies are expected to maintain the benefits more so than those that offered them only to same-sex couples.

“With no legal barriers to same-sex marriage, it is likely some employers will eliminate their benefits for unmarried same-sex partners,” Todd Solomon, a partner at McDermott Will & Emery who has written a book on domestic partner benefits, said. Is this fair? Is this what was intended by Justice Kennedy’s decision? To force people who would otherwise choose alternative arrangements to marry? I don’t think so, but there are compelling arguments to be made on each side. For a closer look into this issue, please check out the source.

To protect your family in whatever shape it may be, be sure to get solid advice and counsel from an attorney who stays abreast of current events to make the best decisions for her clients. For an initial consultation, feel free to contact me at (713) 574-8626.