Category Archives: Value

What Happens When You File for Bankruptcy?

I get this question often, and it’s a good one. First, there are several ways a person can file for bankruptcy. Chapter 7 bankruptcy  is called liquidation bankruptcy because the bankruptcy trustee may take and sell (“liquidate”) some of your property to pay back some of your debt. However, you can keep property that is protected (or “exempt”) under state  or federal law. In Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you keep all of your property  but must make monthly payments over three to five years to repay all or some of your debt. A Chapter 13 bankruptcy is also known as a consumer reorganization.

Under either chapter, a consumer who files for bankruptcy protection obtains the benefit of the automatic stay as soon as the bankruptcy petition is filed. The automatic stay prohibits most creditors from continuing with collection activities, which can provide welcome relief to debtors as well the opportunity to regroup during bankruptcy. This means no more calls from creditors, and any efforts to foreclose on your home or repossess any of your property must cease until the creditor receives permission from the bankruptcy court to do so. Most individuals facing financial crisis need some time to take stock of their financial condition and map out a path to solvency. The automatic stay is an important feature in stopping intrusive creditor calls and collection attempts while the consumers figure out their next steps.

Filing for bankruptcy is a serious undertaking that can have a lasting impact on your financial future. Hiring a knowledgeable bankruptcy attorney will give you peace of mind and information about how to move forward into financial freedom. For more information about the bankruptcy process, give us a call at 713-574-8626. We can discuss your finances and help you get control of your life.

 

 

Culture Wars: The Quasi Legal Status of Marijuana

About a year ago I attended an annual conference of Texas prosecutors in South Padre Island, Texas. At this conference, a legal expert from Colorado discussed the issues his state was facing in effectively enforcing the law that made cannabis legal and rained down tourism money from legal sales. Netflix recently released a CNN series called High Profits which highlighted a couple named Brian Rogers and Caitlin McGuire who owned a dispensary in Colorado on the eve of retail sale legalization. Not only is it a fascinating show, but it clearly illustrates how even after a majority of the populace votes one way (to legalize the sale of retail cannabis in Breckenridge, CO), there was immediate backlash for the people on the brink of making their illegal business legal. For more information on how this saga played out in Colorado, check out this article.

In Texas, however, the change has been a bit more incremental. June 2015 was historic because Governor Gregg Abbott signed the Compassionate Use Program into law, making it legal for doctors to prescribe a specific type of hemp oil to ailing patients suffering from chronic pain. Advocacy groups want the Lone Star State to catch up to public sentiment. A 2015 poll conducted by The University of Texas  and Texas Tribune in 2015 showed 68% of Texans support reduced penalties for low-level marijuana possession.

Some local municipalities have reduced penalties for personal possession of marijuana to make it a Class C misdemeanor (essentially a ticket). So what does this mean? Is marijuana legal in Texas? Absolutely not. It can still land you in jail and cost money to defend against criminal allegations. However, the tide is slowly turning in the direction of legalization, and it is simply a matter of time before Texas joins the dozens of other states that have legalized medical or recreational marijuana use. The law reflects the mores and standards of the people, and a growing majority of people in this state (and nationwide) simply believe it is not good use of tax dollars to prosecute marijuana users who are not in the drug business.

I’ll be keeping my eye on this issue because it has caused many people a great deal of grief because of the disproportionate amount of prosecutions of people of color for drug use and possession. Things are changing, but the law in Texas has not yet caught up to the times, so if you’ve had a marijuana possession case dismissed or no-billed, and you need to clear up your criminal record, feel free to give us a call. I’d be happy to discuss your options so you can move on with your life.

A Moment of Gratitude

Do you spend more time with your coworkers than you do with your family?  If you do, have OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAyou ever stopped to consider why that may be the case?  The West is a culture preoccupied with work. While I love the fast-paced nature of the legal field, it’s crucial that I take the time to reflect on why I do what I do every day at the office. With Thanksgiving right around the corner, here are just a few things I am thankful for:

1. I’m thankful for my clients.

I’ve said it before, and I will reiterate it here: I’ve got the best clients in Texas. I learn so much from them, and they honor me by trusting me with their lives every day. Whether I am helping them survive a bitter divorce or organizing their business for the start of a new venture, each client challenges me to provide better service and value than I did the day before. That’s a tremendous blessing that I do not take for granted.

2. I’m thankful for my staff.

This year I hired a legal assistant named Tim, and my productivity soared. He keeps me on task, helps me with administrative tasks so that I can focus on legal work, and most importantly he keeps me in communication with clients when I’m in court or otherwise unavailable to talk to them directly. Tim has allowed me to be more efficient and responsive to my clients, and for that I am incredibly grateful.

3. I’m thankful for my family and friends.

If it weren’t for my friends and family, my life would be totally out of balance. Being in a service-based industry is difficult because other people’s life problems become my problems. It’s very easy to get overwhelmed by all of the very serious concerns that clients bring to my office. It’s also easy to take on more work than I can handle because it’s much harder to say no to a potential case when my cup is overflowing with obligations.  Today I vow to prioritize my family over my potential profit. If I can’t offer the best service at the time due to having a full case load or simply not being able to handle the problem before me, it is my ethical obligation to refer that potential client to another professional who can.  I’ll no longer value my professional life over my personal life because integrity goes a long way, and I took an oath to behave ethically and professionally at all times.

I hope and pray that you are taking time off from work to spend time with the people who really matter in your life. I know I will, and I can’t wait to kick back with my friends and family to recharge before coming back to work to serve more clients and help more people along the way.

 

 

Back to School: Beyond Meet the Teacher

SDRandCo (2)This week many Houston children are heading back to school, so many of my friends and relatives are posting adorable photos of their kids in their first day of school gear headed back into the classroom. Understandably this is an exciting time, and everyone has high hopes for the new school year. With this optimism in mind,  I was taken back by a headline that reported that the number of inappropriate student-teacher relationships is at an all-time high in the state of Texas. A summary of the findings of the Texas Education Agency can be found here.

I had no idea this was such a widespread problem and thought it would be a good idea to shed a little light on this phenomenon and give the parents in my life a little food for thought. I was previously under the false impression that once a teacher was found to have behaved inappropriately with a student, that was the end of his teaching career, but this is not necessarily the case.

In Texas, most schools have what’s known as a “second chance” system. The first time an educator is found to have committed some type of misconduct, he or she is typically asked to resign and then quietly leaves. No report is made to the TEA in these instances, and he or she is free to find employment elsewhere. The second time that educator is found to have crossed the line with a student, his or her license may be suspended or revoked, and he or she is typically unable to find new employment as a teacher. This process is very troubling and has resulted in 207 cases of teacher-student involvement reported within the past year, and the number of scenarios that are not reported would likely make that result even higher.

Understandably parents are concerned. What can you do to protect your child from this kind of violation? I have a few simple suggestions. First, monitor your child’s social media presence. Is he Facebook friends with his teachers? That by itself is not evidence of wrong doing, but be sure to talk to your child. Are any teachers messaging him about personal matters? Does he text his teacher after hours or spend time after class alone with the teacher on a consistent basis? You have a right to know the nature of your child’s relationships with school personnel.

Second, if you suspect anything untoward is happening between your child and an educator, don’t be afraid to speak up. Schedule a parent-teacher conference to clear the air about what, if anything, is going on between your child and this other influential adult. If you don’t believe a parent-teacher conference would be effective, take your concerns to the school administrators. They would be very interested to know of any allegations against a teacher suggesting misconduct with a student. Your role as a parent is to keep your child safe, and unfortunately, most schools do not take the affirmative steps to investigate this type of behavior until the parents get involved. If you believe your child is being taken advantage of, it is your responsibility to intervene and advocate for the safety of not only your child, but the other children who may be subject to unwanted attention from an authority figure.

Free Wills Month: Your Mortality? It’s Not Morbid.

tigerThis month for the entire month of May, this law office is participating in a campaign known as Free Wills Month. Anyone over the age of 55 years old (or married to someone 55 and up) can get a FREE consultation with us to prepare a simple will.

For those of you who follow the blog, you may remember that we did this promotion two years ago. You can check out the inaugural blog here.

Anyway, this is one of those things that should be an easy sell. Everyone likes things that a free, but when it comes to pondering one’s eventual demise, people are incredibly reluctant to do so. Specifically, older people. This makes total sense and is natural, but in some way it’s counter intuitive. We plan for our weddings. We plan for vacations. We plan for every other event in our lives except  death.

This is not to disparage or demean the Baby Boomers in my life, but you guys…please, come on.  Your children and extended family will very much appreciate knowing your desires about what should happen to your belongings when you meet the fate that will greet us all. Dad, if you’re reading this, this blog is dedicated to you. I sincerely hope that after years of patient badgering, I have worn you down and finally convinced you to follow my advice.

Love always,

Your tireless youngest daughter

P.S. This campaign directly benefits Texas Children’s Hospital and will run from May 1 to May 31, 2016. For more information, check out the website.

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.

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.

Online Comments, Reviews, and Defamation: Where’s the Line?

011On the internet everyone is a critic. Sites like Yelp, Angie’s List, Google Plus, and other platforms regularly offer people an opportunity to express how they feel about a business and describe what kind of experiences they’ve had. What all of these sites have in common, however, is a lack of any kind of warning about the risks that come along with leaving a negative customer review.

People posting reviews online are typically seeking an outlet to describe what they may perceive to be a warning to other potential buyers, but they may not realize the inherent downside in that 1 star Yelp review. Negative reviews may result in decreased business for the company receiving the critique and could also damage that company’s reputation. That damage is actionable. A number of people have been sued by private companies for writing derogatory comments about their customer experiences. A contractor in Virginia sued (and won) a judgment against a Virginia woman who accused him of billing her for work he didn’t actually perform and possibly stealing her jewelry. The court in that case ordered her to re-write her online review on Angie’s List. That decision was later reversed, but the angry customer may still be liable for monetary damages.

Writing a review online that is false, misleading, or embarrassing could open you up to a different type of liability as well: defamation. This cause of action is very broad and typically difficult to defend against. So what’s the moral to the story? Is it really worth it to vent your frustrations online about a bad experience with a business? The website hosting your review is immune from civil liability under federal law, but you aren’t. If you are going to post an online review, please make sure that your review is at the very least truthful and free of embellishment.

If you find yourself on the receiving end of a citation because of your online comments about a business, make sure you receive sound legal counsel about how to respond to the lawsuit and what steps to take to protect yourself from further liability. If you’re a business who has been damaged by a customer’s review online, you also need to talk to a lawyer to determine what exactly your rights are. The internet has brought with it a very powerful tool for transparency and accountability in the market place, but that tool (like every tool) has its risks. Buyers beware! Businesses be warned!

 

Source: http://ideas.time.com/2013/01/07/yelp-reviewers-beware-you-can-get-sued/

Some Thoughts on Legal Max in Miami, FL

LegalMaxThis weekend I attended the Legal Max seminar hosted by Dave Lorenzo, the man pictured to my right. I learned some really great ideas that I wanted to share on my blog. One of the things that struck me about Dave and the other awesome presenters was their enthusiasm. As I wind down 2014 and think about the strides I’ve taken in my legal career, it was important to me to sharpen my business chops and make sure that I invested time in learning what it would take to bring my law firm from good to great. These are the three things that left the greatest impression on me from the conference.

1. Differentiation is Everything. Lawyers are everywhere and legal services are available in abundance from Legal Zoom to prepaid legal plans. The attorney who doesn’t take the time to do things differently from her peers is destined for a mediocre career and a constant struggle to make new clients. My goal in 2015 is to be the lawyer who brings the most value to her clients and keeps in touch with former clients because at the end of the day, my clients are my biggest priority. Like all relationships, it’s paramount for me to keep the lines of communication open between myself and my current and former clients. They should never forget that they have a lawyer in the family.

2. Being on the first page of Google is a misguided goal.

“If you aren’t on the internet, you don’t exist to people looking for lawyers on the internet.” –direct quote from Brian Tannebaum, former Above the Law.com columnist

Mr. Tannebaum’s presentation made a great point: people are on the internet looking for information and the best deal available. If I want to be the cheapest attorney, then the internet browsing crowd is my target audience. If I want to create a different type of client base, the internet becomes significantly less important. There are so many ways for me to keep in touch with current and former clients, so why should I spend money on an “internet marketer?” That expense could be used to improve the quality of service I provide my clients, so unlike the herds of other lawyers, my goal is to do things differently from my competitors. I certainly hope people continue to browse my website, and my plan in 2015 is to focus on writing quality content that helps people make better choices in their lives. If they decide they want to hire me after reading something that resonates with them or helps them answer a question, then fantastic.  Otherwise, I want my blog to be a source of useful information that gives people an idea of who I am and how I may be of service to them.

3. Don’t assume people know what you do. This applies not only to lawyers but to folks in all service-oriented professions. My friends and family may know I’m an attorney, but do they really know what I do? It would be naive of me to think that my family and friends actually read my blog or take that big of an interest in what type of law I practice. So what’s a lawyer to do? What’s a CPA to do? What’s a therapist to do? We have to make an effort to remind people of what it is we actually do and what kinds of clients we are looking for.

Friends, family, and former clients are just like everyone else. They are focused on themselves and their own lives. The only way to stay on their mind is to get in front of them in some way. This simple idea made a big impact on me, and I look forward to creating an email and a print newsletter to keep in touch with the people in my life to let them know what I’m doing and remind them that I’m always here, no matter what their problem may be. Even if I can’t directly respond to their problem, there’s a good chance I can refer them to someone else that I know and trust. Aside from all of the great things I gained from the conference, I also went on a fantastic boat tour of Miami Beach, Florida. Overall, it was a great weekend, and I look forward to putting these insights into practice as we head into the new year. To check out photos from my trip, feel free to add me on Instagram @sugarlandesq.

Are You Proactive or Reactive?

Hey youMost of the time I meet people in the middle of a crisis. Sometimes a loved one has recently died. Other times my clients have pending criminal charges or lawsuits filed against them. In these instances, my clients are reacting to the slings and arrows of life. Crises happen and are sometimes unavoidable. However, there are times when you can prepare for what lies ahead. Being prepared for the future and planning for some of the inevitable challenges that we all face is how I define being proactive. Instead of reacting to your circumstances, you are creating options and opportunities for yourself.

  • When a person comes to me to write a last will & testament, I know my new client is proactive.
  • When a person comes to me to ask questions about a contract before signing it, I know he or she is proactive.
  • When the owner of a start-up comes to me to incorporate his new business, I know he is proactive.
  • When a person inquires about power of attorney documents so that their affairs are handled before they go overseas for military service or business, I know that person is proactive.
  • Any time I am asked to actively market oil, gas, and minerals for mineral owners seeking a sale or a lease of their property, I know my clients are proactive.

You may be wondering, “why does this matter?” It matters because being proactive puts my client in the driver’s seat of his or her life. I have a greater ability to assist the proactive client because I know that person is looking ahead to what could be instead of instinctively reacting to their current circumstances.  This changes the dynamic of our relationship and allows me to make suggestions, ask questions about their concerns, and generally be of more value.

I appreciate all of my clients, but frankly, the proactive clients are my favorite. They have emergencies. Everyone does, but more often than not, they are better prepared when trouble comes their way because they sought my counsel before something has even gone wrong in the first place. Don’t wait for the other shoe to drop. Contact a lawyer to discuss your future, your business, the birth of your first child, you pending nuptials, or any other major life change you may be facing. You might be surprised what you learn, and how I may be of use to you in the long run.

To schedule a consultation with an attorney who wants to build a lifetime relationship with you, call (713) 574-8626.