Tag Archives: legal advice

Doing Well by Doing Good

March is an important month in my life. I was born on March 19th, and as my birthday DSCF9141approaches, my desire to make good on the New Years promises I made to myself is renewed. One of those beginning of the year promises involved spending more time in service to others, outside of my professional obligations. Recently, I took a step toward fulfilling that goal by meeting with Mike Jansen and Dayton Gilbert of the American Heart Association. I had questions about the organization, and they were very generous with their time and insights over coffee.

One of the challenges that my clients and I face is how to balance the demands of daily life with the need to give back to the community. Many of my estate planning clients are Baby Boomers, thinking about how to equitably divide their assets. Those of this generation who are religious routinely leave bequests in their wills to their local church, synagogue or mosque. The other segment of my estate planning practice are newlyweds and young parents. They want what’s best for their families in order to secure their future. Each of these types of clients asks for advice, recommendations, and warnings about how to arrange their affairs in the face of the unknown. I advise each of these groups to consider making a testamentary bequest to a reputable charitable organization.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death among American men and women. The American Heart Association funds heart research, hosts scientific sessions for continued advancement of the medical community, and educates the public about lifestyle, diet, and stress management. Its primary goal is to connect the best medical research to the doctors who need it most so that they can save lives by decreasing risks in current procedures. Due to the AHA’s efforts, scientists have learned how to slow down heart attacks and make stints safer and more effective for the people who need them to keep their arteries free from blockages that cause heart attacks.

My first professional experience with the American Heart Association happened in 2014 when I participated in a marketing campaign known as Free Wills Month. The AHA was one of the featured organizations, and it sent several informational booklets and newsletters detailing its mission. I felt comfortable recommending it to clients considering a charitable bequest in 2014, and I have continued confidence in that recommendation.  The impulse to serve others is a noble one. If you have been fortunate enough to leave assets to your spouse, children, friends, family or faith tradition, why not support a good cause? I encourage you to think seriously about donating your time, influence, and money to a cause you believe in. Both of my parents have heart disease; the efforts of the American Heart Association have tangibly benefited my family, and if you look deep enough, you’ll probably find they have helped yours too.

For more information about this wonderful organization from the Sugar Land attorney who cares, give me a call at (713) 574-8626. Also pay a visit to the American Heart Association website here.

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.

10 Things I’m Thankful for in 2014

It’s that time of the year again! The leaves have changed colors. Folks have started wearing 2013_11_11_7382-1morguejackets and scarves. Fall (also known as autumn) is my favorite time of year. It’s the only season with two names, and Thanksgiving (also my favorite) is the most low-pressure, feel-good holiday there is. This is a time for reflection, and once a year everyone is reminded to count their blessings. With that in mind, I’d like to offer my thoughts on what I’m thankful for this year.

1. Meeting awesome people

This year has been particularly good for me because of some of the wonderful people I was fortunate to meet. In June, when I was sitting at a bar having brunch at Katie’s Diner in New Orleans, Louisiana, I was introduced to someone who is now one of my closest friends. She later moved to Texas and is now my office administrator.

In October I had the pleasure of meeting Dave Lorenzo at one of his LegalMax seminars in Miami, Florida. I also met Brian Tannebaum, a former Abovethelaw.com contributor and Florida criminal defense attorney. Both of these guys were personable and dynamic. They gave me a lot to think about in terms of how I run my business and what I need to do to make it even better.

2. Fantastic clients

My firm wouldn’t exist without my clients, and every day I’m thankful for each and every one of them. My clients are some of the most kind, intelligent folks I’ve encountered, and I feel honored that they have entrusted their divorces, lawsuits, estate plans, and oil & gas royalty claims to me and my staff. I look forward to putting together a small “thank you” gift for them around Christmas time.

3. Learning a few life lessons

This year I learned that I cannot be everything to everyone. I also learned that it’s terribly important to set realistic expectations for my clients and myself. Just because I know how a legal process works doesn’t mean my client does. It’s my job to educate and advise every client I have, and I believe I’ve had a chance to do that more this year than I have in the past.

4. Owning a thriving business

Before I started my practice, I was a pawn in the corporate wheel. Although I was highly paid, I was not happy with the work I was doing and didn’t feel like I was making a difference in the world. Thanks to that experience, I greatly value the freedom and satisfaction I get from owning my own business. Was it difficult getting used to the ebb and flow of small business ownership? Yes. Did it take me some time to get used to not having a steady paycheck or paid sick and vacation days? Yes. Has it all led to me being happier and more fulfilled in my career? Absolutely. Now that I am my own boss, I can’t imagine going back to work for anyone else. I’ve tried to do that a few times since starting my firm, and the results were disastrous. Every day I’m thankful that I only answer to my clients (and occasionally to a judge).

5. Writing my first book

At the end of last year I began writing a do-it-yourself divorce guide for pro-se litigants. About two weeks ago I completed it. It is my first book, and I am incredibly proud of it. My hope is that this book really helps people who cannot afford to retain an attorney. I spent a great deal of time and effort to write something user friendly, free of legalese, and made it accessible to every day people who simply want to move on with their lives. I’m currently in the process of building a dedicated website for the e-book and can’t wait to make it available for sale in 2015.

6. Balancing work with life

This year I’ve been blessed to do a fair amount of travel. I went to New Orleans, Miami, Los Angeles, Dallas, and Austin this year. I’ve been able to spend time with my friends and family while keeping up with my day to day responsibilities. I had about  3 weeks of vacation this year, and I hope to keep up the trend of taking time off to recharge my batteries. I’m no good to anyone when I’m stressed and burnt out from working too much, so it’s a blessing that I’ve been able to strike a balance between my career and my other interests.

7. Helping clients get fantastic settlements 

One of the highlights of my career is being able to help people get compensated for their damages. When a company has to pony up dough because I have proof of their legal liability to one of my clients, there is no greater feeling in the world. Being the under dog who takes on behemoths is a challenging task, but when it pays off, my clients are happy, and I feel good. While I’m usually unable to disclose exactly how much I’ve gotten from whom, my clients know what kind of results I’ve gotten for them, and that’s all the validation I need.

8. Widespread legal changes 

This year the number of states with legalized gay marriage rose to 35. The number of states with legalized access to marijuana rose to 23 (plus the District of Colombia). It seems like America is slowly but surely moving towards progress in terms of civil liberties and civil rights, and I am very grateful for these developments. Unfair laws have prohibited people from exercising their rights to live their lives as they choose, and these laws are finally being challenged in the courts and legislatures. Texas isn’t in either category just yet (in terms of legalized gay marriage or marijuana), but change is on the way. It’s just a matter of time.

9.  Overall health, wealth, and happiness

2014 was a great year for me and my law firm. I only had to take one sick day this year, and thankfully I was able to employ an office administrator to help me communicate better with current and former clients. This year has been tremendous in terms of growth, both personal and financial. I’m looking forward to what 2015 has in store.

If you haven’t yet, take some time to write down a few things you are thankful for. An attitude of gratitude is a good thing to have all year. Until next time, thanks for reading, and if you ever have questions about me and what I do, please feel free to call (713) 574-8626.

New Parents: 4 Things You Need to Know

baby feet1. You need to meet with a financial planner. Let’s face it: children cost money. If you’re a new parent, it’s a good idea to consult with a financial planner about what kind of savings you need to begin putting in place to finance your child’s education.

2. You should purchase life insurance.  Life insurance is intended to replace the income you would provide your family in the event of your untimely death. The amount of insurance you should buy depends on the standard of living you’d like to assure your dependents. As a new mom or dad, it’s important to find out what Social Security benefits your child would be entitled to and make sure you’re able to supplement that amount with insurance proceeds or private investments. Be sure to talk to a financial adviser about the amount of insurance you should purchase. He or she will talk about your lifestyle and determine what’s appropriate for you and your family.

3. Single parents need to make sure they are receiving an appropriate amount of child support from the non-custodial parent. This one is self-explanatory. If you’re a new mom (or dad) who is not receiving financial support from the other parent, take the time to explore the Attorney General’s website for information about child support benefits. To navigate these waters, it’s a very good idea to contact an attorney to talk about what it takes to begin receiving child support for your new bundle of joy.

4. If you don’t have a last will & testament, you need to write one. If you do have a will, you need to update it to include your new addition to the family. No one wants to think about death ever, but the reality of life is that it is nothing if not uncertain. It’s a very good idea to make sure that your last will & testament is clear about who you’d like to take care of your child in the event that you’re not available to do so. If you’ve already written a will, the birth of a new child is an excellent reason to update it. Each state has different ways to handle what happens when a child is born after their parents will was written. If your will makes no mention of your child, you’re leaving your child’s fate to chance. Consult with an attorney to get your affairs in order as soon as possible.

Congratulations on the birth of your new baby. It’s my hope that you take the necessary steps to insure your child’s future. If you have any questions or would like to schedule an appointment with an experienced attorney who’s ready to help you in this new stage of your life, please feel free to contact me at (713) 574-8626 or through the contact form on my website.