Why You Need a Real Lawyer -3

Beware!!  Before you replace a lawyer with an internet-based “legal service” provider, consider that the results can be disastrous. What they do is provide quick forms for legal needs.  They advertise their availability on television.  They provide forms for business formation, wills, divorce, Powers of Attorney, estate plans, and more.

No doubt you’ve heard or read that Bar Associations in most states have sued most of these providers for something called the Unauthorized Practice of Law.   Unless you are a lawyer or employed in the legal field, you probably felt they were the underdog. You may have rooted for them to win.  And indeed, they are very careful in interpreting the UPL statute in each state to ensure they do not cross the line. They cannot legally provide any advice. They can only provide a form.  So they survive all challenges.  At least so far.

Their advertising portrays them as the hero trying to save the average person’s hard-earned dollars from seemingly greedy lawyers.  And frankly, Ed the entrepreneur is eating it up big time.  Use of these internet-based services is growing.

The problem is that Ed the entrepreneur doesn’t know when the matter requires greater finesse than these forms can provide.  And when an undesirable outcome finally shows up — often years later — it often can’t be fixed, or costs far more to fix than would have been spent originally to do it right.

Here’s the problem.  There’s no way to know in advance if the solution is inadequate, unless an actual lawyer is involved.  Later, when a lawyer must correct, or attempt to correct, the situation, he or she is bound by confidentiality and cannot reveal to the public the consequences of using such services.  So unfortunately Ed the entrepreneur shares all the success stories with friends and relatives, and enhances the reputation of these services.  Rarely does Ed the entrepreneur hear of the horror stories from others.  And those who ultimately must use a real lawyer to fix problems after the fact rarely talk about it.

So I have challenged lawyers to share some of those stories with me, without any client-identifiable information.  I will in turn publish the information.  Share it with friends, relatives and colleagues who are tempted to meet their legal needs “on the cheap” with an online service provider.

All the stories will be posted under the same title “Why You Need a Real Lawyer” so if you don’t want to subscribe, just return to the blog on occasion and look for that title in the Table of Contents.

Story #3:

Child is taking care of ill parent. Parent wants to change will to give caretaker child a larger share of the estate than the other siblings. (The other parent is already deceased). Caretaker hires “notario publico” to draft new will. This non-lawyer charges almost the same rate that local lawyers would have charged. When the ill parent passes, the caretaker child submits the new will for probate. Siblings challenge the new will, and present the old will. Child caretaker isn’t clear with [real lawyer] handling the will challenge on her behalf, that the new will was prepared by someone not licensed to practice law. [Real lawyer] makes best effort, but can’t overcome the problems with the flawed new will. Siblings win.

Why You Need a Real Lawyer -2

Before you replace a lawyer with an internet-based “legal service” provider, think carefully. What they do is provide quick forms for legal needs.  They advertise their availability on television.  They provide forms for business formation, wills, Powers of Attorney, estate plans, and more.  Beware!!  The results can be disastrous.

No doubt you’ve heard or read that Bar Associations in most states have sued most of these providers for something called the Unauthorized Practice of Law.   Unless you are a lawyer or employed in the legal field, you probably felt they were the underdog. You may have rooted for them to win.  And indeed, they are very careful in interpreting the UPL statute in each state to ensure they do not cross the line. They cannot legally provide any advice. They can only provide a form.  So they survive all challenges.  At least so far.

Their advertising portrays them as the hero trying to save the average person’s hard-earned dollars from seemingly greedy lawyers.  And frankly, Joe the plumber is eating it up big time.  Use of these internet-based services is growing.

The problem is that Joe the plumber doesn’t know when the matter requires greater finesse than these forms can provide.  And when an undesirable outcome finally shows up — often years later — it often can’t be fixed, or costs far more to fix than would have been spent originally to do it right.

Here’s the problem.  There’s no way to know in advance if the solution is inadequate, unless an actual lawyer is involved.  Later, when a lawyer must correct, or attempt to correct, the situation, he or she is bound by confidentiality and cannot reveal to the public the consequences of using such services.  So unfortunately John Q Public shares all the success stories with friends and relatives, and enhances the reputation of these services.  Rarely does Joe the plumber hear of the horror stories from others.  And those who ultimately must use a real lawyer to fix problems after the fact rarely talk about it.

So I have challenged lawyers to share some of those stories with me, without any client-identifiable information.  I will in turn publish the information.  Share it with friends, relatives and colleagues who are tempted to meet their legal needs “on the cheap” with an online service provider.

All the stories will be posted under the same title “Why You Need a Real Lawyer” so if you don’t want to subscribe, just return to the blog on occasion and look for that title in the Table of Contents.

Story #2:

Client pays $100 to a legal forms website to develop simple, uncontested, no custody, no asset, divorce documents. Client pays another $200 to file them. The Prothonotary bounces them for formalities. Client goes home, spends more money (another $50) to redo the documents on a different website. This time the Prothonotary accepts the documents, but the Judge bounces them for problems. Client comes to [real lawyer]. I have to move to start over, and charge them the same fee we always charge to clean up the mess! At least the Judge immediately signed the proposed order to start over with filing new documents that actual conform to the rules, and let the client use the filing fee they already paid.

Why You Need a Real Lawyer

There are a number of internet-based “legal service” providers, who provide quick forms for legal needs.  They advertise on television quite a bit.  They provide forms for incorporation, wills and estate plans, and more.  Beware!!  The results can be disastrous.

No doubt you’ve heard or read that Bar Associations in most states have sued most of these providers for the Unauthorized Practice of Law.   Unless you are a lawyer or employed in the legal field, you probably felt they were the underdog. You may have rooted for them to win.  And indeed, they are very careful in interpreting the UPL statute in each state to ensure they do not cross the line.  So they survive all challenges.  At least so far.

Their advertising portrays them as the hero trying to save John Q Public’s hard-earned dollars from greedy lawyers.  And frankly, John is eating it up big time.  Use of these internet-based services is growing.

The problem is that John Q Public doesn’t know when the matter requires greater finesse than these forms can provide.  And when an undesirable outcome finally shows up — often years later — it often can’t be fixed, or costs far more to fix than would have been spent originally to do it right.

Here’s the problem.  There’s no way to know in advance if the solution is inadequate, unless an actual lawyer is involved.  Later, when a lawyer must correct, or attempt to correct, the situation, he or she is bound by confidentiality and cannot reveal to the public the consequences of using such services.  So unfortunately John Q Public shares all the success stories with friends and relatives, and enhances the reputation of these services.  Rarely does John Q Public hear of the horror stories from others.  And those who ultimately must use a real lawyer to fix problems after the fact rarely talk about it.

So I have challenged lawyers to share some of those stories with me, without any client-identifiable information.  I will in turn publish the information.  Share it with friends, relatives and colleagues who are tempted to meet their legal needs “on the cheap” with an online service provider.

All the stories will be posted under the same title “Why You Need a Real Lawyer” so if you don’t want to subscribe, just return to the blog on occasion and look for that title in the Table of Contents.

Story #1:

Client owns a small business as a sole proprietor.  Client’s accountant tells client to incorporate to save money.  Accountant goes to a website to fill out forms and incorporates the client, proclaiming success.  Client is involved with government contracting.  Client tells contract officer he is incorporated.   Contract officer gives client forms to fill out and have certified for compliance with government contracting rules.  Client is in shock when contract officer asks pointed questions about all the other forms the client should have already submitted to various agencies – and why the client’s lawyer (accountant, actually) did not do those things!  Contract officer gives client a month to clean up the mess before they take steps to cancel the contract.  So client comes to [attorney] to — eight months after incorporating — file the notices and fill out the forms that are now nine months late.  Finally, client can certify to contracting officer that the right steps are done, and the government will now renew the contract.

Ransomware (malware) on Cell Phones

 

ransomeWe thought that our cell phones were safe from ransomware, like CryptoLocker, which has been infecting hundreds of thousands of computers in the U.S.  Not so!  A recent article in CNet Daily News reports that there are as many as 5,000 attacks per day.  A mobile threat report from Mobile Lookout Security, which makes security software for smartphones, found 4 million of Lookout’s 60 million users were held hostage last year.  In 2014 they report a 75% increase in mobile threats in the U.S.  You can read about the most prevalent malware at the end of the post, below.

The article tells the story of  a 12-year-old girl from Tennessee who tapped a link on her smartphone to watch a new music video.  Instead of a video, she had unwittingly installed malicious software that downloaded child pornography, locked her Android phone, and threatened to report the pornography to the FBI if she didn’t fork over $500 in ransom.

What should you do to protect yourself?

1)  Never download applications from outside the official Google Play store or Apple App Store.  Be careful clicking on links when online.  “Free” could wind up being very expensive.  Keep that in mind when on social media sites.

2)  Install an application that will block ransomware.  Avast (free for mobile) and Mobile Lookout Security are two big players.  Note item #1 above before downloading software which will allegedly protect you, from an unknown source.

3)  Never pay the ransom, and always report the crime to police.  There is no track record to show that paying ransom will lead to removal of the malware and release of your mobile device. In most cases, you are only providing incentive for thieves to continue to create new and more sophisticated software.

It’s an even more dangerous computing world out there than it was just a year ago.  Be extra careful out there!!

The most prevalent ransomware threats in 2014, according to Mobile Lookout Security:

  1. NotCompatible| Malware

​NotCompatible is a trojan that surreptitiously acts as a network proxy.  It allows attackers to send and receive traffic through a victim’s mobile device onto connected networks for fraudulent purposes.

  1. Koler| Malware

Koler is a trojan disguised as a media app.  It locks a victim’s device, after falsely reporting the discovery of illegal activity.  Koler attempts to coerce victims into paying them to avoid criminal charges and regain control of their device.  The CNet article advises that police can tell that you are not the “guilty party” so don’t be afraid to report.

  1. ScareMeNot| Malware

ScareMeNot is a trojan that pretends to scan victims’ phones for security issues.  It then locks their device, after falsely reporting that its scan found illicit content. It attempts to coerce victims into paying them to avoid criminal charges and regain control of their device.  Again, report this to police.

  1. ColdBrother| Malware

ColdBrother is a trojan that pretends to scan victims’ phones for security issues, but then locks their device after falsely reporting that its scan found illicit content. It can also take a front-facing camera photo and attempts to coerce victims into paying them to avoid criminal charges and regain control of their device.

  1. ScarePakage| Malware

ScarePakage is a trojan that pretends to scan victims’ phones for security issues and then locks their device after falsely reporting that its scan found illicit content. ScarePakage attempts to coerce victims into paying them to avoid criminal charges and regain control of their device.

Notice that each of these Trojans are very similar.  It’s rumored that there is one very talented programmer who is being well paid by various criminal organizations to keep creating variations of the malware, in order to stay ahead of detection software.  Notice that each are “socially engineered” to make you want to run the software voluntarily.  So even if you don’t click on a malicious link out of ignorance, you can still fall victim.

Job opening – Law Firm Staff Accountant

MacElree Harvey, LTD, a mid-sized law firm based in West Chester, PA has an excellent opportunity available for a Staff Accountant. This position is responsible for supporting the CFO/COO to ensure accurate, appropriate, effective, and efficient operations in Finance and other areas of the Firm including general office administration duties.

Responsibilities include:

    • Assists in creating, implementing and maintaining budgets.
    • Maintains cash flow projections to meet cash requirements.
    • Assists with month-end and year-end closing and related journal entries.
    • Responsible for reconciling bank accounts monthly.
    • Evaluates financial reports and accounting procedures.
    • Assists with payroll responsibilities include maintaining cash requirements for payroll, cafeteria and health reimbursement accounts.
    • Responsible for providing guidance to Billing, Payroll/Accounts Payable and Accounts Receivable Administrators.
    • Supports CFO/COO with other general office administration duties including coordination of firm events, preparing correspondence, handling firm insurance, etc.

Position Specifications:

    • Bachelor’s Degree in Finance or equivalent experience is preferred.
    • A minimum of 3 – 5 years experience in finance and accounting with at least 3 years in a law firm preferred.
    • Strong knowledge of general accounting procedures, systems, terms, concepts and policies.
    • Familiarity with general ledger, general journal entries, cost accounting, fixed asset accounting, accounts receivable and accounts payable.
    • Knowledge of accounting for law firm operations, including time and billing systems, alternative billing methods, collections procedures and cost recovery guidelines.
    • Proficient with financial controls, budgeting, financial reporting, cash flow analysis and variance analysis including methods of financial analysis, calculating and interpreting various financial ratios and analyzing comparative financial information.
    • Familiar with features and capabilities of automated financial management systems (TABS).
    • Knowledge of trust accounting procedures and regulations, banking/investment concepts and types of accounts.
    • Computer skills including Excel, Word and TABs software.

Excellent benefits package including 401k and competitive salary offered. Contact Carolyn Van Fleet, Director of Human Resources.

Job Opening: Law Firm Billing Coordinator

A Paoli, PA law firm has a job opening for an experienced law firm billing coordinator.  This person will compile, manage, and execute attorney billing.  This person may also perform a variety of other accounting and bookkeeping duties according to established policies and procedures.  Maintains contact with attorneys, staff, vendors and clients, and observes confidentiality of client and firm matters.

Timeslips experience preferred. Experience transitioning to new software system a plus.  Five years’ experience preferred.

Essential Job Functions: 

  • Compiles and bills attorney hours to clients every month.
  • Reviews and edits pre-bills in response to attorney and secretary requests.
  • Apply retainer funds as directed by attorney.
  • Process write-offs following Firm policy.
  • Ability to execute complex bills in a timely manner (i.e., multiple discounts by matter, split-party billing, preparation of electronic bills).
  • Assist attorneys and staff regarding various aspects of the billing cycle.
  • Ability to effectively interact and communicate with attorneys, staff, and clients.
  • Review and verify accuracy of billing and supporting documentation as required.
  • Research and respond to inquiries regarding billing issues and problems.
  • Create new billing formats as needed.
  • Create billing schedules and various other billing analyses as required.
  • Creates and prints final client billing.
  • Creates and distributes monthly reports.
  • Assist with WIP and receivables; Work with Partners to actively address aged and/or unbilled fees and costs.
  • Utilizes computerized accounting and payables software programs (CMS, Excel, Word) to perform duties and responsibilities.
  • Operates office equipment including personal computer, copiers, fax machines and 10-key calculator.
  • Reads, uses and is familiar with computer systems manuals and procedures, maintains and updates procedural manuals as needed.
  • Ensures strict confidentiality at all times.

Experienced and interested candidates should Email resume and salary requirements to Beth Ruggiero.

Job Opportunity – Attorney

job interview

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lycoming County Public Defender’s Office in Williamsport, PA has an opening for an Assistant Public Defender.  A recent JD graduate who has passed the Bar is suitable.  Applicant must also be a member of the Pennsylvania Bar and possess a valid driver’s license. Interested applicants should mail directly to

William J. Miele, Esquire
Chief Public Defender
48 West Third Street
Williamsport, PA 17701

Be sure to include:

  • writing sample
  • cover letter
  • resume

The position will require assisting indigent clients in defense, children and youth, juvenile court, mental health and parole violations.

Do You Dream of Becoming In-house Counsel?

I wish I had a dollar for every attorney who has asked me over the years how to go about getting their dream in-house counsel position.  Most attorneys imagine that in-house counsel work nine to five, have exorbitant salaries, great retirement plans, stock options, and tons of administrative support.  When I talk to in-house counsel, I get an entirely different perspective.

As the saying goes, there are three sides to every story.  A recently published post entitled Law Firm to In-house: Things to Consider Before Climbing Mountains, by David Maurer, a member of the well-known lawyer recruiting & placement firm of Major, Lindsey & Africa, gives a solid glimpse at the third side of the story.

If you’re one of the dreamers, read it for a dose of reality.

Ebola Guidance

It seems that everyone is in an Ebola panic.  We’re all secretly worried a pandemic will mark the beginning of the end of life as we know it.  Personally, I think that most of us has just viewed one too many movies or TV shows about post-epidemic walking dead and other such horrors.  But I don’t mean to diminish the worries which keep many people up at night.

With one travel-related case of Ebola in the U.S., and two resulting confirmed transmissions, the reality of how small our world is — and how vulnerable we are within it — is striking fear in the most stalwart of managers.  Is there something you should be doing for your own safety?  Is there something which you are obligated to do at the office?

Duane Morris has issued  an Alert on the topic entitled “Guidance for Employers Regarding Ebola.” It provides one of the first analyses of possible risks and responsibilities for employers.  Their guidance examines risks and responsibilities under ADA, OSHA, NLRA, FMLA, and Title VII.

Remember, according to the CDC,  the Ebola virus can be spread in several ways to others. Specifically, Ebola is spread through direct contact with blood or body fluids of a person who is sick with Ebola, objects that have been contaminated with the virus and infected animals. The CDC states that Ebola is not spread through the air or by water or, in general, by food.  So let’s not panic.  Being well informed, and prepared, is always the best option.

Why Family-Owned Businesses Fail

Business litigation attorney Edward T. Kang — Managing Member of  Kang Haggerty & Fetbroyt LLC in Philadelphia — recently appeared as a guest columnist in the September 2014 monthly edition of Philadelphia Business Journal.  His article, “The three big reasons family businesses fail . . . and how to avoid them” is right on target.

Four of my uncles worked in my grandfather’s healthy business, which he built from scratch.  My grandfather had a fur cleaning, alteration and storage business, and also created custom fur coats.  He raised a family of seven through the depression with that business, and managed to save for retirement as well.  Although the Philadelphia neighborhood which housed his 7-story refrigerated warehouse changed for the worse over the years, the building was unique and maintained a healthy market value to the end.

When my grandfather retired and left the business to the next generation, his lack of planning and know-how caused him to make all of the mistakes Kang writes about in his article. Departure of two unhappy sons over a relatively short number of years left the remaining two in an uneasy arrangement. Ultimately, those errors were magnified when the following generation took the reins, and sadly, the business closed.  Lots of hard feelings all around.

Kang points out that a family-owned business failure is inevitable because

  1.  Family feuds are inevitable when owners have equal status
  2. Emotions get out of control. When the owners are family, there is no “just business,” it’s always personal.
  3. Owners are ill-equipped to deal with complex business issues.

True, true and true.  Kang offers three simple steps to take to avoid these issues.  I won’t spoil the ending for you.  His writing is too enjoyable for me to deprive you of an opportunity to read it on your own.

Does this have anything to do with law firms — aside from the care and feeding of its business clients?  You betcha!  A lot of the small firms I work with are family-owned.  They struggle with the same issues.  These issues become more pronounced when the next generation wants to have their “turn” at running the firm.  Transition isn’t always peaceful or well executed.  Many times the younger generation leaves, with bad feelings all around.  If there are multiple family members running the firm, especially if of (fairly) equal status, there will frequently be impediments to growth and change, strong disagreements, and damaged relationships. And the issues become even more complex when a non-family member is added to the mix.

My take-away, based on personal observation, and many years of hands-on work with firms, is that a family-owned firm must take extra steps to avoid the landmines inherent in the working environment.

 

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