Biding Wills in a Digital World

Abogado Aly Law Biding Wills

You get a call from your mother that you’ve been dreading. Your favorite “Uncle John” has passed away. To your dismay you ask about the funeral plans and if there is anything you can do to help. As the time comes to go through belongings, an unsent text message to your mother was found on his phone, stating he was leaving his small family fortune in you, as you were always his favorite. Now, typically family fortunes are written in bidding wills. So, does that text message constitute as a binding will?

 

Real Life Case

In Australia, a similar case occurred. A man passed away with an unsent text message to his brother, leaving him everything. However, the wife argued that it did not count as her late husband’s will. Going all the way to Queensland Supreme Court, that text message changed everything.

 

What is in a Will?

What determines the validity of a will? A last will and testament are legally enforceable and must meet requirements specific to a person’s state, in the United States. A few of those requirements have to do with legal age, witnesses, and must have some sort of signature. Although most wills are written down in some sort of documentation, “nuncupative” wills are said out loud with at least two witnesses.

 

Back to Brisbane

In the end of the Australian court system case mentioned earlier, the text message was declared by a judge, a valid last will and testament– leaving the brother and the nephew with everything the deceased had appointment them just like the text message stated.

Like in the United States today, in Queensland, a formal typed or handwritten will used to be required by law. However, changes made in 2006 loosened acceptable wills to a more informal approach, which leads to how a drafted text message was a legal will.

 

Electronic Ages

As we progress into a digital age, there is no question that electronic last will and testaments will become legal. Wills were formed where most people easily had pen and paper at hand. Today, we all have a heavy reliance on mobile devices and tablets, replacing the necessity of pen and paper.

The English Law Commission already has made a proposal for electronic wills. It proposes that voicemails, text messages, emails, videos and other forms of electronic statements should serve as a valid will.

This issue of validity among electronic wills is not only something debated in Queensland, Australia and England, but is something we can expect to see come with a digital age in the United States, and other countries as well as the years progress.

Is Small Claims Court Worth It?

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When someone owes you money, you exhaust all means to collect that money. For many, they end up before a judge in small claims court. Now, you may feel that heading to court is going to resolve your problems. However, there are fallacies in this theory. You can go to court and still be out the money. However, now you have an added fee on top of the money you already lost.

 

You Must Have Sufficient Proof

 

Going to court is nerve wracking. To start small claims, you must pay a filing fee. The filing fees various depending on the area, but the average is between $35 and $100. After the fee is paid, you will get your day in court. You must be able to prove to the judge that this person owes you money. If you don’t have sufficient proof, you are wasting your time. If the other party does not show, then you will win by default. However, they can show and fight. Don’t worry, the judge will typically make a decision right there.

 

Collecting The Money

 

Now, let’s assume that the judge finds in your favor. He agrees that you are owed the money. The other person is giving a judgment to pay the balance. They can pay that day or set up a payment plan with the clerk. Consequently, keep in mind that a judgment doesn’t equal money. It is validation that they owe the money. If that person doesn’t have a job or any means to pay that bill, then you may be out of luck.

 

Many people get the court’s help only to find out that it was no help at all. If the other party has a job and doesn’t pay, then you can ask the court to garnish their wages. You can only garnish up to 25 percent of a paycheck each time. You will need to file each time you want this done. If there are any other garnishments on the paycheck, then you will need to share the 25 percent.

 

In many cases, people find that they still have no money even though they have a judgement. Some people work under the table and try their best to avoid paying their debts. The court cannot garnish what they cannot find. Small claims only handle amounts between $3,000 and $10,000. So, larger amounts will require a higher court. Here are the pros and cons of taking a person to small claims.

 

Pros

 

  • Quick Process That Requires No Attorney
  • Cost Effective Way To Collect
  • Court Acts As A Mediator Between Parties
  • Can Be Easy To Collect Money

 

Cons

 

  • Paying A Filing Fee On top Of Debt
  • Obtaining Judgment That May Be Uncollectible
  • Staying On Top Of The Other Party For Payment
  • May Need To Garnish Wages
  • Can Be A Complete Waste Of Time
  • Amounts Are Small and Limited By State

 

To File Or Not To File

 

The choice is up to you on filing a small claims case. However, keep in mind that many times you don’t walk away with the payment that day. Still, the collections process can be long and drawn out, even though you won.

4 Ways To Make Divorce Easier

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Divorce is already a difficult situation emotionally, but when you add the legal aspect, it can turn into a full blown nightmare. However, some people have easier divorces than others. While some of these differences have to do with the nature of the divorce or the personalities of the parties involved, the are certain aspects that are more in your control. Here are a few ways to make divorce easier:

 

1 ) Get a lawyer who isn’t aggressive.

If you don’t get a lawyer who has your best interest at heart, you could end up hiring someone who fans the flames. Make sure your lawyer supports the idea of keeping your divorce civil. Interview potential attorneys and ask them whether they prefer negotiating a settlement to bringing it to court. Some lawyers are aggressive, and if your spouse hires someone like that, it can still turn into a bit of a battle even if you have a more peaceful lawyer. If possible, try to make sure that you both get lawyers who are on board with an amicable divorce.

 

2) Consider divorce mediation.

As you can imagine, negotiating everything with your spouse can be emotionally draining. A mediator’s role is to help you and your spouse get past those emotional barriers. You should be able to come to an agreement that is beneficial for both of you. While a lawyer works with one individual person in a divorce, a mediator works with both spouses at the same time. Instead of representing the individual spouses’ interests like a lawyer, they facilitate a negotiation between spouses. Typically the result is an agreement that meets the needs of both sides. A mediator is especially helpful if you have children who are struggling through this hard time.

 

3) Consider collaborative practice.

Certain family lawyers are taking a relatively new approach called collaborative practice. Through this approach, the clients and lawyers agree not to go to court but instead to voluntarily share information and work cooperatively toward a settlement. A collaborative lawyer will not take a case unless the other spouse has also hired a collaborative lawyer. The lawyers then sign an agreement stating the parties will need to hire new lawyers if the case cannot be settled. This way, the lawyers will not go to court just to make money, and parties are more likely to settle earlier.

 

4) If you fear violence, get help.

It is unfortunately possible that during your divorce you are afraid of potential violence occurring against yourself or your kids. If this occurs, take action as quickly as possible. Move to a safe place and get a temporary restraining order against your spouse if necessary. If you do this, it is crucial that you get a temporary order for custody of your children as well. Otherwise, you’ll be accused of kidnapping. If you are strapped for cash, you have the legal right to withdraw money from your joint accounts, but try not to take more than half of the money available. After you’ve taken the amount of money you need plus some extra, file an action in court for support.
From the emotional tensions to the legal difficulties, divorce is not an easy situation. But with a good lawyer, you’ll be able to get through the process as smoothly as possible.

Hero and Civil Rights Leader Jack Greenberg, Dies at 91

Jack Greenberg HeadshotJack Greenberg is one of the most famous personality in civil rights struggle. He led the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. for 23 years. According to his wife he was suffering from Parkinson’s disease and being treated for it for many years. He joined the LDF in 1984 and since then he has been fighting for civil rights. He was a 24 years old Columbia Law school graduate at that time.  Sherrilyn Ifill is the current president of the LDF and she really admired the contribution of Greenberg in the domain of civil rights. She even said that he modified the face of modern civil rights law and powerfully enforce the concepts of justice and equal opportunities for everyone.

Greenberg was the only white legal counselor for LDF. From 1949 to 1961 Greenberg argued multiple cases on behalf of LDF. Greenberg was part of the team who fought Jim Crow. He was also a member of the team who fought Brown case in Supreme Court of US. He stayed 23 years there and fought multiple cases in Supreme Court. He also helped in filing multiple cases of employment discrimination.

Greenberg’s tenure ended at LDF on 1984. After that, he opted for a lectureship at Columbia University. From 1989 to 1993 Greenberg served as Dean of Columbia University. He was promoted to the post of Senior Director LDF and he stayed at that position until fall 2013. He also served as visiting faculty in many Universities like University of Tokyo (1993-1994), St Louis University Law School in 1994, Lewis and Clark Law School 1994 & 1996, Princeton University 1995, University of Munich 1998, Tokyo University 1996, the University of Nuremberg-Erlangen in 1999-2000, and at Hebrew University in 2005 Greenberg was born in 1924 in a Jewish family. He grew up in Brooklyn. During World War 2 he served in the navy for some time and after that, he did bachelors and masters in law from Columbia University.  He was given Presidential Citizen Medal by President Bill Clinton in 2001.

Greenberg was not just a lawyer he had several eclectic interests. He wrote different books on civil rights and law. Other than that he also wrote some books on cooking which includes Dean Cuisine with Harvard Law School Dean James Vorenberg. He was also an editor of Franz Kafka: The Office Writings. Greenberg also received multiple awards for his services in the field of civil rights. He got the Thurgood Marshall Award of American Bar Association for his work in the domain of law and civil rights. He worked really hard to make sure that equal opportunities are given to everyone and all people get their civil rights. He also received an honorary Doctor of Law degree from Notre Dame University in 2005 and an honorary degree in 2004 from Howard University. Greenberg was selected as a fellow of American Academy of Arts and Science in 1998.

In honor of Greenberg, a memorial service will be held on December 5th in Paul’s Chapel.

Technology Making Law Accessible?

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As we have talked about before, the amount of civil law lawyers available to the public is dramatically less than what is needed in this country. Civil cases do not have a right to defense, even though a civil case can end with a person going to jail, losing custody of their children, losing health care coverage, or losing a home. Out of the five people who need a civil lawyer’s help, four of those people do not have access to it.

 

Landlords, creditors, and companies always have lawyers, tenants and debtors almost never do.

 

While most state bar associations support a civil right to counsel, and 18 different states are considering laws to guarantee a lawyer in certain civil situations, but we may have a long time to wait until that time. So what can be done in the meantime? Well, Matthew Stubenberg may have an answer that can help ease one of the burdens associated with lack of available civil law help.

 

While a student of law at University of Maryland in 2010 doing a clinic full of expungements -helping clients fill out and file petitions to erase qualifying parts of a criminal record. Even if there is no conviction, and even if there is, there are some lifelong ramifications to the effects of the records that can include homelessness from inability to get a job.

 

Maryland has a public database called Case Search that you can use to pull up relevant information to help you fill out the required parts of the forms, but the information transfer process can be long and tedious. “We spent all this time moving data from Case Search onto our forms,” Stubenberg said. “We spent maybe 30 seconds on the legal piece. Why could this not be easier? This was a problem that could be fixed by a computer.”

 

After law school he dusted off his coding skills and built a software that automatically transferred the tedious work into the new forms, helped determine if the case can, in fact, be expunged under the guidelines, and prints a completed form needing only a signature and filing with the court. Called MDExpungement, it puts one more thing that a civilian can do into their own hands. In October of 2015 there was a change in a Maryland law that made more cases applicable for the expunging process. Between October 2015 and March 2016, people filed almost eight thousand petitions in Baltimore City District Court, and more than two-thirds of those petitions came from MDExpungement.
While there are legal groups that are fighting to help bring civil law aid to those who cannot afford a lawyer in almost every state, the more that people can utilize technology to build systems that help, rather than disenfranchise, those who cannot afford legal counsel, the better off we all will be in the long run. We have made some strides in this area in regards to credit, taxes, and other financial applications. The next step is to make civil law easier to navigate on your own.

“Equal Justice Under Law” not Really Equal

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In the U.S. Constitution, the phrase “Equal Justice Under Law” is promise the the law will uphold justice equally for all in our courts. The National Center for Access to Justice created the Justice Index. From the website: “Justice depends on having a fair chance to be heard, regardless of who you are, where you live, or how much money you have. At minimum, a person should be able to learn about her rights and then give effective voice to them in a neutral and nondiscriminatory, formal or informal, process that determines the facts, applies the rule of law, and enforces the result. That is Access to Justice”

But, according to the Justice Index’s numbers, we are failing our country in law and other legal areas. The way the numbers break down, there is less than one lawyer who can provide free legal aid in civil cases for every 10,000 Americans who need representation but live under the poverty line and cannot afford it.

“[These are] life and death kinds of matters, when you consider that people are being evicted from their homes, facing the loss of their homes in foreclosure or loss of their children in family court,” said David Udell, the director of the National Center for Access to Justice at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law which created the Justice Index.

You are probably aware, either from personal experience or television and movies, of the idea of having a court-appointed lawyer, or the right to counsel. However, most are not aware that this only applies to criminal cases, not civil ones. Civil law includes rent disputes, debt collections, domestic violence, child support, credit and employment issues, evictions, custody cases, and even civil rights cases. There are roughly the same amount of criminal and civil cases adjudicated every year in the United States, and while there are some organizations out there built to help provide aid, there is no burden on the legal system to bear the weight of these civil law needs.

But in addition to a dearth of lawyers, there is also a severe lack of education. The perceived high cost of filing fees prevent thousands of Americans from pursuing justice, but only 12 states have laws that require court employees to inform the public that they can waive those fees. The other states have no obligations. When you consider that almost every state (48 in total) have raised the fees of both criminal and civil courts in the last five years, this lack of available knowledge makes things more unsettling. And in some cases the lack of ability to pay court fees can keep a citizen seeking justice in an incarceration limbo.

This goes even further than lack of ability to pay. For those citizens for whom English is a second language, there are more obstacles than ever. There is no clear avenue for individuals to understand the civil law system. Almost half of all states have no interpreter requirements for staff. Many courts with no interpreter regulations make non-English speakers pay for the services of an interpreter. This is leaving people facing foreclosure or fighting domestic abuse completely without state resources of what their options might be, and the proper steps to take in pursuing a civil case.

The Justice Index breaks down into four categories: Attorney Access: Number of Attorneys for People in Poverty, Self-Representation Access: Support for People Without Lawyers, Language Access: Support for People With Limited English Proficiency,  Disability Access: Support for People With Disabilities. (an obscene 45 states do not provide court employees dedicated to helping those with mental disabilities.)

From the website Pacific Standard: “funding for the Legal Services Corporation, the federal agency that supports and monitors civil legal aid in the U.S., is meager. According to a 2013 report from the Center for Law and Social Policy, LSC funding “today purchases less than half of what it did in 1980, the time when LSC funding provided what was called ‘minimum access’ or an amount that could support two lawyers for each 10,000 poor people in a geographic area.” This is the result of both inflation and budget reductions that severely hindered the agency in 1982, 1992, and 2012. Between 2010 and 2012 alone, the LSC lost 10.3 percent of its legal aid staff. 

While state sources supposedly made up the difference, austerity measures born from the 2008 Great Recession — when coupled with an uptick in civil actions stemming from foreclosures, consumer credit disputes, layoff disputes, and other recession-related conflicts — have left courts without adequate funding. As a result, legal aid attorneys are drowning in cases.”

 

Is Uber A Conspiracy? Inside The Uber Antitrust Lawsuit In New York

uberUber is one of the most common ways to get around, often being seen as a more convenient alternative to cabs. Even New York, with its iconic yellow taxi cabs, has a flourishing Uber market. But not everyone is happy with Uber’s popularity. There have been a few lawsuits throughout the country surrounding Uber. In California, people questioned whether Uber’s drivers were employees or independent contractors. Now, the federal court in Manhattan is hearing an antitrust case which delves into what exactly Uber is.

The plaintiff is Spencer Meyer, an Uber customer from Connecticut who believes Uber is a conspiracy rather than the convenient service it claims to be. He believes this conspiracy was created by Uber’s drivers, including Travis Kalanick, Uber’s chief executive and also the defendant in the case. The complaint alleges that instead of competing against one another, drivers sought to create a hike in prices that they would collectively benefit from at their riders’ expense. The lawsuit claims that the “surge pricing” algorithm, which sets trip prices based on availability or demand of drivers, plays a key role in this conspiracy.

Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP, the lawyers representing Mr. Kalanick, argue that the alleged scheme is “wildly implausible”. They state that Uber is not a conspiracy but a revolutionary app that changed the way people get around. They say that Uber changed the way people get a cab to the same degree that Google changed the way people look for information. According to the company, the pricing model that Uber uses is a key feature of a single enterprise. They say that the drivers are people who independently make the decision to become “driver partners” for Uber and to abide by its pricing algorithm, rather than conspirators that are part of a price-hiking scheme. Kalanick’s lawyers compare this process to a manufacturer’s efforts to control prices that distributors charge.

Unfortunately for Mr. Kalanick, his motion to dismiss the suit was denied. U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff of Manhattan ruled that the lawyers suing had “adequately pleaded a horizontal antitrust conspiracy”. Judge Rakoff felt that the conspiracy was plausible enough to pass this hurdle, and did not write off other aspects of the plaintiff’s case, such as the claim that Uber excludes traditional taxis as well as livery car services. An attorney for Mr. Kalanick fought against these claims by stating that this is a narrow view of the market that does not accurately reflect the real world. He then mentioned a study which shows that when Uber’s surge pricing is in effect, Uber riders make the switch to taxis and public transport.

Judge Rakoff also did not dismiss the claim by the plaintiff’s lawyer that “Uber’s dominant position and considerable name recognition has also made it difficult for potential competitor to enter the marketplace.”

Mr. Kalanick’s lawyers disputed this claim as well. The lawyers stated that Uber has largely increased the options for transportation, lowered the prices, and improved the overall driving service experience for millions of Americans. The lawyers also believe that antitrust law has appreciated the benefits of technological innovation for years.

This lawsuit brings up an interesting conversation about a service that has become extremely popular. Many people are partial to Uber, while others wonder if it is monopolizing the driving service industry, or tricking people out of their money.

Infographic: Civil Law Statistics

Civil Law Statistics Infographic by Abogado Aly. Abogadoalylaw.com

Civil Law Statistics Infographic by Abogado Aly. abogadoalylaw.com

Texas Law Pushback

A controversial law has surfaced in Texas that requires full disclosure about exactly who is profiting from government contracts. On the first day of the new year, this law was put into effect, making it mandatory for vendors being contracted by the government to share the identity of their owners, as well as of anyone else who took part in negotiating the contract. They must fill out forms to be given to the Texas Ethics Commission so citizens can track who is making a profit from each contract. The intent of this law is to keep citizens as informed as possible about the inner workings of government contracting. However, now financial firms and law firms are pushing to get the law amended.

Apparently, the institution of this new disclosure law has many government contractors confused. The law states that it is meant for contracts with a value above or equal to $1 million. There is no agreement as to whether the disclosure is meant for everyone who works on a contract, or just those who pay for the contract, for example. There are a slew of different forms for separate levels of information, which only adds to the confusion. Either the government will be bombarded by useful information they will have to sort through, or they will be made to read through information that is not useful to their original mission.

Without clarification, some government contractors are choosing to be safe by filing all of the forms regardless of the project, but others refuse to fill out any paperwork until the forms process is demystified. The contractors need more transparent rules in order to be more transparent about their profits.

This law affects more than just the typical firm that comes to mind with ‘government contractor;’ it has also become problematic for school districts. Most contracts for the districts involve contracts that are $50,000 and over, which means that they would have to fill out forms, or wait for a vote, for every one of their contracts. This seems particularly extreme.

What needs to happen from this point forward is a more clear definition of what constitutes a $1 million contract. Clarifying this point will take care of the main confusion surrounding the law, and it will make way for more targeted changes to the law. Thankfully, the Ethics Commission is scheduled to make changes to the law in 2017, however, contractors are not sure what they should do until then.

My advice is to use your best judgment. No matter what facet of government a company is working with, disclosure forms must be filled out at the discretion of everyone involved in a contract. Of course, err on the side of caution; if there is any doubt, I would suggest filling out the forms anyway to be safe.

 

New Law Brings Shorter School Years?

A new state law in Texas has been enacted that could change the number of days children must be in school. Instead of making it mandatory that children are in school for 180 days, with three days of staff development, it is now mandatory to have 75,600 minutes of attendance instead.

This law came into existence because of district-wide, weather-related school shutdowns encroaching into the summer. When children and teachers missed school due to weather conditions, they would have to make up the day at the end of the year, or during holidays. However, under the new guidelines, time can be tacked on to the end of school days instead of making a separate day altogether necessary. Parents have previously been upset to have it mandatory for their children to be at school during holidays. This law solves that problem.

Many schools in Texas have already adopted this new law into their curriculum. Some schools have had to extend their school days by as little as 10 minutes to ensure inclement weather will not affect their graduation schedules. Such small changes will prove useful later in the year, when possible snow shuts down schools for a couple of days. However, if schools do not need to close for weather this school year, the extra minutes mean summer vacation will begin two days earlier than usual.

Other schools are less willing to enact the new law. They are hesitant to make an official change to their school calendars before having all of the information. However, everyone agrees that this new law is worth exploring. It accounts for weather days and, depending on how it is used, it can also give staff and students vacation days in the middle of long months that before did not have a break. This could be useful in combatting school burnout and giving the teachers more time to prepare their materials and grade papers.

This new Texas law is working to revolutionize the way school schedules are made. Education officials in their districts are no longer tethered to a specific number of school days. Now they are able to finagle their schedules in a way that works better for teachers and parents.

For more information on the new Texas school length law, read ABC’s take on more potential for days off in Texas schools.