Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Amarillo: Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas – Equal Justice Volunteer Program Local: (806) 373-6808 Fax: (806) 376-8056 Austin: Volunteer Legal Services of Central Texas Local: (512) 476-5550 Fax: (512) 322-0764 Beaumont: Jefferson County Bar Association Pro Bono Program Local: (409) 839-2332 Fax: (409) 784-5808 Corpus Christi: Texas RioGrande Legal Aid – Volunteer Lawyers Project Local: (361) 880-5400 Fax: (361) 883-7615 Dallas: Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program Local: (214) 748-1234 Fax: (214) 698-1106 Edinburg: Hidalgo County Bar Association Pro Bono Project Local: (956) 380-1691 El Paso: Texas RioGrande Legal Aid Pro Bono Project Local: (915) 585-5100 Fax: (915) 533-6826 Ft. Worth: Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas – Equal Justice Volunteer Program Local: (817) 336-3943 Fax: (817) 877-0804 Lubbock: Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas – Equal Justice Volunteer Program Local: (806) 763-4557 Fax: (806) 765-7201 Houston & Harris County Residents: Houston Volunteer Lawyers Program Local: (713) 228-0732 Fax: (713) 228-5826 Midland/ Odessa: Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas – Equal Justice Volunteer Program Local: (915) 686-0647 / (432) 332-1207 Fax: (915) 682-7907 / (432) 334-6848 San Antonio: San Antonio Bar Association Pro Bono Project Local: (210) 227-8822 Fax: (210) 271-3482 Statewide:Texas Local: (512) 374-2710 Fax: (512) 447-3940
Before hiring a family law (aka divorce) lawyer to represent you, you need to take a deep breath. You need to calm down. If you don't calm down, you will probably have a heart attack before your case is over. You need to objectively try to determine your specific goal(s) or objective(s) you want to accomplish. Ending a relationship is similar to a death. It is difficult and tramatic. Many people don't think clearly. Often the final result is not anything that you could have anticipated at the beginning of the process. No attorney can make all of the decisions for you. This is YOUR LIFE! You should view your attorney as your advocate and guide. You need to be actively involved in your family law case. I refuse to make the final decision for clients. Why? Because I don't want them to blame me later. Most people that hire a family law attorney are in a very stressful period and they are not thinking clearly. Gather as much of your financial and other information as possible before you go to see your lawyer. This includes tax returns and schedules, financial statements, budget documents and the like from at least the last five (5) years. The more paperwork the better. Often during a divorce, papers "disappear". It is often time consuming and expensive to replace them. I encourage clients to keep a "diary" for me to read on what is going on. I prefer that it be typed. If it was prepared for me, then attorney-client privilege attaches. However, if they pass it around, there is no privilege. Many attorneys offer a free short consultation in person or by phone. A free consultation is a chance for you to determine if you have confidence in this attorney. If you don't like the person when you first meet them -- don't hire them. Keep looking for someone that makes you feel comfortable. Do they let you finish your sentences? Do they get angry if you ask questions? Do they listen to you? How do you feel when talking to this attorney? Are you intimidated? I once considered hiring an attorney with an excellent reputation. He whispered and I could not hear him. It drove me crazy. I did not hire him. The consultation also gives ME the opportunity to determine if I want YOU as a client. Yes, I've been known to turn people away. If I believe I'm not the best attorney for them or that they are totally unrealistic, I refer them to someone else. One man had hidden a lot of money and he told me that he planned to lie on the witness stand under oath if we went to trial. I did not take him as a client. Make sure your Legal Services Agreement (aka "legal contract") is in writing, that you understand it BEFORE you sign it, and that you understand how you will pay your bill. You should receive a copy of the Legal Services Agreement. My LSA is 3 pages long and written in plain English. I've seen some LSA that are 8-10 pages and they seemed very intimidating. If the attorney won't explain it to you if you have questions, then I'd look elsewhere. I don't "negotiate" my LSA. One lady tried to re-write my LSA. I told her to look elsewhere for an attorney. If it is a "flat-rate" case, find out what is included in a flat-rate case. Often a person ends up paying more money when they try to do it the cheapest way. Remember, you get what you pay for. If this cheap attorney does not work out, plan on paying a lot more to have an experienced attorney "fix" the case! Yes, I often get people calling me back 6-9 months later after they hired the "cheap" attorney and they end up paying me a lot more than my first quote to fix the mess the "cheap" attorney made. Be aware that in family law cases the attorneys are NOT allowed to take a percentage of what is recovered for you in a divorce case, so expect to pay by the hour. We don't do "contigency" cases in family law. It's not allowed in the State of Texas. Prices vary dramatically. Board certified attorneys fees are much higher than non-board certified attorneys. If you make $20,000/year, you are not going to be able to afford to pay an attorney $500 per hour. Be realistic, shop around. I often get referrals from the opposing party in a divorce. I think that is a very high compliment! A newly licensed attorney should charge less than someone with more experience. You can visit the State Bar of Texas website and determine when an attorney was licensed to practice law within the State of Texas. A newly licensed attorney should be charging under $250 per hour. After 17 years of experience, my highest hourly rate is $250 per hour. For mediations, I cut my rate to $150 an hour voluntarily in order to encourage mediation. Some attorneys charge less if you talk to their paralegal or legal secretary. Be sure to find out who you will be talking to when you call the office. If you don't like the paralegal or secretary, then you need to plan on always talking to your attorney and paying for his/her time. Write out your questions, then make an appointment with the lawyer and take notes about what you're told. If there are billing questions, talk to the person who handles the billing. If you don't understand the first statement you receive, call the office. Most attorneys charge for their time -- emails, phone calls, office visits, research, court time, etc. Some attorneys charge for parking at the courthouse, photocopies, faxing, postage, deliveries, certified mail, etc. This can add up. Be sure to understand how you are going to be charged for these non-legal services. Also, some attorneys charge a minimum for each court appearance -- even if they only appear in the courtroom for 5 minutes you might be billed for 2-4 hours of their time. This adds up quickly -- so ask if there is a MINIMUM court appearance fee! I normally charge an hour for a short court appearance. Some attorneys can do 3 court appearances in one hour in one morning yet charge their clients for 6 hours of work! If you don't understand something, ask. And if you have a problem with the way your lawyer is handling your case, also ask. Don't allow the issue to fester. If you don't like the attorney, fire the attorney in writing and get the attorney to withdraw as your attorney of record. The court file is a public document and you can go to the courthouse and review your file. Your lawyer should keep you reasonably informed about the status of your case by sending you copies of what goes out of the office. Remember that calls just to find out what's going on can get expensive. Many attorneys are in court all day or in mediation all day. Don't expect to receive a call back immediately! Attorneys are not allowed to have their cell phones on in any courtroom. I had one client that demanded I call back immediately when I got the call -- she wasn't very happy when I checked my messages after an evening mediation and called her back after 11 pm that night! Don't second-guess your lawyer based on the advice of friends and family. I have fired clients for "shopping" advice. If you don't have confidence in your attorney -- get a new one! Remember that your lawyer works for you. After you have been fully informed and have reviewed your options, you and your lawyer should decide upon a course of action suitable to your situation. Don't be surprised if your case takes time to get resolved. Although everyone is in a hurry to complete his/her case, you will have no control over scheduling issues that can keep your case in limbo for a long time. Anticipate going to mediation. It's a local rule in Harris County that most cases must to go mediation before trial. Most cases settle at mediation. I estimate that most family law cases set at or before mediation. Only approximately 10% of all cases filed go to trial. If you want a jury trial, plan on spending at least $25,000 and anticipate to your case going on for over a year. If your lawyer promises or guarantees you a result, I would look for another attorney. No family law attorney should guarantee or promise a certain result. You expect to get paid for the work you do. Your plumber expects to get paid. So do I. I bill fairly at a reasonable rate. But I don't work for free. I do plenty of pro bono legal services. I offer payment plans. I work hard for my clients. In fact, I get angry when I care more about a case than the client.
Saturday, November 29, 2008
Believe it or not, the State Bar of Texas does care what clients think about attorneys in Texas! Here are some of the most common complaints from a 2000-03 survey: 1. Communication - such as Poor communication with client 2. Attorney neglect - such as clients feeling that their case is being neglected 3. Law Office management - such as not returning phone calls Family (divorce) law has the most complaints (694 complaints) . The second most complained about area is criminal law (256), followed by personal injury law (244). The Dallas/Ft. Worth area had 642 complaints where Houston had 363 complaints. Austin had 296 complaints and San Antonio had 208 complaints. Since Houston is so much larger than Austin or San Antonio, the Houston lawyers must be doing something right!
Friday, November 28, 2008
After being at 8980 Kirby Drive, Houston, TX 77054 almost 8 years, I'm moving. I can't believe how the paperwork has grown! For the next few months my mailing address will be: P O Box 433, Bellaire, TX 77402. If you need to reach me, I recommend email at firstname.lastname@example.org or calling me at 713.847.6000. Please be patient during the month of December since I might be busy trying to get adjusted to the change! Happy Holidays! Fran Brochstein
Saturday, November 15, 2008
I offer do-it-yourself legal kits for family law matters -- adult name change, modifications, divorce, paternity, etc.
My price depends on how much work I have to do. My cheapest kit - the divorce kit with no kids and no property runs $175 if I only meet with you one time. If you need to come back, I charge $150 per hour to meet with you again.
My kit with kids and no property runs approximately $450. Again, if you have property to divide that will take more time, then I charge for my time.
If a person wants to meet with me to merely review their current legal documents or discuss something that is bothering them, I charge $150 per hour. Most people find that meeting face-to-face with an attorney to discuss their legal issues is very helpful and educational.
Please email me if you would like to know more...
I believe in the mediation process so much in family law that I charge $500 total for 4 hours. Usually both parties split the cost so each pay $250. If we run longer, then I charge $100 per hour after the 4-hour minimum.
If you are disabled, or unable to afford $500, then with proof, I am willing to discount my rates.
I truly believe in the mediation process. There are 2 free mediation groups in Harris County - the DRO and the DRC. I highly recommend them both. Unfortunately, they are usually booked up. Therefore, I am willing to offer my services at a discount if you qualify.
The last few months have been challenging. My Dad apparently had a stroke and his caregivers thought he was going to pass on. However, he once again fooled us all and is much better.
My Mom is gradually getting better. She still has 24 hour care. This week her doctor told her to put away the wheelchair and use her walker. She has been doing it for the past 2 days! Hopefully, she will continue to mend.
I'm moving my office by November 30th. I'm not sure right now where I will be moving. I'm actively looking for space.
I'm back at work. I'm trying to do my free consultations via email. Email me at email@example.com. Based on my upcoming move, I anticipate not checking my email everyday.
My mediation and do-it-yourself kits are popular right now.
If the economy continues to slow down, I anticipate my kits will grow in popularity. My kits work -- unlike the kits sold by companies out-of-state. The State Bar of Texas cannot regulate companies located outside of Texas. The kits sold from NY, CO, WA, FL and CA usually won't work in Texas. Why? Because divorce law is a state issue not a federal matter.
Thanks for your patience during the past few months!
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
I want to spread the word that I'm practicing holistic law in Houston, Texas. I currently advertise in Centerpoint Magazine and Indigo Sun magazines. I'm on several "holistic" websites. If you have any ideas on how to get the word out, please let me know. firstname.lastname@example.org
My mom broke her left hip and had a hip replacement surgery. She recovered quickly and was really doing great. Then less than 2 weeks later, she broke her femer bone on the same side. The pain was horrible. She had another operation and almost bled to death. I lost count after she received over 8 pints of blood, platelets and plasma. She's at home with 24-hour care. Recovery is very slow. She is very, very weak. She is just not herself. She has another month of putting no weight on her left leg. Additionally, my good friend, Bob, has been very ill too. He is undergoing many tests to find out why he's losing so much weight and is so tired all the time. I am back at work part-time doing mediations and my do it yourself kits. I'm still not taking any contested cases. Hurricane Ike really impacted my life. No electricity for almost 2 weeks. My dog is still recovering! He thinks he is just a furry human! He's over 12 years old and it was really tough on him. I still have no internet, phone or cable at home. However, there are still many blessings -- 2 of my neighbors had huge trees fall on their roofs and do major damage. My cell phones keep going directly to voice mail! Very frustrating! If you call me, please leave a message along with your phone number. I hope that you are recovering from Hurricane Ike. He won't be forgotten soon!
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
I just got back from vacation. My mom has been falling several times in the past couple of weeks. I need to focus on her medical issues. I am only answering questions via my email - email@example.com. I hope to be back at work full-time around January 1, 2009. If you need an attorney, please feel free to call either Patricia Bushman at 713-807-9405 or Judith Ann (Judy) Ritts at 713-666-0646. Both are excellent attorneys. They will quote you a deposit over the phone. Both take credit cards. Thank you for your patience and understanding. Fran Brochstein firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday, June 9, 2008
I highly recommend Sandra Newton of the College Resource Center at 1001 West Loop South, Suite 660, Houston, TX 77027. Her phone number is 713-783-7575. Her website is www.collegedividends.com. Her direct email address is email@example.com. She is great! Be sure to let her know that I sent you! I've known her for over 7 years and have sent many parents to her. She is young, enthusiastic and the kids adore her!
Are you picky? Do you want a really clean home or office? Try Kathryn Guice at "At Your Service". She is a perfectionist. She has been in the business since 1985. She has cleaned our law office for over 5 years and kept 3 middle-aged women happy! She does a lot of work for home builders and corporate management companies. Her phone number is 713-894-6335. Be sure to let her know that Fran sent you!
I highly recommend Rose Cardenas if you need a caring attorney in the Spring Branch area. She is also fluent in Spanish. Her address is 9600 Long Point, Suite 140, Housotn, TX 77055. Her phone number is 713-271-4110. Be sure to tell her that I sent you! She is also very funny!
If you need a great civil attorney, try H. Keith Lynch. www.klynchlaw.com. His office is at 550 Westcott Street, Suite 350, Houston, Texas 77007. His phone number is 713-552-0885. I've sent him many friends and they have all enjoyed working with him. He is thorough and conservative. Please tell him that I sent you!
I highly recommend Alan Charles "Chuck" Weiner at 6200 Savoy Drive, Suite 530, Houston, TX 77036 if you need a CPA. His office number is 713-782-5707. Be sure to talk to AMY. She runs the office. They are reasonable, and a true pleasure to work with. I've known Chuck over 30 years and he is a wonderful man. Be sure to let Amy know that I told you that she is "the office goddess"!
The IAHL conference in Detroit held in May, 2008, was outstanding. It was great to see old friends and make new ones. I encourage anyone interested in learning more about holistic law to try to attend next year's meeting. The meeting is held each spring. Please visit the website to learn more about IAHL - www.iahl.org Ward Powers was our guest speaker and we viewed his movie "The One". It was very powerful and set the tone for the powerful and inspiring week-end. Thanks again to Tim Batdorf for all of his dedication and hard work to make this event a success.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
I have several short trips planned this summer - some business and some for pleasure. In order to provide my clients with quality legal services, I am not taking any new cases until August 1, 2008. If you need an attorney to litigate I highly recommend Patricia Bushman at 713-807-9405. Please tell her that FRAN BROCHSTEIN sent you! Her rates are reasonable, she takes payment plans and she has an excellent staff. You will enjoy working with Pat and her staff. Her office manager, ARlene Mansell, is top notch too!
I highly recommend SANDRA NEWTON of THE COLLEGE RESOURCE CENTER. She is an educational consultant to primarily junior high and high school students. I recommend that you start with her when your child is in the 7th or 8th grade. It's not too soon. Her office is at 1001 West Loop South, Suite 660, Housotn, TX 77027 713-783-7575 www.collegedividends.com firstname.lastname@example.org Be sure to tell her that FRAN BROCHSTEIN sent you! My kid and I interviewed 3 educational consultants and she chose Sandra. Sandra is very funny and a very upbeat, positive person.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
1. Shred your financial documents and all personal information. Shred all pre-approved credit card applications. 2. Protect your social security number. If someone calls you, never give them your social security number. Get their number and call them back. I got such a call and they said it was "chase". I then looked on-line and called the 1-800 listed. The phone number did not belong to chase and no one from chase had called me. Thank goodness something seemed "strange" with the person on the phone! 3. Never click on links sent to unsolicited emails. Use firewalls, anti-spyware, anti-virus software and keep them up-to-date. 4. Don't use an obvious password like your birth date, your child's name, your pet's name, your mother's maiden name, or the last 4 digits of your social security number. 5. Keep your personal information in a secure place. Don't trust your roommates, friends, cleaning services, etc. I once had a party at my home and at the end of the evening my jewelry (that I had hidden in a good place) was gone. Someone at the party took it. I find found out who. It was someone that I considered a friend and I felt betrayed. 6. When to get nervous -- when your bills don't arrive on time, when you start receiving strange bills for accounts you've never heard of, when your credit is denied, or when bill collectors start calling. 7. Be sure to check your credit report once a year -- it's free! www.annualcreditreport.com 8. Place a FRAUD ALERT on your creidt reports if you suspect that someone is stealing your identity. If you place a fraud alert, you can get a free copy of your credit reports. Then check for any accounts you did not open or debts you can't explain. 9. Close accounts that have been tampered with or estabished fraudulently. Keep copies of everything and a summary of each phone call (date, time, who you talked to, the phone number you dialed) and keep them for at least 5 years. Go to the police and file a report. Be willing to prosecute the thief -- even if it's your sibling or parent! 10. Report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission. ftc.gov/idtheft 11. How do theives find your information -- dumpster diving, skimming (when they process your credit card they swipe it in a special machine), phishing on the internet, submitting a change of address for you, stealing your wallet or purse. Thieves often bribe employees of utility companies for information on good accounts. That is why most utility companies immediately fire anyone suspected of selling client information. If you've been in a hospital recently, you are in danger of identity theft -- your medical file has your full name, address, dob, ss#, etc. Who normally gets their identity stolen? People that are patients or work at medical centers military personnel college students people with friends in prison people with family members/friends on drugs people with family members/friends that gamble Who steals identities? People that need money quick - for gambling or drugs People that are about to be evicted or have their utilities turned off People that are mad at you (ex-spouse, ex-mother-in-law, ex-employee, co-workers) People with bad credit that want to buy something expensive & don't want to wait to save up for it
1. Don't try to do it yourself just to save money. Incorrect documents (or bad agreements) can be very expensive down the road. Lawyers do not charge that much for routine documents or simple transactions. Many times, people try to scare you by saying an attorney will charge you $10,000 for a simple divorce. If you have a "honda" divorce, then you don't have to pay "rolls royce" prices. Shop around. Find someone that is resonable. You can even check the State Bar of Texas website and see if there are any complaints (greviences) against the attorneys you contact. Beware of something too good. If an attorney will charge a total of $100 for all divorce documents involving minor children, doesn't that sound too good to be true. It probably is too good to be true. Be sure to read the Legal Services Agreement you sign with the attorney. 2. Make sure you understand all the legal obligations regarding the issues involved. You might prepare a wonderful documents that unfortunately won't work in your case. For example, a "living will" is a wonderful legal document -- but it will not prevent probating a person's estate in Texas. Many people think setting up a "trust" will avoid probate. It may not. If the deceased owns a piece of property in their name (and not in the trust's name) then you will still need to probate the estate in order to have a clean title to the property. Probate in Texas is cheap and easy if done right. It is only expensive when there is no will or you have an improper will in Texas. It's much cheaper to do it right the first time. 3. Don't assume that one form can be used in every situation. Do not use a form from another state. NEVER USE A FORM FROM LOUISIANA! In Texas, you should not normally use a form more than 4 years old. The Texas legislature meets every 2 years and "tweeks" the law -- especially family law. If you use a friend's divorce forms that were prepared 10 years ago, it won't be accurate and most judges won't sign it. 4. If you don't understand the language used in a form, stop! You obviously are in over your head. You need to hire an attorney. 5. When in doubt, use plain English in all written agreements. Don't use big words that you don't understand. I've seen some people do their own legal forms using the wrong word and the document is not legally binding because the wrong words were used. As my dad always said, don't use $5 word when a 10 cent word will work! 6. Make sure that you find out whether you have to include anything "special" because of Texas laws. 7. Try to avoid preprinted forms and form kits (on-line and office supply kits) that come with few or no instructions about how and when to use the forms. If you read the "fine print" on the office supply kits, it says 'STATE FORMS NOT INCLUDED'. Therefore, you have wasted your money!
1. Pleadings -- the case begins by filing a document necessary to identify the parties - the party suing and the party being sued, explain what the lawsuit is about (divorce, tort, etc.) and ask the court to do something - such as grant a divorce or give you money. 2. Service - You have to properly notify the person that he/she is being sued. It is normally obtained by preparing a summons (paying the county some money to prepare a proper legal summons) and having it delivered to the defendant (or respondent in a divorce) by a person approved by the county - usually a sheriff or a private process server. 3. Discovery - Both sides have to gather facts and information to prepare their case. Discovery can involved examing documents, records, and other pieces of physical evidence as well as taking depositions (statements transcribed by a court reporter) from witnesses or the parties theremselves. The person asking for the depositions has to pay for it. The court reporters normally charge per page. For an entire day of questioning, it can easily run over $1,000 just for the court reporter's time. You have to properly ask for the information you want or the other side does not have to let you see it. If they refuse to let you see it, then you can file a document with the court and set a hearing for the Judge to hear why you should have it. Written discovery can easily cost over $1,000 for a simple case. The more complex the case, the more discovery and depositions cost. 4. Pretrial motions - If the parties need the ocurt to make procedural decisons or other rulings as the case moves along toward trial, they do so by filing the appropriate motions with the court. 5. Trial - The court hears the evidence offered by both sides and decides issues on boht face and law during this process. Either side can ask for the jury trial. It normally delays the trial for up to a year or more. 6. Enforcing the judgment - If you win, you still have to collect what you won. You need to do something to get the money or the property. In Texas garnishment of wages is very limited - the IRS, child support, and spousal support can be garnished. If you win a lawsuit and the person is broke, then you have a lovely piece of paper that you can frame.
Monday, March 3, 2008
If you learn that a relative stole your identity and has ruined your credit, you MUST go to the police and report this. It is a crime. With the police report, you can then go to the credit reporting agencies and prove that it was NOT you. You do NOT owe this money. It is very common -- many parents "steal" their kids social security number and use it to get new credit cards. Unfortunately, many of these "parents" do not pay the credit cards and ruin their child's credit. THIS IS A CRIME! Prosecute them! Also, if you think about it -- who knows your date of birth, full name, all the addresses you've lived at, your job info., etc. -- your family members and close friends. You would be surprised how many angry ex-mother-in-laws have also stolen their ex -in-laws identity information and purposely ruined their credit. NEVER LET ANYONE KNOW YOUR SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER -- ESPECIALLY IF THEY ARE ADDICTED TO ANYTHING -- GAMBLING, DRUGS, ETC.
If you are worried about being a victim of identity theft, I suggest you call 1-888-optout (or 1-888-567-8688) and remove your name from the pre-approved credit card offers. Your name will be on the list for 5 years. However, it will not eliminate ALL credit card offers. However, it should help. It should also diminish your junk email.
Monday, February 18, 2008
For 2008, I have now qualified to be a CREDENTIALED MEDIATOR with the Texas Mediator Credentialing Association (TMCA.) As the TMCA Secretary stated in his cover letter to me, the TMCA sets high ethical standardsfor its credentialed mediators; therefore, it is recognized as an exceptional assembly of professionals.
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Get 2 large ziplock storage bags -- put the following information in one bag and then put that bag into the other bag incase the first one gets punctured and wet. Put a photo of yourself in the bag. List your full legal name, date of birth, social security number, full home address and phone number. List people that you want contacted in case of an emergency along with their full name, date of birth, Driver's License Number, address, and phone number. Be sure to include cell phone numbers and employer's information if you have that too. If everyone is evacuated in case of a hurricane, many people will not be at their home phone number or address. If you include additional information about them, perhaps the police can locate them if they have been evacuated too. If you know people that live out of state, be sure to list them too. Be sure to let your friends and family know that you are listing an out of state person that will be your contact in case you have to evacuate and then everyone can call that person and find out where everyone has been moved to. Be sure to inclue a list of all your doctors and their phone numbers and addresses. Also, list all prescriptions you are taking along with the dose and how often you take the pills. Also, list all your medical conditions as specifically as possible. If you know your blood type include that too. Include anything that you think a doctor might need to know about you if you were unconscious and about to die. If you have a power of attorney for health care, directive to physican include copies of those documents in the ziplock storage bag. Why? Say you are unconscious and taken to a hospital. If you have all of this information, it could literally save your life. In a hurricane, most electricity will not be working. Therefore, many doctors will not be able to be located because of equipment failure or they have also been evacuated. Say you are taking a blood thinner and you are bleeding severely from an injury, the staff at any hospital needs to know what medications you are on so that they can save your life. Have this information in one or two ziplock storage bags and have it close to your body -- not in a suitcase or your purse. If you are really effecient, take this information and have it sealed in plastic so that it is permanent and cannot be damaged. A little bit of work now could save your life later!
If you have a special need and might need help in case of a hurricane or flooding, please call 211 It is free! If you register and there is a disaster (man-made or natural) in your area, the emergency management offices will be notified of your address and that you will need help to leave the area. If you are in a wheelchair, have difficulty walking, etc. and you do NOT have transportation that can you have access to in an emergency, please call 211 and register. It is easy and free.
The Houston Bar Association's Elder Law Committee (I'm a member) is sponsoring a free will-a-thon open to all Harris County low-income seniors (over the age of 60) who wish to have a simple will prepared. You must call the number beginning Monday, March 3, 2008 until Monday, March 31, 2008, between the hours of 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. 713-228-0735 Actual Will preparation dates are April 17 and May 8. Location: Third Ward Multi-Purpose Center located at 3611 Ennis, Suite 118, Houston, Texas. If you need documents like a power of attorney for health care or a living will, the volunteers are also doing those documents too. FREE IF YOU ARE LOWINCOME AND OVER 60!
In the January/February 2008 magazine of WOMEN IN BUSINESS (a publication of the American Business Women's Association) I just learned of a new book -- The Power of Nice by Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval. They have major points: 1. Positive impressions are like seeds - they grow. 2. You never know how a small act of kindness can reward you many times over. 3. People change - You need to be nice to everyone you meet -- plumbers, security guard, cleaning person and NOT just your superiors and peers. The cabdriver today maybe a wealthy businessman in the future and he might use your services if you were nice to him when no one else was! 4. Nice must be automatic - faking nice won't work. It must be an automatic response in order to be sincere. 5. Negative impressions are like germs. You might not see the immediate impact of your negativity but it might fester and grow into something really nasty. 6. You will know -- Niceness is a powerful force and it can literally take on a life of its own. Random acts of kindness spread and grow. You will be repaid many times over for your random acts of kindness. We should all do 5 nice things each day. Such as say thank you, ask your friends about their lives, donate money to charity, compliment a stranger. See how good you feel! Model yourself after the kind of person you admire. Be the person you admire. When I was a kid my dad had a plaque that said -- IT'S NICE TO BE IMPORTANT BUT IT'S MORE IMPORTANT TO BE NICE. I still have that plaque. It seems that my dad was way ahead of his time!
Sunday, January 27, 2008
There is an old joke at the family courthouse -- RAIDS is rampent in the family courts -- RECENTLY ACQUIRED INCOME DEFECIENCY SYNDROME! If you are a doctor and you decide to quit practicing and go to school or just be a grocery stocker, the courts are NOT going to be sympathetic. You have the ABILITY to learn more than minimum wage. Yes, education is wonderful but your children need to eat. They cannot wait 2-3 years until you graduate from school and begin a new career. Is it fair? No, but you brought these children into the world and it is not fair for taxpayers money to support them!
If you were ordered to pay child support and you've permanently lost your job or for some reason you can no longer work, you need to modify your current child support order. Say you were ordered to pay $1,000 per month and you are a nurse. You are in an accident and you lose your hand and can no longer ever be a nurse again. Then you need to go to court and get a signed order lowering your child support. Until you modify, the $1,000 is owed each month. It is your burden to find the money to modify the amount. You must prove that you are not purposely under-employed or just temporarily unemployed.
Yes, past due child support will appear on your credit report. You will never be able to purchase a home or a new vehicle. What can you do? Nothing. It is a valid debt that you are ignoring and you need to pay it. Also, at 6% (it used to be 12%!!) interest on past due child support, you are looking at the debt growing and growing. Soon you will be paying interest on interest.
I strongly urge divorcing parents to take out a term life insurance policy in case they die while the children are still minors. If you die, the entire future child support that you would have paid, comes due immediately. If you remarry, your new spouse and children, comes AFTER your first born children. Please take out a separate term life insurance policy to cover any unpaid child support and protect your new family! For example, if your first child is 3 and you pay $1,000 per month, your estate will owe $180,000 if you die.
Child support is NOT dischargeable. You cannot discharge it in a bankruptcy. After all the children turn over 18 or graduate from high school, you can no longer be jailed! However, you still owe the money. You owe the money to the person you were ordered to pay -- NOT the child. You might eventually use your driver's license and passport. If you receive Social Security, it will be withheld from that. If you die, your estate owes it. It is the debt that never goes away.
The older children come first. You knew that you already had children when the new babies were born. You receive a reduction in the percentage of child support for each new baby that is born. However, it is not much!
Even if you don't work, you will be ordered to pay child support for your minor children. If you have no skills, then you will be ordered to pay minimum wage at 40 hours per week. If you only work 20 hours per week, your child support will still be figured at 40 hours. Why? Because the judges are elected in Texas. Taxpayers are tired of their tax dollars going to support your minor children. Judges don't care if you stay home. However, you are going to be required to support your minor children!
My first question is - which Supreme Court -- the US or Texas? This usually pisses them off! When I hear this or "IT'S THE PRINCIPLE OF THE THING!" I immediately see dollar signs! "The principle of the thing" usually means that the person won't settle no matter how reasonable. It means that we are going to trial. Therefore, I anticipate these clients are going to use a lot of my time and energy. Trials to the Judge usually start at $10,000 - up. Jury trials normally start around $20,000 - up. Losing at the trial court requires transcriptions and appealing. This is going to start running into more money -- anticipate $10,000 - up. I don't handle appeals but I know several attorneys that I refer these people to for assistance. Appellate work is totally different from trial work! Then if you lose at the appealate level, you are looking at more money to appear to the TX Supreme Court. Then you can appeal to the US Supreme Court. Recognize that they only takes a very small number of cases each year. Again, thousands of more dollars. Therefore, when I hear "I'll take this to the Supreme Court" or "it's the principle of the thing" -- I send them to someone else. Most people want to fight but they are unwilling to pay the huge legal bills involved.
The Texas Legislature eliminated alienation of affection years ago. So if your spouse is having an affair and you want to sue that person, tough luck! You can have them testify in court but getting money out of them for taking your spouse away, won't work in Texas.
In my divorce petitions, I usually use the Texas No Fault grounds -- we don't get along and there is no chance that we are going to reconcile. Why? Because it is a public record. Because your kids might decide to read your divorce file when they grow up. Because "grounds" only are used in the property division part of the divorce in Texas. Because to prove the nasty grounds -- like adultery, is more difficult that most people realize. If there is no money and nothing to divide, why include it if it won't get you anywhere.
This week I received a fax from an attorney I know setting a hearing for a client that was firing me and hiring her! I immediately picked up the phone and called her. I said just send over the forms and I'll sign everything so that the hearing won't be necessary. Also, once she's the attorney of record, I need to send her all the documents in my file so that she can be on-top of the case. Of course, I did not tell her that he owes me money and has not followed the terms of our Legal Services Agreement! He only made one payment and he's missed 2-3 monthly payments. I was getting ready to withdraw from his case due to his lack of paying and lack of returning my phone calls! My Legal Services Agreement clearly states that a client can file me at any time and I will withdraw at any time they are unhappy with my representation. Of course, my contact also includes that I can file a client at any time they refuse to honor their promise to me to make their monthly payments or they refuse to respond to my letters or phone calls. Obviously the client is unhappy for some reason (since he has not talked to me I don't know the reason) but I never try to hold onto a client that wants to use another attorney. I don't have this happen often but when it happens I try to make the transition as smooth as possible. In this case, I've known the new attorney for years and I like her very much. We have always had a very cordial relationship at the courthouse. We have always been able to work together on cases where we are opposing counsel. I want her to have everything she needs in order to finish this case. If you are not happy with your attorney, contact him/her. Let her/him know why. Perhaps there is an explanation. With everyone using cell phones, perhaps he tried to call me and he thought he left me a message but I did not receive it. That is why I try to call someone (or email someone) and if I don't hear from them I follow up with a written letter. I don't just email or voice mail. Sometimes there are "gremlins" tinkering with our technology!
You must be truthful with any attorney you are considering hiring. We have all done "silly" or "stupid" stuff in our lives. No attorney likes to be in the courtroom and learn of the true facts of the case! Hire an attorney that you feel you can communicate with openly and honestly. Also, if your attorney intimidates you -- you have the wrong attorney! I've had several people come to my office after getting a divorce with another Houston attorney and pay me money to explain their divorce decree. They did not understand the legal document when their attorney tried to explain it to them. Or, they felt too intimidated to talk to the attorney that they were paying their hard earning money! Then they find me and pay me for an hour of my time to go over everything with them. I'm glad to do it but it seems very sad to me that people spend their money then end up coming to me to hear it explained in simple English! I try very hard to explain difficult concepts in simple terms. After I graduated from law school, I had to force myself to use everyday terms instead of the $10 words I'd learned in law school!
As a lawyer, my response is -- Whenever you have a question even remotely legal in nature! Don't trust your friends or family! Did they go to law school? If not, how can you trust your answer. My plumber loves people that try to fix their own plumbing! He and I came to an agreement - I won't try to fix my plumbing and he won't practice TX Family Law! If you have some paperwork (say closing papers for the first house you have ever purchased) and you don't understand it -- talk to a professional! Their fee will be worth your peace of mind!
Americans with old analog t.v.s which receive signals by antenna, must switch to digital by February 17, 2009! Subscribers to cable or satellite service should ask their providers if they need special equipment for digital reception. If you have an old analog t.v. a convert box will change digital signals back to analog. The boxes will cost from approx. $50 - $75. Beginning January 1, 2008, each American household may request up to two (2) $40 coupons, to apply toward the purchase of the boxes. Go to www.dtv.gov or call 1-800-225-5322. Good luck!
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
To learn more about elder abuse or services available to elderly adults, the State of Texas has TEXAS DEPARMENT OF FAMILY & PROTECTIVE SERVICES, If you feel your situation is an emergency, please contact 911 or your local emergency hotline. To report elderly abuse or neglect, call 1-800-252-5400. For situations that do not require a response within 24 hours you may report through our secure web site: https://www.txabusehotline.org
Saturday, January 5, 2008
Common Law marriages are actually called informal marriage in the State of Texas. The Texas Family Code is available on-line. Section 2.401 covers informal marriages or common law marriages in Texas. Remember: You have 2 years from the time you separate to file for divorce and easily claim a common law marriage existed. After 2 years, it is rebutably presumed that the parties did NOT enter into an agreement to be married.
Thursday, January 3, 2008
May 15 - 18, 2008 The 2008 conference of IAHL (International Alliance of Holistic Lawyers) is going to be May 15 - 18, 2008 at the Retreat Center at St. John's in Plymouth, Michigan. This year's theme is heart based lawyering. Our keynote speaker is going to be WARD POWERS - the Director of the movie "ONE". Lorraine Webber, head of the Detroid Metro Bar Association, and a shaman will open the conference. To join or learn more about IAHL go to our website at www.iahl.org Students cost approx. $150 Attendees cost approx. $250 if you belong to IAHL (or $350 for non-members) You do NOT have to be an attorney to attend. Rooms are approximately $40 per night. I attended the 2006 and 2007 conferences and they were both wonderful. I returned from the conference energized and refreshed. Our keynote speaker is going to be WARD POWERS - the Director of the movie "ONE".
I have clients that call me everyday to ask me questions. I'm glad to try to calm their fears. However, when they receive their bill they are shocked at how quickly their calls add up. (I normally give a new client 2 "free" calls because in the beginning many people are scared and a quick answer calms them down). If you think about it, all an attorney has to sell is their knowledge and their time. Many people want a flat-rate fee -- however, they also want to be able to call on a daily basis and talk to their attorney. Most flat-rate attorneys will NOT accept your phone calls. I don't think that most people recognize how much time each phone calls takes. Today, I received over 75 emails and 10 phone calls. I did not get the chance to deal with everyone that contacted me! When someone leaves a message that it's urgent and to call "anytime" I often want to call them at 2 a.m. and see if they appreciate my call! I'm a night person and a couple of weeks ago someone called me at 1 a.m. and I picked up the phone. She was shocked to reach me ,but I figured that if someone called that late it must be important. I referred her to somone in her county for legal help.
Several years ago, a U S Supreme Court case (commonly known as Troxel) limited grandparent rights. Every state since this U S Supreme Court ruling has been reviewing their state laws and conforming with the U S Supreme Court case. Grandparents in TX (generally speaking) only 2 ways to see their grand-children: 1. if their child is in prison or 2. their child is deceased If you want to see your grand-children and your adult child is married and they won't let you see your grand-children, you can sue but you probably won't get to see the grand-children. If the grand-children have lived with you for over 6 months and the parents do NOT live with you, then file for custody and get some sort of legal relationship established with these children you are raising. Most grandparents don't call an attorney until it's too late. If you have been raising the children for over 6 months AND THE PARENT(S) DO NOT LIVE WITH YOU -- then you have legal standing in TX to sue for custody. If in doubt, pay an attorney for one hour of their time and get the facts! Many attorneys will meet with you for around $150-$250. That is a small price to pay for peace of mind. With knowledge comes power!
Please do NOT waste your money on office supply store or internet websites that sell powers of attorney(s) forms! You need to hire an attorney that knows what they are doing! Many people execute these forms BEFORE they have major surgery or if they are terminally ill and they think they are safe! These forms do NOT work for custody of minor children! If you are terminally ill and want to make sure that your minor children go to a certain person, you need to go to court and have that person added to the list of conservators! Family courts are sympathetic to families that are experiencing a major crisis and will work with you if they feel that adding another conservator would be in the best interests of the children.
Tuesday, January 1, 2008
In addition to www.familylaw4u.com, I also own www.txholisticlaw.com and www.texasholisticlaw.com I'm determined to make attorneys respectable again and not be treated like the scum of the earth! Attorneys need to remember that we were once considered attorneys and counselors at law! We need to listen to our client's needs and wants. We need to be a profession again and not just a job!
I have found that people that try to save money usually end up paying more! Many people are "afraid" to serve their spouse. I don't understand why. You get the person served and if they do not answer within the required time, then you can do a default case! Many attorneys that don't do a lot of family law, don't understand how to do a divorce by publication or a service case. I encourage everyone to hire an attorney that does a lot of your area of the law. When I need an elder law attorney or a criminal attorney, I hire one. I don't try to do it myself. I went to law school over 20 years ago and the laws have changed since then. I don't try to do everything! I don't refer friends to attorneys that claim they can do it all! No one can. You need someone up-to-date and familiar with the courts. If I don't handle the kind of law you need, I refer you to a person I know and respect. Many of these people are not personal friends and I don't get a kickback! I have a lot of loyal clients because they know I do what's best for them and they refer all their friends, family and people they work with to me. Satisified clients are my best form of advertisement.
People keep calling me and wanting to get a divorce by publication when they don't know where their spouse is. In Harris County, the judges met and decided that they will not longer approve a divorce by publication until they have ample proof that the person cannot be found. I've been appointed by several courts in Harris County to find missing spouses, my success rate is approximately 75%. If the person have utilities in their name or a credit card, I can find them. Only a person that lives on a cash basis can stay below the "radar screen" these days. Don't waste your money on a $200 internet search to find your missing spouse. I can do it for under $100! My access is better than anything you can find because I use websites restricted to law enforcement, p.i.s and attorneys. I can easily do a publication divorce but they take longer and cost more. If you can find your spouse, it is definately cheaper to just serve the person and get it done.
People keep calling me after they have paid for a on-line do it yourself divorce kit and they want me to fix it for FREE! I've talked to an attorney on the State Bar committee for the unauthorized practice of law about these kits and the State Bar has determined that they cannot do anything because these companies are located outside of Texas. If you order a kit from California, Colorado, Florida, Washington or New York, don't be surprised if they don't work in Texas. Two signs that they were not designed by a Texas attorney are -- 1. they use the term "matrimonial law" and 2. they use a lot of "exhibits". Also, if the kit has a lot of "check the right answer" it won't be approved in Texas. These kits are expensive, I've seen several people pay over $400 for a do it yourself kit with no kids, no property, nothing -- I charge $175 for a kit that works & I make all the copies! Also, be aware that you are going to have to pay the county filing fee. These costs are usually over $200. The attorney does not get the money -- the county gets the money! This is definately a BUYER BEWARE issue! If you waste your money, don't expect any attorney to have sympathy for you. It is quicker for me to use my forms and to do the work. Don't expect an attorney to fix the mess you've made for free! I'm not the cheapest lawyer in town but I do the work right and I get the job done! Thanks for letting me vent!