Debtors Prison An American Carol

All right, five months ago it is Christmas time. As usual, there was a Christmas Carol movie is playing on a number of different cable stations. I think my three favorite are Bill Murray’s Scrooge, Vanessa Williams’ a Diva’s Christmas Carol and Patrick Steward`s, A Christmas Carol. I think Mr. Steward’s came closest to what Charles Dickens wanted to say. In each movie the main plot was pretty much the same, old greedy Ebenezer Scrooge or a Scrooge type character who refuses to part with a single coin and was out to squeeze every last possible coin from poor souls no matter how or why they got into debt. It did not matter what damage or suffering his greed caused. All that mattered was putting that shiny coin into his pocket.
With that in mind, one of his favorite things to do in getting that coin, in the book, was to buy the debt of others have the unfortunate debtor arrested and jailed as a debt dodge. It didn’t matter if they were employed trying to pay or not. Debt was an actual crime in the 18th and 19th centuries. With his victim in jail, in jail without a trail or due process, Ebenezer would seize and sell their homes, furniture anything with the remotest monetary value, turning the debtors ill parents, wives and children out to suffer in the streets. You know in the real world of the 19th century single and or widowed women with children just as often wound up in debtor’s prison as men did. Debtor’s children and wives were often sent to workhouses and orphanages. Places that were too often a half a step from hell. That is if they weren’t just dumped on the streets after their house was seized.
That would be a scary world to live in wouldn’t it. Thank the Lord we don’t live in such times, right? After all it only happens in fiction and history books, right? I mean such a thing could happen not in today’s America, right?
Wrong Virginia! It is very real! And it could very well happen to you!
Just ask the Minnesota woman, who went to jail over a $250 owed for a credit card she didn’t know she had. Or The Illinois breast cancer survivor who was jailed over a $280 medical bill the hospital told her she didn’t owe. There was a woman sent to jail over a $60 phone bill owed by her husband dead 10 years. Let’s not forget the Kansas City guy who went to jail for $1000 he owed a furniture store after making payment arrangements. This last January a judge sentenced a man in Kenny Illinois to an ‘indefinite jail term’ over $300 he owed a lumber yard.
This doesn’t include to poor souls sent to jail because they didn’t have the money or a job to pay a fine. Only to discover that their $60 fine after 90 days spent in jail is now $6000. After all someone has to pay for the prison, prison guards’, food and uniforms.
After all didn’t one bund ant say “If you were a good person and a favorite of God you would have been born rich?”

Lawyers & Money 7

One more time: I am a paralegal not a Lawyer. Also when a lawyer or a paralegal becomes involved your problem or concern becomes an issue.
Picking up from last week I told you, larger the Firm the more technology needed. So more money spent on it. That pretty much covers technology for Firms. I won’t have to go into the standard office costs will I? Such as legal pads and paperclips or file cabinets and desks? They all cost after all. Right then, moving on.
Now let’s talk about the Independents. Some Independents do try to rent an office. Usually their office is one of those holes in the walls. You know the ones were all the landlord rents out is a room and a bathroom for a couple $100 a month. Sometimes not even a bathroom. Most Independents’ however do take over a spare bedroom, a basement or even the laundry room to set up their office and save money. Sometimes an Independent will even use the kitchen table. While this does cut some of their expenses it does create a huge number of other problems. I am sure those of you with children can understand what I mean.
Seriously an Independents’ major problem comes back to image. It seems a lot of clients believe that these Independents’ are failures a 1/2 a step from bankruptcy or just too incompetent to get a job. While it may be somewhat true, you can find just as many these types of lawyers in the biggest, fanciest law Firm in town. In mid to large Law Firms incompetents are usually hidden with the boot camp lawyers doing research for the other lawyers. The Independents I have run into will literally bust ass meeting their clients’ needs but if they can’t help most independents will try to help their clients locate Law Firms that can help. Most Independents can give their clients more focused one on one time then Firm lawyers.
However, an Independent will still need the same technology as a regular Firm. Just not as much of it. An Independent needs at least one computer, telephone system, printer, copier and scanner. Like I said before technology costs. .
Unlike regular Firms most independents’ do not have the expense of a support staff. Simply put Independents’ don’t have paralegals, secretaries, or file clerks. Independents’ even have to take out their own trash unless they can browbeat their spouse, kid or significant other into doing it for them.
Let’s not forget the survival costs. Mortgage payments, food, cable bill and the huge student loan payments to say just a few. An Independent cannot spread these costs among several other lawyers. In Firms with 3 or more lawyers operating costs are much more spread out. Often the only person most Independents can share operating cost with is their spouse or significant other.
Next week I will be getting into actual court costs you and your lawyer may face when you get to the court house

Money & Lawyers 6

To repeat myself; I am a paralegal, not a lawyer. Plus when a paralegal and or a lawyer get involved your problem becomes an issue.

All right, let’s talk about office technology. Things have changed over the years. 30 or 40 years ago office technology consisted of telephones and maybe a fax machine. Let’s be real fax machines 30 years ago always made a huge amount of noise that is if someone was brave enough to use it. Let’s be honest the 1st fax machines weren’t that reliable. Today we are talking about computers, wireless telephone systems, copiers, scanners, printers and fax machines.

Let’s say you found a fairly small firm, no more than 3 or 4 lawyers. Each lawyer will need a desktop for the office and a laptop computer for their home. Your firm will probably have at least 2 paralegals. Each will need a desktop and a laptop.

Side-note: Being a lawyer or a paralegal is not a 9-5 job. Your lawyer will almost without fail put in another 3 hours of work after they get home. Plus lawyers and paralegals do travel as part of their job. In a lot of firms this size paralegals and lawyers supply their own laptops. There are computer systems that let the paralegal and or lawyer’s laptop communicate from home or on the road with the firm’s mainframe.

Let’s not forget the office manager ‘the real boss’ and the receptionist each will also need a desktop each. That makes about 8 computers needed for the physical office. Most firms this size will also need at least 3 printers. This does not include the printers in lawyer’s home. This size firm also needs at least 1 copier and a fax machine.

Side-note: There are printers that can double as a copier, scanner and fax machine.

Now we come to the software needed to operate the equipment. We are talking about MS Word, Excel, and Adobe, PowerPoint, Paint and Access. Plus your lawyer has a video conferencing programs like Skype. These programs are just the general programs you’ll find in most law offices. There is more specialized software used by law firms.

Your law firm will need to use the professional grade software which will cost your lawyer’s at least $150 per computer.

Side-Note: I will be getting into specialized software as I move deeper into the world of Law. Especial the video conferencing there are programs much more secure and professional than Skype. Always remember keeping your information private and secure is majorly important to your lawyer.

Most firms will have spent at least $1200 per desktop. Next let’s talk about the printer, copier, scanner, and fax combo machine, which will run your lawyer about $300. Don’t forget 2 standard printers which run about $100 each. That will make up the 3 needed printers.

Next week I am start into some of the expenses faced by the Independents as they practice law.

Lawyer & Money 5

Once again, I am not a lawyer, I am a paralegal. Also when a lawyer or a paralegal become your problem becomes an issue.

Getting back to Virtual Firms. When the intake form you filled out online has been downloaded, and has been be evaluated by a paralegal or lawyer. One of 3 things will happen after the evaluation. 1st a paralegal may call you asking for more information about your issue, 2nd a receptionist will call you to set up an appointment with the firm lawyer that is best equipped to deal with your issue, Last if your issue is something like Incorporation, a paralegal will be in contact with you to gather the needed information to correctly create the Incorporation forms after which the forms will be either mailed, faxed or emailed to you. Also, the paralegal will give you the instructions on how to make sure the form is correctly filed when you get to the courts. You will still need to deal with the court costs and filing fees. A lot of Legal documents like Incorporation, a Will, bankruptcy discharge do not become real until they are registered with the court. Unfortunately these fees vary from city to city and state to state. Just wait until I start getting into the money you will need when you and your lawyer actually go to the court house.

Side-Note: The web-site legalzoom specializes as a 3rd type law firm.

Okay, I’ve covered some of the personal expenses faced by your lawyer. I’ve also touched on the support staff used by law firms. I should include the tech support personal your lawyer will need people to keep all the computers and other tech. up and running. I have yet to hear of or meet a judge willing to accept ‘Oh, yeah we had a computer crash’ as a valid excuse. Let’s not forget about the contract support personal like accountants and investigators. All these people want to get paid.
There is additional support personal like experts in different types of evidence that will have to be paid for. Which, I will be getting deeper into later. In the mean time let’s talk about office costs.
Just renting an office costs a small fortune. Let’s say you’ve gone to a small firm located in an older building. Your firm has only 2 or 3 lawyers and only needs about 500 square feet. Smaller than the apartments many people live in. The landlord is a real nice guy and is changing your lawyers only $10 per square foot. Not a lot of money huh?
Well that comes out to $5000 a month and your lawyers haven’t even turned on the power yet. Next worry, equipment for the office. Desks, chairs, filing cabinets and the potted plant. All of which costs money too and I haven’t got into the technology yet.
That’s why a lot of independents work from home. They take over one of the bedrooms or basement and build their office there.
See you Next week

Money & Lawyers 4

As before when a lawyer becomes involved your problem becomes an ISSUE. Also, I am a paralegal not a lawyer.

Side-note: A Casual Business dress style for men is usually a very nice, starched pair of blue jeans, (I am not talking about the $12 Wal-Mart specials) a sport coat and good shirt. (No t-shirts) For women it is a lot more complicated. We are talking about really good dresses, slacks, blouses make up, shoes and so on. Let’s face it is more expensive to be a woman then a man.

Let’s not forget everyday expenses like rent, food, non-work clothes, and even medical expenses. You know, unimportant silly things like that.

Oh yeah, let us not forget about those no big deal student loan payments. After all finance companies are certainly not going to wait until your lawyer finishes his/her boot camp years before student loan companies start collecting. Like I said before these people don’t play. After all the 8% interest your lawyer has to pay on thousands they owe means a lot more money, than the 0.5% interest on the government loans to corporations   have yet to pay on the millions they owe.

So after 5 years of busting ass your lawyer maybe making from between $65,000 to $130.000 per year. This depends on the size and location of the firm your lawyer is working for.  The larger the firm means a larger salary for the associates.

Side-Note:  Associates are the employee lawyers of a law firm, there are firms that have no Associates.  These firms only have 2 or 3 lawyers.

Now depending on the size of the firm there is support personal.  In a super small firm with 2 lawyers there is at least one receptionist/paralegal.  In other firms there will be file clerks keeping hard copies of all the written documents, paralegals, litigation assistants, data entry clerks, evidence clerks (They record and keep track of all evidence, discovery brought to the law firm and what case it relates to.)  All these employees need to be paid. Not to mention the contract employees like investigators. With the advent of the web something new has been added, the Virtual Law firms.

Side-Note: Discovery is almost exactly what it sounds like. It is the forms, documents and evidence opposing law firm submitted to the court or your lawyer. Sometimes your lawyer has to take your opponent to court and force them to grant access to records or material that could prove your case.

Side-note: Intake is the interview performed by a lawyer or more often a paralegal. The interview is an effort to define and gather information about your issue.

Virtual law firms are basically websites.  A lot of intake is now done on the website by filling out a form online which is then downloaded to a firm paralegal to be evaluated, then transferred to the firm lawyer best equipped to handle your issue.

Next week I will get into more of the support staff. Plus I will get into the costs independents face.

Money&Lawyer 3

When a lawyer becomes involved your problem becomes an issue. Also remember I am a paralegal not a lawyer.

Okay, picking up from the last lawyer post. As I said your lawyer is tremendously in debt when s/he starts their career. Now begins the task of paying that debt.  Unlike the movie ‘The Firm’, I doubt very much that your lawyer will have found law firms that will help your lawyer pay off that debt.

More likely if a new lawyer manages to connect up with a law firm s/he is looking at 80 plus hours per week, for the next 2 to 3 years. More often than not your lawyer will have to pull an extra 6 or 7 hours on Saturdays. Then they’ll spend Sundays reading and or writing legal briefs, or legal memos. This is often referred to as Lawyer’s boot camp.

Side-note: A lot of very happy marriages came to an end during those boot camp years.

Now unless your lawyer has graduated from a high and I do mean high-ranking law school.  Plus s/he was in the top 5% of that graduating class. Your lawyer’s salary for the next 2-3 years is going to be $30,000 per year. Just so you know in most law firms for your lawyer to get a sick day during boot camp, s/he or their spouse, or her/his child had better be in intensive care with the mortuary staff standing just outside the room.

Side-note: Being a salaried employee means no matter how many hours you put in you do not get any more money. There is no overtime, no time and a half, no holiday pay, no sick pay, and forget about paid vacations. Your lawyer’s agreed salary is all s/he is going to get until boot camp is over.

The next worry, these new lawyers have are uniforms.   These are specific types of cloths s/he will have to have once the start work at a law firm. I am talking about very nice cloths. You see for lawyers in law firms packaging is everything. Even independent’s worry about packaging but they can break a few more dress codes rules then an attorney working for a law firm.

Side-note: Packaging is how a lawyer presents themselves to the world Let’s be honest the average person is more likely to trust and higher a well dressed, successful appearing lawyer and their paralegal than ones that look like they have been on the street for the last 3 months.

Most of the smaller firms will let their lawyers get away with a style that is called business casual. However, going to court still takes a formal suit and those cost.

Next week I will continue with more start up costs your lawyer faces.

Talking Firms part 3, & Types of Lawyers

As before when a lawyer becomes involved your problem or concern becomes an issue. Also please remember that I am paralegal not a lawyer.
Returning to the firm categories. There are many different categories of firms. There are firms that only devote themselves to Medicare or Social Security issues. There are firms that center on family law issues. There are firms that limit themselves to intellectual property issues. Firms that will only handle real estate issues. Firms limit themselves to surgical errors. Another firm will focus on bad medications. Usually these highly specialized law firms are very expensive or run by an independent. Unfortunately you may have to expand to a nationwide search if you want to find a law firm solely dedicated to your particular issue.
Now let’s talk about what I call the “combo firms”. Combo firms focus on 2 or 3 separate issues. Usually these issues are somewhat related. For example there may be a firm primarily focused on Bankruptcy which will also handle Tax Law issues. Also there are firms that handle domestic and criminal issues.
Plus there are firms that manage to focus on 2 or 3 very different issues. For example a Personal Injury Firm may also deal with Social Security and or Medicare issues.
Just like doctors there are law firms that take care of legal malpractice issues. Yes, these are the fabled lawyers’ lawyer. These law firms focus on the mistakes and errors that lawyers make. Let’s be honest there are a few lawyers who should have never gotten their license. Plus Lawyer’s whose support staff is not of the ‘best quality’. Clients who despite how weak their case is or how much they hamstring their lawyers and feel it must be the lawyers fault when they lose.
Moving on to types of lawyers. Generally speaking and setting the need for money aside, there are 4 types of lawyers in the world. 35% of the lawyers out there are what I would call “White Knights”. These are lawyers like to ride in on their white charger and save the world because they are just so special. Next is what I call “Dark Knights”. About 40 to 45% of the lawyers out there are Dark Knights. These Knights had something bad happen to them or someone the dearly cared about and they decided if they became a lawyer they could prevent that bad thing from happening again or to someone else. Almost the same reasons Bruce Wayne gave for becoming Batman. There are the know-it all’s, these lawyers will do their very best just so they look you in the face and tell you ‘Aren’t you glad I am way smarter than you?’ Last and very least are the last 1-3% of the lawyers, these idiots make life extremely difficult for the rest. These lawyers are more concerned with the dollar and really don’t care how they make it. You most often hear about them in the news. They’re the ones caught ‘stepping around’ rules and regulations. Who shaft their clients or get themselves killed by their crime lord clients.
Next week we will talk about why lawyers want so much money.