Monday, March 31, 2014

How to choose a family law attorney, Part One

In Part One, we will help you work through the process of deciding who to call to start your divorce or custody case (or to represent you if your spouse has already filed for divorce).

Frequently asked questions:
1. Can't I represent myself in this? 
A: Yes, you can. But that doesn't mean you should. Going into court and representing yourself is like do-it-yourself surgery performed by an amateur. When it comes to family law, you have a lot of things at stake: ownership of your home, custody of your child(ren), how your personal property might be divided, when and how often you can spend time with your child(ren), are only a few issues that a family law judge will decide for you. It's best to have an attorney, who can present the best side of your case to the judge, and help you get the best result possible.

Read this article for more information on issues that will be part of your family law case, or go to my website

2. Aren't attorneys expensive? 
A: It depends on what you think of as "expensive." Again, this is the most important area of your life, where the most intimate personal decisions in your life have been made. It makes sense to protect these interests, and not doing so may cost you more in the long run. Many attorneys will let you arrange a payment plan, as well.

3. How do I decide who to call?
A: There are many ways to go about this. The internet is the most popular search tool currently. But that doesn't mean you should just pick one of the first-listed attorneys when you type in your search terms.
Fact: Advertisers pay to be listed on Google. This is true for all areas that can be searched on Google, including legal services. The higher-cost advertisers will land on the first page, at the more popular times of the day. It's like having a billboard in rush hour traffic on a busy highway. The lower-cost ads show up less often, and at less popular times of the day. This is like having a billboard in a urban neighborhood.

I recommend good old word of mouth advertising over internet advertising. It's better to get a recommendation from someone who's used that service before you, whether it's a mechanic, or an attorney.

4. Ok, I talked to three or four people and got a short list of who to call. What now? 
A: Once you've talked to people you know, you've gotten their feedback about what they liked (or didn't) about their attorney. Use the internet (or do a white pages search) to get that attorney's phone number. Then call the office to set up a consultation.

5. I'm too uncomfortable to talk to my friends and family about this now. How can I get a good recommendation?
A: There are other online services that "rank" attorneys. These are sites like Avvo, and Martindale Hubble, Lexis-Nexis, etc.

Fact: These sites are biased in favor of attorneys who play the game. For example, a lawyer who participates on Avvo (claims their profile, advertises, answers questions) will have a higher Avvo ranking than a lawyer who doesn't. For example, look at the ranking of a prominent national attorney (like Eric Holder, the current US Attorney General). Their ranking might be lower than some attorney who participates a lot on that site.

So go ahead and try those sites (Avvo,, etc.) but be warned that the information there isn't always an accurate reflection of what the attorney is actually like, so take it with a grain of salt. (For more information, read this article from

Or: if you think the sites might mislead you, or you feel you can't talk about this to people you know because it's too personal, use your local bar association for a referral. Lawyers pay to belong to this referral service, and give part of the fee you pay them back to the referral service. I participate in my local bar association's referral service, and think it's a great service to the public. (State Bar of Michigan referral, Grand Rapids Bar Association Referral).
Coming Next: Part Two: What to Expect in the Initial Phone Call.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Is your client about to attend deposition? Make sure you object properly

Whether you are defending (or taking) your first or your hundredth deposition, you must be ready to handle objections. That means knowing which objections are proper and which are not. Once you know, you can keep the deposition proceeding smoothly — and avoid embarrassing yourself.

Preparing your client

First things first. You must prepare your client for the deposition. Start by reviewing the case with your client, along with the questions you anticipate will be asked. Practice asking questions you think the deposing lawyer will ask — especially the hard questions you hope will not be asked.

via the Lawyerist, article here. 

Surprise: Ottawa County ranked as healthiest in Michigan

A west Michigan county is the healthiest in Michigan, according to the annual national County Health Rankings report. The report measures how long people live, how healthy people feel and mental well-being.
Ottawa County ranked number one in the state, followed by Allegan County ninth and Kent County in 16th. All but one of Michigan’s 83 counties were ranked.

Article here. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Federal Apeals Court extends stay on same gender marriages

The nearly 300 same-sex Michigan couples who got married last weekend will face a longer wait to learn whether their vows will be legally valid.

Article here. 

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday extended a stay on last week’s ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Bernard Friedman that struck down the Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage.

The 2-1 ruling, issued late Tuesday afternoon, means the case will have to make its way through the appellate court, and likely the U.S. Supreme Court, before the couples know whether their marriages will be legally recognized.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Hobby Lobby, First Amendment, questions and answers

Michigan lawyer, are you prepared to answer your lay friends' and neighbors' questions about Hobby Lobby and a business's First Amendment freedom of religion rights? No?

Go here . . . . or here. 

(via state bar of Michigan blog).

Some legal "technology" that should be obsolete

Still clinging to "technology" like fax machines, and copiers? The lawyerist argues that you should let it go.

Article here.

On a personal note, I know of many typewriters being used by attorneys. And I am often asked - by courts, clients, and opposing counsel - if I have a fax (which I don't). 

Scam alert: Phony tax agents threatening over the phone for unpaid taxes

If an Internal Revenue Service agent calls you up threatening dire consequences if unpaid taxes aren't settled immediately, don't pay up—that's not an IRS agent on the other end.

Article here. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Two screens are not better than one (Or how using two screens can lower your productivity).

For years, techies have argued that getting an extra monitor or two for your desktop computer is an especially effective way to increase personal productivity. The logic seemed airtight: Two (or more) computer monitors means more room on your virtual desktop, which means more room to do your work. And more room to work would seem to mean faster work.

 ... But what if we’ve all been duped? What if more monitors and bigger monitors actually detract from, rather than improve, how you work?

From taxprof blog, article here. 

Some marriages happened over the weekend, but are they legit?

So, a federal district court ruled on Friday that the Michigan (voter-supported) law banning same gender unions was unconstitutional. And that county clerks must issue licenses. But by this morning, 6th Circuit says "not so fast." In the meantime, hundreds of same gender couples got hitched. Are they legit?

That’s the predicament roughly 100 couples are in following an order late Saturday from the U.S. Sixth Court of Appeals, which issued a temporary stay of a lower court ruling that declared Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional. The order didn’t come down until late in the day — well after roughly 300 same-sex marriage licenses had been handed out across Michigan.

Article here. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

10 things health insurance policies must have.

All new insurance plans — whether sold on Michigan’s state exchange or sold off the exchange — must carry 10 essential health benefits. That means higher costs for many consumers who had leaner policies before the health law, but it also means a higher standard of care.

The 10 essential benefits are: (click here for article).

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Attend college in Michigan for free! Legislature may launch pilot program

The latest, greatest idea for making a college education affordable sounds simple enough — students can attend school for free.

But there’s a catch.

In return for free tuition, students have to agree to pay a fixed percentage of their future income for a specified number of years to a special fund that would pay other students’ college bills.

Article here. 

Stop all the gloom and doom! Legal market about to boom!

Read Keep Calm and Carry On, 27 Geo. J. Legal Ethics 55 (2014), by Rene ́Reich-Graefe of Western New England University School of Law, who takes on those who forecast a relentlessly negative future for the legal profession:

[R]ecent law school graduates and current and future law students are standing at the threshold of the most robust legal market that ever existed in this country—a legal market which will grow, exist for, and coincide with, their entire professional career.

via State Bar of Michigan blog. 

Former IRS director dies: remembered for resisting Nixon's pressure to audit political adversaries

Randolph W. Thrower, a Republican lawyer who headed the IRS under President Richard M. Nixon from 1969 to 1971 before losing his job for resisting White House efforts to punish its enemies through tax audits, died March 8 at his home in Atlanta.

article here.

For the first time since 2010, number of LSAT takers has risen

Has the law-school crisis turned a corner? That’s one way of looking at the latest LSAT data.
The number of law school admission tests administered in February was up 1.1% from the previous year, according to new figures released by the Law School Admission Council.
That may not sound like a significant change, but it’s the first time since June 2010 that the number of people who took the standardized exam increased as compared to the year before.

article here. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

More sentencing to come in Holland "Latin Kings" case

The federal prosecution has turned Latin Kings against each other. As part of plea deals, defendants are required to provide truthful testimony against others standing trial, which would include Eric Ruibal, who founded the Holland Latin Kings two decades ago.

Arturo DeLeon will be sentenced later this week, article here. 

The NSA is intercepting attorney-client privileged communications

This last Monday, according to the ABA Journal, NSA chief Keith Alexander acknowledged the NSA is scooping up attorney-client communications, but said that it is “affording appropriate protection” to those communications.

article here

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Students sue law schools over employment reporting figures

This isn't fresh news (sorry). It's a link to an article in a Law Journal about this "trend" of former students suing their schools for what was reported as employment figures.

article here.

Monday, March 10, 2014

What do juries think of attorneys?

 Regardless of the verdict given, what attorney—having argued a case—hasn’t come away wishing for more insight into the minds and perceptions of the jurors? Given ten years of data from systematic surveys of jurors, some patterns in their responses emerge.

article here.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Michigan Supreme Court to consider resentencing juvenile "lifers"

The law is now clear that juveniles convicted of first-degree murder can no longer be automatically sentenced to life in prison without parole, without a judge first considering the circumstances of the case and potential mitigating factors.

What’s in dispute in arguments the Michigan Supreme Court will hear this morning is whether more than 350 teenagers who received mandatory life sentences under the old rules are now entitled to new sentencing hearings.

Article here. 

Persuaded by recorded pocket-dial, jury convicts law grad of murder

A cellphone pocket dial that recorded on voice mail some of the final minutes in the life of Jason Bohn's girlfriend in 2012 helped persuade a New York City jury that the University of Florida law graduate should be convicted of first-degree murder on Wednesday.

Article here. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

What is the meaning of "Willfully annoy?" Grand Rapidians no longer have to worry about it.

Grand Rapids decided to strike an ordinance from their code book. It's one from 38 years ago, and it made it a crime for one person to "willfully annoy" another person.

Article here.

The city attorney recommended repealing the language, saying it’s “subject to a variety of interpretations” as to what exactly is annoying.
“It’s unconstitutional in terms of being vague,” City Attorney Catherine Mish said. “It’s simply unenforceable.”

Why stress makes it hard for you to think and work effectively, or how to be mindful

Is "mindfulness" just a new buzzword that in effect says "hey, quit getting side-tracked and pay attention?" Or can attempting to "practice mindfulness" make you a better, more effective thinker and worker?

The lawyerist asked the same question. (article here).

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Lawsuit in Federal court alleges East Lansing officers maliciously prosecuted MSU student

The incident involving Justin Socha happened in September 2010, the night after a football game between MSU and Notre Dame.
According to a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids: Officers Jeffrey Thomas and Anthony Fuller were investigating a house and ordered Socha and a friend to convince the residents to come outside.

After spending at least 25 minutes knocking on the home’s front and back doors without a response, the officers told Socha and his friend to sweep up broken glass in the street, the complaint says.

The officers then “intimidated” Socha and his friend and “coerced” them into spreading the glass in the parking lot outside the house, behind vehicle tires, the complaint says.

Upon returning to the home, Socha was charged with urinating in public, a disorderly conduct charge, but eventually was found not guilty by a jury.

Courthouse security - asleep at the switch

Scanners (and their operators) are there at the courthouse to keep people from doing dangerous things inside the court. For example, stopping someone with a bomb or weapon in their clothes or bags, who might present a threat to anyone else in the courthouse. And we all know how annoying it is to walk through the detectors or get "wanded" by a sheriff.

But the Toledo Blade tells the story of the scanner picking up a gun in a purse, but the sheriff paying no attention.

Story here. (via State Bar of Michigan blog).