Monday, October 30, 2017

What to do and know before your first meeting with a lawyer

Meeting with lawyers is often something that makes people anxious. I thought it would be helpful if I put together some tips for those meeting with a lawyer for the first time, based on my experience in working with clients. Some are dos and don'ts from meetings that have gone well or gone very poorly. Hope that you find them helpful.

1. Remember that lawyers are just people. There's no reason to be anxious or intimidated. We're here to help try to help you.

2. Schedule an appointment. Lawyers aren't Burger King. You don't get to just walk in and meet with a lawyer. Attorneys have other hearings and meetings, and projects to work on. Schedule an appointment so that you have the lawyer's full attention.

3. Know how long your appointment is scheduled for, so that you can be respectful of the attorney's time and other commitments.

4. Be on-time for your appointment. Again this is a way to be respectful of the attorney's time and other commitments.

5. If you can't make it to your appointment, or have hired another attorney, call and let the staff know that you are cancelling. Don't just no-show. It's rude.

6. If you think that documents, e-mails, text messages, photos, or anything similar are important to your case (or might be), bring them with you.

7. If there are particular people who know something about your case, bring their contact information (name, address, telephone number) with you, so that the attorney can get in touch if need be.

8. If your issue deals with a case already on file, bring the pleadings that you were served with. At a minimum, it is best if the attorney knows where the case is filed, and what the case number is.

9. Be respectful to attorneys and staff. Remember that we're all just people trying to do the best jobs that we can.

10. Don't be afraid to ask about the costs. But remember that attorneys may need to get some information from you about your case before they can set fees, retainers, etc.

11. If you don't understand what the lawyer means, say so and ask questions. Lawyers sometimes use jargon or terminology specific to an area of law, and may not realize that you don't understand.

12. Don't bring children, pets or other distractions to your appointment. Come ready to focus on the issue at hand

13. Remember that lawyers can't change the facts or the law. We can give you the best legal advice possible, and give you an idea of what you can expect. But we can't change the underlying facts or the law that applies to those facts, so we can't always give you what you want to hear.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

What Happens if My Will Cannot be Located in Time?

I recently read a Nebraska Supreme Court decision, In Re Estate of Gilbert Fuchs, Deceased, 297 Neb. 667 (2017) in which Mr. Fuchs's will wasn't located until quite some time after he passed away. The Court had to decide what to do with this situation, and whether the will could even be probated.

Apparently Mr. Fuchs kept his paperwork in quite a state of disarray, with paperwork in vehicles, in totes, and all over his home. When vehicles would be sold, the buyers would package up all of the paperwork to be returned to Mr. Fuchs's Personal Representative.

The family was pretty sure that Mr. Fuchs had a will, but couldn't locate a copy after contacting local attorneys and the County Court (as Wills can be filed with the County Courts in Nebraska for safekeeping). Ultimately the Personal Representative, Mr. Fuchs's son, found the original will several months after he passed away, and several months after the probate proceedings had begun. This will differed substantially from how the law of intestacy distributed Mr. Fuchs's property. Unfortunately for Mr. Fuchs, and for his intended beneficiaries, the will was located too late. In Nebraska, the Uniform Probate Code requires that probate proceedings be commenced within 3 years of the date of death. Informal probate proceedings alleging that Mr. Fuchs died intestate (without a will) were begun shortly after his death. But a request to probate the will was commenced more than 3 years after his death. This subsequent request was denied as coming too late, and the Supreme Court upheld the lower court's finding.

It's an interesting case, but what does this mean for the rest of us? Well, it means that we need to make sure that our wills and other important paperwork is kept in a secure area, and that our loved ones know where this important paperwork is kept. Because if our loved ones cannot locate our will, then our wishes may not be carried out upon our deaths.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Oh No! My Loved One Was Arrested...What Do I Do?

This is a scenario that no one wants to find themselves in, but it unfortunately does happen. So your loved one is being/has been arrested, and you're trying to figure out what to do. Here are a few things to keep in mind and be aware of in the early stages of what appear to be likely criminal charges.

1. Don't interfere with law enforcement. If law enforcement is going to arrest someone, either on a warrant or because of conduct that they've been made aware of through an investigation, there is nothing that you can do to stop this. Don't hide a person that law enforcement is looking for, as that can be Obstructing a Peace Officer or Aiding and Abetting a Fugitive. Don't get in the middle of an arrest, as that can be Resisting Arrest or Obstructing. Let the arrest happen, and then deal with it after the fact. If you get in the middle of the situation, you can only make things worse, both for your loved one and for yourself.

2. Don't make statements to law enforcement, and advise your loved one not to either. I can't even tell you how many of my cases are proven largely by my client admitting to violations of the law, or by family members making statements that end up being harmful to my client. So the best course of action is to keep your mouth closed, and to advise your loved one being arrest to not make any statements either.

3. Hire an attorney as soon as possible. This should go without saying, but having an attorney involved at the earliest stages of a criminal case is important. Bond is set by the Court, and it's always helpful for the defendant to have an attorney to make a bond argument on his/her behalf. If there is no attorney involved, the defendant has to provide information to the Court directly, and could mistakenly make statements that can later be used against him/her. So the involvement of an attorney early on is important.

4. If the defendant can't afford an attorney, request a public defender as soon as possible. In most of the areas where I practice law, the public defenders are extremely qualified and excellent attorneys. So if a private attorney isn't in the cards financially, applying for the public defender is the next best option. And not delaying this application means that the public defender can begin working on the case as early as possible.

5. But don't think that a hired attorney or a PD can get a defendant out of jail in the middle of the night or on the weekend. In some low level cases, bonds are set by a schedule adopted in advance, so that people can post bonds and get out of jail right away. But for felonies or higher level misdemeanors, there aren't bond schedules. And it isn't required that defendants be brought before the Court for a bond setting until 48 hours. It simply isn't realistic to expect hired attorneys or PDs to be able to get defendants out of jail in the middle of the night or on weekends. Often we don't have the judge's cell phone number. And if we do, it won't do any good to make a call, as they're not going to set bond after a telephone call from one attorney. A hearing has to occur, where both the State and the defendant can make bond arguments. So don't expect middle of the night or weekend results. And don't buy into the hype from lawyers who tell you that they can achieve middle of the night or weekend results.

6. Be patient. I know that this is exactly the type of thing that people don't want to hear when their loved one has been arrested. But it's probably the single most important piece of advice. The wheels of justice turn slowly. Dismissals usually don't happen at the first hearing; and trials aren't immediate. It takes time to get discovery (police reports, photos, recordings, etc.) and plea offers. And it takes time for a criminal defense attorney to review this information and discuss it with a defendant. So even though it's terribly difficult, be patient.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Interpreters: How to Work Well Together

I've written previously about speaking for court reporters, and the advice that I had then applies very much the same when speaking for interpreters. However, there are some differences. And there is more to working with an interpreter than simply speaking clearly. I thought it would be appropriate to devoting a blog post to this topic, as it comes up fairly regularly in my practice, but also would be useful information for other people as well.

#1: Speak slowly.
Most people speak too quickly, especially when they are nervous.  People are more likely to be nervous when in court or in a deposition, and this is when interpreters are trying to convey every word that you say.  Therefore, if the interpreter is going to be able to repeat everything in another language, you need to speak slowly.  Chances are that you are probably still speaking more quickly than you think, anyway.  This rule is even more important if you are using medical terminology or other specialized terms which the interpreter is not likely to encounter very often, or for which there may not be a direct translation and which may need to be explained to convey the meaning.

#2: Read even more slowly.  
People read much more quickly than they typically speak.  If the document that you are reading is important (and it probably is, or you wouldn't bother to read from it), then you should slow down while reading to make sure that the words are translated.

#3: Don't go off on tangents.  
If the interpreter asks you to repeat something that you have said, do just that—repeat only what you said.  Do not go off on a tangent explaining the concept or background story to the interpreter. The interpreter was not asking you to repeat yourself because s/he did not understand the concept, but only because s/he did not hear or understand the words that you said.  

#4: Do not interrupt or speak over another person.  
An interpreter can only take interpret the words of one speaker at a time.  When people talk over one another or interrupt each other, the record becomes muddled and the interpreter cannot keep up.  Wait until one person has finished speaking before you speak.  

#5: Answer out loud, using real words.  
Do not nod or shake your head, as an interpreter cannot convey this.  Try to minimize mmm-hmm, hmm-mmm, uh-huh, and huh-uh, as these are often difficult to hear, and may lack direct translations.  Use "yes," "no," and other real word verbal responses.  

#6: Minimize the use of slang.
Slang often cannot be directly translated, or even conveyed in a meaningful way to speakers of other languages. Minimize the use of slang, making the interpreter's job easier, and making for language easier to understand by the listener.

#7: There is a difference between a translator and an interpreter.
Did you know this? I didn't until an interpreter explained the difference. A translator changes language from one to another in written form. An interpreter changes language from one to another in verbal form.  

#8: Court certified interpreters really are better.
Interpreters who have gone through the process to become court certified interpreters really do a better job. They have the skills necessary to convey meaning from language to language, and understand that the role of an interpreter simply is to repeat what is said (to the extent possible). When it is possible to use a court certified interpreter, I recommend it.

#9: Interpreters are not lawyers, however.
So we cannot assume that interpreters understand legal concepts well enough to explain them if there is no direct translation. Some interpreters have been working in the court system that they do understand, but not all will. So attorneys need to ensure that they are explaining concepts, and not just trusting or assuming that the interpreter can or will.