Tip of the Week:  Because I offer a one hour free consultation, I get to meet a lot of nice folks who do not really need to hire a lawyer.  I guess I should re-think my marketing strategy, but ultimately I think it works out for everyone.  If I can’t help someone, or if they don’t really need my help, I feel better, and do better, if I can find that out early.  Often prospective clients have suffered some kind of wrong, but they don’t have a strong legal claim, or it would be too stressful or expensive to pursue it.  If they can walk out of my office with an understanding that they need to just move on, that can be a good thing for them too.  One would like to think that there is a remedy for every wrong, but it just is not the case.

Tip of the Week:  Severance packages are a bit of a luxury these days.  Many long term employees are shown the door with nothing more than a cardboard box containing their personal possessions.  Yet severance agreements offer significant advantages for both employers and employees.  Because these agreements are drafted by attorneys at the behest of the employer, they can be difficult to understand, particularly given the stressful nature of the situation.  Even if the terms are non-negotiable, employees are well-advised to review these agreements with an attorney prior to signing.  Many attorneys will do this on a flat fee basis.  It may also be advisable to consult with a financial planner.  These professionals have dealt with many others in this same situation and may also be able to provide some practical pointers about how to get back into the job market.  Call early and call often!

Tip of the Week:  Bankruptcy filings are down and have been for several months.  Some claim that this is because the economy is turning around, and that the foreclosure crisis is beginning to be behind us.  However, I recently read an alarming prediction that the layoff and pay cuts being taking by teachers and other government employees could lead to another round of financial distress.  It would be truly unfortunate if our public employees are hit by these cutbacks as they struggle to send their own children to college.  Stay tuned, and hope for a break in the weather for the California economy.

Tip of the Week:  Often I have clients who are reluctant to involve a lawyer in a dispute because they do not want to ratchet up the rhetoric and anxiety in an already contentious situation.  However, the right lawyer can help diffuse tense situations and perhaps provide a path to resolution that the parties did not see.   In addition, if both parties are represented by counsel, the attorneys may be able to see the problem dispassionately and present some options based on mutually objective appraisals of the law and the facts.  If you have had, in the past, a lawyer who seemed to make things worse, then he or she was probably not the right one for the job at hand.

Tip of the Week:  I counsel many people who are struggling to make ends meet due to job loss, medical bills, or distressed businesses.  They often borrow from their retirement funds to keep things afloat, always hoping that things will turn around in a month or two.  And sometimes they do.  However, if things don’t turn around, and bankruptcy is an option that they are forced to consider, many do not realize that their retirement funds would have been protected in a bankruptcy proceeding.  Many people in this situation would do well to consult a bankruptcy attorney as soon as they start struggling.  They may end up not needing to file, or they may be able to plan effectively to time the bankruptcy filing in a way that helps them protect their assets to the greatest extent allowed by the laws.

Tip of the Week:  My advice:  Call early, call often!  Frequently I meet with a client or prospective client and realize that the options for that individual or business would have been better or more numerous if only I had been consulted a few months earlier.  It’s no different in some ways than ignoring that nagging toothache.  It gets worse, usually going into a long weekend, and then you need a root canal.  Unlike dentists, I offer a one hour free consultation, as do many other attorneys, so pick up the phone and ask for help.  It can make all the difference.

Tip of the Week:  The Department of Homeland Security is beginning to accept applications this week under what has been called the Administrative Dream Act, announced by President Obama on June 15th.  Officially, it is known as “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” and it would young people who came to this country with their parents to obtain work permits if they graduate from high school and have no criminal record.  Some immigration experts are taking a wait and see attitude about this law given the upcoming presidential election.  Others are recommending that eligible individuals apply as soon as possible to get at the front of the line.  Consult an attorney or look for community based seminars designed to inform people about the process, the benefits and the risks.

Tip of the Week:  Last week I attended a Sonoma County Bar Association luncheon featuring California Supreme Court Justice Goodwin Liu.  He is an engaging speaker and provided some valuable insights into the work of our state court system, in particular his own court.  Justice Liu was a law clerk for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the United States Supreme Court, and he spoke also spoke about the differences between that court and our own state Supreme Court.  Our court strives to meet greater consensus in part because of the requirement that opinions be rendered within ninety days of oral argument.  It was fascinating, and I think all who attended appreciated the presentation. 

Tip of the Week: There are many misconceptions about bankruptcy. One of the most prevalent is that it is a sign of failure. While no one brags about filing for bankruptcy, lots of people are finding it necessary to do it, and you probably know some of them. Burdened by underwater homes, unemployment or under-employment, medical debts, and attempting to get by “temporarily” by living off credit cards, many people have had to think what was once unthinkable, and talk to a bankruptcy attorney about their situation. Bankruptcy is not about failure. It is about facing up to tough facts and figuring out how best to move forward.

Tip of the Week:  Most small business owners will visit their physicians for periodic checkups.  It is equally important to consider a labor law compliance “check-up” through an attorney or human resources specialist.  California law can be tricky and unique.  Even with the best of intentions, businesses can find themselves with disgruntled employees filing claims with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement.  (I ask, as an aside, where are all the “gruntled” employees?) The friendly folks at DLSE will answer questions, help claimants with the forms, and then send out a notice of a complaint.  Often, minor and inexpensive changes in business practices can head off these claims or reduce the likelihood of success if they are made.

Tip of the Week:  Student loans and bankruptcy – the upside to the downside!  Many boomers have helped to finance their children’s education by taking out students loans or by co-signing on students loans taken out by their children.  Now, with jobs scarce, this investment in a college education may not be looking like a financially wise one.  And it is true that except in cases of extreme hardship, student loans are not dischargeable in bankruptcy.  However, if other debts (medical, credit card, HELOC) are discharged, many people are able to afford those student loan payments more easily.  Then those payments appear on credit reports and help to raise credit scores more quickly. 

Tip of the Week:  What about my credit score?  I hear this question a lot when people are looking at foreclosure, short sale, loan modifications on real estate, or when negotiating for reductions in credit card debt.  GO TO THE DANGER!!!  The first step is to get up the courage to get your credit report!  Then you can talk to the appropriate professional about the possible impact that various actions, including bankruptcy, might have on your credit score.  For some people, credit scores go up dramatically and rapidly after bankruptcy!