Thursday, September 5, 2013

A New Baby! What Do I Do Now?

Congratulations to our legal assistant, Amanda, on the birth of her new baby boy.  A new addition to the family is a wonderful and busy time, getting used to new routines and trying to get everyone on a schedule.  When you finally get a second to breathe, you might start thinking about your child’s future.  When should I set up a college fund?  Should I get additional life insurance?  What about writing a will?  These are all important questions and I will deal with the latter in this blog.

Having a baby, like any life-changing event, is a perfect time to re-evaluate your situation.  Whether it’s the birth of a child, a divorce, or the death of a family member, your life will never be the same.  These are the times to think about both your financial and legal situation. 

From a legal perspective, the birth of a child means not only an additional beneficiary, but also the need to plan for the unexpected.  If both parents should die, who would care for the child?  This is the time for a serious discussion with the other parent.  If the unthinkable happens and you failed to put your choice in a proper legal document, there could be a serious conflict between family members.  Grandma and Aunt Mary may both believe they are the obvious and only choice.  But would that be in the child’s best interest?  Is that what you would have wanted? Who decides?  Unfortunately, it would be the judge, a complete stranger.  That is not who should make such a critical decision.  It should be you and your spouse or partner.  An expensive court battle over the custody of your child is the last thing you would want to leave your grieving family.

The solution, which is relatively easy, is to draft a simple will naming an agreed-upon person to assume the roles of personal guardian and trustee.  The guardian has physical custody of your child should you die before your child reaches majority age (currently 18 in Missouri) and the trustee handles your child's finances.  It can be the same person, but does not have to be.  You can also name back-ups for those appointments.  The loving aunt who your child adores may be terrible with finances, so choose carefully.  It will probably never be needed, but if it is, you want your child to be in the best hands possible . . . the ones you chose.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Law School Applications Down

The New York Times recently published a perhaps not surprising article on the decline in the total number of law school applications.

The legal field has had such a dismal run of it the last few years: practicing attorneys laid off, no jobs for new graduates, and bad press and lawsuits for law schools. Given all that, it's not surprising the law doesn't seem like the shining star profession it once appeared.  (New York Magazine did a feature on the lawsuits about a year ago.)

However, the ABA has compiled a list of 10 markets that might be decent choice, for a recent grad willing to relocate.  They seem to be concentrated in the Southeast, but there are a few in other areas.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Where Has the Civility Gone?

I have been rather frustrated lately by the seeming inability of some attorneys to both represent their clients and just be nice people at the same time.  Is that asking too much?

Indeed, I just got notice of an upcoming CLE entitled "Ethics & Civility in the Practice of Law: Can You Practice Civility and Be a Zealous Advocate?"

Honestly?  You can get CLE credit for that?  Does that seem silly to anyone else?  I'm pretty sure I learned the answer to that question in first grade.

And it turns out that I'm not the only one who's noticed this trend (I don't give myself that much credit).  Check out this article with video from the Wall Street Journal recently, in which a judge, in song, implores attorneys to play nicely with one another.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Monday, December 3, 2012

Canyon Has a New Home

Over the last few months, I've been following the news about Robert Rauschenberg's Canyon, and the tax uproar it's caused (see here and here for earlier posts).

The IRS agreed to drop the $65 million tax assessment on the work, which can never be legally sold or traded.  In return, the owners of the piece, the children of New York art dealer Ileana Sonnabend, agreed to permanently donate the work for public exhibition and waive the tax deduction they would otherwise get for the donation, reports the New York Times.

A bit of a bidding war broke out between the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which has had the work in its collection for some time, and the Museum of Modern Art.  The family decided on MoMA as the permanent home for their controversial piece.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Cell Phones - Subject to Warrantless Search?

Two years or so ago, I wrote a series of posts about the split in the circuits on an issue of privacy - in that case, GPS surveillance.  (Posts are here, here, and here.)

There is a new issue coming up, which undoubtedly will find its way to the Supreme Court before too long: cell phones.  Circuits (and even courts within the same circuit) have divided on the question of how much privacy it is reasonable to expect where your cell phone is concerned.  The New York Times recently published an article on the issue, which highlights some of the divisions.

For now, courts are trying to apply the 1986 Electronic Communications Act to cell phones, but it's not working too well; technology (and our dependence on our phones) has advanced far ahead of the scope of the law.  A Senate committee will convene this week to consider changes to the law.

As cell phones become more important in our daily lives, they will surely be a go-to source for police officers or investigators looking for information.  But how much access are they allowed without a search warrant?  Voice mails?  Text messages?  Your recorded GPS location?  What if you have your phone screen locked?  Does that give you added protection for your data?  Does the phone company have to alert you if your records are subpoenaed?

No definitive answers yet, but time will tell.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Law School -- Is It Worth It?

This week's Washington Post Magazine has a cover story entitled "Will Law School Students Have Jobs After They Graduate?"  There's a rather simple conclusion (spoiler alert!): no.  Probably the most damning indictment comes from Paul Campos, who has taught at University of Colorado Law School since 1990: "If the federal government applied any actuarial standards, half the law schools would shut down tomorrow.  The whole thing is a basically a giant subsidy machine run for the benefit of legal education."


However, the article investigates some tangential issues that are ripe for discussion:
 - Can the cost of legal education come down?
 - Can (and should) legal education be reformed to make it a more practical, trade school model in which students acquire hard skills rather than ideas?
 - Should students be allowed to borrow the full amount if they have dim prospects careerwise?
 - Should taxpayers be responsible for footing the bill if they can't pay off their loans in 25 years?  (Under the current income-based repayment system, any amount not paid off by the end of 25 years is "forgiven.")

You can read Campos's year-and-a-half old blog, Inside the Law School Scam, for more of his scathing opinions.