Sunday, May 14, 2017

Things Can't Hug You Back

I will never to my dying day embrace the idea of keeping up with the Joneses, conspicuous consumption, and all that this includes. Rather, I fully understand the maxim that - money won't buy you happiness. I do not know why some people are perfectly comfortable with rocking the newest iPhone and also struggle to pay the rent. In a world where people need to borrow $400 for an emergency, how can those same people bring themselves to pay $1000 or so for a phone?

Take this one telling statistic: "About 46 percent of Americans said they did not have enough money to cover a $400 emergency expense. Instead, they would have to put it on a credit card and pay it off over time, borrow from friends or family, or simply not cover it at all." (Mui, 2016)

The Federal Reserve report that the Washington Post article is based on uses data from 2015, and was published in 2016. Maybe the overall economy improved in 2016 enough to lower that 46%. We should find out soon. Still, $400?

I checked prices for a new iPhone 7, and its true, once you buy the accessories, some of which are essential, your bill is up to around $1000. And, then there is the monthly on top of that. I find it endlessly interesting that the search analytics on show that around 38 - 40% of the site users accessed the site through an iPhone and also that the word "indigent" is within the top 15-20 search strings used to find the site. Does that mean that a lot of indigent people have iPhones? I don't know for sure from that data, but it seems to be a reasonable assumption.

I learned early in life that even people that are financially comfortable can make a total mess of their lives. Poverty not required. The Happiness Studies claim that the magic income number is $75,000. per year. I maintain that - it depends. Cost of living varies drastically place to place. So $75,000. in a rural town may buy a nice home with acreage and leave plenty left over for private schools, new cars, vacations, etc. On the other hand, life in a big city on 75k a year may be financially difficult, especially with a family. But, their point is well taken. That after a certain income level happiness does not increase much as income increases.

My early lesson in life was my parent's divorce. I'm way past caring that they were divorced, but that event changed my life forever. I would say, changed me for the better. Early life lessons are not easily forgotten. I was eight. Our family was financially comfortable until then. I didn't really know or think about it, I grew up that way. My brothers and sisters and I all went to private schools, we had horses, we had an extra 10 acres to keep the horses, we lived in a 5,000 square foot house on the river, we had a tennis court in the yard, we had a housekeeper. Comfortable.

After my parents' divorce, dad re-enlisted in the military, married his patient, took a huge pay cut, and my mother could not afford to keep the house. She was court ordered to sell it. And she did. The private schools went on for a while after the divorce. I'm not sure if it was scholarships, kindness, or if someone paid. Everything else went. We moved to a three bedroom apartment. My two sisters and I shared a room. My two brothers shared a room. And my mom had her own room.

I saw with my own two eyes that my parents despite having everything had no idea how to be happy. Despite having all the material things that go with success they were not able to make themselves happy. Their divorce was acrimonious and awful.

Although the sudden shock of not having the things and privileges that I had before the divorce hit hard. The effect did not last. I learned early on that it was up to me to make myself happy. To do the things that would make me feel good. And to never depend on anyone else for my happiness. My happiness is my own responsibility, completely independent of anyone else.

I think some people go a life time without ever learning that. I can thank my parents for teaching me that as a child. A lesson they didn't mean to teach ... but they did.

Throughout my life I have never put a lot of importance on material things. All I've ever wanted in a vehicle, is one that looks presentable and dependably gets me from point A to point B. Likewise for the house I choose, looks presentable, affordable, low maintenance, and comfortable. Clothes are the same, I don't think I've ever gone out of my way to buy a designer thing. I honestly don't care.

A family member is the opposite. He only wears Ralph Lauren, is obsessed with his luxury vehicle, and does not understand how I can be the way I am. He is also the absolute unhappiest person I know. And, yes, he has the iPhone 7. He's tried to convince me to buy one, but I don't see the point. He has tried for years to get me to understand that people judge me by what I have. I frustrate him to no end, because I don't care. I have even explained that if a friend were to judge me or like me better because of what I have, then that's not a friend I want to keep. I have no place in my life for such superficiality. And if a stranger judges me for not wearing designer clothes, or not having an expensive car, then I don't care at all. I don't even know the stranger, so why would I possibly care?

I don't know if we chalk our differences up to generational influences. My materialistic family member is 30 years younger than me, so he is within that broad group called Millennials. Born in 1986. He grew up watching TV with plenty of commercials. The internet is awash with advertising and offers. Today, we have people who are famous for being famous, and for having money. Paris Hilton. Kim Kardashian. Nicole Richie.

It could be that the differences in our attitudes towards acquiring things is simply a personal difference. Surely there have been acquisitive people throughout the ages, people that flaunt their material wealth. We can go Biblical, Mark 10:25 "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." Or look to pop culture, "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend", sung by Marilyn Monroe in the 1953 film, "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes". The Madonna hit, "Material Girl" was on her "Like a Virgin" album released in 1984.

I do know that things don't make you happy. Once I told my acquisitive family member this simple fact. Things can't hug you back. I hope one day he'll listen. So far, he reacts with anger if I say anything like that. It must be lonely for him.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

We are Americans ... We are Immigrants

Most Americans don't have to look very far back in their family history to find an ancestor who immigrated to America. With the exception of people who are full blooded Indians and people whose ancestors were captured and brought here as slaves - our ancestors immigrated to America. All came to find a better life, to flee from war, to find more prosperous land, to find more freedom.

I look back at my heritage, only three generations on my mother's side, and I don't really know on my father's side when my people came here. My great grandmother on my mother's side was full blooded Indian, Cherokee I have been told. My great grandfather was Dutch, a farmer in southern Illinois. I gather from my mother's stories that my great grandmother, Dora, passed as white. It was not the done thing for a white man to marry an Indian woman. According to my mom, Dora's brothers, Mom's uncles lived in houses in the woods somewhere and mostly hunted and trapped to survive. One of them was a horse trainer. And one of them looked just like the Indian on the Indian head nickel.

The only thing I know about my father's side is that my grandfather was a country doctor in west Texas, San Angelo. He would make house calls in the rural areas, and sometimes be paid with livestock rather than cash ... chickens and pigs. I have no idea when my father's people came to America. His last name, my birth name, was Chambers. A proper English name. Cameron is a family name on my father's side, derived from the Scottish Cameron Clan. And somewhere in my father's family history is Irish also. My father was a veteran of World War II, and his father fought in World War I.

My ancestors on both sides came to America for their own reasons, reasonably to find a better life. They did not come as refugees, they came for the opportunities available in a young country.

The United States only dates back to 1776. Colonists, pilgrims, and explorers came earlier. Few Americans can trace their family history back more than a few generations as having lived in America. We are immigrants. Me, born in Texas, raised in Florida, date my family history back only three generations.

I don't understand how Americans so begrudge immigrants who come here wanting a better life. We all want a better life for ourselves and our children. I can't understand how the descendants of people who fled the World Wars can seek to block those who flee the current wars. And I will never understand, how any American can be so threatened by people entering this vast wonderful country in search of a better life.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Unauthorized Practice of Law - Another Point of View

I have an idea for illustrating the absurdity of the current tenor of enforcement against the “unauthorized practice of law” in Florida. It will probably never convince the Florida Bar to let up on the persecution of legal document preparers, but it might make some people realize just how hypocritical the Florida Bar is.

As I learned firsthand from a recent lawsuit against me, law is a complicated field. It has many specialties. When I needed to hire an attorney in another state to help me with that lawsuit, the first law office I called directed me to the local “expert” attorney in that particular specialty field of law. In that small jurisdiction, he qualified as the local expert in that specialty area because he had successfully prosecuted a case all the way to that state’s Supreme Court. It makes some sense: If you have an auto accident, you would probably do better if you had an attorney who specialized in auto accident cases. (To further illustrate my point, I’ll refer to the tort I was sued for generically, as “Tort X.”)

When my plaintiff lost in his home state and sued me in Florida, he tried to bolster his case with references to another Tort X lawsuit that had certain parties I’ll call Jones vs. Mackey. Something that happened in that case is instructive. The Plaintiff, Jones, didn’t hire an attorney who was a specialist in Tort X. He hired an attorney who had spent his career on cases involving real estate foreclosures.

Why? I don’t know. I’m guessing no attorney who specialized in Tort X would take what was obviously a lousy case. But I’d like to argue that, if UPL is going to be so strongly prosecuted, then UPL should be expanded to include attorneys like Jones’ who practice a type of law outside their range of expertise and experience.

And why shouldn’t such an attorney be prosecuted just as violently as the Florida Bar prosecutes legal document preparers? By practicing outside their expertise, attorneys like Jones’ are exposing their clients to exactly the same risks that the Bar claims legal document preparers are exposing their customers to. Would you see an ear, nose and throat doctor for an ingrown toenail? Of course not. A wise ENT, except in emergency, would give you a referral to a podiatrist. An attorney who did not do the same should be prosecuted for it.

Maybe what the Florida Bar needs is a taste of its own medicine.

Guest Blog, published with permission from the author, Jim Holding

The Pro Se Challenge - Accessing the Court System

As a pro se litigant, I recently experienced a frustrating (and expensive) example of the sort of barriers a pro se litigant can encounter. I discovered that court systems are not designed to aid the pro se litigant in filing their paperwork, and a clerk of court’s staff are often far from helpful.

In 2015, I was sued by someone in a state on the other side of the country. Other attorneys in his area referred to him as a vexatious litigant, and he filed all his lawsuits pro se and in forma pauperis. He had never won a lawsuit.

My background is in research, and I once managed a law library. So, I was able to defend myself, and I prepared a defense based on lack of personal jurisdiction.

Unfortunately, the court system this man lived under was still in the 1990s technologically. There were many obscure rules, and many forms for filing documents that were unique to that court. Half the time I called the clerk of court to ask a question, and either the person I needed to speak to was “out of the office,” or the person I spoke to had no idea how to help me. To make matters worse, this court system just happened to be implementing new scheduling software, which caused even more problems as members of the clerk of court’s staff became unavailable because they were “in training.” I left messages, and did not receive calls back until literally the last minute I had to do my paperwork.

There was also no system set up for full electronic filing. I could send a copy to the clerk’s office electronically, provided I went through an obscure registration process. However, I was still required to “snail mail” copies to the judge. Barney Fife obviously served as clerk of court in this county!

I filed a motion to dismiss, only to discover that I had filled out a form incorrectly, and my dismissal hearing was not properly scheduled. I became so concerned about not being able to communicate with the clerk’s staff that I hired an attorney in the other state. In the end, because of various actions by the plaintiff, it cost me $21,000. It could have cost more. Thankfully, the attorney I hired recognized that I was competent at legal research and allowed me to do research for him on personal jurisdiction. That saved me $1500. (The judge, by the way, awarded me those attorney fees after everything else was over with.)

The attorney used the same arguments I used in my motion to dismiss, only adding a few points from that state’s case law. Had the court system in the Plaintiff’s state been more accessible, I could easily have handled these matters myself. The end of this affair proves it: After the Plaintiff lost to me in his home state, he tried to sue me in Florida – and I defeated him for no more than the cost of postage and copies..along with a small payment to a helpful legal document preparer!

Guest Blog - published with permission from the author, Jim Holding.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Interesting times ...

These are interesting times. I've lived through interesting times before. I'm old enough to remember the Cold War, and experienced those times from a child's point of view. During the Cuban Missile Crisis we each had emergency rations at school and an evacuation plan to board a freight train to take us to (of all places) the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine for refuge. My dad had a bomb shelter built in our yard with four foot thick steel reinforced walls. Mom said she could never see the point ... if the world is blown up why would you want to be alive anymore anyway. We used it only once, and that had nothing to do with bombs, rather a hurricane that caused a tree to fall right through the living room. We evacuated to the bomb shelter and spent the night. Ran through the orange grove and down into the shelter during the eye of the storm.

Those were tense times. Even though I was only young, I remember dinner table conversation about the missiles being aimed straight at Florida, the Cape, or maybe Jacksonville because of its military presence. We were in Jacksonville. And the fall out would contaminate everything, infect the food supply, if the blast didn't kill you.

The Vietnam era was yet another interesting time I remember. My parents had split by then, and I was a teenager. Dad had rejoined the military as a high ranking officer. Navy Captain. Psychiatrist. Stationed in Japan. I went to live with him and my stepmother there. We lived on base in officer's housing. Dad was second in command of the base. On one trip overseas, flying military space available, we stopped in Saigon. It was some time in 1970. I remember the tension in the airport, the personnel coming and going, the uniformed officers talking in tight groups, the smoke filled waiting room, my dad ordering me and my sister to stand right by his side and don't move, the tension that you could inhale.

Over the next year or so the U.S. was in the process of pulling the troops out of Vietnam. A lot of them came through our base, as it was a hospital base. Anti-war protests were going strong back in the states. A fact I knew only on the periphery. The Japanese protested against Americans. They held protests right outside the main gate. They were polite about it, always sharing their protest schedule. Easy to avoid. My dad was involved in signing discharge papers for the enlisted that served in Vietnam, doing their psychological exams before release from duty. He'd talk about it. I think he had many enlisted dishonorably discharged due to drug use or addiction during their service in Vietnam. Dad had a particular and personal hatred of anyone who used illegal drugs. I felt sorry for the men he dishonorably discharged for drugs, or maybe court martialed. After all, most were drafted, thrown into a war they didn't support. And drugs were plentiful. Maybe not an excuse or reason, but my dad didn't have to go out of his way to ruin lives. I know that he did.

We came back to the states to Southern California. The Nixon administration was full bore crash and burn. The Pentagon Papers. G. Gordon Liddy et al. Watergate. I feel we are in a time machine. Back again to the early days of the women's movement. Back again to a politicized populace and people marching in the street. Back again to turmoil. Interesting times.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Proudly Serving the Under Served

I am grateful for the privilege to do what I do. I serve consumers who would otherwise go without. I help people who have no choice but to stand up for themselves. I prepare documents for those who have no idea how to proceed. I am a Florida legal document preparer. "Proudly serving the under served." appears on our association site. And I mean it, it is not just a catchy marketing phrase. It is what we do. I am proud and humbled at once.

Couples break up. Neighbor sues neighbor. Disputes fester. Solutions are elusive. Most people want things to be fair, even while acknowledging that the world isn't fair. We've known that the world isn't fair since we were children, but still wish it were so. Wishing isn't getting, but we can try. Try for that reasonable and fair solution. The compromise where no one is completely happy, but no one feels trod upon.

Rental leases, cell phone contracts, car rental contracts, insurance, employment contracts, non-compete agreements, bills of sale, promissory notes, pet care agreements, construction contracts, powers of attorney, and licensing agreements are just a few of the contracts that consumers use and sign, often without an attorney. In fact, most of these types of contracts are usually signed without an attorney looking out for the signer's best interest. Few new hires would refuse to sign an employment contract until an attorney had a chance to review it. And, it would likely be less than cost effective to have an attorney review and approve a cell phone contract prior to signing.

But, when a marriage deteriorates. Or business partners disagree. Or an arrangement that once worked becomes unbalanced. Or when the powerful prey upon the weak. And there is no compromise in sight, the dispute lands in court. When property, money, and children are at stake - somehow, some way, the dispute needs resolution. Even if that means taking it out of the hands of the disputing parties to let a judge decide.

It is always always always better to resolve disputes without judicial intervention, as long as the solution does not leave the weaker party weaker still. And there's the rub. It's hard to know. Presented with a settlement agreement or contract, for example, how does a layman have any idea whether he should sign? It may seem to say that the agreement is reasonable, but maybe there is also some language that doesn't make obvious sense. Then what? Research, education. Ask for clarification and/ or lawyer up, I guess.

Document preparers encourage their customers to seek legal advice when they do not understand their rights. We encourage consumers to consult with an attorney and ask for advice regarding their rights and responsibilities. We also encourage consumers to educate themselves about their rights and responsibilities. We are here to prepare documents once a consumer knows their rights and responsibilities. And then once the documents are prepared, we then encourage consumers, to have an attorney review the documents. Whether a consumer can afford an attorney or not, depends entirely on that consumer's specific financial means.

And even as we encourage consumers to seek legal advice, we know that many will not be able to afford the fees. We are not part of the problem, but we certainly aspire to being part of the solution.

Please complete our FALDP Pro Se Survey. Thank you!

Friday, December 2, 2016

Pro Se Survey II

In 2012 we offered the first in our pro se survey series. The information we request on this survey builds off of the first one, and hopefully makes up for some of the information gaps. We ask for your name and address, but you are not required to provide that information to complete the survey. Providing your personal information is completely voluntary. Thank you to all of you who contribute. If you are a pro se litigant, please complete our survey. If you do not want to be contacted after completing it, we won't contact you - ever. This is in no way a ploy to collect your information. We really want the data; and you can remain completely anonymous.

Pro se litigants are often overwhelmed and face multiple obstacles in pursuing or defending their legal matters. As far as we can tell no one, no government entity, no private groups makes a concerted effort to find information about pro se litigants. There are plenty of assumptions. One of the most prevalent assumptions is that pro se litigants simply cannot afford an attorney. Another assumption is that pro se litigants lack formal education. We want to know whether these assumptions are correct. Whether there is, in fact, much more to the story. 

The legal system belongs to all citizens. It does not belong to attorneys, the judges, or the court staff. Our tax dollars pay the court staff and the judges salaries. We understand that the court prefers for consumers to be represented by counsel. Consumers lack of information about procedure is real. Florida procedure is labyrinthine and there are few reliable sources for consumers to learn about the steps and rules that must be followed.