Below are a few bits from an email I got this morning. This one pretty much resembles other emails I get from people all over Oregon, people I've never met or talked to. I usually get several of these a week, sometimes several a day.
I am not sure if you can help me or not. I am in the middle of an arbitration with . . . . Suddenly, at the hearing, his witness came up with something that [Attorney _____] said [Attorney ______] had no knowledge of until then. I asked for a continuance so I could read and try to interpret what this new report means.
I e mailed [Attorney _____] and received a couple of brief definitions as well as this closing remark -- "This information that you requested is beyond the scope of your discovery request and is in the nature of an Interrogatory which is not a permitted discovery device in OR. However at least as to this request, I am providing a response to you as a courtesy."
My question is, can they actually . . . ? [Attorney _____] is trying to confuse me or turn around what I say . . . . I do not have the money for an attorney but am in desperate need of some advice on what to do, especially with this new information. I normally just delete these, but I feel so bad about not being able to respond that I thought I would try to explain to my anonymous correspondent -- and anyone else who emails me like this -- why they won't hear back from me. It's not because I'm a jerk (or at least not only that).
What the typical "civilian" (nonlawyer) doesn't know is that lawyers -- who can sometimes seem so absolutely certain of everything -- are pretty much just like normal people. Underneath the facade of bravado bordering on (if not crossing well into) arrogance, is a human being full of doubts and fears about everything, from fear of being revealed as an imposter and someone who never should have been allowed near a law license, to fear of getting a bad reputation with other attorneys and judges, to fear of being bankrupted or ruined by a small mistake that blows up into a nightmare of hearings and appeals. It all boils down to the same old human fears -- that we're going to lose our careers, security, and families because of a mistake made while casually trying to help a stranger in need, so no one will love us and that we're going to wind up collecting soda cans in a shopping cart and sleeping under a bridge. Pretty unlikely stuff, but fear isn't about rationality, it's about the lizard part of the brain that determines how we think about things before we've had a chance to "think" about them at all. And this is the killer part: some of the nightmare stories around this particular fear are true. That is, unlike the urban legends about hidden razor blades in apples given away on Halloween (no doubt started by clever kids who want real candy, not apples!), there really are true tales of horror stories where lawyers have been hurt bad or even undone by giving legal advice to non-clients while just trying to help them, one human to another. So, absurd as it sounds to people who don't live with these fears, a lawyer who responds to a emailed cry for help like this is risking their ticket to practice and an ordeal of responding to bar complaints, malpractice suits, and just generally suffering for a long time. I hate the whole fear thing, and I do my best to try not to be afraid of everyone I talk to, and to remain a decent person despite being a lawyer. But, even ignoring the issue of constantly being asked to give away my only product (legal advice) to complete strangers, there's no way that I can stay in practice for long if I give legal advice to random callers and emailers, because there's no way to do that without screwing it up. And, given my low-costs, low-overhead, low-fee practice model, I can't afford any time spent answering a bar complaint lodged by a non-client -- the first one of those will probably put me out of business entirely. So, while it pains me to constantly be reminded what a disfigured and inadequate legal system we have and how it systematically, relentlessly, and remorselessly denies access to justice to precisely the people who most need it, I too wind up going along, refusing to help the stranger whose cry for help reaches my ear or email account. All I can suggest is that, when you find yourself in a bind and unable to afford even the Oregon State Bar's modest means program, you contact every elected official who is supposed to represent you and tell them how the lack of adequate civil legal services is affecting you. I have some ideas for broadening access to justice that I'm working on, and with luck they will bear fruit before too many more years go by; but in the meantime, since America has not yet recognized access to justice as a fundamental right, we ration it by price: those with money can have all they want; those without money are left with scraps or pushed out in the cold entirely. The corporations like it this way, and the corporations decide who gets elected in this country. Frighteningly, these corporations are becoming increasingly active in judicial races. Until real people -- human people -- unite to demand a civil justice system that is more than just rhetorically open to all, we're stuck. I do my part, I'd appreciate it if you would do yours: Every time you get a chance, every time a candidate asks for your vote, tell your elected officials and candidates, from dog-catcher on up, that you want them to fund a robust expansion of civil legal aid programs until every real person in America with a legal problem is able to afford to get the help they need.Postscript: You would think that disavowing science and preferring the insights of revelation to all the evidence would keep you from getting an invitation to speak to a lawyer trade show all about the toys that could only be created after scientists unlocked some pretty deep secrets in nature. Weirdly, Ben Stein -- who has managed to cultivate a rep as a smart guy, but who pushes creationism -- was invited to give a keynote talk to the ABA Tech Show. Still, he is apparently smart on non-science matters: “We all have rights, but it can be staggeringly expensive to possess those rights,” Stein said, “Unless you can get access to a lawyer, there’s a greatly diminished chance of getting access.” “This makes [lawyers] and their clients richer in material and emotional ways, more powerful as human beings and citizens,” Stein said to a packed audience. “U.S. and Canadian lawyers take their greatest national inheritances and they share it with everyone else who is not necessarily rich. They let everyone all over North America know they have legal rights and what those legal rights are and what they aren’t.”
This is the mice type from the postcard above. You basically need a Hubble telescope to read it. But that's the point - they don't want you to read it. They just want your brain to lock up on the word FREE! And the cute puppy.
The local Dish TV folks are a great example of everything wrong with businesses today, and they deserve a resounding non-response from anyone unlucky enough to get their junk.
These guys not only mailed me their junk postcard at home (ignoring my vigorously expressed wish to not get junk mail, including listing our house and each adult in it on the Direct Marketing Associations "Do Not Mail" directory, and adamantly refusing to purchase anything from a junk mail solicitation).
They also had the gall to send me this incredibly deceptive "offer," with its gigantic FREE and the picture of the adorable puppy -- and an entire paragraph of mice type so small that I simply cannot read it; I'm not saying it's hard for me to read, I'm saying that despite my transition bifocals, there is no way I can physically resolve print that small, glasses or not.
By scanning the postcard and then blowing up the scanned image 300%, I was able to make out the following:
Any business that markets this way is sending you a clear, simple message:
- There is a $17.50/mo early cancel penalty (meaning you are screwed if you lose your job or your apartment and have to move before you've paid for 24 months. If you only use it one month, you could have to pay $402.5 in cancel penalties);
- PLUS there's a one-time $99 setup fee -- that one is guaranteed to be "no-how, no way" for a refund, come hell or high water;
- Oh, and did you see the $10/mo in hidden -- well, ok, disclosed in 4-pt type -- equipment rental fees? So every price shown is BS by at least $10/month.
- Don't forget that the mice type also says that there are taxes and fees added --- Not that they could bother to tell you what they are before you sign up. After all, they only use huge computers to track the residents and consumer behavior of each and every person in some 100 million households in America in incredible detail; they couldn't possibly be expected to manage up to FOUR (gasp!) numbers on top of all that data. (Four? Yup -- the taxes and fees from (1) federal government; (1) one state government; and, at most, (1) county and (1) city government. Why, their little computer circuits would fry just thinking about being expected to manage all that complexity and having to tell consumers what the bill would be before they're on the hook for the early cancel fee!
- Best of all, the mice type also says "Prices subject to change." What the hell does that mean?? If they double the price and you decide you have to cancel, are you still on the hook for the $17.50/mo? Probably -- because they told you, right there in 4 point microscopic type!
"We don't respect you. The only thing we care about you is how much money we can make off you.
Moreover, we think our service is so overpriced that we'd never sell any unless we use BS teaser rates and microscopic disclosures to screw you out of your hard-earned money. We'll hide some pretty important details in tiny mice type, and then play hardball when you have to cancel early because you can't afford the service after we've finished jacking up the fees and you see the government fees and taxes added on for the first time . . . with your first bill.
And since we don't respect you, or our offerings, or ourselves, we'll ignore all that and just put cute puppies and the word FREE in big, bold letters everywhere, and rake in the cash from people who are way too trusting of people like us."
As a consumer, you should print that red text and keep it next to your mailbox or the chair you use when reading your mail. Every time you get a postcard or letter that looks like Dish's flyer here, remind yourself of what that kind of advertising is really saying.
Passing on this warning from your friendly neighborhood IRS. I'm not a tax lawyer, and you can't rely on this warning to avoid any penalties the taxman might hit you with should you run afoul of this scheme (or make any other tax errors). Best advice: don't fall for the too-good-to-be-true offers, especially where the IRS is supposedly passing out free money. The (very) few tax breaks in the tax code that benefit ordinary people in the 99% are well-known and widely publicized. So if you get told something by one guy that seems like a great deal but you've never heard of it before, be sure to check it yourself by running the idea past a few other independent sources, like your local library or senior tax volunteers service.IR-2012-29, March 2, 2012
WASHINGTON –– The Internal Revenue Service today warned senior citizens and other taxpayers to beware of an emerging scheme tempting them to file tax returns claiming fraudulent refunds.
The scheme carries a common theme of promising refunds to people who have little or no income and normally don’t have a tax filing requirement. Under the scheme, promoters claim they can obtain for their victims, often senior citizens, a tax refund or nonexistent stimulus payment based on the American Opportunity Tax Credit, even if the victim was not enrolled in or paying for college.
In recent weeks, the IRS has identified and stopped an upsurge of these bogus refund claims coming in from across the United States. The IRS is actively investigating the sources of the scheme, and its promoters may be subject to criminal prosecution.
“This is a disgraceful effort by scam artists to take advantage of people by giving them false hopes of a nonexistent refund,” said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman. “We want to warn innocent taxpayers about this new scheme before more people get trapped.”
Typically, con artists falsely claim that refunds are available even if the victim went to school decades ago. In many cases, scammers are targeting seniors, people with very low incomes and members of church congregations with bogus promises of free money.
The IRS has also seen a variation of this scheme that incorrectly claims the college credit is available to compensate people for paying taxes on groceries.
The IRS has already detected and stopped thousands of these fraudulent claims. Nevertheless, the scheme can still be quite costly for victims. Promoters may charge exorbitant upfront fees to file these claims and are often long gone when victims discover they’ve been scammed.
The IRS is reminding people to be careful because all taxpayers, including those who use paid tax preparers, are legally responsible for the accuracy of their returns, and must repay any refunds received in error.
To get the facts on tax benefits related to education, go to the Tax Benefits for Education Information Center on IRS.gov.
To avoid becoming ensnared in this scheme, the IRS says taxpayers should beware of any of the following:
This refund scheme features many of the warning signs IRS cautions taxpayers to watch for when choosing a tax preparer. For advice on choosing a competent tax professional, see Tips for Choosing a Tax Return Preparer on IRS.gov.
- Fictitious claims for refunds or rebates based on false statements of entitlement to tax credits.
- Unfamiliar for-profit tax services selling refund and credit schemes to the membership of local churches.
- Internet solicitations that direct individuals to toll-free numbers and then solicit social security numbers.
- Homemade flyers and brochures implying credits or refunds are available without proof of eligibility.
- Offers of free money with no documentation required.
- Promises of refunds for “Low Income – No Documents Tax Returns.”
- Claims for the expired Economic Recovery Credit Program or for economic stimulus payments.
- Unsolicited offers to prepare a return and split the refund.
- Unfamiliar return preparation firms soliciting business from cities outside of the normal business or commuting area.
For additional information on tax scams, see the 2012 Dirty Dozen list.
Be on the lookout for the announcements about the Senior Farm Direct Nutrition Program, or contact your local AAA (Area Agency on Aging). It's an obscenity that many Oregonians, including many elders, don't have enough food every month. It's an even bigger obscenity that the food programs are so underfunded that they have to run a lottery to see which elders get to eat.
But, while this tiny little underfunded program isn't a solution, the faster they are overwhelmed with applicants, the faster policymakers will take note of the need and maybe do something about it.
I'm in learn-by-doing mode here (see March 6 letter below), but if you have a problem getting benefits from the VA, I'd be proud to help you. As a veteran, I am highly motivated to ensure that you are treated fairly and that the laws (which are very favorable to vets who are entitled to benefits) are followed in your case and that you receive respectful consideration of your claims. I can't guarantee a favorable result, but I can guarantee to do my best for you. Another point in your favor: It's a very friendly practice area, and all the attorneys I've met who practice in this field are very willing to help their fellow practitioners, so you can be well-served regardless of where you are.
One of my favorite authors wrote this:
Ugly language: strategic planning
Sam Smith - The phrase "strategic planning" is a pretentious business school substitute for the far more descriptive term "long range planning." Progressives should wipe business school words from their vocabulary and this is a good place to start.
Prompting me to send him this reply:
You know I tend to agree with you far more often than not, but as someone who tries to help nonprofits, I make a particular and, I think, quite meaningful distinction between strategic planning and long-range planning.
As I use the terms, strategic planning is not schedule based at all; rather, it works best when the participants identify their specific critical dependencies -- the things they have to have to operate and to reach their goals -- and then assess the stability/instability facing each of those critical dependencies and the causes for those.
The key task is to identify the most important threats to the most important things that the organization has to have to function (attain its goals). If there is any time element at all, it's usually only when figuring out which of the problems identified need to be addressed first. Strategic planning actively assesses the "out there" -- the larger forces in society, including limits on natural resources, that will affect the organization's ability to attain its goals.
Long-range planning, on the other hand, is just that -- an inwardly focused look at the organization's goals and objectives. Ideally, leaders consciously relate the results of their strategic planning work to their long-range planning, recognizing that, like federal budgets, the further out you go, the more fanciful they are, particularly because of the factors that the strategic planners have identified.
What most organizations do, to the extent that they plan at all, is a watered down form of long-range planning that occurs during sessions called "strategic planning." You can immediately recognize the faux strategic planning by its assumption that the larger world will remain pretty much as it is today (business as usual assumption) for the indefinite future.
I'm a lawyer, not a doctor. But, lawyers are supposed to pay attention to evidence, and not ignore it just because it's new or different. And there's one matter on which the evidence is increasingly clear: we sit way too much for our own good. Nice graphic on this (that I got from here) is below:
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|File Type: || pdf| A tremendously important and even courageous decision by a federal judge in Oregon. The banksters are mobbing in Salem, desperately trying to make past illegal conduct OK. Call your representatives and tell them that you expect that they will stand up for Oregon, not for the big banks throwing people out of their homes after having been bailed out to the tune of billions and billions of dollars. TELL THEM: NO RETROACTIVE APPROVAL FOR THE MERS SCAM! BANKS AND MORTGAGE SERVICERS SHOULD HAVE TO FOLLOW THE LAW TOO!