Law Firms – How to Pick the Best One for You

If you are in need of professional and reliable legal advice, then you need to think about the aspects you would like to define the chosen law firm and where to look for that particular law firm. No matter if you need business consultancy or you have been sued and you need competent legal representation, a professional law firm can help you out.

Aspects That Define a Truly Reputable Law Firm

First and foremost, the employees of the law firm must have extensive knowledge in their field of activity – the more customers they have had in the past, the better! Part of the knowledge is given by “hands-on experience”, this is why lawyers that have represented many people in the past are more preferred than beginners – even so, this is not a general rule.

Moreover, the lawyers should talk to you in clear and plain English, rather than using that legal talk only professionals tend to understand. The lawyer must not forget to offer clear and concise advice and explanations whenever you need them. Also, keep in mind that just like it happens with medicine and other professionals, law has different branches: there is the tax law, civil law, criminal law, divorce law and so on. It is essential to choose the one that best meets your needs.

Certification is also highly important, as you must only work with skilled, certified and competent people who have received accreditation from professional bodies. The accreditation is a very good indicator that will help you see whether the law firm in question is actually the most qualified one for your situation.

The client-lawyer privilege is another important aspect, as this is related to mutual respect and understanding – the lawyer must understand your case, he or she must not be judgmental and the lawyer must offer unbiased, objective and useful legal advice. In order to do so, the lawyer must firstly be qualified for the job.

Where to Look for Good Law Firms?

When it comes to selecting the best firm out of several law firms, it must be mentioned that there is more than just one place where you can go and look for reputable lawyers. There are special legal societies where all the law firms are listed – these institutions can put you in touch with a local firm and you can arrange a consultation, to see whether the firm meets your needs. On the other hand, you can rely on word of mouth – ask your acquaintances for recommendations, and you might be surprised to find an affordable and professional lawyer nearby! On the other hand, the local newspaper or the Internet can also come in handy – especially the local newspaper, as most attorneys and lawyers choose to advertise their services there.

The last step you need to do prior to signing the contract is to talk to the desired law firms face to face, to see if you are on the same wavelength. Make sure to ask essential questions, such as the hourly rate, the track of record, the availability and such. In some cases, it can help to set a fixed spending limit that will allow you to stay within the limits of your budget. Last, but not least, make sure to ask your attorney about his expertise and the services he specializes in.

How to Tell If You Need the Services of a Law Firm

No matter if you own a business or you are just a regular individual who needs legal help, there comes a time in our lives when we need the services of a good, professional law firm. Here you will find some aspects that can help you figure out whether you need the services of such a firm, and why you should get in touch with one to help you with your legal matters:

Urgent Legal Representation

Do you need to be represented in court on a very short notice, and you need the services of a professional, experienced lawyer or attorney who can help you win your case? If this is your situation, then perhaps you need to get in touch with a local law firm that will make things go smoothly and minimize stress and effort from your part. If you need fast and efficient legal representation, then you must not wait – contact several different law firms right away and decide on the one that best meets your needs.

You Fight for a Cause

Do you want to fight for a cause and you believe the only way to win the case is by going to court? Are you in need of an attorney that knows the law very well and can apply it in your best interest? If so, then you need the services of a law firm that specializes in the branch of law where you need help: it can be civil law, criminal law, income tax law, labor law and so on. Decide on the branch and then seek professional help.

Do You Need More Than One Lawyer?

It is not uncommon for clients to require two or even more lawyers, if the case is a complex one and it requires more than just one mind. After all, the more the better – two or more lawyers can complete each other, thus improving the chances of success. In order to do so, you will have to get in touch with a local firm that will provide you the attorneys you need for your case. If one is not available, you can get in touch with another one quickly and efficiently. This is only one of the numerous benefits of choosing a law firm to represent you in court.

Do You Need Somebody You Can Trust?

When talking about respected law firms and reputable lawyers, “Trust” is certainly the keyword here. Clients who go through a rough time and have a lot on their mind often need a person they can trust, a person who is not only their lawyer but also their friend, one that can keep a secret and can fight for a cause until the end.

If you find yourself in one or more of the situations mentioned above, then you should certainly contact a law firm and ask for their professional services. A reputable law firm always respects its clients and does its best to help them win their case, while minimizing the expenses and the stress. Communication is the key to success, so make sure you maintain a good relationship with your attorney!

Solo Professionals – Marketing Service in Your Law Firm

What is important in a law firm, what is it that is most important to clients? If you ask a good many lawyers, which I have, they often claim it is their flawless attention to detail and law advice. Their excellently prepared legal work, but is this really what a client thinks? After all, it is the client paying the bills, which can get a little excessive at times some law firm customers have said.

The legal documents, agreements, and contracts you produce in your law practice are your products and yes, they need to be tight, without “boiler plate” transition mistakes, and the exact amount of white space. Granted, we all know this. But that is not what your clients remember, and that is certainly not where your best referrals will come from, no, your referrals will come from great service.

How will your potential clients know that you give great service if no one tells them. Believe it or not legal services clients expect tight documents and quality legal work, they assume (perhaps falsely) that your firm and every other firm is the same in that regard, and it is the minimum that they expect.

If a solo-practitioner or solo-professional law firm really wants to grow their business and get the very best clients they must be thinking in the minds of their clients, and future clients and to them it’s all about service; service counts. So, a word to the wise, market service, not quality of work, as the quality is “expected” while the service is what they are truly looking for, so think on that.

How to Make Your Law Student Resume Stand Out

The bad news for this spring’s law student graduates is that they’re entering the toughest labor market in at least 25 years. Take Jane Doe for example. She graduated cum laude last year from Emory University School of Law. She clerked with a Federal judge, was on Law Review, and had a brief stint as student lawyer with a non-profit organization. After completing her clerkship, Jane hoped to get a litigation position with a small firm. However, after sending hundreds of resumes, she’s still looking for full-time employment.

When searching for a legal job as a law student or recent law graduate, having a good resume is very important. Legal employers are flooded with resumes; so being able to make your own law student resume stand out and command attention is key. Every law student resume should pass what I call the “30 second test.” Can an employer determine from the resume what kind of skills and experience you offer in 30 seconds or less? If the answer is no, then you need to revisit your resume. Whether you are a law student or just graduated from law school, here are some important tips and ideas on how to make your legal resume standout:

Highlight Your Experience

The most important information should be available at the very top of your resume. You need to provide a 30-second pitch about who you are and what you do. This may take the form of a profile, an area of expertise section, or simply highlighting your experience at the very top. When scanning the resume in 30 seconds or less, a potential employer should know the law school you graduated from, when, and what kind of experience you have (i.e. litigation, contracts etc.).

This is usually the catch-22 of most law student resumes; you need to have had prior experience in order to land a job and acquire more experience. Most law students tend to have little to show in term of professional legal experience. However, most also tend to undersell their accomplishments. When gathering your experience, everything and anything you have done outside of the classroom can be translated into practical work-related experience, if you know how.

You have to focus on skills that are either directly applicable to a legal position, such as writing, research, and analysis; or skills that can be applicable in a legal context, such as managing, creating, and organizing. The key is to make the link between what you have done, and how those skills can translate into a legal context. Also, when listing prior work experience, be sure to focus on your accomplishments rather than a basic statement of your responsibilities. This will be a more effective way of catching the attention of potential employers.

Flaunt Your Academic Accomplishments

As a law student or recent graduate, your law school record is what will set you apart from other applicants. Therefore if you graduated from law school less than five years ago, your law school should be at the very top of your resume. This is where, if you have a strong academic record, you should flaunt it. While most law firms require a copy of your transcript at the application stage, most other legal employers do not require a transcript until they are ready to conduct their due diligence. Therefore, if you are a law student or recent graduate, be sure to list your law school G.P.A. directly on the resume. If your grades are good, show them off, as they can make a difference.

If your grades are not something you care to show off, offset a less than stellar academic record with activities. You have to show that if grades are not where you excelled, you were nevertheless committed to developing skills in other areas, such as oral advocacy (moot court or mock trial competition), writing (journals), or client representation (clinics or non-profit organizations). The key is to demonstrate a commitment to another area of your legal education, and how it benefitted your legal career.

Do Not Treat It Like a Biography

Your law student resume is not a biography. While you may not have ten years worth of professional experience to highlight, you should also be mindful of the type of information you include on the resume. A basic question you should be asking when deciding what to add to your resume is: “How is this relevant to my current job search?” If you cannot find a link between a work experience and your legal practice, you should consider omitting it from your law student resume. Some examples include experience that pre-dates law school, such as babysitting, modeling, or lifeguarding.

On the other side of the spectrum, there are students who’ve had lots of short-term professional jobs and want to include them all on the resume. After all, isn’t experience what legal employers are looking for? While that may be true, sometimes the old adage of “less is more,” is applicable to law student resumes as well. If you’ve held several short-term positions, you would be better served by only referring to those that best highlight your skills and experience.

Finally, you have to remember the purpose of a resume. This is a document that an employer is reviewing to select you for an interview. A potential employer is using this document to evaluate your skills and experience – not your personality. That’s something that the interview is used for. Therefore, because the modern resume is a marketing tool, it’s best to keep personal interests, hobbies, and other non-essential materials for the interview process as a way to “break the ice.” If you are keen on listing organizations, affiliations, volunteer work, or extracurricular activities on your law student resume, only list those that are relevant to your practice as a legal professional, or that are directly related to your targeted job. Again, if it’s not related to your practice or the position, do not include it.

Create a Polished and Professional Format

While the content of your law student resume is the most important, it only accounts for fifty percent of the resume. The other fifty percent is all about the appearance of your resume. When you consider that the average recruiter spends 6 minutes reading a resume, you can understand how important the appearance of the resume can be when making a selection.

If you are designing your own law student resume, you need to follow a few rules to make sure that its format will not leave anything to be desired. First, use a font size that is readable – with a few exceptions, fonts that are less than 11 points are simply too small. If a resume reader is straining to read your resume, your 6-minute review may quickly turn into 3 minutes or less. Also, choose fonts that are easy to read, such as Times New Roman, Arial, Verdana, Palatino, or other book print fonts. If you are using different styles (underline, bold, italics, CAPS, etc.) to call attention to different sections of your law student resume, use these highlights sparingly. It’s best to limit yourself to one or two styles for any one area of text; otherwise the highlighting effect will be lost.

Finally, unless you have a great deal of experience, as a law student or recent graduate, you should strive to keep your resume to one-page. While employers do not live by the one-page resume rule alone, the length of your resume should be reflective of your level of experience. Therefore, if you made the appropriate selection and formatting choices, should have enough space to include everything on one page. Last but not least, make sure to proofread it thoroughly so that there are no grammatical, punctuation, or style errors that may be distracting or cause problems.

Panama Papers And Professional Secrecy

The Panama Papers, demonstrate how a law firm assisted its clients to avoid tax, dodge sanctions and launder money. The particular law firm has never been charged with criminal wrong-doing. Specifically, the company provides company incorporation services, tax law and planning consultancy, and other related services. In the official statement, the law firm articulates that the company is “legally and practically limited to control the use of companies they incorporate or to which they provide other services”. In other words, the law firm clarifies that is not directly involved in managing the companies of its clients.

Following the official statement of the company, among the main policies and legal obligation of the company is to protect client confidentiality. That is to say, the company is obliged to protect client’s data within the legal framework of professional secrecy. Therefore, the leak of Panama Papers has the following two dimensions. On the one point of view, there is the issue of transparency concerning how rich and powerful people hide their wealth, and money laundering practices. On the other point of view, it emerges the issue of professional secrecy which is linked to the right to confidential legal advice.

Professional secrecy is a fundamental right that lawyers and law firms must preserve. Regarding, the lawyer-client relationship, professional secrecy consists a privilege which guarantees that any information a client provides to his/her lawyer is kept confidential. It should be stressed that it applies to both verbal and written communication between client and lawyer. Furthermore, professional secrecy establishes trust between client and lawyer since the client feels comfortable to entrust his/her lawyer with any information. In addition, it is protected by the Court and any State or public authority.

In Cyprus, the Advocates’ Law (Cap.2) underlines the importance of professional secrecy by stressing that “Advocates must, without any time limitation, respect the secrecy of all confidential information or evidence which has come to their knowledge in the course of their professional activity”. However, if a lawyer is a witness to a case, he/she must not appear also as an advocate. Specifically, as a witness, he/she must appear before the Court with an entirely independent opinion and has the right to refuse to answer questions that may lead him/her to a violation of secrecy.

Currently, there is an ongoing debate between transparency and data protection. On the one hand, the argument of transparency justifies that the actions of rich and powerful people need to be monitored. On the contrary, there is the issue of private data protection and confidentiality. It should be pointed out, that private data protection and confidentiality influence to a great extend other important aspects of public and private life, such as professional secrecy.

In conclusion, law firms and lawyers are legally obliged to execute their professional duties following the principles of professional secrecy. That is to say, they are not allowed to disclosed any information entrusted to them by their clients.

Estate Planning Elder Law Guide

Estate Planning: Planning for death to get the assets to whom you want, when you want, the way you want, with the least amount of taxes and legal fees possible.

Elder Law: Planning for disability to get the persons you want to handle your affairs and to protect your assets from being depleted for long-term care.

Introduction to Estate Planning and Elder Law
Practicing estate planning and elder law is one of the most enjoyable and professionally rewarding careers an attorney may choose. Imagine a practice area where your clients respect your knowledge and treat you with kindness and courtesy. They pay your fees in a timely fashion and tell their friends how much they have enjoyed working with you and your firm. At the same time, you are rarely facing the pressure of a deadline, much less an adversarial attorney on the other side of a matter trying to best you. In most instances, you are acting in the capacity of a counselor at law (trusted advisor) rather than an attorney at law (professional representative).

We spend our days meeting with clients, discussing their lives and their families and addressing their fears and concerns. Through our knowledge, training, experience and imagination, we craft solutions, occasionally elegant ones, to the age old problem of passing assets from one generation to another as quickly and painlessly as possible. At the same time, we also seek to protect those assets from being depleted by taxes, legal fees and nursing home costs to the extent the law allows.

The end result of this process is a client who feels safe and secure in the knowledge that, in the event of death or disability, they have all their bases covered. Having achieved peace of mind that their future is well planned and in good hands, they can get on with the business of enjoying their lives. For the attorney, a happy and satisfied client has been added to the practice and another potentially lifelong and mutually rewarding relationship has begun. Let’s look at the strategies and techniques we use to achieve this enviable state of affairs.

Major Issues Facing Senior Clients Today
One of the ways that we help clients is in setting up a comprehensive plan so they may avoid court proceedings upon death or in the event of disability. Trusts are used in place of wills for older persons since they do not require court proceedings to settle the estate. Trusts also avoid the foreign probate proceeding required for property owned in another state, known as ancillary probate. This saves the family time in settling the estate as well as the high costs of legal proceedings. In addition, since revocable living trusts, unlike wills, take effect during the grantor’s lifetime, the client may stipulate which persons take over in the event of their disability. Planning ahead helps maintain control in the family or with trusted advisors and avoids a situation that may not be in the client’s best interest. For example, in the event of a disability where no plan has been put in place, an application to the court may be required in order to have a legal guardian appointed for the disabled person. This may not be the person the client would have chosen. In such a case, assets may not be transferred to protect them from being spent down for nursing home costs without court permission, which may or may not be granted.

Another area in which we assist the client is in saving estate taxes, both state and federal, for married couples by using the two-trust technique. Assets are divided as evenly as practicable between each of the spouse’s trusts. While the surviving spouse has the use and enjoyment of the deceased spouse’s trust, the assets of that trust bypass the estate of the surviving spouse and go directly to the named beneficiaries when the second spouse dies. Tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars, or more, in potential estate taxes may be saved, depending on the size of the estate. Furthermore, the revocable living trust avoids the two probates that would occur were the clients to use wills, as the couple’s estate must be settled after the death of each spouse in order to save estate taxes. We also help to protect assets from being depleted due to nursing home costs. Irrevocable Medicaid trusts may be established, subject to a five-year look-back period, to protect the client’s home and other assets from having to be spent down due to the high cost of nursing home care. We use Medicaid asset and transfer rules to protect assets in the event a client requires nursing home care but has done no pre-planning. Through the use of Medicaid qualifying annuities, promissory notes, and housing and care agreements, significant assets may be protected despite the five-year look-back, even when the client may be on the nursing home doorstep.

Five Steps to Estate Planning for Seniors

1. Understanding the Family Dynamics
The first step in an elder law trusts and estates matter is to gain an understanding of the client’s family dynamics. If there are children, which is usually the case, we need to determine whether or not they are married. Is it a first or second marriage? Do they have any children from a previous marriage or do their spouses? What kind of work do they do, and where do they live? Do they get along with each other and with the parent clients? We are looking to determine which family members do not get along with which others and what the reasons may be. This goes a long way toward helping us decide who should make medical decisions and who should handle legal and financial affairs. Should it be one of them or more than one? How should the estate be divided? Is the client himself in a second marriage? Which children, if any, are his, hers, or theirs? Sometimes all three instances may occur in the same couple. Here, further exploration of the family functioning will be needed as the potential for hurt feelings, conflicts of interest, and misunderstandings multiplies. In addition, great care must be taken to develop a plan for management, control, and distribution of the estate that will not only be fair to the children from a previous marriage but will be seen to be fair as well. At times, the assistance of the professional advisor in acting as trustee may be invaluable in helping to keep the peace between family members. Finally, this step will also flesh out whether there are any dependents with special needs and which family members and assets might be best suited to provide for such children.

2. Reviewing Existing Estate Planning Documents
The second step in an elder law trusts and estates matter is to review any prior estate planning documents the client may have, such as a will, trust, power of attorney, health care proxy and living will, to determine whether they are legally sufficient and reflect the client’s current wishes or whether they are outdated. Some basic elder law estate planning questions are also addressed at this time such as:

a. Is the client a US citizen? This will impinge on the client’s ability to save estate taxes.

b. Is the client expecting to receive an inheritance? This knowledge helps in preparing a plan that will address not only the assets that the client has now but what they may have in the future.

c. Does the client have long-term care insurance? If so, the elder law attorney will want to review the policy and determine whether it provides an adequate benefit considering the client’s other assets and income, whether it takes inflation into account, and whether it is upgradable. This will allow the practitioner to decide whether other asset protection strategies may be needed now or later.

d. Does the client need financial planning? Many clients that come into the elder law attorney’s office have never had professional financial advice or are dissatisfied with their current advisors. They may need help understanding the assets they have or with organizing and consolidating them for ease of administration. They may also be concerned with not having enough income to last for the rest of their lives. The elder law attorney will typically know a number of capable financial planners who are experienced with the needs and wishes of the senior client, including (1) secure investments with protection of principal, and (2) assets that tend to maximize income.

3. Reviewing the Client’s Assets
The third step is to obtain a complete list of the client’s assets, including how they are titled, their value, whether they are qualified investments, such as IRA’s and 401(k)’s and, if they have beneficiary designations, who those beneficiaries are. Armed with this information, the advisor is in a position to determine whether the estate will be subject to estate taxes, both state and federal, and may begin to formulate a strategy to reduce or eliminate those taxes to the extent the law allows. This will often lead to shifting assets between spouses and their trusts, changing beneficiary designations, and, with discretion, trying to determine which spouse might pass away first so as to effect the greatest possible tax savings. Ideally, the attorney should have the client fill out a confidential financial questionnaire prior to the initial consultation.

4. Developing the Estate Plan
The fourth step is to determine, with input from the client, who should make medical decisions for the client if they are unable to and who should be appointed to handle legal and financial affairs through the power of attorney in the event of the client’s incapacity. Next, we will consider what type of trust, if any, should be used, whether a simple will would suffice, who should be the trustees (for a trust) or executors (for a will), and what the plan of distribution should be. In order to avoid a conflict, the trustees who are chosen in lieu of the grantor should be the same persons named on the power of attorney. At this point, great care should also be taken to ensure that the feelings of the heirs will not be hurt. Good estate planning looks at the client’s estate from the heirs’ point of view as well as the client’s. For example, if there are three children, it may be preferable that one be named as trustee or executor, as three are usually too cumbersome and if the client chooses only two, then they are leaving one out. If there are four or five children, we prefer to see two trustees or executors chosen. This way, the pressure will be reduced on just the one having to answer to all the others. More importantly, the others will feel far more secure that two siblings are jointly looking after their interests.

If the distribution is to be unequal, it may need to be discussed with the affected children ahead of time to forestall any ill will or even litigation after the parents have died. By considering the relative ages of the children, where they live, and their relationships amongst each other and with their parents, the advisor will generally find a way to craft a plan that accommodates the needs and desires of all parties concerned. Some of the techniques we find useful in this context are to offer a delayed distribution, such as twenty percent upon the death of the grantor, one-half of the remaining balance after five years, and the remainder after ten years. These same percentages may also be used at stated ages, such as thirty, thirty-five, and forty. Also, when leaving percentages of the estate, unless it is simply to the children in equal shares, it is often useful to determine the monetary value of those percentages in the client’s current estate. This will allow the client to see whether the amount is truly what they wish to bequeath. Percentage bequests to charities should be avoided so that the family may avoid having to account to the charity for the expenses of administering the estate.

In terms of the type of trust, we are generally looking at several options for most clients. It is important to determine whether there should be one trust or two. In order to avoid or reduce estate taxes, there should be two trusts for spouses whose estates exceed or may at a later date exceed the state and/or federal estate tax threshold. Should the trust be revocable or irrevocable? The latter is important for protecting assets from nursing home expenses subject to the five-year look-back period. Primary features of the irrevocable Medicaid trust are that neither the grantor nor the grantor’s spouse may be the trustee and that these trusts are income-only trusts. Most people choose one or more of their adult children to act as trustees of the irrevocable trust. Since principal is not available to the grantor, the client will not want to put all of their assets into such a trust. Assets that should be left out are IRA’s, 401(k)’s, 403(b)’s, etc. The principal of these qualified assets are generally exempt from Medicaid and should not be placed into a trust, as this would create a taxable event requiring income taxes to be paid on all of the IRA. If the institutionalized client has a community spouse, up to about one hundred thousand dollars may also be exempted. Notwithstanding that the home is exempt if the community spouse is living there, it is generally a good idea to protect the home sooner rather than to wait until the first spouse has passed, due to the five-year look-back period. It should be noted that the look-back means that from the time assets are transferred to the irrevocable trust, it takes five years before they are exempt, or protected from being required to be spent down on the ill person’s care before they qualify for Medicaid benefits. What if the client does not make the five years? Imagine that the client must go into the nursing home four years after the trust has been established. In such a case, by privately paying the nursing facility for the one year remaining, the family will be eligible for Medicaid after just the remaining year of the five-year penalty period has expired.

Although the Medicaid trust is termed irrevocable, the home may still be sold or other trust assets traded. The trust itself, through the actions of the trustees, may sell the house and purchase a condominium in the name of the trust so that the asset is still protected. The trust may sell one stock and buy another. For those clients who may wish to continue trading on their own, the adult child trustee may sign a third party authorization with the brokerage firm authorizing the parent to continue trading on the account. The trust continues to pay all income (i.e., interest and dividends) to the parent grantor. As such, the irrevocable trust payments should not affect the client’s lifestyle when added to any pensions, social security, and IRA distributions the client continues receiving from outside the trust. It should also be noted that while no separate tax return is needed for a revocable trust, the irrevocable trust requires an “informational return” which advises the IRS that the income is “passing through” to the grantors and will be reported on their individual returns.

If there is a disabled child, consideration will be given to creating a supplemental needs trust, which will pay over and above what the child may be receiving in government benefits, especially social security income and Medicaid, so that the inheritance will not disqualify them from those benefits.

Finally, with the size of estates having grown today to where middle class families are leaving substantial bequests to their children (depending, of course, on how many children they have), the trend is toward establishing trusts for the children to keep the inheritance in the bloodline. Variously termed inheritance trusts, heritage trusts, or dynasty trusts, these trusts may contain additional features, such as protecting the inheritance from a child’s divorce, lawsuits, creditors, and estate taxes when they die. The primary feature of all of these trusts for the heirs, however, is to provide that when the child dies, in most cases many years after the parent, the hard-earned assets of the family will not pass to a son-in-law or daughter-in-law who may get remarried, but rather to the grantor’s grandchildren. On the other hand, if the client wishes to favor the son-in-law or daughter-in-law, they may choose to provide that the trust, or a portion of it, continue as an “income only” trust for their adult child’s surviving spouse for their lifetime, and only thereafter to the Grantor’s grandchildren.

5. Applying for Medicaid Benefits
In the event the client requires home care or institutionalized care in a nursing home facility, an application for Medicaid benefits may be required. Due to complex asset and transfer rules, the application should be made with the aid of an experienced elder law attorney. Again, it is useful in this context for a confidential survey of the client’s assets, as well as any transfers of assets, to be filled out prior to the initial consultation. This form of financial survey will be significantly different from the one used for estate planning purposes. As a combined federal and state program, Medicaid asset and transfer rules vary significantly from state to state. A few techniques, nevertheless, will be widely applicable. First, in the event an adult child takes the parent into their home in order to care for them in their later years, a housing and care agreement should be executed so that assets may be legitimately moved from the parent to the child prior to any nursing home care. The adult child will be required to report any payments received under the agreement as earned income on their tax returns. Also, since the family home is usually the most significant asset, consideration will need to be given as to whether the home should be deeded to the client’s adult children while retaining a life estate in the parent or whether the irrevocable Medicaid trust should be used to protect the asset.

While the deed with a life estate will be less costly to the client, in most cases it offers significant disadvantages when compare to the trust. First, if the home is sold prior to the death of the Medicaid recipient, the life estate value of the home will be required to be paid towards their care. If the house is rented, the rents are payable to the nursing facility since they belong to the life tenant. Finally, the client loses a significant portion of their capital gains tax exclusion for the sale of their primary residence as they will only be entitled to a pro rata share based on the value of the life estate to the home as a whole. All of the foregoing may lead to a situation where the family finds they must maintain a vacant home for many years. Conversely, a properly drafted irrevocable Medicaid trust preserves the full capital gains tax exclusion on the primary residence and the home may be sold by the trust without obligation to make payment of any of the principal towards the client’s care, assuming we have passed the look back period. It should be noted here that both the life estate and the irrevocable Medicaid trust will preserve the stepped-up basis in the property provided it is only sold after the death of the parent who was the owner or grantor. Upon the death of the parent, the basis for calculating the capital gains tax is stepped up from what the parent paid, plus any improvements, to what it was worth on the parent’s date of death. This effectively eliminates payment of capital gains taxes on the sale of appreciated property, such as the home, after the parent dies. Both the revocable and irrevocable trusts also preserve any tax exemptions that the client may have on their home, such as senior and veteran’s exemptions.

Finally, even with a client already in a nursing home, significant assets may be saved through advanced techniques that are beyond the scope of this guide. Please consult your elder law attorney for further information if you or a family member is in this situation.

Major Mistakes in Estate Planning and Elder Law

1. Failure to address all of the issues.
A comprehensive review of the client’s situation should address planning for disability as well as for death, including minimizing or avoiding estate taxes and legal fees and proceedings. A plan should be in place to protect assets from nursing home costs. Like a chess player, counsel should look ahead two or three moves in order to determine what may happen in the future. For example, attorneys will too often place a majority of the assets in the wife’s name or in her trust in light of the husband having significant IRA assets in his account. However, since the husband is often older and has a shorter life expectancy, this may result in the IRA assets rolling over to the wife, all of the couple’s assets ending up in the wife’s estate, and no estate tax savings effected. Another example would be where the client’s children are in a second marriage but have children (the client’s grandchildren) from a previous marriage. Unless planning is done with inheritance trusts for the client’s children, a situation may occur one day where the client’s child predeceases their second spouse, all assets pass to the second spouse, and the client’s grandchildren, from a son or daughter’s prior marriage, are denied any benefit from the grantor’s estate.

2. Failure to Regularly Review the Estate Plan
At a minimum, each client’s estate plan should be reviewed every three years to determine whether changes in the client’s personal life, such as their health, assets, or family history (births, deaths, marriages, divorces, etc.) impact the plan. It is unrealistic to expect a plan established today to be effective ten, twenty, thirty, or more years in the future. Over time, clients will want to change their back-up trustees or plan of distribution. They may wish to add inheritance trusts for their children. They might, after a number of years, wish to change from a revocable trust to an irrevocable trust because they were unable or unwilling to obtain long-term care insurance. The attorney will benefit from the additional legal work needed, and the client will benefit from having a plan better suited to their current needs at any given time.

Despite the knowledge, earnestness and even charm of some of the finest practitioners in the land, clients occasionally do not act on the advice given. As experienced attorneys, we know not to take it personally when clients choose to ignore our advice or perhaps choose other counsel. We know that people don’t always do what they need to. They do what they want to and, even then, only when they want to. Recently, a ninety-three year old client told us that she “wanted to think about it” so far as planning her affairs. Experience tells us that this client is not ready to plan at the present time, despite her advanced years, and we respect that choice. On the other hand, we recently had a client come in to see us eleven years after their initial consultation stating that they were now ready to proceed. We prepared their estate plan.

Perhaps the best approach to the estate planning and elder law practice is to follow the four SW’s. Some will, some won’t, so what, someone’s waiting. We move forward, help those who will allow themselves to be helped by us and keep turning towards those to whom our firm’s services are appreciated, admired, and sometimes even considered heroic.

Principal attorney Michael Ettinger has been a member of the New York State Bar Association since 1980. He is a law graduate of McGill University in Montreal, Canada and obtained his Master of Laws from the London School of Economics in 1978. Ettinger Law Firm, dedicated exclusively to estate planning and elder law, was formed in 1991. Mr. Ettinger is a founding member of both the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys and the American Association of Trust, Estate and Elder Law Attorneys.

Ettinger Law Firm has prepared thousands of estate plans using trusts and Medicaid applications. Their staff of attorneys and experienced Medicaid professionals provide over fifty years of combined experience in estate planning and elder law.

Ettinger Law Firm offices are located throughout New York State in Albany, Fishkill, Nyack, White Plains and Staten Island.

Connecticut Employment Law

Connecticut employment law, like most states have laws against discrimination. In the state of Connecticut the law protects the following individuals from discrimination:

Anyone 40 or over
Ancestry or National Origin
Disability, including Physical, Mental or Learning
Marital Status
Pregnancy, Childbirth, and related Medical Conditions
Race of Color
Religion or Creed
Sexual Orientation
Genetic Testing Information
Mental Retardation

As you can see there are a number of categories listed above that everyone at some point in their life will fall into. This makes it very difficult for employers if they do not insure that they are treating everyone fairly and equally.

However, generally they will find themselves in trouble when they make…

For the most part an employer will comply with the Connecticut employment law without any problems. However, generally they will find themselves in trouble when they make uncalled for statements, such as, we need some new blood around! Or maybe saying something like, those types of people…! You generally won’t hear anything from anyone until your deny them an opportunity later.

One way to make sure that you make your position on discrimination clear in your workplace is to include an Equal Employment Opportunity statement in your employee handbook. Your employee handbook can inform your employees that you will not tolerate discrimination within the workplace, and well as what they can do if they fill they have been discriminated against. Most employee handbook templates software will have well written example policies that you can modify to fit your business.

On the other hand, if the employee quits…

Other Connecticut employment law guidelines include everything from when an employee receives their final paycheck if they are terminated or quit, to smoking within the workplace and everything in between. As an example Connecticut employment law demands that you must pay a terminated employee no later than the very next business day. On the other hand, if the employee quits, you can wait to issue their final paycheck on the next payday scheduled. Vacation is one of those issues that we will not address in this article; however, it should be included in your employee handbook.

If your business requires drug testing as a condition of employment Connecticut employment law requires that you inform any potential employee in writing. Any drug and alcohol testing can get very complicated and you should consult a legal employment professional before taking any specific position on it within your business. If you do decided to go forward with a drug and alcohol program policy make sure you include it in your employee handbook. As a minimum you may want to consider using language that makes it against company policy to be intoxicated in any way when on duty, or in an on call status.

Please understand that on any employment law issue it is important that you should always consult with an employment attorney or legal professional. Laws continually change whether through the legislature of court rulings. Because they can change quickly you must protect yourself by finding out the most current laws.

Police Self Defense Training – What’s the Best Martial Art For Law Enforcement Officers (LEO)?

It would seem that police officers wouldn’t need to look for martial arts training, considering the fact that they have their own police tactics programs. And yet, many LEO know that what they are learning as police tactics is only a part of the training they need.

For many different reasons, law enforcement officer defensive tactics training is falling short in meeting the needs of today’s front line officers, causing many to seek out martial arts training programs. The question then becomes…

“Which martial art is best for LEO’s?

The truth is that, while all martial arts have their strong and weak points, a huge part of this equation is actually centered on the instructor teaching the particular system. And, while many systems themselves do not lend themselves well to training for police officers – especially street cops – almost every style has something to offer.

I’ll talk about the “instructor-factor” in another article. For now, I want to focus on what a particular style must be able to offer the competent and prepared LEO, if he or she is to be ready and able to deal with today’s suspects, perpetrators, and even the injured victim who lashes out from a state of panic or confusion.

There are 2 primary considerations that LEOs must take into account when considering any type of training. Again, this article does not address the “instructor-factor,” which would add a 3rd consideration.

These two primary considerations, where the “style” of martial art is concerned, include:

1) Liability and adherence to use-of-force doctrine, and…

2) Strategic and tactical control of as many types of situations and attack scenarios as possible

The first consideration – use of force and legal liability cannot be overlooked by today’s professional police officer. Because, even in the face of spitting and physically violent rioters, the LEO and his or her actions must stand the most intense scrutiny – both from within, as-well-as outside the department they work for.

In this light, a police officer must be very careful so as to not delude themselves into believing that he she might be able to get away with the brutality and techniques used in the MMA sport arena, or those suggested and favored by many of the “harder” forms of martial arts.

However, that being said; the police officer who is serious about the safety of themselves, their partners, and the people they are trying to protect, cannot afford to lean toward the systems which are too passive, take too long to “master,” or those which leave gaps in the training and fail to deal with necessary and commonplace scenarios that are dealt with on a regular basis.

It is this “completeness” that puts the martial art of Ninjutsu ahead of the pack. And, while many people, including those training in the art today, believe that Ninjutsu – the armed and unarmed self-protection system of Japan’s ancient Ninja families – is anything like what is portrayed in the movies, the art is actually a very comprehensive system that can be adapted to any group needing specific skills, or operating in a specific field.

Again, this does not suggest that any other system could not be used to assist an officer in attaining certain skills for the street. But, if LEO’s are looking for skills, techniques, strategies, and tactics for…

1) Using psychological control techniques for de-escalating a situation and preventing it from “going physical”

2) Control, restraint, and the subduing of violent individuals quickly and effortlessly

3) Use of and defense against the perpetrator armed with a firearm

4) Defenses against clubbing attacks, as-well-as increased proficiency with a police baton

5) Teamwork skills and controlling and apprehending a dangerous person

6) Defending against a grabbing, wrestling, or tackling-type attack

7) Using pressure points to control the aggressive person

8) Unarmed defense against an assailant armed with a knife or other weapon

9) Multiple attacker defenses for situations where backup has yet to arrive

10) and others…

All while maintaining a professional bearing and presence…

Then Ninjutsu is the best choice because it has all of this to offer the professional law enforcement officer in the 21st century.

If you’re a serious LEO looking to add martial arts training to your standard police defensive tactics, then you should seriously consider Ninjutsu as the best choice for today’s law enforcement officers.

Law Enforcement Articles – Making Airtight Cases

As professional law enforcement officers, we have the ability to vastly improve the quality of cases we present to a judge or jury.

Simple things we can do at the scene make vast differences to the prosecutor, judge and jury in any criminal case.

Let’s look at some simple things we can do to improve our cases.

Technology, Admissions and Professionalism – most officers only begrudgingly use technology and very seldom do they use it to their advantage. Examples:

o We have audio and video recorders which many of us are “forced” to use.

o It’s easy to understand why officers resent those intrusions on our life.

o Recorders are, in a sense, a slap-in-the-face to our credibility.

o As a consequence, many officers have such a dislike for tape recorders that they just turn the recorder on and proceed to make a citizen contact as if the recorder wasn’t even present.

Officers also have a bad habit of not seeking admissions/confessions when we see the crime ourselves.

We rationalize it by saying we don’t need a confession, because after all, we say the crime being committed.

What we don’t realize is that jurors always prefer to hear that a suspect confessed to a crime.

It’s human nature to want to hear someone admit their wrongdoing before finding them guilty.

We also have a bad habit of uttering less then complimentary terms to crooks once we’ve placed them under arrest.

Let’s look at two hypothetical (although typical) scenarios using an audio tape recorder and let’s further make believe that we are jurors reviewing the tapes at trial.

Officer Grizzly is a 25 year veteran who deeply resents having to use a tape recorder.

o He fondly recalls when his word was taken at face value in court over that of a suspect.

o Counting the days toward retirement, he feels that the department’s mandatory taping policy is further evidence that the country is going to hell, so he grudgingly obeys department policy and uses his tape recorder, but doesn’t like it.

As Officer Grizzly stops a violator for speeding, he turns his recorder on and makes his approach (we jurors can hear his footsteps on the tape).

o When he walks up to the vehicle, he observes that the driver appears very nervous, dropping his wallet out of the window of the vehicle, where it falls to the ground.

Silently, Officer Grizzly picks up the wallet and hands it back to the violator, asking for his license, registration and proof of insurance (we hear only this).

o As Officer Grizzly looks in the interior of the vehicle, he sees what he believes is the corner of a kilo of cocaine peeking out from under the front seat (we don’t hear anything about this silent observation).

o He orders the suspect out of the vehicle and arrests him.

Officer Grizzly doesn’t talk to the suspect about the speeding violation, because he saw the offense occur.

o He doesn’t talk to the suspect at all about the drug violation, because he saw the drugs himself in plain view and doesn’t need to get a confession.

Officer Grizzly calls the suspect a “no-good, drug dealing scumbag” at some point during the arrest process (it is an unwritten rule that even if everything else is garbled, we will hear this comment clearly on tape).

At trial, the defense attorney moves for the exclusion of the drugs, stating that Officer Grizzly stopped a violator who acted normally, then ordered him out of the vehicle and placed him under arrest.

o The defense attorney alleges that the officer searched the vehicle illegally after the arrest and once he found drugs, charged his client.

o Further, the attorney alleges that the officer was prejudiced against his client, as evidenced by his derogatory comments during the arrest process.

The tape recording doesn’t help to clarify the situation because Officer Grizzly didn’t verbalize what he was seeing.

Officer Newby is a rookie officer.

o He never worked in law enforcement without a tape recorder, so he accepts this as a useful tool and doesn’t resent it the way Officer Grizzly does.

o Officer Newby has taken the time to learn to use the technology effectively.

As Officer Newby stops the violator for speeding, he activates his tape recorder before he actually exits his vehicle.

o On the tape, Officer Newby records the violator’s license plate number, description of the vehicle and anything he observes which he feels is suspicious ( we like this in the jury room, as it places us mentally at the scene of the traffic stop).

As Officer Newby approaches the car, the driver acts very nervous and drops his wallet outside of the vehicle.

o Officer Newby comments on his tape that he has seen this and then asks the driver why he dropped the wallet outside the vehicle.

o When the driver replies that he dropped it because he was nervous, Officer Newby has just received corroboration for the jury of his observations (many jurors take notes when they hear this).

Officer Newby clearly asks the driver to explain the reason he was speeding; was it done on purpose or was it just a moment’s inattention?

o The driver clearly replies (on tape) that he wouldn’t speed on purpose, he just wasn’t paying attention.

o This instantly corroborates the officer’s initial observations of the illegal activity which prompted him to stop the vehicle, thereby taking this avenue of defense away from the defendant in court (more note taking from jurors).

When Officer Newby observes what he thinks is drug packaging sticking out from under the seat of the vehicle, he asks the driver to step out of the car.

o Once the driver is away from the evidence, Officer Newby shares his observations with the driver, secures him, reads him his rights and asks him to explain the presence of drugs in the vehicle.

When the driver hesitates, Officer Newby (on tape) offers the driver some rationalizations for the drugs being there, such as: “Is that cocaine just for your personal use or were you planning on selling it?”

The driver denies planning to sell the drugs and says that the cocaine belongs to his brother, not him.

o This establishes the legal elements of the crime of possession of drugs, as he admits knowing the drugs were in the vehicle (many jurors quit taking notes at this point).

Officer Newby asks the driver if there are other drugs and/or weapons in the vehicle (all of this is on tape).

Throughout the encounter, Officer Newby remains professional in his demeanor toward the suspect.

As Officer Newby’s tape is being played in court, the defense attorney listens with the jury and realizes that he can’t attack the officer’s initial observations of criminal activity (speeding), the officer’s observations of suspicious/nervous activity on the part of the suspect (dropping the wallet), the officer’s observations of the drugs sticking out from under the seat (suspect admits this), the officer’s professionalism (no cussing or derogatory terms) and he can’t even say that his client didn’t know that the drugs were in the vehicle ( the suspect said the cocaine was his brother’s).


Let’s remember something here: in both of the above scenarios, the officers did a great job.

First, they each saw the initial traffic violation and acted upon that observation, which led to the recovery of some illegal drugs and the capture of a “bad guy.”

But now, Officer Grizzly faces allegations that he made a false arrest and illegal search, letting the “ends justify the means” while Officer Newby receives kudos from the prosecutor for making an airtight case.

For those “Officer Grizzlys” out there, I can sympathize with you.

I started in this business in the 1970’s and I can remember when my word alone was sufficient in court to convict.

Guess what? Those days are gone and they’ll never be back.

We have technology available to us and the public (and legal system) wants us to use it.

So let’s embrace it and do our jobs better.

What’s important to remember is that by embracing technology, we can make our testimony vastly more effective as an evidentiary tool for prosecution.

Making a Professional Law Firm Website

Having a website is now a necessity not only for businesses but even for legal service providers like a law firm. A professional looking website is one of the most effective ways of generating leads for your company or law firm. Almost everyone has access to the internet so whenever someone needs to look for something, the first thing they’ll do is to look for it online. Having a website is a suitable way to be seen by prospective clients. The internet has greatly changed the way people get the information they need. Surely there’s still some that rely on the word of mouth, but the internet can give a bigger advantage in reaching more people, even to those who haven’t heard about a law firm before.

However, having just a website is not enough, what you need is an attractive and professional looking law firm website is more likely to impress prospective clients. Otherwise, the website’s visitors will immediately leave your website after a few seconds. People are very particular with the design of a website, and your website reflects the qualities of your firm.

People searching for a law firm website want to know that your firm is reliable and can handle their legal concerns. The website of your firm should be able to convey this message to their visitors. A professional web designer can be hired so they can layout and make the website look professional. Just by changing how your website looks can greatly change how people think about your firm.

Aside from just improving the overall appearance of your firm website, it should also be informative. People want to know more about your firm, your track record and experience. The website must also highlight your achievements and expertise in various fields of law. Giving your prospective clients their needed information can help build trust and can make them comfortable about your firm.

Law firms that have area of specialization are what people look for, especially for individuals who are facing sensitive legal situations regarding their family or criminal case. Your firm’s website should be as specific and informative as possible. The information on your website should be easy to understand but at the same time comprehensive enough to cover all the details about legal services. It is best to avoid using any legal jargon and keep the language simple. The main goal is to build trust and establish credibility among your prospective clients through your website.