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Protesters and Civil Liberties

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The year of 2017 saw a huge swell in public protests stemming from racial unrest and displeasure with systemic injustices targeted at certain groups of people. Since the death of Trayvon Martin in 2012, the grassroots activist group Black Lives Matter has staged public protests, marches, and social media campaigns designed to bring awareness to the plight of people of color against law enforcement and the criminal justice system. On the other end of the spectrum, though, white nationalists and white supremacists have also taken to the streets with torches to protest the immigration policies they view as lax and the perceived vilification of white and caucasian Americans. Each group independently caught pushback from both the media and their communities, who bemoaned the damage to public property and the need for increased crowd control and first responders.

These two forces came to a head in Charlottesville, when a clash between a white nationalist group and a combination of Antifa (anti-facist) and Black Lives Matter protesters ended in fist-fights, property damage and destruction, arson, and the death of a young white woman.

Sympathizers of both Black Lives Matter and White Nationalism have accused the other side of hurling “hate speech” and inciting race-based violence against the other. Both claim the other uses inflammatory verbiage, divisive rhetoric, and skewed-if-not-wholly false information to debase the other and forward their own agenda. To that end, speakers or activists considered too political on one side or another have been barred from speaking on various college campuses. While the administrators of these institutions of higher learning tend to call on “security concerns” when prohibiting “extremists” from either side from speaking on campuses, many believe that these higher ed institutions are sheltering their students and suppressing certain viewpoints in violation of the first amendment.

Calls to “stop hate speech” on both sides have reinvigorated first amendment fanatics who are nervous about how far we’ll be able to limit free speech in the name of reducing violence. The first amendment as it’s written prohibits the US government from passing laws that infringe on the people’s right to free speech. We have made some important caveats, though, the classic example being that a person can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater to purposefully incite panic. We also prohibit organizing terrorist threats against the US.

While we can’t legally stop people from saying what they want, the administrators of some of the biggest social media websites can claim that it’s against their terms of service to post racially insensitive or discriminatory information or to actively champion such causes as ethnic cleansing or white supremacy. Unlike the government, social media platforms are private businesses who can set terms and conditions under which they will permit users to utilize their services. Twitter and various white nationalist groups have been caught up in a cat-and-mouse game over how to ensure that twitter’s crawlers catch white nationalists and only white nationalists, but their algorithm isn’t great, and their terms aren’t clear.

The future of free speech as it pertains to potentially offensive and inflammatory information is yet to be determined, but as our society proves more and more divided, we’ll have to come to a new truce sooner rather than later to avoid more deadly clashes.

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Is Small Claims Court Worth It?

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When someone owes you money, you exhaust all means to collect that money. For many, they end up before a judge in small claims court. Now, you may feel that heading to court is going to resolve your problems. However, there are fallacies in this theory. You can go to court and still be out the money. However, now you have an added fee on top of the money you already lost.

 

You Must Have Sufficient Proof

 

Going to court is nerve wracking. To start small claims, you must pay a filing fee. The filing fees various depending on the area, but the average is between $35 and $100. After the fee is paid, you will get your day in court. You must be able to prove to the judge that this person owes you money. If you don’t have sufficient proof, you are wasting your time. If the other party does not show, then you will win by default. However, they can show and fight. Don’t worry, the judge will typically make a decision right there.

 

Collecting The Money

 

Now, let’s assume that the judge finds in your favor. He agrees that you are owed the money. The other person is giving a judgment to pay the balance. They can pay that day or set up a payment plan with the clerk. Consequently, keep in mind that a judgment doesn’t equal money. It is validation that they owe the money. If that person doesn’t have a job or any means to pay that bill, then you may be out of luck.

 

Many people get the court’s help only to find out that it was no help at all. If the other party has a job and doesn’t pay, then you can ask the court to garnish their wages. You can only garnish up to 25 percent of a paycheck each time. You will need to file each time you want this done. If there are any other garnishments on the paycheck, then you will need to share the 25 percent.

 

In many cases, people find that they still have no money even though they have a judgement. Some people work under the table and try their best to avoid paying their debts. The court cannot garnish what they cannot find. Small claims only handle amounts between $3,000 and $10,000. So, larger amounts will require a higher court. Here are the pros and cons of taking a person to small claims.

 

Pros

 

  • Quick Process That Requires No Attorney
  • Cost Effective Way To Collect
  • Court Acts As A Mediator Between Parties
  • Can Be Easy To Collect Money

 

Cons

 

  • Paying A Filing Fee On top Of Debt
  • Obtaining Judgment That May Be Uncollectible
  • Staying On Top Of The Other Party For Payment
  • May Need To Garnish Wages
  • Can Be A Complete Waste Of Time
  • Amounts Are Small and Limited By State

 

To File Or Not To File

 

The choice is up to you on filing a small claims case. However, keep in mind that many times you don’t walk away with the payment that day. Still, the collections process can be long and drawn out, even though you won.

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Technology Making Law Accessible?

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As we have talked about before, the amount of civil law lawyers available to the public is dramatically less than what is needed in this country. Civil cases do not have a right to defense, even though a civil case can end with a person going to jail, losing custody of their children, losing health care coverage, or losing a home. Out of the five people who need a civil lawyer’s help, four of those people do not have access to it.

 

Landlords, creditors, and companies always have lawyers, tenants and debtors almost never do.

 

While most state bar associations support a civil right to counsel, and 18 different states are considering laws to guarantee a lawyer in certain civil situations, but we may have a long time to wait until that time. So what can be done in the meantime? Well, Matthew Stubenberg may have an answer that can help ease one of the burdens associated with lack of available civil law help.

 

While a student of law at University of Maryland in 2010 doing a clinic full of expungements -helping clients fill out and file petitions to erase qualifying parts of a criminal record. Even if there is no conviction, and even if there is, there are some lifelong ramifications to the effects of the records that can include homelessness from inability to get a job.

 

Maryland has a public database called Case Search that you can use to pull up relevant information to help you fill out the required parts of the forms, but the information transfer process can be long and tedious. “We spent all this time moving data from Case Search onto our forms,” Stubenberg said. “We spent maybe 30 seconds on the legal piece. Why could this not be easier? This was a problem that could be fixed by a computer.”

 

After law school he dusted off his coding skills and built a software that automatically transferred the tedious work into the new forms, helped determine if the case can, in fact, be expunged under the guidelines, and prints a completed form needing only a signature and filing with the court. Called MDExpungement, it puts one more thing that a civilian can do into their own hands. In October of 2015 there was a change in a Maryland law that made more cases applicable for the expunging process. Between October 2015 and March 2016, people filed almost eight thousand petitions in Baltimore City District Court, and more than two-thirds of those petitions came from MDExpungement.
While there are legal groups that are fighting to help bring civil law aid to those who cannot afford a lawyer in almost every state, the more that people can utilize technology to build systems that help, rather than disenfranchise, those who cannot afford legal counsel, the better off we all will be in the long run. We have made some strides in this area in regards to credit, taxes, and other financial applications. The next step is to make civil law easier to navigate on your own.

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“Equal Justice Under Law” not Really Equal

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EqualJusticeUnderLaw

 

In the U.S. Constitution, the phrase “Equal Justice Under Law” is promise the the law will uphold justice equally for all in our courts. The National Center for Access to Justice created the Justice Index. From the website: “Justice depends on having a fair chance to be heard, regardless of who you are, where you live, or how much money you have. At minimum, a person should be able to learn about her rights and then give effective voice to them in a neutral and nondiscriminatory, formal or informal, process that determines the facts, applies the rule of law, and enforces the result. That is Access to Justice”

But, according to the Justice Index’s numbers, we are failing our country in law and other legal areas. The way the numbers break down, there is less than one lawyer who can provide free legal aid in civil cases for every 10,000 Americans who need representation but live under the poverty line and cannot afford it.

“[These are] life and death kinds of matters, when you consider that people are being evicted from their homes, facing the loss of their homes in foreclosure or loss of their children in family court,” said David Udell, the director of the National Center for Access to Justice at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law which created the Justice Index.

You are probably aware, either from personal experience or television and movies, of the idea of having a court-appointed lawyer, or the right to counsel. However, most are not aware that this only applies to criminal cases, not civil ones. Civil law includes rent disputes, debt collections, domestic violence, child support, credit and employment issues, evictions, custody cases, and even civil rights cases. There are roughly the same amount of criminal and civil cases adjudicated every year in the United States, and while there are some organizations out there built to help provide aid, there is no burden on the legal system to bear the weight of these civil law needs.

But in addition to a dearth of lawyers, there is also a severe lack of education. The perceived high cost of filing fees prevent thousands of Americans from pursuing justice, but only 12 states have laws that require court employees to inform the public that they can waive those fees. The other states have no obligations. When you consider that almost every state (48 in total) have raised the fees of both criminal and civil courts in the last five years, this lack of available knowledge makes things more unsettling. And in some cases the lack of ability to pay court fees can keep a citizen seeking justice in an incarceration limbo.

This goes even further than lack of ability to pay. For those citizens for whom English is a second language, there are more obstacles than ever. There is no clear avenue for individuals to understand the civil law system. Almost half of all states have no interpreter requirements for staff. Many courts with no interpreter regulations make non-English speakers pay for the services of an interpreter. This is leaving people facing foreclosure or fighting domestic abuse completely without state resources of what their options might be, and the proper steps to take in pursuing a civil case.

The Justice Index breaks down into four categories: Attorney Access: Number of Attorneys for People in Poverty, Self-Representation Access: Support for People Without Lawyers, Language Access: Support for People With Limited English Proficiency,  Disability Access: Support for People With Disabilities. (an obscene 45 states do not provide court employees dedicated to helping those with mental disabilities.)

From the website Pacific Standard: “funding for the Legal Services Corporation, the federal agency that supports and monitors civil legal aid in the U.S., is meager. According to a 2013 report from the Center for Law and Social Policy, LSC funding “today purchases less than half of what it did in 1980, the time when LSC funding provided what was called ‘minimum access’ or an amount that could support two lawyers for each 10,000 poor people in a geographic area.” This is the result of both inflation and budget reductions that severely hindered the agency in 1982, 1992, and 2012. Between 2010 and 2012 alone, the LSC lost 10.3 percent of its legal aid staff. 

While state sources supposedly made up the difference, austerity measures born from the 2008 Great Recession — when coupled with an uptick in civil actions stemming from foreclosures, consumer credit disputes, layoff disputes, and other recession-related conflicts — have left courts without adequate funding. As a result, legal aid attorneys are drowning in cases.”

 

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Is Uber A Conspiracy? Inside The Uber Antitrust Lawsuit In New York

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uberUber is one of the most common ways to get around, often being seen as a more convenient alternative to cabs. Even New York, with its iconic yellow taxi cabs, has a flourishing Uber market. But not everyone is happy with Uber’s popularity. There have been a few lawsuits throughout the country surrounding Uber. In California, people questioned whether Uber’s drivers were employees or independent contractors. Now, the federal court in Manhattan is hearing an antitrust case which delves into what exactly Uber is.

The plaintiff is Spencer Meyer, an Uber customer from Connecticut who believes Uber is a conspiracy rather than the convenient service it claims to be. He believes this conspiracy was created by Uber’s drivers, including Travis Kalanick, Uber’s chief executive and also the defendant in the case. The complaint alleges that instead of competing against one another, drivers sought to create a hike in prices that they would collectively benefit from at their riders’ expense. The lawsuit claims that the “surge pricing” algorithm, which sets trip prices based on availability or demand of drivers, plays a key role in this conspiracy.

Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP, the lawyers representing Mr. Kalanick, argue that the alleged scheme is “wildly implausible”. They state that Uber is not a conspiracy but a revolutionary app that changed the way people get around. They say that Uber changed the way people get a cab to the same degree that Google changed the way people look for information. According to the company, the pricing model that Uber uses is a key feature of a single enterprise. They say that the drivers are people who independently make the decision to become “driver partners” for Uber and to abide by its pricing algorithm, rather than conspirators that are part of a price-hiking scheme. Kalanick’s lawyers compare this process to a manufacturer’s efforts to control prices that distributors charge.

Unfortunately for Mr. Kalanick, his motion to dismiss the suit was denied. U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff of Manhattan ruled that the lawyers suing had “adequately pleaded a horizontal antitrust conspiracy”. Judge Rakoff felt that the conspiracy was plausible enough to pass this hurdle, and did not write off other aspects of the plaintiff’s case, such as the claim that Uber excludes traditional taxis as well as livery car services. An attorney for Mr. Kalanick fought against these claims by stating that this is a narrow view of the market that does not accurately reflect the real world. He then mentioned a study which shows that when Uber’s surge pricing is in effect, Uber riders make the switch to taxis and public transport.

Judge Rakoff also did not dismiss the claim by the plaintiff’s lawyer that “Uber’s dominant position and considerable name recognition has also made it difficult for potential competitor to enter the marketplace.”

Mr. Kalanick’s lawyers disputed this claim as well. The lawyers stated that Uber has largely increased the options for transportation, lowered the prices, and improved the overall driving service experience for millions of Americans. The lawyers also believe that antitrust law has appreciated the benefits of technological innovation for years.

This lawsuit brings up an interesting conversation about a service that has become extremely popular. Many people are partial to Uber, while others wonder if it is monopolizing the driving service industry, or tricking people out of their money.

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Is Uber A Conspiracy? Inside The Uber Antitrust Lawsuit In New York

uberUber is one of the most common ways to get around, often being seen as a more convenient alternative to cabs. Even New York, with its iconic yellow taxi cabs, has a flourishing Uber market. But not everyone is happy with Uber’s popularity. There have been a few lawsuits throughout the country surrounding Uber. In California, people questioned whether Uber’s drivers were employees or independent contractors. Now, the federal court in Manhattan is hearing an antitrust case which delves into what exactly Uber is.

From abogadoalylaw.com

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Texas Law Pushback

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A controversial law has surfaced in Texas that requires full disclosure about exactly who is profiting from government contracts. On the first day of the new year, this law was put into effect, making it mandatory for vendors being contracted by the government to share the identity of their owners, as well as of anyone else who took part in negotiating the contract. They must fill out forms to be given to the Texas Ethics Commission so citizens can track who is making a profit from each contract. The intent of this law is to keep citizens as informed as possible about the inner workings of government contracting. However, now financial firms and law firms are pushing to get the law amended.

Apparently, the institution of this new disclosure law has many government contractors confused. The law states that it is meant for contracts with a value above or equal to $1 million. There is no agreement as to whether the disclosure is meant for everyone who works on a contract, or just those who pay for the contract, for example. There are a slew of different forms for separate levels of information, which only adds to the confusion. Either the government will be bombarded by useful information they will have to sort through, or they will be made to read through information that is not useful to their original mission.

Without clarification, some government contractors are choosing to be safe by filing all of the forms regardless of the project, but others refuse to fill out any paperwork until the forms process is demystified. The contractors need more transparent rules in order to be more transparent about their profits.

This law affects more than just the typical firm that comes to mind with ‘government contractor;’ it has also become problematic for school districts. Most contracts for the districts involve contracts that are $50,000 and over, which means that they would have to fill out forms, or wait for a vote, for every one of their contracts. This seems particularly extreme.

What needs to happen from this point forward is a more clear definition of what constitutes a $1 million contract. Clarifying this point will take care of the main confusion surrounding the law, and it will make way for more targeted changes to the law. Thankfully, the Ethics Commission is scheduled to make changes to the law in 2017, however, contractors are not sure what they should do until then.

My advice is to use your best judgment. No matter what facet of government a company is working with, disclosure forms must be filled out at the discretion of everyone involved in a contract. Of course, err on the side of caution; if there is any doubt, I would suggest filling out the forms anyway to be safe.

 

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New Law Brings Shorter School Years?

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A new state law in Texas has been enacted that could change the number of days children must be in school. Instead of making it mandatory that children are in school for 180 days, with three days of staff development, it is now mandatory to have 75,600 minutes of attendance instead.

This law came into existence because of district-wide, weather-related school shutdowns encroaching into the summer. When children and teachers missed school due to weather conditions, they would have to make up the day at the end of the year, or during holidays. However, under the new guidelines, time can be tacked on to the end of school days instead of making a separate day altogether necessary. Parents have previously been upset to have it mandatory for their children to be at school during holidays. This law solves that problem.

Many schools in Texas have already adopted this new law into their curriculum. Some schools have had to extend their school days by as little as 10 minutes to ensure inclement weather will not affect their graduation schedules. Such small changes will prove useful later in the year, when possible snow shuts down schools for a couple of days. However, if schools do not need to close for weather this school year, the extra minutes mean summer vacation will begin two days earlier than usual.

Other schools are less willing to enact the new law. They are hesitant to make an official change to their school calendars before having all of the information. However, everyone agrees that this new law is worth exploring. It accounts for weather days and, depending on how it is used, it can also give staff and students vacation days in the middle of long months that before did not have a break. This could be useful in combatting school burnout and giving the teachers more time to prepare their materials and grade papers.

This new Texas law is working to revolutionize the way school schedules are made. Education officials in their districts are no longer tethered to a specific number of school days. Now they are able to finagle their schedules in a way that works better for teachers and parents.

For more information on the new Texas school length law, read ABC’s take on more potential for days off in Texas schools.

 

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Legal Tech Trends For 2016

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Tech meets law

As the new year approaches, so do innovative ideas in the tech world. Every year technology seems to advance more and more at a rapid pace. Technology has found a way to consolidate with the legal system and will continue to expand overtime.

In 2016, you can expect the legal system to take an approach that most old school lawyers won’t know how to utilize but will have to adapt to the changes made such as iRobot intelligence (artificial intelligence), data analytics, face-to-face communication with clients using computer software and an increase in new law firms and decrease in old law firms.

The iRobot Affect (artificial Intelligence):

Remember when you thought the movie “iRobot” was just another movie with special effects and computer generated intelligence? Well, iRobot will become more than a movie in the future of the legal system. The process of these iRobot’s, will contribute to making lawyers’ lives much easier by dealing with contracts and other paperwork. However, if these iRobot’s are able to complete this task, who knows what they will be able to accomplish in the future.

Let the Data Analytics State the Facts

As most industries are transitioning to the use of technology to maintain organization through capturing data, such as doctors, veterinarians and now lawyers. One thing lawyers are always dealing with is paperwork from different cases and contracts. By utilizing data gathered through different tools such as Lexis Nexis’, law firms will be able to narrow down the importance and relevancy of a specific case or contract and give them a one up on the competition. Capturing data will not only benefit a law firm but will also contribute to relaying information to potential clients, who are interested in the firm’s services.

A High increase in start-up law firms and decrease in old law firms

The creation of law firms, will start increasing do to the accessibility of technology. New lawyers are starting to learn and understand the shift of technology and the benefits of leading to  success. Some lawyers, may be against incorporating tech into their system of practicing of law, but if they don’t acclimate to this trend, it will lead to lawyers losing out on major opportunities, especially since Millennials and Generation Z are the consumer businesses should focus on catering too.

Making a Connection through Communication

Do to the time period that we live in today, people are focused on gathering and conversing about information the fastest and most affordable way possible. Lawyers will start turning to communication host, to stay in contact with multiple clients, to help manage with a busy schedule. This would save time and money traveling to meet with a client and more time focusing on paperwork. Communication is host like Skype, Oovoo and Legalar will be used as a main tool for communication. Most of these communication tools are free for a one on one conversation, but if you want more features, of course it would cost, but nothing outrageous that a lawyer or client couldn’t afford.

Lawyers will have their hands full in the future, dealing with the transition from the traditional methods to the tech methods. However, this will be a learning experience that will not only benefit them for being a lawyer, but will provide the knowledge they could use in their personal lives. To learn more about the tech trends in the legal system you can find out more information here.

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