• Texas Animal Law Institute 2012

    Dear Friends of Animals:

    animal law conferenceThis year the Animal Law Institute will be held in Fort Worth on March 9, 2012.  Great speakers from around Texas and the U.S. will be giving talks on some fascinating animal law topics.  The Institute, which is put on annually by the Animal Law Section of the State Bar of Texas, is open to non-lawyers.  For more information or to sign up go to http://www.animallawsection.org/institute/  (the right side bar menu has registration, speaker, and hotel information). I hope to see you there!

  • Billing Practices for Horse Professionals

    EquineLawI work hard to meet my clients’ needs and expectations, and I have been very blessed with outstanding clients.   Other professionals, both lawyers and non-lawyers, have asked me how difficult it is to collect my bills. In my case, all of my clients are paid up! I do not have worry about outstanding account receivables or whether I have to turn clients over to collections or sue them for the money they owe.

    How is the possible? I believe it is because I have focused on good billing practices. These techniques work for any industry and I often recommend them to horse professionals that I advise:

    1. Send bills out TIMELY.Always bill on a monthly basis. Clients get angry when bills accumulate for months. They are used to paying bills on a monthly basis.
    2. Make sure that bills are ACCURATE.It is difficult to explain errors on a bill. Proof-read your bills. If there is an error, then you should review it, provide an explanation and fix it immediately. Equestrian sports are expensive. You want to express to your clients that you care about their budgets and want them to be able to continue in these sports.
    3. Bills should be EASY TO UNDERSTAND.Make sure they are clear and concise. How much is due each month and when it is due should be clearly stated.
    4. Provide SUFFICIENT DETAIL.Clients are more likely to pay if they understand what exactly they  are paying for.  You will need this for your records as well. If the board and care charge fluctuates every month, you should be able to describe why this occurs. Is the horse getting more supplements? Did the horse get worked more by a trainer? General guessing is not good enough.
    5. Simple PAYMENT INSTRUCTIONS.The purpose of a bill is to get payment. Make sure every bill states how clients are expected to pay. If you want payment to be mailed in, PROVIDE A SELF-ADDRESSED, STAMPED ENVELOPEfor the checks return. I have found that it is much easier for clients to drop a check in an envelope that is provided with a stamp, than it is for them to find their own envelope and stamp. If you allow for PAYPAL payments, state on each invoice how they can go to a website to submit a payment online.

    Good billing practices lead to getting paid by happy customers. Make it your goal for 2012 to implement some of these practices to improve your business.

    I work hard to meet my clients’ needs and expectations, and I have been very blessed with outstanding clients.   Other professionals, both lawyers and non-lawyers, have asked me how difficult it is to collect my bills. In my case, all of my clients are paid up! I do not have worry about outstanding account receivables or whether I have to turn clients over to collections or sue them for the money they owe.

    How is the possible? I believe it is because I have focused on good billing practices. These techniques work for any industry and I often recommend them to horse professionals that I advise:

    1. Send bills out TIMELY.Always bill on a monthly basis. Clients get angry when bills accumulate for months. They are used to paying bills on a monthly basis.
    2. Make sure that bills are ACCURATE.It is difficult to explain errors on a bill. Proof-read your bills. If there is an error, then you should review it, provide an explanation and fix it immediately. Equestrian sports are expensive. You want to express to your clients that you care about their budgets and want them to be able to continue in these sports.
    3. Bills should be EASY TO UNDERSTAND.Make sure they are clear and concise. How much is due each month and when it is due should be clearly stated.
    4. Provide SUFFICIENT DETAIL.Clients are more likely to pay if they understand what exactly they  are paying for.  You will need this for your records as well. If the board and care charge fluctuates every month, you should be able to describe why this occurs. Is the horse getting more supplements? Did the horse get worked more by a trainer? General guessing is not good enough.
    5. Simple PAYMENT INSTRUCTIONS.The purpose of a bill is to get payment. Make sure every bill states how clients are expected to pay. If you want payment to be mailed in, PROVIDE A SELF-ADDRESSED, STAMPED ENVELOPEfor the checks return. I have found that it is much easier for clients to drop a check in an envelope that is provided with a stamp, than it is for them to find their own envelope and stamp. If you allow for PAYPAL payments, state on each invoice how they can go to a website to submit a payment online.

    Good billing practices lead to getting paid by happy customers. Make it your goal for 2012 to implement some of these practices to improve your business.

  • Long Thoughts in Criminal Law – Early 2015

    criminal defense attorneysAs I discussed in my previous post , the job of criminal law is to reassure us that we will not be victimized when we leave the safety of our homes and families and engage with the wider world. Such reassurance is necessary for our economy to work and for us to be able to enjoy the individual freedoms so exalted by our culture. But the central dilemma of criminal law is this: criminal law and its enforcement not only function as sources of reassurance, but as threats in their own right—producers of fear that may undermine, rather than enhance, people’s sense of security and willingness to engage with the wider world.

    Every time the criminal-justice system acts against a citizen, it causes harm in some form or another. Viewing this harm, some will feel reassured—if the system, for instance, is seen as thereby deterring future harms—but others will feel frightened. Indeed, the very essence of deterrence is fright. There is no unalloyed good when the system acts. The bitter always accompanies the sweet. This is not to say that the good and bad always counterbalance one another perfectly. It is certainly possible to have more good than bad, and, indeed, the system’s aim should be to maximize the net of the one over the other.

    If you face criminal charges, begin the search for talented representation now.  The stakes are certainly high. We have ideas for how to uncover the right criminal defense attorney in Orlando, our suggestion would certainly be to interview an attorney at Grozinger Law, but go beyond that to find exactly the right fit.

    There are many dimensions to this central challenge facing the criminal-justice system, touching, for instance, on police administration, corrections administration, and sentencing law. At present, my concern is with the structure of substantive criminal law. From the social trust standpoint, substantive criminal law is subject to four overlapping vices. The first is vagueness. For instance, some criminal laws make liability turn on whether the defendant has acted unreasonably. But unreasonability lies in the eyes of the beholder. This is a vague standard, and it is hard to say when exactly a person crosses the line into criminal conduct. Under vague laws, liability may catch some people by surprise, which enhances fear, rather than trust.

    To some extent, the checks and balances in criminal procedure may mitigate the problems with vague laws. In principle, there is no liability unless a police officer, prosecutor, and judge or jury concur that the law has been violated. If all agree that the defendant has, for instance, acted unreasonably, then it seems likely that the defendant, too, would have appreciated that he was on shaky ground at the time he acted—all the more so when the ultimate trier of fact has determined, as it is supposed to in our system, that the defendant crossed the crime line beyond a reasonable doubt. Perhaps such checks and balances should give us reassurance that very few people will be caught off guard by criminal liability, regardless of how the laws are written.

    But there can be problems with the checks and balances, too. Note, for instance, that even an arrest without a formal charge, or a charge without a conviction, can be a harrowing and stigmatizing experience. Note, too, concerns about structural imbalances in the criminal-justice system, which may arguably drain the innocent until proven guilty” principle of its practical force, especially when the defendant is poor (which is usually the case). Note also that the vast majority of defendants plead guilty rather than going to trial, even if they have plausible defenses.

    This results from a variety of factors, including the financial cost of going to trial, the benefits offered through plea bargains, and the common practice of imposing longer sentences on defendants who don’t plead guilty. With all of the pressure placed on defendants to plead, we may not be able to count on juries functioning as an effective check on aggressive prosecutorial interpretations of vague laws.

    Finally, in our diverse society, we must appreciate that even if a police officer, a prosecutor, and twelve members of a jury agree that a defendant has crossed the line and violated a vague law, that conclusion may reflect the particular cultural values, beliefs, and interests of the segments of society that tend disproportionately to produce the criminal-justice system’s decisionmakers. People belonging to different social groups may draw the line of criminality differently. Even if the ins” find reassurance in a conviction, the outs” may not share that view, and the net effect on social trust and cohesion may be negative.

    Such concerns highlight the value of drawing the criminal liability line with precision. On the other hand, this can be carried too far. For one thing, a very specific criminal code that attempts to spell out all crimes in clear, objective terms will inevitably fail to include a great deal of conduct that is quite harmful and disturbing, and such gaps in the code may undermine public confidence in the criminal-justice system. For another, a criminal code far longer and more detailed than current norms would be simply impenetrable to laypeople, and may thus give rise to fair-notice problems that are just as great as with a vague code.

    One possible way of striking a balance, which seems roughly consistent with current norms, would be to strive for a relatively high level of specificity with the crimes that carry the largest penalties, while also maintaining more generally worded crimes that carry lesser penalties as a backstop (e.g., disorderly conduct). If the vaguer crimes end up sweeping in too much, at least the damage done will be relatively light.

    A second major vice is to criminalize conduct that is regarded as benign or a matter of entitlement by substantial segments of society. The criminal law purports to speak in a moral voice. There is, or should be, a difference between a tax that seeks to discourage a behavior—e.g., cigarette taxes—and a criminal punishment that seeks to condemn a behavior. As I noted in my previous post, one of the basic mechanisms by which the criminal law builds social trust is by reaffirming widely shared moral values. However, the criminal law undermines its ability to function in this way—undermines its moral credibility—when it punishes conduct that is not generally regarded as immoral. Instead, the criminal law may come to be seen as a crude power play by the particular segments of society who are in charge at the moment. This was, for instance, one of the key criticisms of the national alcohol prohibition law of the 1920s.

    One response to this concern is again to invoke checks and balances—it doesn’t really matter that a law is written in an overly broad fashion when police, prosecutors, judges, and jurors must exercise discretion before there are any convictions. The persuasiveness of this response is subject to the same reservations noted above.

    Another response is to invoke democratic values. If the people’s elected representatives choose to criminalize something they regard as immoral, then that is their prerogative. But just because a faction has the votes to do something does not make that something good policy. What if a legislative majority sold off all of a state’s tangible assets in order to fund a controversial moral crusade? We might rightly regard such a policy choice as poor stewardship of the state’s resources, crippling the ability of the state to perform core, noncontroversial governmental functions. The criminal code’s moral credibility is just another state asset that can be lost to controversial causes when there is still plenty of noncontroversial work to be done. Controversial moral values can be furthered through other legislative strategies—civil regulation, taxation, education, subsidies—that are less damaging to those who find themselves on the wrong side of the social conflict.

    A key principle that helps to save the criminal law from becoming embroiled in conflicts over controversial social values (and that also helps the law to avoid fair-notice problems) is this: criminal punishment should only be imposed for conduct that either (1) caused some significant, tangible harm to a person’s body or property, or (2) created a significant, direct risk of such harm. To be sure, the terms are vague, and there is certainly room to argue about whether particular conduct (say, driving with a very low level of alcohol in the blood) satisfies the criteria. Additionally, it may be counterproductive to press this principle in an absolutely inflexible way. There may be some conduct (e.g., appearing nude in a public park) that is not physically harmful to anyone, but so deeply disturbing to so many people that the criminal law would lose moral credibility by not prohibiting it. In such cases, though, punishments should be relatively mild.

    A third major vice is to impose liability for conduct or outcomes over which the defendant has little or no effective control. Imagine as extreme examples laws that criminalized falling ill, or being left-handed, or fantasizing about shooting certain noxious celebrities. If enforced, a criminal code with many such provisions would seem arbitrary and fearsome indeed.

    One traditional principle that helps to avoid this third vice is the voluntary act requirement—the requirement that criminal liability be based on some affirmative act voluntarily performed. For instance, in general, there can be no liability for seizures or sleepwalking.

    Another, more complicated (and more controversial) limiting principle is this: there should be no liability unless there is subjective fault, i.e., unless the defendant was consciously aware that he was creating or risking harm. There are concerns, however, that this principle may create perverse incentives for people to bury their heads in the sand, or may reward liars, or may prevent the criminal-justice system from taking action against people who are quite significantly, if wholly unintentionally, dangerous. Such concerns may justify criminal liability in the absence of subjective fault, but perhaps only if the penalties are relatively light.

    A fourth, and final, major vice is disproportionality in punishment. Hardly anyone would disagree with the old cliche that the punishment should fit the crime. Moreover, while there is much debate over certain aspects of the proportionality ideal, there does seem broad consensus on at least two key principles. First, the degree of punishment should vary with the degree of harm caused or risked. A crime that causes death should be punished more severely than a crime that causes only a broken limb, and a crime that causes a broken limb should be punished more severely than a crime that causes only a loss of a few dollars. Second, intentional harms should be punished more severely than accidental. Obviously, these principles overlap rather closely with principles already discussed above and advance similar ends.

    To conclude this post, I’ve identified four vices for the criminal law to avoid, but there are really two dominant themes in this discussion. First, the criminal law should avoid surprises, both as to guilt and as to degree of punishment. Second, the criminal law should avoid the perception that it is serving the interests of particular social groups at the expense of other social groups. A criminal law successful on both fronts seems unlikely to generate levels of fear and resentment that are deeply corrosive of social trust.

  • Personal Injury Settlement Calculators Can Help You

    personal injury settlementInjury settlement calculators can be hugely helpful, and they can also be a bit misleading. To start with the good side, they can begin to give someone an idea about what type of compensation they might be able to receive. After the confusion and chaos of hospital, injury, and all the upset, an injury calculator can begin to quantify everything in terms of money. It is a simple calculation but can be very accurate.

    However, for some people, quantifying all this in terms of money is not very helpful at all. People very quickly begin to feel entitled to the money that they see on the screen. It can give hope and expectation that the money will materialize, but for some people it doesn’t. Personal injury settlement is a very complicated area that differs in each state in the country. Simplifying it can leave a big gulf between the figure on the screen and the reality of the situation.

    Despite the weaknesses of the calculator, it is something that I would recommend to check. If you understand that the figure is only a possibility, then it will give you a rough estimate of what your case is worth. If you are wondering if the case is worth your time and effort, then it can be a good way of answering this question. As injury settlement calculators become more sophisticated, I expect that they will only get more helpful.

    What other ways can you assess the value in your case? It is rather a traditional answer, but the next step should be to go and see a few attorneys. The combination of their thoughts, complimented by the online calculation, should give you a much better idea of where you stand.

    If your injury has been very stressful, taking along both family and friends to the meetings with attorneys is a good plan. Making a neutral judgement, devoid of emotion, in such circumstances is incredibly challenging after sustaining an injury. The presence and thoughts of close people around you are even more valuable in this situation. Even if you think you should definitely go to court, spending a day or two letting the dust settle is also wise.

    Once started, a court case can take several months. Thus, an added night or two of thought will not delay the eventual decision by much. The court case is often more taxing than you might initially think. Prepare yourself for a demanding period ahead of you. It goes without saying that an experienced, considerate attorney is what you are looking for. You don’t want to put more pressure on yourself by working with someone who you ultimately find very irritating!

    Whatever you decide to do, I hope that you can move on from such an incident and not let it become an event that defines your life. Closure is sometimes difficult in such scenarios, but money can be one of the ways in which it can be done.

  • Post-Car Crash: Hire a Lawyer to Handle the Process

    Post-Car Crash: Hire a Lawyer to Handle the ProcessBeing involved in a car accident can turn out to be one of the most traumatic experiences in a person’s life. Although the accident itself is sometimes describes as a sort of slow-motion event, the truth is that most accidents don’t last for more than a few seconds. First impressions are hard to read and you can never be sure what really happened. Not at least until later on. This is why the steps you take after the car crash has taken place may turn out to be life-saving. Let’s take a look at some of the first things you should do:

    Stay Put: Stay at the scene, no matter what. Never ever leave the accident scene; particularly, or especially if there are injured victims as a result of the crash. Failure to remain there may result in serious criminal penalties on the charge of being a hit-and-run driver. If you are concerned about your (or somebody else’s) safety, call emergency, or the police right away.

    Get Information: Exchanging information with other drivers is vital. This information will include addresses, license numbers, insurance information, etc. Make sure to ask everybody involved; even potential witnesses. Be patient and friendly but do not apologize for any possible damage you may have caused. Doing so, may be regarded as a sign that you are admitting legal liability. Try to keep the talking to a bare minimum until you get legal help.

    Look for a Lawyer: At this point, one of the wisest things you can do is hire an auto accident attorney. This step will help prevent further evils and will definitely give you peace of mind. Although some people consider this step optional, it isn’t really. Consider the following scenario: if anyone was injured in the accident, you may be facing serious criminal charges. In addition, legal advice is not only useful to prevent being accused of major charges. There is so much paperwork to be done regarding insurance companies, police reports, property damage valuations and possible settlements that it can often become overwhelming for a person: picture trying to make a million phone calls, while trying to get on with your own medical recovery, as well. Finally, getting legal counseling may be vital to prevent further evils, yet. Insurance companies sometimes try to get victims to sign early settlements, even when the full extent of the injuries, have not yet been fully assessed.

    Medical Treatment Record: People who have been involved in car accidents should take care to keep all their medical records safe. Take notes of all doctors, physical therapists, nurses, chiropractors or anybody involved in the treatment. Keeping receipts, prescriptions and bills is also important. Remember that you may be requested to prove your medical expenses and you need to be ready. Since pain and discomfort is not easy to prove, it is also important for you to keep track of other aspects that may help reveal this point: sick days off work, routine activities that you have had to give up or even social events that you missed because of the injuries.

    To round up, hiring an auto accident lawyer is the safest way to navigate the tricky waters of a post-car cash period.

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