Monthly Archives: March 2010

Consumer Bankruptcy and Taxes

Not all attorneys have been hammered by the downturn in the economy over the last few years. While Big Law seems to be dying and attorneys are unemployed across the country, I have known quite a few bankruptcy attorneys that have more work than they can handle right now. I have also seen quite a few attorneys switch their practice over to include bankruptcy and the classes that we have on the subject are some of our best sellers.

The reason – many bankruptcy attorneys across the country have seen a sharp increase in new consumer bankruptcy clients and filings in 2010. According to the BLT (Blog of LegalTimes), the number of bankruptcy cases filed in year 2009 in the United States increased by over 35% over the preceding year of 2008. Further adding to the statistics, the General Administrative Office of the U.S. courts reports that over 1,200,000 bankruptcy filings were filed in the fiscal year ending on June 2009. According to same office, the previous fiscal year saw less than 1,000,00 filings.

Indeed, the overwhelming majority of bankruptcy filings are consumer cases – and the numbers point to a 34% increase since 2008. Chapter 11 reorganization saw the sharpest rise in filings in 2009 – these bankruptcy filings rose 91% in 2009. Unfortunately the upward trend of new filings seems to show no signs of slowing down.

Whether you are a bankruptcy attorney or one of your relatives called and needs a little help, please join attorney and frequent speaker Gary Quackenbush in Consumer Bankruptcy and Taxes for an excellent discussion of numerous pertinent issues related to consumer bankruptcies. These matters can get complicated – especially where tax issues are involved – but by understanding some pertinent bankruptcy issues and rules you can perhaps suggest to a client that bankruptcy might be a possible answer to some of their financial troubles. This course covers some options that are available and how they might be able to benefit your client.

Mr. Quackenbush first begins the course by describing Chapter 7 bankruptcy. While illustrating the highpoints of Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the course covers the bankruptcy petition, the duties of attorneys, the automatic stay, the bankruptcy estate, the duties of the trustee, exemptions from trustee and creditors, tax payments, and most importantly – The Means Test. There are also a number of other area of Chapter 7 bankruptcy that are covered in the lecture and PDF handout that serve as excellent material. One last area that Mr. Quackenbush details is another hot topic in bankruptcy – the dischargeability of personal income taxes.

Mr. Quackenbush then highlights common issues facing Chapter 13 bankruptcy – essential wage earner reorganization (Chapter 7 describes the process of liquidation under the bankruptcy code, as opposed to Chapter 13 where individuals undergo a financial reorganization supervised by a federal bankruptcy court. Under this section he illustrates the Chapter 13 Plan, classification of creditor claims, payment of claims, and classification of tax claims.

Lastly, the course wraps up with an excellent discussion of income from cancelled debts, including an excellent discussion of income tax reporting considerations and cancelled debts from income. This is a can’t miss course for anyone who is thinking about dabbling in consumer bankruptcy, or even for experience practitioners that may need to freshen up on their Chapter 7 or 13 skills.

Thinking Inside the Box: Jury Decision Making in a Personal Injury Case

Look into the jury box, what do you see? Join jury consultant Toni Blake, owner of 2nd Chair Services, for an insightful examination into the mind of the jury. In Thinking Inside the Box: Jury Decision Making in a Personal Injury Case, Toni covers the do’s and don’ts of voir dire, teaches you how to profile your own jury, details juror personalities and demographic variables, and instills some finer points that will polish your performance at trial.

I am extremely happy to have Toni on our website! I am proud to say that we worked together (sorf of) on a medical malpractice case a few years back. At the time I was working at a local medical malpractice defense firm and I was in my second year of law school and working as a legal assistant. Toni helped our firm pick a jury in a major case that I will never forget. Since I never practiced law, it was as close to the courtroom as I ever got.

Since then Toni has skyrocketed into working on major cases. In 2007 Toni selected the jury and advised counsel for Lucent Technologies during a trial against Microsoft over the MP3 patent – the $1.5 billion dollars in damages represents the largest patent law verdict in world history. A little later in 2007 she worked on the second Lucent v. Microsoft trial with a team from Kirkland and Ellis which resulted in a $367.4 million verdict. She has also served as a commentator for Court TV, CNN, FOX, MSNBC and numerous local TV and radio shows, and her cases have been featured on Dateline, 48 hours, Forensic files, ABC Prime Time, Wolf Blitzer and in various other news articles and programs.

Easements and Restrictive Covenants – Practical Tips for Litigators and Drafters

Easements. Just the thought of them brings back bad memories of studying real property for the California Bar exam. Luckily I was able to pass on my second try and I will hopefully never have to worry about easements again.

However, we have added a great new course if you are a real estate attorney and you could use a few drafting tips to keep yourself out of court or even if you just need some practical advice because your neighbor is about to build a second story addition and it’s going to block your ocean view. In Easements and Restrictive Covenants – Practical Tips for Litigators and Drafters Randy Ortlieb provides a thorough examination of easements and restrictive covenants and highlights a number of practice points for both drafters and litigators.

Appurtenant? Dominant? Implied? Changed circumstances? View easements? Mr. Ortlieb begins the course by first introducing some key definitions, examples, and common issues related to easements and restrictive covenants and then analyzes case law on the subject. He then reviews a Grant Deed and Deed to analyze poorly drafted language that forced the parties to ligation. And finishes the presentation by providing litigation tips in case you do end up in the courtroom. This course is a wonderful resource for both transactional attorneys and litigators.

Mr. Ortlieb specializes in disputes involving business transactions, collections, and construction projects. He has substantial successful trial experience in business, construction and collection cases, and he also advises clients in transactions including commercial leases, sales of businesses, real estate transactions and is rated “AV” by Martindale-Hubbell.

Attorney Credits MicroSeminar on Encyclopedia.com via YouTube

I experienced something today for the first time and I had to forward it to my Dad as soon as I saw it. My message in the email: “next time you say that I think I know everything, just remember that I am on encyclopedia.com.”

Yes! I happened to run a search today for “attorney websites CLE” while I was doing some research. Lo and behold, who should come up #2 on the organic rankings? Yours truly Jason S. Castillo, Director of Legal Education for Attorney Credits. Somehow, encyclopedia.com picked up one of our MicroSeminars on the Legal Ethics of Attorney Websites on YouTube and embedded the video in their website. Since they didn’t ask for my permission to use my content, I think what they did is illegal, but I like the free press. Further, I can’t wait to show the clip to my Dad because I know he will get a kick out of it! My Mom and brother already got a laugh!

We started our MicroSeminar series on YouTube as a way of reaching out to attorneys across the land to find out what’s on your minds. What are attorneys thinking about, what do they want to know about, and how can we improve our website to better serve you? It has been a great way to find out what attorneys are searching for, and we have had a pretty good response so far from our Attorney Credits clients.

We have quite a few MicroSeminars to choose from, including Credit Damage, Legal Ethics of Email, eDiscovery & eCompetence, and The Entertainment Industry’s Battle Against Online Piracy. If you have any ideas or suggestions for future MicroSeminars or programming from the site, we would love to hear from you!

Hello Big Apple!

After a long, arduous, and grueling process, all of us at Attorney Credits are very thankful to the New York State Continuing Legal Education Board for granting us Approved Provider status. Attorneys from the Empire State will now also have the opportunity to conveniently complete their MCLE requirement without breaking the bank.

At Attorney Credits, we have shifted the paradigm on CLE delivery in this country. Why pay $100 for a couple of units or be forced to throw on a suit and head down to the local bar when you can utilize our website to fulfill all 24 units without leaving the convenience of your home or office? As attorneys, we know that you are busy professionals who don’t have time to deal with running around picking up Ethics and Professionalism at CLE breakfasts or lunchtime brown bag events. That’s why we bring the CLE to you!

If its Ethics and Professionalism credits that you need, don’t worry we have them! Whether your practice leads you to the courtroom or the boardroom, we have the courses that present the tough ethical issues attorneys face in their everyday practice. If you are a litigator, you won’t want to miss retired Judge Michael Orfield’s excellent examination of ethics inside the courtroom. In Legal Ethics: The Lawyer, the Judge, and the Lawsuit, Judge Orfield covers the key areas that attorneys face ethical discipline and provides practical insight on how to avoid these ethical quandaries. Areas covered by Judge Orfield include competence, attorneys’ fees, permissive and mandatory withdrawal, the states function in discipline, conflicts of interest.

If you are a tech geek like me, and you are extremely interested with the laws intersection with technology, then Law, Ethics & Technology: E-Discovery & E-Competence is the course for you. Technology has reshaped the law like no other force, and nowhere is this more apparent than how we now discover our information. And while many of us knew that digital technologies would change our lives and practices, I don’t think anyone could have imagined the state of law in 2010 a decade ago. However, our new digital practice has created a whole new set of electronic ethics, from the way we advertise our services online to the level of competence expected from us. Attorneys now must understand complex, technical issues regarding ESI (electronically stored information).

These issues range from knowing how and where electronic documents, records and e-mails are maintained, to efficiently locating, reviewing, and producing responsive documents. Attorneys must now be proactive in their approach to electronic discovery or face possible malpractice, sanctions, or suspension for their electronic incompetence. And as we progress into the electronic age, attorney will only be held to a higher standard. Indeed, a Law.com study found that in 2008 over 25% of ediscovery cases involved some sort of sanction. Other courses offered as part of our Law & Technology series include Law, Ethics & Technology: E-mail, Metadata & Electronic Storage and Legal Ethics: Law, Ethics and Technology.

Did you know that in New York courses dealing with substance abuse & addiction also fall into the Ethics and Professionalism category? If your sixteen hour days have you stressed out and you don’t know where to turn, try Whittney Graham Beard’s Substance Abuse: Tools for Reducing Stress and Anxiety in the Practice of Law. Whittney Beard, Esq. is an ontological coach who specializes in helping working professionals reach their personal and career goals. Did you know that over half of all lawyer disciplinary actions arise from alcoholism or abuse, much of which is caused by the immense stress of the profession? Reducing your stress and anxiety in your everyday work life can help keep you from becoming dependent on these substances. Whittney discusses several ways in which you can better your life and reduce your stress and anxiety.

If you are an attorney in New York in desperate need of your required 24 MCLE units Attorney Credits has you covered! Take a look at our one click New York bundles or some of our other general New York course list as well.

Trusts and Estates California Case Law Update

If your practice concerns trusts and estates we have two great courses to keep you current with important California case law and legislation.

First, in Trusts and Estates Case Law Update Jacqueline Skay of Estate and Trust law provides a thorough review of recent case law that will affect your everyday practice. This course covers decisions from a number of areas including real property tax, debtor/creditor rights, elder law, conflict of interest, malpractice, evidence, statute of limitations, administrative charges, wills and trusts contests, and property rights. Ms. Skay also provides a brief summary of new legislation that we can all look forward to in the new year. Ms. Skay has been chosen by the State Bar of California to teach continuing education classes to other estate planning attorneys, abs she also frequently writes and speaks publicly on the subject of estate planning.

And for a more in-depth look at new legislation in 2010, S. Andrew Pharies and Michelle C. Christensen discuss what’s going on in Washington D.C. and Sacramento in Trusts and Estates: Legislative Update. Mr. Pharies and Ms. Christensen detail legislative changes that practitioners must deal with in the new year – from new rules for reverse mortgages to defining a “professional fiduciary,” and the unenforceability of no contest clauses. Mr. Pharies is a Certified Specialist in Estate Planning, Trust and Probate Law by the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization and Ms. Christensen has taught continuing education programs for the San Diego County Bar Association, the Bar Association of North County, and the La Jolla Probate and Trust Section.

Construction Defect: Expert Witness

Learn from the experts themselves! In Construction Defect: Expert Witness Pete Fowler and Paul Kushner of Pete Fowler Construction Services provide an informative and entertaining look at how to best deploy your expert witness in construction defect litigation.

Knowing and understanding the expert in a construction defect case, making the right tactical decisions, and taking the time to prepare will pay off in a successful verdict or settlement. Many attorneys make simple mistakes that can easily be avoided. In order to succeed at trial, it is crucial for the attorney to prepare and communicate with the expert as much as possible. If the first time that you have a substantive conversation with the expert is 45 minutes before trial you might be in trouble.

Areas covered include expert witness preparation, designation, planning, presentation, performance and pitfalls to avoid at trial. This is a very colorful presentation that you won’t want to miss, and you that may want to consider taking even if you are not in construction defect. Mr. Fowler and Mr. Kushner illustrate many areas that could be useful to any litigator that works with expert witnesses.

Pete Fowler is active as a General Contractor, Certified Professional Cost Estimator, Certified Inspector, Construction Consultant, author and speaker regarding construction topics. Focusing on construction projects and buildings suffering distress, Mr. Fowler has analyzed damage, performed testing, specified and overseen repairs, performed repairs as a contractor and testified on a wide variety of construction issues.

Paul V. Kushner is a California licensed architect with 20 years experience in the design and development of residential construction projects. Mr. Kushner has an extensive background in coordinating and leading multi-disciplined complex construction litigation for both plaintiffs and defendants including planning and directing of invasive testing programs, analysis of collected interdisciplinary inspection data, preparation of scopes of work, coordinating cost estimates, and providing expert testimony and exhibits for mediations and arbitrations. He has provided architectural services for post litigation reconstruction projects. Mr. Kushner is a current member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI), and the International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO).

Attorney As Patient: The Neuroscience of Addiction

“Giving up smoking is easy. I’ve done it hundreds of times.”

— Anonymous

This poignant phrase quotation succinctly captures the frustration that an addict suffers. Although he didn’t say it, the quote is often incorrectly attributed to one Samuel Longhorne Clemons (Mark Twain’s real name). Historically, substance abuse and addiction has been attributed to a lack of self-control – “If the individual was only stronger they would be able to stop drinking.” Well, addiction does not arise from a lack of will power. Many strong-willed individuals – who have built companies and become distinguished in their field – have succumbed to the ills of addiction. Indeed, with attorneys it is their very A-type personality and sharpened reasoning skills that can be turned against them.

The reason why people decide to try tobacco, alcohol, or illicit drugs for the first time is complex. People take substances as a diversion to make them feel different or to escape uncomfortable or unwanted surroundings. Once a person makes this choice to try substances, its kind of like playing Russian Roullette – some people are simply genetically predisposed to addiction like some people are predisposed to an illness like diabetes. Not only is the person’s predisposition for addiction a prevalent factor, but the degree of addiction is also decided by the inherent nature of the substance and the individual’s environment.

A person never knows how a certain substance will influence them, but some are truly “hooked” from that first sip of beer. And indeed, an addicted brain is a hijack brain. An individual’s reasoning also become hijacked, making it difficult to gain insight on the damage that the addiction is causing in their life.

Do you ever wonder why substance abuse and addiction is a required course in some jurisdictions? Attorneys are easy targets for substance abuse because our analytical reasoning skills are turned against us. The A-type personality combined with the stress of the job further combines for a bad mix. Further, many attorneys are good when it comes to dealing with people and are able to put on a good mask. Unfortunately, in over 50% of discipline cases the attorneys suffers from some form of substance abuse or addiction – usually to alcohol.

In Attorney As Patient: The Neuroscience of Addiction Clinical and Forensic psychiatrist Dr. Nathan Lavid breaks down the science behind addiction and details how attorneys are especially sensitive to its ills. However, many state bars are receptive to the problem and offer resources to get attorneys the help that they need. Further, there are numerous treatment options available, from rehab to residential treatment facilities.

Fun With the Kids

Well, Mike and I woke up early today and headed for the courthouse bright and early – and we were excited about it. Luckily, we weren’t facing traffic tickets, jury duty or an impending lawsuit like most trips to court. Rather, we were headed to court this morning to help videotape an event for the North County Bar Association here in San Diego – and it wasn’t your typical CLE presentation.

On My Honor was the name of the event and it gave over 1,000 kids a taste of the legal system – from inside the courtroom. We had an entire 8th grade class take part in a court room simulation, complete with a district judge, bailiff, and court reporter. Needless to say, I am sure it was an experience most of the kids will never forget and I saw quite a few trembling hands during opening statements and witness examination. But some of the kids were thoroughly prepared and did an excellent job.

I thought it was a great idea and a great example of a bar association serving their local community, and I only wish I had such a resource at my disposal as a youth. In life it’s not always easiest to give your time to others (it’s hard enough getting time for yourself sometimes), especially with our daily schedules and everyday demands. But the event was something that I will never forget and it makes me only want to get involved more.

And who knows ? Maybe there was a future Ninth Circuit judge in court today.


People’s Republic of Hackers

Well, our Blade Runner future is finally here.

For those of you not paying attention, cybercrime has become a major epidemic in this country and around the globe – just look at the sentences that Albert Gonzalez and “Max Vision” got. Unfortunately, it takes a massive company like Google to get hit for anybody to actually pay attention.

I took a little sabbatical in between graduating from law school & passing the California bar exam and becoming the Director of Legal Education at Attorney Credits. And in between that period I didn’t pay much attention to the law and trends in this country. When I came back to the law, the two biggest things that caught my attention was how far behind the technology ball attorneys were, and how nobody seemed to be paying any attention to cybercrime. While the “war on drugs” may get all the attention and resources in this country, cybercrime costs our country much, much more – and there is relatively little that is being done to stop it. State and local law enforcement simply do not have the resources to fight this new type of crime, and at the national level not very much is being done about the problem.

So let’s check your cybercrime aptitude. Don’t worry, there is but one quick question to consider in this exam. When you think of the work ‘hacker’ what comes to mind? If you answered ‘pimple faced 16-year old kid breaking into government servers on a Friday night from his parents basement’ you answered very wrong! Cybercrime and hacking have evolved from single pranks committed by bored geeky teenagers to sophisticated crime rings run by Eastern European and Asian criminal syndicates. Symantec reported that 75% of all companies experience a cyber attack in 2009!

And now China is beginning to gain the capabilities to threaten our national security with their (alleged) state-sponsored hacking. People fail to realize that China has clandestinely been engaged in hacking for years in the financial sector trying to subvert and destroy Western economies, and it’s only a matter of time before they turn their recourses on our electronic infrastructure – a major threat to our national security. Indeed, many commentators feel that China is gearing up for war in the 21st century – CyberWar.

It’s only with huge companies like Google getting hit with a massive cyber attack in January from inside China that cybercrime gets any attention. And I still wonder if anybody really cares? The attacks against Google came from an elite Chinese university and a vocational school. Evidence acquired by a United States military contractor involved in the same attacks as Google has even led investigators to suspect a link to one single specific computer science class, taught by a Ukrainian professor. According to a New York Times article, the Chinese schools involved are Shanghai Jiaotong University and the Lanxiang Vocational School.

Not surprisingly, Jiaotong has one of the top computer science programs in China and its students are fresh off beating Stanford and other top-flight international universities in the “Battle of the Brains” – an international computer programming competition organized by I.B.M. Located in east China’s Shandong Province, Lanxiang is a massive vocational school. Again, not surprisingly, the school was established with military support and it trains computer scientists for the Chinese military. Further, the school’s computer network is operated by a company with close ties to Baidu, the dominant search engine in China and a competitor of Google.

Experts have differing opinions over how to interpret the finding that the intrusions appear to come from schools – as opposed to Chinese military installations or government agencies. While the Chinese government maintains the position that it does not sponsor hackers, in American government circles some have privately circulated a document asserting that the vocational school is being used as camouflage for government operations. Computer industry executives and former government officials feel that its possible that the schools were cover for a “false flag” intelligence operation being run by a third country. And yet others speculate that there is no cyberwar component at all and the cyber attacks against Google and others were for financial motive. In this form, the hacking would be a giant example of criminal industrial espionage, geared towards stealing intellectual property from American technology firms.

According to a New York Times article, independent researchers who monitor Chinese information warfare caution that the Chinese have adopted a highly distributed approach to online espionage. This makes it almost impossible to prove where a cyber attack originated. “We have to understand that they have a different model for computer network exploit operations,” said James C. Mulvenon, a Chinese military specialist and a director at the Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis in Washington. Instead of the United States model that uses “tightly compartmentalized” online espionage within its government agencies, the Chinese government often employs volunteer “patriotic hackers” to support its policies.

More proof of China’s new online war comes from a report on Chinese online warfare from Northrop Grumman entitled, “Capability of People’s Republic of China to Conduct Cyber Warfare and Computer Network Exploitation.” The American aerospace and defense technology company prepared the report for the U.S.-China Economic Security Review Commission in October 2009. In the report the American defense contractor identifies six regions in China with military efforts to engage in such attacks. Jinan, site of the vocational school, was one of the regions listed in the report.

In the Google attack (Intel, Symantec, and more than 20 other companies were also targeted), new forensic analysis is beginning to illuminate new details of how the cyber criminals gained access to internal company corporate servers. The perpetrators targeted specific employees within the companies they attacked and worked feverishly to hide their tracks. They did this by using a man-in-the-mailbox scam — a clever technique that exploits the natural trust shared by co-workers. After infecting and controlling one computer inside the companies, intruders then circulated an e-mail with an attachment that contained malware that was highly likely to be opened by the second victim. This malware contained in the attachment made it possible for the intruders to take over more target computer.

Of course, the Chinese government denies all ties to the hacking. You can read more here.

You can read about more about the tales of Chinese Hacker Li Jun here. Li Jun is the author of the Panda Burns Incense computer worm, “the first case of organized cybercrime in China, using a computer virus,” according to U.S. technology security firm Symantec Corp.

You can read more about cybercime and the cost to global business here.

And you can read about an L.A. law firm who was the victim of a Chinese cyberattack here.