Sunday, May 17, 2009

How to find a pro bono lawyer

If you're having trouble paying for legal professional advice and representation, there may be no better time than now to seek pro bono services. As the economy continues to tank, layoffs among top law firms finds lawyers in the same boat as everyone else. 

Of course, there's no way to tell if these newly unemployed attorneys will be willing to take on pro bono work as a result of a layoff. But it certainly doesn't hurt to bolster their resumes as they look to join a law firm that's hiring. 

A long-standing pro bono recommendation by the American Bar Association (ABA) states that ethical rules should compel any attorney to contribute to "pro bono" or to "the public good" by logging at least 50 hours a year to pro bono work. Top law firms even in good times will often encourage pro bono work to enhance their firm's standing as good corporate citizens, although the 50-hour per year ideal is a goal rarely met in the real world.

Your local state bar association is a good place to start if you are seeking a lawyer to handle your case without a fee. Statistically, you're in a better position to find a pro bono lawyer in the US if you live in major cities like Chicago, New York, Washington DC, LA or Atlanta where well-heeled law firms are better positioned to take on pro bono cases.

You may also want to check with advocacy groups that fight for kids and families, victims of crime, discrimination, or advocate for immigration and aslyum, etc., which may apply to your particular case.

If you live near a law school that funds a public interest or pro bono program, check to see if there is a community center or law clinic where professional services are offered by students usually under the supervision of a professor.

Finally, don't be afraid to go the old-fashioned route, by asking friends or family members for recommendations. A local clergyman may also be helpful in finding a church member who would be willing to take your case on a pro bono basis. 

More about finding a pro bono lawyer around the Web:

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Good Reasons for Legalizing Marijuana?

Set aside for the moment that marijuana possession in small amounts is de facto decriminalized throughout most of America. Will legal sale and distribution of pot inevitably lead to a modern day Sodom and Gommorah?

Federal and state governments are starting to seriously consider whether the issue deserves another look as they search for more creative ways to raise revenue. Rather than spending an estimated $8 billion a year on marijuana law enforcement, shouldn't the government take on the role of regulating and taxing it just like liquor and cigarettes?

This was pointed up most recently by California governor Arnold Schwarzeneger when he broached the subject legalizing marijuana publicly in May. Asked if he favored legalisation, Schwarzenegger told reporters: "Well, I think it's not time for that, but I think it's time for a debate. I think all of those ideas of creating extra revenues are worth considering. I think we ought to study very carefully what other countries are doing that have legalised marijuana and other drugs. What effect did it have on those countries?"

What, indeed? A long list of countries where marijuana has been decriminalized include Belgium, The Netherlands, Spain and Portugal, most of South America and a large swath of Australia.

Meanwhile, in other countries where it is still strictly illegal, (on the books, at least) officials continue to vaguely admit that applicable marijuana laws are hardly ever enforced against casual users. Yet ALL countries where pot use is tolerated still have strict laws against its sale and distribution.

So why the disconnect between users and sellers? Isn't it time we ended the hypocrisy and begin now to regulate and sell pot to help stimulate a billion-dollar farming industry instead of spending billions to fight the illegal drug trade? Police and court resources would be freed up for more serious crimes and drug dealers (including some terrorists) would lose most or all of their business.

Although real concerns about what effects marijuana might have on brain development teens and young adults, positive anecdotal evidence often refutes the traditional "sinful weed from hell" mentality associated with cannibis.

If that's not enough, medical reports published this year showed that alchohol had by far more harmful effects on neurological functions than marijuana. It may be the combined effects of hard research, and the practical considerations of bolstering a failed economy, will force another look at marijuana.

If not, we'll most likely continue down the same road as our forefathers during Prohibition. And we all know how that turned out. In his earliest days in office, FDR helped fix the banks, then legalized booze. How about legalizing marijuana?

More about legalizing marijuana around the Web:

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Quotes on Equal Protection & the Rule of Law

It's a little late, but ... Happy Law Day! 

Although the former Bush administration would wish the issue of torture would go away, the facts aren't on their side as the ghosts of history past continue to haunt them. 

ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law!

THOMAS MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that!

THOMAS MORE: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you-where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man's laws, not God's — and if you cut them down —and you're just the man to do it — d'you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake.
Robert Bolt, A Man For All Seasons
  • “The rule of law can be wiped out in one misguided, however well-intentioned, generation.”
    William T. Gossett,  Attorneys & the Practice of Law, 1969
  • "If men were angels, no government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. "
    James Madison, Federalist Paper No. 51 (1788)
  • "There can be no free society without law administered through an independent judiciary. If one man can be allowed to determine for himself what is law, every man can. That means first chaos, then tyranny."
    U.S. Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, United States v. United Mine Workers (1947)
  • "The clearest way to show what the rule of law means to us in everyday life is to recall what has happened when there is no rule of law."
    Dwight Eisenhower, an address on the first observance of Law Day, May 5, 1958

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Suing an Employer: How & When to Hire a Labor Lawyer

According to the 2008 Fulbright & Jaworski Litigation Trends Survey, 27% of all U.S. companies surveyed had more than 20 lawsuits brought against them, up slightly from the year before. 

And it's a trend that seems to be growing.

The most commmon reasons for lawsuits? They usually involve perceived abuse by employees over hourly wages, promised overtime, meal expenses or break time. 

As the recession worsens, experts are particularly watching how an increase in hiring of part time or seasonal workers will effect the trend.

As ever, the bigger the company (see Walmart) the better the odds of winning or settling out of court. Other typical cases include: 
  • race, sex or age discrimination
  • harassment
  • disability
  • violations of the Family Medical Leave Act
How to hire a labor attorney

When looking for a labor attorney, it’s a always a good idea to shop around, but if you can't afford an initial consultation look for law firms that provide them at no charge.

While your there, ask questions. Make sure they're qualified in mediation, arbitration, and that they are armed with a proven track record in litigating cases. How many cases have they brought to trial? How many have they won? If settlement negotiations later break down, you'll know (and you're employer will, too) that you've hired a labor lawyer who can successfully argue your case in a very public court of law.

More about labor law around the Web:

Friday, May 1, 2009

Online Legal Resources

It was ol'Abe Lincoln who famously taught himself the law of the land by candlelight in a rustic backwoods Kentucky log cabin.

Today, more light is being shed on the law than ever before with rich online resources providing a virtual college education. Some have been around for years and have become fairly well known for their breadth of information, while others come online just waiting to be discovered.

Just up ahead,  a current snapshot of the most complete online information for armchair lawyers, researchers and others who want to know more about the impact the legal system has on our everyday lives.

NOLO - The online bible for free legal information in the dual areas of consumer and business law including copyright law, landlord-tenant law, bankruptcy, foreclosures, family law and immigration, malpractice, small claims court, and lots more with feature articles and opinion, sample forms and contracts.

FindLaw - Browse over a dozen topics or dig deeper into the subtopic areas (under Accidents and Injuries, for example) to explore the finer points of everything from dog bites to mesothelioma. Also see their Dangerous Products category for an A-Z list of poisonous, unhealthful or questionable products or medications. - An online alamanc of interesting, informative and factual information including legal resources by topic, a comprehensive A-Z legal dictionary, a collection of law quotations, and don't miss The Law's Hall of Horror for crime and punishment through the ages.

The Encyclopedia of Everyday Law - A great collection of facts and information on civil rights, disabilities, patient rights, family law, immigration, taxes and related laws and consumer issues.

Virtual Gumshoe - Have fun tracking down vital records, missing persons, cemetaries and obituaries, most wanted lists, voter records, weather history data, historical archives and more nuggets of information freely available online for the curious cyber detective.