Phone Calls and Email Policy

One of the biggest complaints about lawyers is that as a profession we don’t return telephone calls and ignore emails from our clients or potential clients. This practice if true, is one that is disrespectful to the client and other members of our profession.

My policy is to try to return calls or emails within 5 hours. I never want a client to feel that their matter is being ignored or that they are not important to me. While there are times that I will refrain from taking calls during the day, I always set aside time both in the morning and afternoon to respond to telephone calls and emails. In that respect, the client can have a connection with me quickly, and if I need time to review or research a matter before giving a definitive answer I will let the client know.

Staying accessible to the client is important. That is why my Iphone is linked to my office email and if I am out of the office for an extended time my phone is forwarded to my cell so that the client does not feel unimportant.  Not only is knowledge of the law an important factor for a good attorney but so is being available to respond to their needs, questions and thoughts.

Todd Engel

New York No Fault Divorce

It appears that the New York Legislature in its final days may have acted positively towards one subject: divorce.

It appears that the New York Legislature in its final days may have acted positively towards one subject: divorce. New York was the last state that required fault in order to grant a divorce. This meant that a divorce could only be granted if one of four grounds were met: cruel and inhuman treatment, abandonment, adultery or constructive abandonment. The parties had to admit to grounds and often times led to the parties making statements that might not have been entirely accurate in order to obtain the resolution desired. Now under the new law parties seeking a divorce would have to state that for the preceding six months the marriage was not able to reconcile. This makes fault and acrimony between the parties less of an issue. Despite this the issues of custody, maintenance, child support and equitable distribution will continue to need to be resolved. The hope is that this will allow for an easier process for those parties seeking a divorce. Now the Governor needs to sign this legislation that has passed both houses. Todd Engel [email protected] www.engelatty.com”>
New York was the last state that required fault in order to grant a divorce. This meant that a divorce could only be granted if one of four grounds were met: cruel and inhuman treatment, abandonment, adultery or constructive abandonment. The parties had to admit to grounds and often times led to the parties making statements that might not have been entirely accurate in order to obtain the resolution desired.

Now under the new law parties seeking a divorce would have to state that for the preceding six months the marriage was not able to reconcile. This makes fault and acrimony between the parties less of an issue.

Despite this the issues of custody, maintenance, child support and equitable distribution will continue to need to be resolved.

The hope is that this will allow for an easier process for those parties seeking a divorce. Now the Governor needs to sign this legislation that has passed both houses.

Todd Engel
[email protected]
www.engelatty.com

What to look for when hiring an attorney

When looking to hire a new attorney there are five things you should always consider.

1. Comfort Level

When you initially reach out to the new attorney, are you comfortable with the manner he or she contacts you? Do you actually have the ability to speak with the attorney who will be handling your matter when you call? Are your initial questions answered? If the answer to any of these questions is no, you may want to consider looking at additional attorneys. At Engel Law Offices, you will speak to the attorney representing you immediately, there will be no middle man for intake purposes. You will have access via email to that attorney. At Engel Law Offices, communication is the cornerstone to a good attorney client relationship.

2. Size of Office

Can the attorney service your needs fairly? Law firms run the gamut from solo practitioners to firms with hundreds of attorneys. A solo practitioner like myself can represent people with all types of legal needs. Smaller offices can and do provide individualized attention to your needs.  Larger offices may fit your need and if that is so, then utilize their services, but please remember that you are hiring the lawyer and need to be able to have a working relationship with him or her. At Engel Law Offices, effective and quick response times are instrumental to our communication with the client. It is important that you feel that your case is important and that the office is available and accessible to you, the client.

3. What are you looking for?

A lawyer in a general practice can and oftentimes does represent an individual in all aspects of their legal needs. Whether it is buying a new home, selling a business, divorce, or estate planning, a general practitioner can handle those needs for you. Attorneys who specialize are great and having a referral network for a general practitioner to utilize makes sense for those situations when the client needs specialization.  A firm should be small enough to know who you are yet diverse to handle your needs. At Engel Law Offices, we strive to build relationships with our clients so that you will feel like you have a life long lawyer.

4. Does the attorney represent individuals with needs like yours?

When you call for an initial intake, do not hesitate to inquire about the lawyer who will be representing you. All lawyers should be candid with their experience level and comfort level with the fact scenario you place before them. At Engel Law Offices if you call with a matter that is not part of our practice areas, we seek to find you a suitable attorney given your situation.

5. Flat fee/ hourly rate

Economics is an important consideration in any relationship. Presently there is a trend for attorneys to move to a flat fee billing system. What this means is instead of charging an hourly rate for certain services, there is a set fee for the legal work determined at the beginning of the working relationship. If that relationship expands, the attorney may revisit the fee, however when a firm does a flat fee billing system, it is rare for that to happen. This benefits the client because their budget is fixed for purposes of legal fees for a certain matter. At Engel Law Offices, we assess your case and if flat fee billing is appropriate, we utilize that method.

A significant portion of our matters can be handled in this way, including certain aspects of commercial litigation, estate planning, estate administration, business matters, real estate matters, and equine matters can all be billed in a flat fee manner. Personal injury litigation is still based on a contingency fee and those fees can be discusses when you call Engel Law Offices.

Should you be searching for an attorney, please consider Engel Law Offices. We are lengths ahead of the field.

Todd Engel

Engel Law Offices

214 N. State Street                                                               1104 Middleline Road

Syracuse, NY 13203                                                           Ballston Spa, NY 12020

315-295-1450                                                                       518-490-1770

[email protected]

www.engelatty.com

www.twitter.com/toddengel

Why I love being a general practitioner

I love being a general practioner!

I represent corporations and individuals in such a wide and varied area of the law. I handle matters involving business planning and ultimate representation, estate planning, civil litigation, personal injury litigation, real estate, and equine law.  I have and do represent people criminally, as well as in Family Court.

Each day and case offers me a new opportunity to expand my knowledge in the law. But more importantly, it allows me to guide and assist my client in a way that is best for them. While each practice area may be different in scope and focus, the goal at the end of the day is always the same; get the best result for the client.

While each practice area has definite differences, they all excite me and keep me interested and involved. I love that one morning I can be working on a complaint in a personal injury matter and that afternoon I can be working with a family to figure out how best to plan their estate.

The saying goes variety is the spice of life. With my practice, my life is therefore definitely spicy! Which is how I like it.

Todd Engel

Engel Law Offices

[email protected]

Moving My Practice

Dear Friends,

I am pleased to announce that effective December 22, 2009, I will be relocating my practice to 214 N. State Street, Syracuse, NY 13203. My new telephone number will be 315-295-1450. My new fax number will be 315-478-1687. My email will remain [email protected] My Saratoga office remains at 1104 Middleline Road, Ballston Spa, NY 12020.

I will continue to represent individuals and small businesses in the following practice areas:

• Estate Planning and Adminstration
• Trust Drafting and Implementation
• Business Development and formation
• Personal Injury Litigation
• Commercial Litigation
• Equine Matters, including partnership formation, syndication, licensing issues, or any other associated matter.

I look forward to this new opportunity and am excited to continue to provide the quality personal based representation you have come to expect from Engel Law Offices. Please contact me with any questions regarding this move.

Wishing you and your family the best during this holiday season.

Todd

The audacity of people

I realize that the story I am about to share may not compare to the swindling that Bernie Madoff executed, but from my perspective it is actually worse. In today’s Syracuse Post Standard, there was an article detailing the scheme conducted by Jerome Feldman involving those must vulnerable: families in need of a transplant.

Allegedly, Feldman concocted a scheme where he would solicit opportunites to obtain a transplant in the Philippines if money was sent to his bank account in DeWitt, NY. The individual awaiting the transplant was instructed to wire $70,000 into Feldman’s bank account. Medical staff would then be available in the Philippines to conduct the transplant, or so Feldman said. The problem was, once the patient flew to the Philippines, no organ was there and the money was gone.

Feldman preyed upon those individuals who are looking for any hope possible for their loved one. I know, I was there; not one of Feldman’s victims, but a family member of a person on a transplant list. My mother was on dialysis for 15 years, before her death in 2006. She started with home dialysis and progressively needed the centers. She did it three times a week, and it prolonged her life. For about 10 years of the dialysis she was on the transplant lists until she became so compromised with additional illnesses that she had to be removed. Every time the phone rang, we hoped it was the transplant center letting us know that a kidney was there. We came close, but never found that perfect match. So, I know firsthand the desire to gain more time through obtaining a new organ.

Feldman’s acts were not acts of kindness. They were not acts of benevolence from one man to another. He was motivated by one thing: greed. Taking advantage of those people who are looking for any hope necessary is in my opinion the lowest form of the low. For the families who are suffering at the hands of Jerome Feldman, I am deeply sorry. For those of us who were families of people either waiting for or receiving transplants, it proves that we must go through the system for the private market organ transplant is fraught with thieves and miscreants who only want to take advantage of the situation.

Jerome Feldman Story

Todd Engel

[email protected]

Equine Law: Am I Just Horsing Around?

One of my favorite areas of practice is my equine law specialty. No, I am not just horsing around!

Since 1977, my family has owned and raced thoroughbred horses. We have been fortunate enough to race horses throughout North America and presently run horses at Aqueduct. We have raced at tracks from Oaklawn Park to Woodbine in Toronto. We have raced most frequently in the New York circuit. It is a wonderful experience and nothing is quite as thrilling as watching your horse running down the stretch going for the finish line. The question is whether a horse needs a lawyer?

No, the horse doesn’t need a lawyer, but others certainly do. I represent owners with respect to setting up the legal entities that make sense for their needs There needs to be agreements by and between the partners. There needs to be corporate resolutions in order to establish the business entity properly. Remember, while horse racing is a sport, and can be a lot of fun, the ownership of horses is intended to be a business.

If the business is successful, then tax issues are at play. Income taxes, sales tax, and other tax issues are continuously changing and need to be evaluated. The stimulus bill just signed by President Obama has created excellent tax advantages for horse ownership including depreciation of up to $250,000 for horses put into service during 2009. Sales tax issues can be reviewed and assessed dependent upon the state where a sale takes place.

Should a horse become extremely successful, there are additional legal issues to look at. These center around stallion syndication and arrangement of stallion servicing. Negotiating arrangements with the various farms where the stallion is to stand is necessary. Drafting agreements between the owner of the stallions and the owners of the mares is also required.

The racing side also has its need for equine attorneys. Licensing issues for owners, trainers and jockeys are an integral part of equine representation. Should a trainer or jockey have to serve a suspension, quality representation is necessary to protect their rights. Negotiation with the State Racing and Wagering Board can keep a trainer or jockey from having to serve a suspension and therefore keep the trainer or jockey from losing necessary income. Should a hearing be necessary, the lawyer can conduct the examination of witnesses and effectively represent a trainer, owner or jockey in front of the Board.

Horse racing is a thrilling sport. Proper assistance can make sure you remain in the game for the long haul.

Todd Engel

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Legal Planning in a Different Economy

When I look around my community, I see a totally new and evolving economic paradigm. Sure there are layoffs everywhere. Circuit City closes and there are 30,000 fewer jobs. Magna may close their local plant eliminating what at its height was 8,000 jobs in the automobile industry. Five years ago, who would have ever thought that Lehman Brothers would no longer be in existence? If you ask me, it is a time for opportunity to grow and develop a business.

Globally the economy is shrinking. This is no surprise from picking up the newspapers. However, that offers an opportunity for an enterprising person to open and develop a new business. In my view, the old economy of manufacturing and big business is no longer viable in today’s marketplace. The manufacturing is being accomplished in other countries where the costs of doing business are less. These only makes sense in a capitalistic society, if I can make it cheaper and sell it on the marketplace, then why do I need to pay the overhead, taxes and other costs of manufacturing in this country. So, how are we going to survive and what can a lawyer do to help?

The best way to reinvigorate the economy in times such as the now is to invest in ourselves and be creative. For some, that means thinking outside the box of what they know to look for employment in new areas. For others, it is to examine what their strengths are and to start their own business. My thinking is the small to medium sized businesses are going to drive this economy forward because those are the businesses that are going to roll up their sleeves and move us forward through creative work. What industry that is in is to be determined. However this is an exciting time to be involved in legal representation of small closely held businesses.

How does a lawyer help you? A good business lawyer can help in each facet of business planning. Whether it is setting up a good quality business plan., determining the right entity to begin this venture with, whether it is a solo proprietorship, general partnership, limited liability partnership, or corporation, a lawyer can guide you through the process and help fill out the appropriate documentation. A lawyer will work with you to project financing needs and developing strategies for obtaining startup capital. A lawyer can advise as to the tax implications of owning versus renting your business location and other depreciation techniques. Use a lawyer at the beginning who you trust, and it can be mean money saved down the line.

Todd Engel

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Law Office Technology Part 2

My last blog post dealt with some basic technology in order for a practice to hit the ground running. We will now discuss certain additional applications to make running an office more seamless as well as effective.

As I said previously, Microsoft Outlook is the email calendar and task tool that has the market dominance. This is because it is bundled with Microsoft Office. I use it to keep my contacts as well as my calendar and my emails. While stability can be an issue, it is the industry standard. Google has an online calendar system that is pretty good, however being that it is unsecure, I would not recommend it for law office calendar management due to confidentiality issues.

Clients today expect and deserve feedback as quickly as possible. That is one of the many reasons smartphones have become ubiquitous with attorneys. What an individual looks for in a smartphone is an ability to synch with your email, contacts and calendars. There are many flavors, whether it is the Iphone, the Blackberry or the Palm or variations on their theme. The key to me is to be able to have the information not only at my desk but also at my fingertips when I am out of the office.

Document assembly software is important in making sure you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. When your practice has developed a niche, use the appropriate software to generate repeat documents. Hotdocs is a great example of this. I also use Drafting Libraries for various documents. The quality of the document produced is quite good and there is certain customization and flexibility which is important.

Every lawyer wants to be paid for what they do. Therefore invest in a good time and billing package that can be utilized both by you and your assistant. Ideally it should feed into your phone/PDA so that you can quickly capture time outside the office. You should be able to enter fees quickly and easily. You should be able to set whether you are billing on an hourly basis, flat fee basis or contingency fee. You should ideally be able to combine this with a practice management suite which sets forth a conflict search. Try demos of these products, there are many and again, different people like different programs.

Technology is constantly changing and evolving and lawyers have to stay current to best serve our clients. Join the technology group of your local bar. Join the ABA Law Technology section. Read and learn what you can but remember don’t use something without trying it first.

Todd Engel

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Basic Office Technology for a Solo

It is somewhat ironic that I am writing a blog on the importance of technology to practicing law as a solo while Legal Tech is presently underway. Legal Tech is the largest conference regarding practicing law and the use of technology. I am sure the seminars and materials are fascinating and the swag is going to be fantastic, however this year my attendance is not meant to be. That does not diminish the importance of all types of technology for a solo attorney. I have decided to make this a two part blog. The first will be on “basic” technology; hardware, phone system, wordprocessors and the like. Second post will deal with more web 2.0, case management software, and other detailed technological issues.

The very first piece of technology that every office must have is a good quality telephone system. Sure you can run to Office Max and buy a $99 cordless phone and answering machine and be done with it. That sends two messages, I work on the cheap and I don’t value you as a client. Remember one thing, perception is someone else’s reality and when you look cheap the clients will perceive you as cheap. For me, a phone system has to have voice mail, call forwarding, an ability to add at least one caller to a call and caller ID. These are essential to a good practice in that it aids you in being responsive to the clients. Newer phone systems will send emails to you with either transcripts of the voice mail or the voice mail itself as a file attachment. I am not sold that is necessary, but if you are into add ons go ahead.

One needs to start out with a good solid computer system. I am not advocating it be Vista, the sooner Microsoft buries that operating system the better off those of us non Mac users will be. I am not saying don’t use a Mac either. I am the wrong guy to make hardware suggestions. The important thing is that the system you use be stable. In that vein, look at the RAM you want to have in the computer and double it. It is a way to help insure that when you are running two versions of word processing, a bookkeeping suite, a time management suite calendar email and several windows in a browser you don’t crash your computer.

A large monitor is ideal, two are better. The reason I say this is that if you have two monitors and you are working on a document or brief where you need to research and drop in language simultaneously, two screens will allow you to have the word processor open and your research open and move seamlessly between the two. I would think two 19 inch screens are the way to go.

A two printer system is ideal for most small offices. The first printer being an all in one with a glass scanner and document feeder in order for you to be able to create PDFs to keep paper files to a minimum. Yes, another reason for dual monitors you can scan the document in and have it on one screen and on the second have your reply letter, email or document and refer to the original effortlessly. The second printer I would have is a high quality laser printer for document production. I still find that inkjets smudge too much for my liking especially when I use highlighters.

Finally for this section, we will discuss generally about office suites. Wordperfect was for many years the standard bearer for legal offices. It was the suite found in every single office and was the one that most attorneys were trained on. That has slowly shifted to the point now where Microsoft Office has the dominant market share for lawyers; this only makes sense due to the fact that if you buy your computer through Dell or other manufacturers Office can come preloaded. Although certain versions of Word and WordPerfect allow for viewing of each other’s documents, the formatting is never the same as it was in the original software. I also am using Open Office more, not because I am programming in the open language, but instead want to meet all my clients needs. Word is now my primary word processor. Outlook is my primary calendar and email provider . However, I can seamlessly go into WordPerfect when a matter or document calls for it.

In the 21st century, lawyers who do not use technology to their advantage are one step behind the competition. The next part of this will detail more software and web based choices including ways to network online and ways to make your practice more effective to help you generate the product your client deserves and you want to be proud of.

Todd Engel

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