Monday, October 14, 2013

Saving Time and Money with Document Automation

The Changing Market Place
With the economic downturn of the past several years, many have found themselves looking to cut expenses and shop for a bargain.  We are also an increasingly mobile society.  By that, I mean the development of our mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets, etc. Couple that with the economic conditions and it's plain to see the fact that the market place as a whole has changed.  Entire industries have been forced to adapt or watch as more nimble and tech savvy competitors pass them by.

The legal industry has been no exception.  Although the changes have not been as drastic as those in some industries, there have been significant changes none-the-less.  Clients are not as willing to hand over a few hundred dollars for a lawyers time as they once were.  Part of that is the state of the economy, but part of it is the unlimited amount of information on the world-wide-web.

Just think about it.  If you have a question or want information about practically anything, you probably do a search on the internet first using your computer, phone, or tablet.  Individuals with legal questions are no different.  Where they used to hit the yellow pages to find an attorney, they now search the web first.  And, they will find there is no shortage of legal information on the web.

This has changed how people get legal services.  Legal consumers are more informed, more discriminating, and more cost conscious.

Web-Enabled Document Assembly
The legal consumer will have no trouble finding countless websites or software programs which offer the creation of legal documents through programs designed to elicit information from the individual through a step-by-step questionnaire to create a will or trust, for example.  Many attorneys and law firms see these companies and products as a threat to the legal community.  Not only as a threat to the billable hour, but also as a danger to the individual who is relying on these companies and software programs to create sound legal documents.

Both fears are warranted, but some attorneys have embraced the technology of web-enabled document assembly and have used it to offer clients service at a reasonable, flat fee, with the knowledge that their documents are being reviewed and scrutinized by a licensed attorney.

The Law Office of Jacob T. Arthur is one such firm. We operate a completely web-based law practice.  While we don't have a traditional brick and mortar office, we are still able to offer clients all the services and personal attention of a traditional firm, and in most cases more of each respectively, at lower costs to the consumer.

Our law office uses a technology platform that offers clients a secure portal which allows them to work with an attorney on their legal matter.  Because we are internet based, our office is never closed.  Clients can access communications, files, documents and services at any time.  This can all be utilized through any device that has an internet connection.

How it works
Our web-enabled document automation library has hundreds of North Carolina specific legal documents.  Clients can browse several different legal practice areas, such as, Business, Estates, Corporations and LLCs, and Landlord/Tenant just to name a few.  Ever document or document package has a description and price listed.  You can even try them for free, and in many cases  general documents are free.

A client using our documents will be directed to a questionnaire designed specifically for that document to walk the client through providing the necessary legal information to generate the document they've purchased.  As I mentioned, the client portal is secure and the work can be saved and completed as the client has time.  The attorney will also have access to the progress of the document to make any necessary revisions, and of course, the client can always communicate with the attorney during the questionnaire process for clarifications or advice.

Once a document is complete, it is thoroughly reviewed by the attorney to ensure it represents the wishes of the client and for legality.  The finished product is uploaded to the client and the process is complete.

Benefits To The Client
Time:  Less time spent in an attorney's office; collaborate with your attorney on your schedule

Money:  Know the costs up front; working with the attorney on your documents reduces money spent paying an attorney's staff member to draft it for you; no billable hours

Convenience: Access to your legal matter and attorney from any internet connected device

Personal Attention: Direct access to an attorney; The Law Office of Jacob T. Arthur has no paralegals, legal secretaries, or receptionists; you communicate directly with your attorney

Conclusion
The need for the services of a competent attorney are not likely  vanish anytime in the near future, especially if you have a legal matter at hand.  However, the way consumers elicit those services has already begun to change.

If you're a small business or individual in North Carolina and want to find our how we can help you with your legal needs, feel free to stop by anytime at The Law Office of Jacob T. Arthur.  As I said, we're always open.


 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Notice to Creditors

If you are named the personal representative, also known as the executor, in an individual's will, you have a great responsibility.  Among the many steps you will take as the personal representative, one of the first will be to put the decedent's creditors on notice of their death.

You may have seen these notices in the classified section of your local newspaper.  State law requires that the notices must begin after the granting of letters testamentary or letters of administration.  The relevant law requires the notices to be published once a week for four consecutive weeks in a newspaper in the the county where the personal representative received his letters.

What if the county has no such newspaper?  There is another option available if that is the case.  Notice may be posted at the county courthouse and four other public places within the county.

What does the notice have to say?  The notice must let all persons having claims against the decedent to exhibit their claims to you, the personal representative, on or before a specified date.  The date must be at least three months from the day of the first publication of the notice.

If you know who the creditors are you may also personally serve notice to those creditors.  At The Law Office of Jacob T. Arthur, we make many general and specific Notice of Death documents available to you for free.

Lastly, you must file a copy of the notice and an affidavit of publication of posting with the clerk.  However, before you file proof of notice with the clerk, the law requires that you must send by first class mail a copy of the publication notice to all persons, firms, and corporations having unsatisfied claims against the decedent.  All claimants who are actually known or can be reasonably ascertained by you within 75 days after the granting of letters must be included.

It is always a good idea to get the advice or guidance of an attorney if you are the personal representative.  Please do not hesitate to contact The Law Office Of Jacob T. Arthur if you need assistance.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Did I just hire an Independent Contractor or an Employee?

Not all small business owners have employees.  Many owners are the business's only employee, with the owner choosing to use independent contractors to carry out the day-to-day activities of the business.  Imagine the home builder you've chosen to build your new home.  He likely doesn't have electricians on staff.  He takes bids and hires sub-contractors to do the electrical work on the house.

The typical independent contractor, also called a 1099 due to the Form 1099 required to be filed with the IRS, is responsible for his/her own taxes.  A business is not generally required to withhold or pay any taxes for payments they have made to independent contractors.  This sounds simple, but if the business owner does not properly characterize the provider of services, the business may open itself to tax liability.  This would include interest and penalties.

So, your asking yourself, how do I ensure I'm actually using an independent contractor and not a service provider who could be classified as and employee?  Typically, if the business owner has the right to control and direct the outcome of services, but not the manner in which the outcome is achieved, the individual is generally considered an independent contractor.  However, it's not always that simple.

A good article to read would be Independent Contractor or Employee: How Government Agencies Make the Call.

Let us know if we can help your small business at (919) 395-4925 or jacobarthurlaw@gmail.com

You can visit us at www.jacobarthurlaw.com



Thursday, July 11, 2013

Business Formation Considerations - It may be worth more than $49.00

Are you thinking about forming a business, or already have one and want to incorporate?  Just watch a little television and you will likely see several commercials advertising "do it yourself" incorporation packages, wills, etc.  While it may be easy and painless in the short-term to answer some question on a web site and download an LLC package to send to the Secretary of State, you may want to seek the advice of counsel.  Read the disclaimers on those web sites.  They are very clear they are not a substitute for a competent attorney, can't offer legal advice, and won't guarantee that your document would stand up in a court of law.

If your thinking of incorporating there are several things you want to consider, and it may save you in the long run if you just start by talking to an attorney.  I'm not going to bore you with an exhaustive and detailed list of each consideration, but below are a few things to think about when you are considering incorporating your business.

  • Formation: are you going to be a Nonprofit Corporation, Limited Liability Company, Limited Partnership or Limited Liability Partnership, etc.
  • What's it going to cost to form and maintain the corporation
  • What law will govern my corporation and is one state's law more favorable than another
  • Who will control and manage the corporation
  • Operating agreement...what is it and should I have one
  • Are we forming for specific purpose and will dissolve once that purpose is fulfilled or are we planning a perpetual existence
  • What procedures will we have in place for a member to transfer his/her interest
  • How do we settle disputes
  • Compensation
  • Tax considerations
This is by no means a comprehensive list of things to consider, but it should give you a good idea of things they may not tell you on a site where you can form your LLC for as little as $49.00.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Virtual Law Practice and Small Businesses - A Perfect Fit

  • How can a lawyer with a virtual law practice help my small business?  
  • Can a attorney operating a practice out of his home over the Internet really compete and provide the same level of legal service as the "Big Boys" in the brick and mortar building down the street?  
  • We're still talking about a lawyer, virtual practice or not, aren't legal services going to hit my business really hard in the wallet?

Well, I'm glad I asked myself these questions.  These are just a few questions I thought of today, and the short answer is that I believe a lawyer operating a virtual law practice can be extremely beneficial to today's small business owner.  Since we've got time, let's dig a little deeper.

I spent some time today with a friend who is a small business owner.  His business has been up and running for a short time, but he's making strides and has a great vision for where he sees the company in the future.  I definitely think he will get there, but it's going to take time and work.

Every business will at some point need the services of a lawyer.  So, how can a virtual practice best assist the small business owner?

Time: 
I know several small business owners who are specifically around my age, 35 and under.  These guys and gals work very hard and spend the majority of their time working to grow their businesses.  Time is something in short supply for these folks.  Every minute is valuable and can mean earning a dollar or losing one. These folks don't have an office full of people handling paperwork, answering the phone, taking orders, giving quotes, etc.  They are the brains and the muscle of the business.  Their time is precious.

A lawyer operating a virtual office, like myself, can be accessible and available to the client 24/7.  The virtual practitioner can tailor his service to the client's time constraints, not the other way around.  In order to assist my client, I really only need a phone, computer, internet connection and a printer.  This is all the brick and mortar law offices need.  We can do the same work, but the virtual office practitioner can do it without the receptionist, legal assistant, and associates.

Efficiency:
A virtual law office also is a great conduit of efficiency for the small business owner.  Imagine you are a small business owner who has a legal issue come up.  You have a few free minutes, so you call your lawyer at his or her brick and mortar office.  You get the receptionist, who transfers you to the attorney's legal secretary, who asks if you would like to leave a voice mail.

Now imagine you call your attorney who operates a virtual office, and he answers the phone.  Or if you're really strapped for time you email him a quick note when you have a second, he gets it and can immediately respond or can call you when it's convenient for you, say after dinner.  Or schedule to meet you at a time and place of your choosing.

You need a contract drafted.  Your attorney, the one with the virtual office, communicates with you via email through a secure client portal on his web site.  You get him the information he needs when you have time and he prepares the contract and makes it available for you in your personal account to retrieve at your convenience.  He also invoices you through your account and you pay via a secure platform on the web site.

Costs:
Since we just talked about efficiency, let's translate that into costs to the small business owner.  Above, I described the web you may have to get through just to speak with your attorney at the brick and mortar office.  Let's not forget those folks don't work for free.  There's also the lease on the building, power to keep the lights on, refreshments for conferences, etc., etc.  Somebody's got to cover the costs of all that.  Who do you think is helping cover the costs?

A virtual law practice really has minimal overhead.  Like I said above, a phone, a computer and a printer can do just about everything we need.  Less overhead equals less markup.  I don't think I'm giving away any trade secrets, but I guess I could bill you to take time out of your day and come in to answer questions for me so I can draft that contract I talked about above?  Or I can post the questions to you in your account and you can email the answers back to me when you have time.  This way will probably save both time and money?  I'm just not sure?  Actually, I'm positive it will save time and money, both of which the small business owner is extremely protective of.

Personal Service:
I put this last, not because I believe it's the least important, but rather because I believe it's very important and I want you to leave this post with it fresh in your mind.

Time, efficiency, and costs savings can make up for many deficiencies, but deficient personal service can ruin the attorney-client relationship.  I believe small business owners want an attorney who believes in their business as much as they do.  They are empowered by a attorney who wants the business to succeed  as much as they do.  Personal service and attention can do wonders to ease the minds of a small business owner, especially when legal issues arise.

As stated above, having a virtual office allows the attorney to be as accessible as he wants to be for the client.  If I'm asked when I'll be in my office, my response is easy: "I'm always in my office."  As long as I have my phone or access to my computer, I'm available to my clients.

Please let me know if you have any questions.  I'd love to hear your thoughts.  You can check out my virtual law office at The Law Office of Jacob T. Arthur. Feel free to call or email.  Like I said, "I'm always in my office."

Writ of Execution?? What are your rights?

If a creditor has a judgment against you, chances are you will receive notice of a Writ of Execution at some point in the future.  The writ will be delivered by the sheriff of your county and it allows the sheriff to seize and sell property to satisfy the judgment.  However, you still have some rights.

Be on the lookout for a very important piece of mail.  You will receive a Notice of Right to Have Exemptions Designated.  Exemptions may include real and personal property, but the statutes are fairly specific about what and how much may be designated exempt by law.  North Carolina General Statute1C-1603 provides the procedure for setting aside exempt property.  You will have 20 days to respond to the Notice.  Do not delay!

At this point it is probably a good idea to talk to a lawyer.  This will at least give you a chance to protect some of your property from the judgment creditor.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Where are we headed?

Our firm is attempting to ride the wave of technology and mobility into the future.  It's an exciting time!  I read a lot, and for the last several years I've been keeping track of the progress of Virtual Law Practice.  It began a few years ago when I read an article in the ABA Journal about Stephanie Kimbro and her virtual law practice.  I was intrigued because I was a stay-at-home dad with a law degree and trying to figure out how to practice law and not have my kids in day care while my wife, Lisa, and I both worked.

The article in the ABA Journal must have planted a seed that took a while to bloom, but here I am, operating a virtual law practice called The Law Office of Jacob T. Arthur.  I'm just getting off the ground and working to get my name into the marketplace, but I'm really excited about the future!

The legal field has gone through some changes in the last few years, as has our entire economy.  Summer programs for law students at firms have been cut back, starting salaries are down, and jobs for attorneys are not easy to come by.  This presents a challenge for not only lawyers, but consumers of legal services.

In the past, if you were in need of legal services you either paid for a brick and mortar law firm or went without services.  Now there are "document generation" sites where can pay a fee, enter some information, and it spits out a will for instance.  This may be affordable, but have you read the fine print?  Have you checked out the disclaimer?  Most will tell you they can't offer legal advice, give an opinion, or even recommendation about legal rights.  That's a bit scary when your talking about something as important as a legal matter.

At The Law Office of Jacob T. Arthur we attempting to bridge a gap in the marketplace.  Our goal is to offer comprehensive legal services at the client's convenience.  We want to increase access to the law and do it in a timely and affordable manner.  We want to improve the lawyer-client relationship.  We think we can do all of this through a virtual law practice.

Stick around and see what happens!