Wednesday, September 28, 2011

contact work at last

At the beginning of this year I signed up to a long list of "contract" attorney firms.
That's basically a temp agency but for attorneys.

At first there was nothing, then I got some really good research and writing projects for a very friendly small firm in Dupont Circle. It was like I was part of the firm, going in every day, sitting at the office desk and working my hours, going home, getting a paycheck on Friday.

Then the cases I was on closed. Sure, there were projects that came and went from them after, but very short things, couple days at most here and there. Great people so I'm happy to keep doing work for them whenever they need the help.

But that's not typical of contract work. Mostly it is document review.
So after seven months on the rolls, another contract firm contacted me in a rush to fill some document review slots. Tomorrow I will begin a three month stint in document review. I don't really know what to expect but given the economy and some big expenses coming up for my home, at least the money is good.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Location, Location, Location - and REGISTER!

If you own real estate in Maryland to rent out, read your county code requirements.
Tom Baranowsky did not, or he thought he'd save some money by not registering his rental condo in Anne Arundel County. It ended up costing him quite a bit in the long run.
Tom was not able to evict his tenant when she did not pay rent.

To register, and get a license to operate a multi-family dwelling, such as Tom's in Anne Arundel County, means to have the place inspected for safety and habitability by the county.
Technically, Tom had gotten such a license, but these are not permanent things. His had expired in 2005. The county contacted him thereafter (on 5 separate occasions) asking him to renew in order to be able to operate, but he did not attempt to renew until May 21 2009.

But on March 12, 2009, he had rented the property to Katie McDaniel.
Katie almost immediately discovered a short in the fuse box. She tried to get Tom to fix it. She called the fire department and they told her to move out as it was unsafe - but Katie had no place to go. There were also missing window locks and broken windows, and the kitchen countertop was never secured to the cabinets. Definitely unsafe for Katie and her young daughter.

In April a county inspector told Tom of those and numerous other safety violations. The same day of the inspection Tom filed suit to evict Katie because she had not paid rent for April 12 - May 12.

While the district court found for Tom, he lost on appeal.
The Court of Appeals ruled May 4 2011 that failure to license under the county rules undermines his legal status as landlord and thus denies him access to the expedited eviction process of the law.
He should have lost on the eviction case and the case was remanded to deal with the rent.

The moral is, check the local codes and get whatever licenses you need. It may cost a little now, but better than costing a lot later.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Would Solomon have Split the Dog in Half?

(this is something I posted on another forum in August that I'm reposting here in case it gets deleted there)

Fortunately we don’t have to know because in today’s legal arena you can split time. That’s what Judge Graydon S. McKee III (retired), sitting on the Circuit Court for Calvert County, has recently done.One of the difficult issues in any divorce is how to split up the property. It is almost always better to come to an agreement for the court to approve. If the parties don’t agree on how to divide a piece of marital property, then the court usually orders the property sold and the proceeds split equitably. What about the family dog?In Maryland, pets are considered property. If the parties can’t agree who gets to keep the pet, the court can order it sold and the money split. The reality is that people don’t consider their pets just like other property. In the recent case of Meyers v. Meyers, Judge McKee did not think that was a good solution, so in an unprecedented move he ordered Craig Meyers have possession of the dog 6 months out of the year and Gayle Meyers have possession the other 6 months.This was a possibly risky move in a precarious area of the law. Pets are more and more being considered part of the family, but the law still considers them property. If this case were to be appealed the decision could easily be thrown out. Then again, if it were a part of a negotiated separation agreement it would not. That is more reason why coming to an agreement with each other is better than having a decision thrust on you by the court. Not every judge will be as innovative as Judge McKee.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Cruelty of a Sexually Transmitted Disease

Divorce is a bit difficult in Maryland. You can't just say "we no longer get along - we have irreconcilable differences."
You can do that. There is "no-fault divorce" in Maryland, but to qualify you have to mutually agree to separate and then you have to wait for a full year before you can file your complaint for divorce.

If you have grounds though, like adultery or extreme cruelty, you don't have to wait.

Extreme cruelty may not be what you think it is though. Sure, the stereotype abused spouse with bruises and missing teeth is the victim of extreme cruelty, but did you know you could be the victim of extreme cruelty without a finger being raised against you?
You could instead have a disease.

In Maryland, if your spouse was infected with an STD and knew it, and slept with you anyway, without telling you about the STD, that is extreme cruelty.
And why not?
It shows an utter disrespect for your autonomy and your health.

You need a grounds for divorce in Maryland. An STD can be grounds.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Gun for Hire

With the ever-present need to pay bills, and the recent dearth of paying clients at present (I did not bring any with me from the partnership, it barely had any to keep afloat either), I have signed up with a half dozen legal temp firms.

They use the more impressive sounding "contract attorneys" label but for the most part it's just document review - the type of work a good Watson-type computer will be able to do in a fraction of the time soon.
So the firms all say it will just be a couple of weeks. They are sure work is just around the corner. Truth is, they don't have as much as they used to either.
So I plod along applying for other jobs, handling one or two cases of my own, and doing desperate acts like throwing my resume up on

Well Thursday I got a call from a legal temp agency. They have a job I would be good for, can I come meet tomorrow?
I go, even though I don't remember signing up with this particular agency.
Turns out, they grabbed my resume off Monster.
The interview goes well, he sends me to the client firm's offices to meet and it goes well there. In fact they put me to work. I get about 3 hours on the clock Friday - and another 7 hours Saturday. A couple from home Sunday, and full (very full) days Monday, Tuesday and today.
I think I just paid this month's mortgage.

Oh, and it's not document review. I'm doing substantive work, drafting a very complex opposition and memorandum in an appeal.

Temp work doesn't have to be drudgery - in fact I'm still waiting for the drudgery mills to call.
There's next month's mortgage to worry about after all.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Palin's Latest Failure

was her attempt to register her name with the Patent and Trademark Office.
Why did she fail? Well, most recently it's because she didn't sign the application:

She actually did a number of things wrong (well, her lawyer did, but we'll attribute it to her anyway).
Initially she submitted samples of her name in use that had nothing to do with the grounds she claimed for use.
You have to say HOW you are using a mark in commerce. So the application said "as a motivational speaker".
And you have to provide a "specimen" of your mark in use.
So they provided a newspaper article saying she'd been hired as a Fox commentator.
That's not really motivational speaking, so the specimens were rejected and new ones requested.
Don't know if they were provided because someone then noticed she failed to sign the application. It was rejected for lack of a signature.
Now that's correctable, but what about the samples?

Here's my take: why did she submit for motivational speaking?
Why not register for something she's actually done? She wrote some books didn't she?
So register for books in that genre.
Contrary to what many articles say about it being very hard to register a name as a mark, lots of people do it, particularly authors. Admittedly Danielle Steel is registered for perfume, not books, but she could just as easily register for novels in the romantic fiction field.

So Sarah, cause I know you read this, go back and register for books - or television acting - and produce new specimens and sign the application.

And if you really want to be registered as a motivational speaker, there is a way to do that.
Register an "intent to use" application. That gives you a year in which to actually start using the mark for that purpose.
Get hired as a motivational speaker.
Then print up advertising flyers or invitations for the event and voila, you have specimens.

And don't forget to sign on the dotted line.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Copyright in the Spoken Word

In this post I will address a question that you might have if you are in a group that works to improve public speaking (this came up because I joined Toastmasters and I did this as a speech topic).

In such a group you will have to prepare and present several speeches. So:

Do you have a copyright in your speeches?

First I will try to keep from using copyright as a verb. We tend to say did you copyright your speech, but what we should say is: do you have a copyright in your work. Copyright is a noun. It means, quite plainly, the right to make a copy.* If you have a copyright you can make copies and nobody can stop you; but, you can also license that right and let someone else make copies, or even transfer that right so that they can grant a license to yet a third party make copies. It also means you can prevent someone else from making copies of your work.

But how do you know whether or not you even have a copyright to begin with?

If you really need to know you should consult an attorney, because the question can be more complicated than you think. I am not here to give legal advice, but I will give you the basic tools to let you tell if you probably do or probably don’t have a copyright in your speech.

The Constitution gave Congress the power to grant copyrights, and the United States Code explains what types of things are entitled to a copyright.

There are three basic requirements: a work must be original, it must be creative, and it must be fixed in tangible form.

If you have those three things, you immediately have a copyright.

Now I will assume you make up your speeches on your own. Reciting someone else’s speech is not original.

And I will assume your speech is at least a little bit creative. A list of all of the people who came to your holiday party may be original but it is not creative. A phone book does not get a copyright.

So the third factor is probably the most critical, and potentially the most complicated.

Is your speech fixed in a tangible form?

That means, is it in a physical form that will last some amount of time.**

Did you write it down? If you did then you do have a copyright on your speech; at least, you have a copyright on your words.

But as your public speaking program no doubt teaches, your speech is much more than the words. Your speech includes your inflections and the tone of your voice. Those don’t have a place on the written page.

Can you get a copyright in those? Yes, you can.

What if you used a tape recorder, or a digital audio recorder?

The law grants copyright for sound recordings so if your speech is recorded in audio format then that too can be protected by copyright.

But is that really your speech? What about your gestures, your facial expressions? your body language and the way you move around the podium?

Yes, those too can be protected by copyright - if they are recorded, such as if you use the webcam on your laptop. The law grants copyright in audio-visual works or performances.

The key is always whether or not it is fixed in a tangible medium.

Suppose you wrote your speech down, and you recorded the audio and you recorded the video. You won’t have a copyright. In fact you will have three separate copyrights: a copyright in the written work, another in the sound recording, and another in the audio-visual work.

You can let someone photocopy your written words, or transcribe them, or photograph them, or even translate them into another language. You can let someone make duplicates of the audio, put them on an ipod, or even recite your speech imitating your voice. And you can let someone duplicate the audio-visual record, make mashup videos, post them on youtube, or broadcast it on television, or any of a countless array of inventive derivations and methods of copying.

Or, perhaps more salient to you, you can stop other people from doing any of those things.

Now there are exceptions to what you can prevent others from doing; and how to enforce your right is a whole different question.

If you just want to answer the basic question: Do I have a copyright in my speech, you only have to know three things: Is it original? Is it creative? and is it fixed in a tangible form?

* What is a copy? That’s a complicated question I will address in another post or series of posts.

** There has been much litigation about what fixed means so this discussion will be limited to the type of fixing you are likely to have as a public speaker.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Starting over.
I have spent most of the past year working on a partnership in a family law practice. I've had to learn so much it's ridiculous.
However, it didn't work out. Much of what I learned concerned working with another lawyer and you have to have a fit better than we had.

So starting over, only now I've spent down my savings on that failed project and need to get an income fast so it's hitting the job hunt again.
At the same time I'm going to be working on this, to keep every venue open.
Right now I'm learning how to use social networks, specifically: Twitter