Xpressdocs

I have been using Xpressdocs for document automation the last few months.  It is simply a wonderful and reasonably priced tool. I have not even scratched the surface of its capabilities and will write up my thoughts in detail over the next few weeks.

The Fine Print

Over the weekend, I was talking with some people, who thought that when you accept the terms of service or some other contract that has its terms in really fine print, then the terms do not really apply.  This, unfortunately, is untrue.  There are certainly some consumer protections, but you should always assume you will be bound by the terms of any contract you sign.

Furthermore, if you were to actually read many of these contracts, you would find many terms you would actively resist.  Waivers of rights to class actions and mandatory arbitration are two provisions that are worth resisting.  Not only that, when consumers tell companies that they won’t sign these provisions, the companies tend to take them out.  Certain credit card companies retreated on mandatory arbitration.  Contract terms are something companies can compete on, if you make them.  Blindly agreeing to any provision someone puts in front of you, is simply a foolish thing to do.

This is especially problematic in terms of data collection. Companies like Google specialize in reading your emails and tracking your every move in order to sell you advertising. They promise you free email service, free storage and the like, but then they use it to sell you stuff.  Worse, advertisers and others can then gain access to your private information.  Facebook is quite similar.

Furthermore, as this article makes clear, your private information is an asset to be bought and sold and it might end up being owned by a company you never even heard of.  Regulation of these practices should be growing, but it probably won’t, so you must protect yourself.

Right of Rescission Under the Truth in Lending Act

The Supreme Court today, in a unanimous opinion written by Justice Scalia, ruled that the right of rescission (i.e., a unilateral right to undo a mortgage loan transaction) that is a remedy under the Truth in Lending Act may be exercised simply by writing a letter to the lender that the borrower is rescinding the transaction. This right lasts for three years from the date of the transaction and is applicable in instances where the lender failed to provide any required notice under the Truth in Lending Act.

Borrowers who believe that they potentially have a claim under TILA should act as soon as they recognize it, since the three year statute of repose is non-waivable.

AIRBNB

This article in the New York Times is a good write up of one of the big problems with renting your home on AIRBNB or similar services (including Craigslist).

It seemed pretty obvious to me that you don’t have insurance from your regular homeowner’s policy when you rent your home out as a hotel. On this point insurance companies are justified in that the risks of insuring a hotel are clearly different than an owner occupied residence. A homeowner’s policy doesn’t cover when you have long term tenants either. The risks are large and I have seen clients with substantial losses for this type of business.

It should be noted that the premiums mentioned inn the article don’t seem huge. $3,000 for a million dollar home is not a huge increase over the typical price of a homeowner’s policy.

One of the issues being ignored by people in these circumstances is that the law generally treats consumers better than businesses and attempts to place liability on those who can afford to bear it. This is true formally and informally in various situations. When individuals not used to operating a business start seeing liability they won’t really understand what has changed. Worse, they can be bankrupted and everyone can lose.

It should be noted that renting your house as a hotel is illegal in most places, and before starting an AIRBNB business, one should consult am Attorney to understand all the legal issues attendant to such a business.

Surface Pro 3

I recently purchased a Surface Pro 3 to replace my iPad, and while it was considerably more expensive, I am happy with my choice.  The Surface Pro 3 is a true laptop in a tablet format. It gives you the full power of a PC and allows you to truly get work done on the go or on the couch.  I could never really say that about my iPad.  Unfortunately, Apple’s resistance to true multitasking and windowing, makes it terribly slow for work (granted I have been using an Ipad3 and not a newer faster ipad, but I believe the slow pace of my work on an ipad is much more related to the design of IOS than to the speed of the processor).

As I purchased the 256GB Surface Pro 3, I can default to having all of my active files downloaded locally on the machine, which makes a huge difference when out and about, particularly when going to court or meetings out of the office. With my iPad, I had to use Goodreader to download the files prior to going out of wifi or cellular range (and you cannot rely on cellular service in old courthouses, I have learned that the hard way). Similarly, while I am fine with Apple’s email app on the iPad for normal use, when you need to search or sort or look at folders in your mailbox, having Outlook available is a lifesaver. I have always thought Outlook to be slow and cumbersome and it is, but it also has more power than any other email client out there.

I write this as Apple revealed that iPad sales are dropping fast. I loved my iPad, but eventually I outgrew it.  At some point, even the best products are superseded. I heartily recommend the Surface Pro 3, despite the hefty price tag.

Stupid Thoughts from Vox.com

I am tempted to make a series noting the stupidity that passes for quality writing at vox.com. Creating a site that is supposedly smarter than other sites is a bad idea when your commentary is regularly idiotic. This article by Matthew Yglesias is a case in point. He defends the implementation of what is being called a “poor door” at new development on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. His defense of this door, is simply stupid.

For one thing, contrary to what he is arguing, inclusionary zoning policies do not tax individual condominium unit owners, they tax developers who usually are getting a tax break in exchange (mainly under NY’s 421A tax abatement program).

Second, the point of inclusionary zoning is to ensure that you do not ghettoize the poor as was done with the massive brick housing projects of the 1950’s and 60’s. The idea is to allow everyone to live together and that no one can tell just by looking which unit in the building you live in. When I lived in a luxury rental on the Upper West Side, the 20% inclusionary units were indistinguishable from the exterior of the unit. I know that my pan-handling lunatic neighbor was a beneficiary of this program only because he chose to pan handle on that very corner. Mr. Yglesias is against ensuring that there are units for the poor and the middle class in Manhattan. This is a policy argument that would mitigate against inclusionary zoning and other policies, but does not actually justify the poor door. It is simply a straw man argument by someone trying to sound smart.

Yglesias then calls for upzoning more of New York City so that it can be denser and claims that Mike Bloomberg downzoned too much of the City. While anyone actually having been in the City in the last ten years knows that Bloomberg upzoned or attempted to upzone all of Manhattan and most of the waterfronts in Brooklyn and Queens and pretended to offset this with reduced density in neighborhoods that were already less dense. Furthermore, Bloomberg’s rezoning, which added a huge amount of density to parts of Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens have not been accompanied by any increase in infrastructure to support the additional residents. There has not been a single mass transit or road project that would increase capacity (though some are subway and commuter rail projects underway, they only questionably increase capacity and seem to be years away from opening). There is no additional road capacity being planned and no parking increases. Just calling for taller buildings does not deal with the fact that you have to service those buildings, nor does it account for the question of whether anyone wants an entirely high-rise city.

Legal Practice Management – again

Just to follow up on my series of posts and articles on legal practice management software, I have now been using Amicus Premium for a few months. It has been at times infuriatingly buggy and annoying, but in the end it does what it is supposed to do.

With Clio, despite their claims of saving 8 hours a week, my billing each month would take hours. It had north of for automating the sending of multiethnic invoices by email. Amicus Premium with the billing module does billing really well. It takes me under ten minutes to generate the invoices and email them out to all of my clients in one process.

The big problem with Amicus is its lack of polish and the fact that they seem to focus on getting features to work just well enough. This is unfortunate. Dropbox integration, for example, works pretty well but it does not fully replace the built in doc management so you still have some docs, bill images and email attachments being saved to Amicus’ system.

Similarly, Amicus Anywhere cloud access works, but just barely.

I have finally gotten used to how to use document generation successfully, but am still trying to figure out email auto generation and pre-built task and event lists.

I would hope in the future that Amicus focus on modernizing their interface and bringing it into the 21st Century, reducing bugs and making everything work as expected. Overall, though, I am happy with my purchase. Much happier than with Clio.

Aereo

Today’s Supreme Court ruling in the Aereo case is one that gives me renewed confidence in the ability of courts to deal with technology without allowing tech companies to blatantly break the law just because they are a tech company.

The Supreme Court appears to have recognized Aereo for what it is, blatant and outright theft of someone else’s product. They did not get hung up on false arguments about how Aereo would affect legitimate technologies. Only Scalia is so confused, and he believes that Aereo should be illegal too. It should be obvious that crafting your tech to fit into an apparent legal loophole and to pretend you are not simply a cable company is something we should prevent. The Court saw through the gimmicks to the substance and made the right decision.

The shame of Aereo is that tier product is good. They should have focused on internet delivery of TV, which is coming and paid for the content.

Legal Market Disruption

The Atlantic runs one of the usual nonsensical articles about how lawyers are too expensive and how legal zoom and the like are the solution to all of our problems.

As a practicing lawyer, with a solo practice, I am well aware of the costs of legal services. The problem with all articles of this sort is that they ignore the facts that legal work is complex, time consuming and ultimately entirely necessary to prove the evidence presented.

In the example given, the author assumes the truth of everything stated by his protagonist plaintiff. The court, however, cannot assume the truth of even the most sympathetic litigant. This must be proven. This fact finding process has value and lawyers are necessary to accomplish that for most people.

Lawyers are highly educated and experienced. Almost all of my clients need help navigating the system, understanding the legal aspects of their dispute and a strategy for achieving their goals. Many are quite intelligent and successful in their own businesses, but they are experts in their fields and I am an expert in mine.

The article is also encouraging litigation of many minor consumer disputes that would just clog the system. These disputes are typically not large enough to really justify invoking the powerful machinery of a civil court.

On top of that, many consumer protection statutes have fee shifting statutes that require the loser to pay the opposing party’s legal fees. This has made many lawyers willing to take a case on a contingent fee, which is only paid on victory.

As to legal zoom and other document sites, they simply aren’t that cheap. I can easily provide a form document for a similar price. I am more expensive when the clients need more complex advice and actually want guidance.

The assumption behind these types of articles is that the market is a failure because lawyers are overpriced, ignoring the possibility that the market is in fact valuing lawyers correctly.

This article however is explicit: lawyers are overpaid. I suspect many of my colleagues would disagree. This is not about overhead, which is not that high. We don’t need form preparation components for our websites, we need more time in the day.