Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Has the Practice of Law Changed?

Recently, I had the privilege of attending a celebration for two friends who have been practicing law for 50 years.  That is a righteous period to perform good services for people.  These two lawyers have done that.  I aspire to that goal, but it has made me explore what our profession has become and what I should be doing to accomplish my goal.

In my opinion, the legal profession has traveled the road away from professionalism and toward commercialization. The public is bombarded with ads from lawyers. Advertising is now an accepted practice, justified by the argument that more people are aware of lawyers and therefore have greater access to the justice system.  I am skeptical of that premise. There is an enormous number of people who self represent themselves, in divorce cases, landlord tenant cases, and most notably, in foreclosure actions.  It was a woman representing herself in the Federal District Court who convinced the Court that banks should have the original loan documents before they can foreclose. That brave soul caused a revolution in the mortgage and banking business. Her pro se representation was an embarrassment for the legal profession: she could find no one to represent her despite ubiquitous advertising.  Advertising does not advance access to justice; it does however commoditize good legal representation.

Today there is ample opportunity to find inexpensive do it yourself legal services from sources like Legal Zoom for individuals and businesses. On the other end of the spectrum, there are the very expensive international mega firms serving the interests of individuals and businesses involved in global pursuits. I think the public could be well served by the spectrum of those offerings.  In addition, there is a promise that technology can democratize justice by broadening availability to the masses, and reducing the costs of discovery.  Predictive software is projecting that it can replace human experience and expertise.

For me, a small cog somewhere in the middle of the legal spectrum, I thrive and I think my clients thrive on the personalized services that I offer.  Not merely the task of writing a simple will, a short contract, or splitting out a series of question for discovery,   but in the discussion, education and experience  that accompanies or precedes the task.  

If you are reading this short piece, you and I have a connection.  The connection may be by one degree of separation or perhaps three degrees of separation but the connection is there and rewardingly palpable, at least from my end and hopefully yours.  I am often asked what my specialty of law is.  I like to say that I represent people and businesses that find themselves in an ever-complex world and who need help navigating through that complexity.  It might be a life plan, estate plan, business formation or succession, capitalization methods, mergers and acquisitions, real estate matters, contracts or protection of intellectual property.

Over the years, in addition to the practices of law I have just described,  I have also been deep into charitable works, community service and on occasion Pro Bono representation.  I have done it because it makes me feel good and confirms my role in a community of like interests.  

I think my goal of a 50-year practice is real and rewarding.  It is not quixotic. I like people, I like to provide valued services, and I like being a trusted advisor.  Through these newsletters I have learned much for your feedback, I would be honored if you would continue to provide me with that feedback.

On my community service news, you might be interested to know that in the second year of the land development project I previously wrote about, the real estate developers, after hiring a professional lobbying firm finally prevailed and a wonderful open space will give way to 11 homes with a road that dissects the highline canal trail.  On the one hand, I was deeply saddened by the local political cave in, on the other it invigorated me to continue the participation in preserving community interests.  

Len Goldstein
Attorney at Law

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Musings on Crankiness

To say there is divisiveness in our country today is an embarrassing understatement.  The atmosphere of divisiveness, anger and doom is making me, and I strongly suspect others, very cranky.  Crankiness never used to be a part of my nature and I don’t like it much. So I decided to do some research and hopefully, do something about it.  The first step was to examine my belief system; the second step was to evaluate my actions. 

My good friend J Mitchell Perry, PhD tells me,  Your state of mind has a huge impact on the way you conduct yourself.  Your ongoing beliefs determine a tremendous amount of the way you look at reality and apply those perspectives.  When you believe you are defective, and weak, you are... on the other hand, when you believe you are good and worthy, you are.  So, which one do you want to believe?”

Dr. Daniel Amen, a leading neuroscientist and psychiatrist conducting research on brain waves, has established the differences between optimistic and angry thinking.  When the study group was asked to focus on their anger their bran wave scans no longer appeared normal, the waves resembled the scans of those suffering from schizophrenia.  Watching TV news, reading newspapers or other sources of news which focuses on negative facts, or anger or resentment, contributes to our own sense of alienation, frustration and even anger.

I am grateful to Bernice Ross of the Inman Group for bringing to my attention the book “Speaking The Language of Miracles” where Deana Scott, the author, suggests that you separate yourself from the situation.  The situation is not who you are but instead the conditions that surround you. Examples of a “situation” include the media, bad news, drama, gossip jealousy, hate or he said/she said circumstances.

Once you can refocus your beliefs on your strengths as suggested by Perry, and you can separate yourself from the situations that surround you, you can begin to identify and implement solutions.

Most of us limit our circle of friends to those like us. We tend to socialize with people who earn roughly the same amount of money, live in the same neighborhoods, come from the same backgrounds, and look the same as us.  David Brooks, New York Times contributor, calls this “coherent communities.”  Coherent communities will fight to defend the norms that hold communities together.  For example, they accept immigrants who assimilate to existing culture, but they’ll be suspicious of those who they feel bring in incompatible customs and tear at the
social fabric of the community. I would suggest that out of your coherent community, you spend more time with those who are optimistic and happy versus those who walk in pessimism and drama: both optimism and pessimism are contagious; you have a choice.    Taking on solving any of our national problems maybe akin to boiling the oceans, but today you can do something positive or useful on a smaller scale. The first step is to choose your state of mind.

For me this was a good exercise.  Fortunately for me the practice of law allows me to help people and do useful things.  I just need to return to what brings me happiness and fulfillment.  What will you do?

Monday, April 25, 2016

Who Exactly Is Running This Country?

My latest musings involve our legislative processes both at the State and Federal level.  My lobbyist friends may not like what follows. There was time, not long ago when our legislators owed their fealty to their constituents and to their party.  It now seems that loyalties are owed more to special interests than their constituents.  I have three examples for your consideration.

At the last Western Stock show, I sat down at a table with a lobbyist I have known for many years.  He told me he was meeting his client and that I would also enjoy meeting her.  The client was our Governor’s point person who chaired the committee which finds Colorado citizens to serve on Boards and Commissions. When I asked why this committee needs a lobbyist, I was told that the Governor needed a person at the legislature to lobby for his appointments.  So as a taxpayer, I am paying for a lobbyist to communicate with elected representatives to approve other citizens to serve on largely non-paying boards and commissions in case special interest groups might object.   Just recently I read in the Denver Post that the Secretary of State announced that he had neither the budget nor personnel to regulate the lobbying industry.  The legislature did pass a body of regulations to govern lobbyists but right now it barely serves to register the lobbyists and see to it that they pay their nominal registration fees.  Everyday we see the work of lobbyists whether it is over rain barrels, sales of wine in grocery stores or the ban on marijuana edibles.  Could it be that we have abandoned our Republic for a body of special interest handmaidens called lobbyists who have little to no oversight?

The second example is at the Federal level. Surprisingly there is strong bipartisan support for the Sentencing Reform Act of 2015.  The bipartisan support is composed of a coalition of strange bedfellows.  It unleashes the lobbying forces of the nation’s most prominent conservative and progressive organizations, over 200 in number, to bring about sentencing reform. The legislation is, however, being held up by, a small but apparently equally strong lobbying force of a special interest group out to protect business in general and the financial industry specifically, from white collar crime prosecution.  The amendment would require an element of proof (mens rea, a conscious awareness of one’s actions) in all white-collar collar prosecution.  This special interest group wants to insert this unrelated provision in the Sentencing bill to mostly protect a small group of corporate executives.  So we have another example of a legislative body deferring to a special interest rather than the constituency at large.

Just one more example of lobbying abuse in DC.  There is an army of lobbyist regularly appearing before and supplying information to the various agencies charged with providing detailed regulation to enforce acts of Congress.  I often hear the argument made of overregulation that strangles business and innovation.  Perhaps we should consider reforming the administrative process and relieving the administrative agencies from lobbying pressures.

These are just a few examples of how I believe our legislative process is being overrun with special interest and lobbyists.  What are your thoughts on our current state of the state relating to these matters?