Popular Threads - June 2020

Availability of Quality Webcams

Has anyone found a supplier that has Logitech C9XX or C6XX webcams, or other devices of similar quality, in stock for immediate shipment (at non-inflated prices)? I'd like to get one before my next Zoom meeting, but I'm coming up empty after spending far too long searching...

I have had one on backorder since March on a major website. You can buy other webcams on Amazon, but I have not done so. They are not well-known brands, but may work, but I have not pulled the trigger. 

You can also look at tablets or notebooks for the camera. Right now I am running Zoom meetings, hearings and so forth on laptops, one of which I bought on sale during the Covid period.

Darrell G. Stewart, Texas

They've been sold out everywhere since February. There are some other brands claiming similar statistics, but one of my business partners bought one recently (I don't know which one), and it doesn't come close to the Logitech C910. I have C910s and C920s, but I prefer the C910s.

There's another option. If you have a video camera (such as a Canon HF G30) with a clean HDMI output, you can get an HDMI to USB converter and use the camera as a webcam.

Mike Phillips, North Carolina

I purchased one on eBay recently for a normal price. Arrived within a week (as promised) and works as expected.

Loyd J. Bourgeois, Jr., Louisiana

I've bought two cheapos out of necessity - generics from China. The video has been good on both; audio not so good, but they've gotten me through multiple Webex hearings and ZOOM meetings. They were about $30 apiece.

John Leonard, Connecticut

I've been on the market for a Brio 4k webcam, and I'm not willing to pay 50% above list price for a camera. Used ones are going for new camera list price. Because of supply and demand right now, the market is filled with overpriced cameras. I don't know why Logitech hasn't tried to scale up to meet this demand.

If you look at sites like Mercari and Offer Up, you might find some cheaper used ones of the type you are looking for.

Jarrett L. Silver

Thanks to everyone who took the time to reply. I found a Logitech C615 for about $70 at Walmart. Not exactly what I was hoping to get, but good enough at a good price. Link to the webcam is below, if anyone is interested in ordering.

https://www.walmart.com/ip/Logitech-HD-Laptop-Webcam-C615-with-Fold-and-Go-Design-360-Degree-Swivel-1080p-Camera/16954486

Andrew C. McDannold, Florida

Thank you very much! I just ordered one.

Stay safe.

Roberta Fay, California

No one seems to pay attention to my recommendation, but I'll try again. You should try to find a cardioid or unidirectional USB microphone for the voice portion of your Zoom conference. Using a camera or computer mic is terrible. The reverberation in the room makes at least some part of your audio intelligible to older people with less-than-perfect hearing.

I can make some recommendations, if anyone has any interest.

Mike Phillips

Mike Phillips, which cardioid or unidirectional USB microphone do you recommend? There are too many choices and the more expensive ones are regularly sold out on amazon. Yesterday I attended a zoom webinar with terrible sound quality from one of thespeaker’s video setup. (I cannot believe how bad the availability issue and price inflation has become in the last month.) Thanks in advance and thanks for this thread of messages.

Roberta Fay

If you are near a Best Buy, these may be in stock:

https://www.bestbuy.com/site/blue-microphones-yeti-usb-multi-pattern-electret-condenser-microphone/4758301.p?skuId=4758301

It's what I've been using and you can switch between cardioid and other directions depending on what your needs are (there's a dial on the back to make the switching easy). It's not the cheapest out there, but it's a great USB mic and it's in stock...

Andrew M. Ayers, New York

Your expertise is impressive and you are kind to share it. You are way above my knowledge. Perhaps you might provide more detail for those of us so we can understand.

Deborah Matthews, Virginia

Mike, I already have a Blue Yeti mic - I only needed a good webcam.

Andrew C. McDannold

A Blue Yeti is good for video use. Make sure it's in the cardioid mode, that you're talking into the front (side) of the mic, and that you are as close to it as you can comfortably get.

Mike Phillips

I picked up a logitech C920 on offer up.

Nicholas I. Fuerst, Arizona

Charging for Initial Consultations and Fee Timing

For folks who charge for initial consults, when do you take payment and when do you consider the fee earned? When booked? At the meeting? After?

According to my understanding of our ethics rule, a fee may not be considered earned until you have dome *something* on the matter, unless it is a true retainer for the purpose of securing priority access to resources.

I generally take payment at the consult, which has resulted in more than a few, "Oh, gosh, I forgot my checkbook" claims at the close of the meeting over the years. Certain types of consults were more problematic than others; basically, I assumed that if it was a consultation regarding a contingency matter, the likelihood of getting stiffed at the meeting was much higher, the function (P) approaching 1 inversely proportionate to the weakness of their case. (That is to say, for the math impaired, if they met and got bad news, they were very unlikely to pay for it ex post.)

As I move to a model of (ideally) more house calls, including evening and weekend appointments, I'm working to get my site and calendar set up to take advance payments to secure those slots.

Richard J. Rutledge, Jr., North Carolina

I generally offer free consults, they can be very short, less than 5 minutes if it is apparent that there is no case, or they are unlikely to hire me. I write that off as marketing cost. On the other hand, I do charge for some consults, typically reviewing real estate contracts, some one has an offer and they want it reviewed, if it is one of the standard realtor forms I know what and where the relevant portions are and can cover that in maybe 30 minutes give or take. I will tell them what the cost is, they come in I explain it and then ask for fee. No one has ever stiffed me on it, and some people will flat out say that it is well worth the fee.

Ronald Jones, Florida

I have routinely charged for 'initial consultations' for several years. We have a set fee for the consultation, no matter the length (altho for short meetings I'll often adjust the fee). We tell the client when they make the appointment about the fee. I usually collect the fee at the end of the meeting. If we're doing more work, I'll just add it to the bill. Yes, we do sometimes get the 'I forgot my checkbook', but we can take credit cards, and we offer to let them send the check. Rarely do we get 'stiffed' completely.

When I started it, I expected a lot more resistance than I've gotten.

Sometimes people call and want a 'meet and greet' to see if we're a 'good fit'. I don't really do those. I love meeting them, but we always tend to get down to talking about their situation, and I make suggestions, recommendations and give information, so I feel what I provide is worth the fee. To me a 'meet and greet' is a time waster, and a sales opportunity. I don't want to sell them, I want to help.

Michael D. Caccavo, Vermont

I typically don't require a fee after the initial consultation, but let the person know that if they hire me, I will bill for it after the fact.

In other words, if they end up hiring me, the consultation isn't free...if they don't, it is.

Bobby Lott, Jr., Alabama

I usually take payment at the end of the consultation. Sometimes 5 minutes in I know this is something I can't help them with, and so I cut it short and don't charge them.

About once or twice a year, someone does stiff me and "forget my checkbook"(though I have had people genuinely forget their wallet and checkbook and run home and come back and pay immediately - though now for live consultations that we take their driver license when they come in then they discover it so it is less of a problem.) Almost always this is someone that not only has my secretary explained the initial consultation fee to, but they have also signed my initial consultation agreement indicating the fee and/or I verbally explained it to them at the beginning of the conference and they consented - they just don't want to pay. I have considered having my secretary take it prior to meeting the client, but for now am not doing so, as it is a relatively rare occurrence.

Cynthia V. Hall, Florida

I take payment up front, which I started doing after the first time I got stiffed by the I got the "oh gosh, I forgot my checkbook" routine. I amended my intake form to require payment before the session starts. At the time, I was in a suite with a front receptionist, which definitely made that easier. I still enforce that now tho, even without a receptionist.

Rick is right that the payment isn't technically earned until you've done something, but that said, some attorneys do have 24-hour (or whatever) cancellation policies. Arguably, the fee secures your availability for that time slot, which you are unable to sell to anyone else if someone fails to show up at the last moment. 

Some people do a blend, ie: fee is not refundable but will re-schedule your appointment for another day so the customer still gets the value of the consult. I generally don't take the money until right before the session starts, and will graciously re-schedule for a second appointment if someone fails to show for their initial appointment. But by the third time - which is rare tho occasionally happens - I will tell someone straight up if they want to make another appointment, they have to pay for it now and it's non-refundable, then put that in the confirming email. At that point, the tire-kickers go away and the real customers pay up and show up.

Amy A. Breyer, California

I'll do meet-and-greets, though typically over the phone so I didn't have to worry about getting someone out of my office. Nowadays, it's actually much easier bc no one (at least here) wants to go to anyone's office.

 I explain up front that there's no charge for 15 minutes, but it's just to see if we're a good fit, and if they'd like to convert the meeting into a consultation, then we can talk about the specifics of their case. Do some people try to take advantage of that? Yup. I just steer the conversation back. If someone really pushes hard, I remind them of the parameters and say "now, you wouldn't want to hire a lawyer that can be pushed around, right?" ;) By and large though, it can be a good marketing tool. Even if that person doesn't hire me, it still generates referrals sometimes.

Amy A. Breyer

Client’s Cat (Probate)

A previous client came to me to do his will. He is young and never married.

He basically wants to leave his assets to his girlfriend and his father.

Specifically, he wants to make sure his girlfriend takes care of the cat.

They already live together and she already helps out, he would just feel better knowing that "she gets the cat." What, if any, formal language should his will contain regarding ownership of the beloved kitty?

You could insert some pet trust language into the Will appointing gf or successor to take care of the cat. One drawback would be the lapse of some time before the Will is probated and proper appointments made / funds allocated. Your client may want to consider a stand-alone pet trust they can fund now. But at the very least, testamentary pet trust would be good.

Vlad Portnoy, New York

Thank you, Vlad. That is very helpful!

Jason Komninos, New Jersey

My pleasure.

Vlad Portnoy

In my experience, pets always get cared for after an owner's death. He can bequeath the cat and some $$ to the GF. No cat, no GF, no bequests.

Deb Matthews, Virginia

Yes, from what my client tells me there isn't really a doubt that the girlfriend won't look after the cat. It's pretty much "their" cat. But I always like going that extra mile to make the client feel special when I can.

Jason Komninos

Depending on your Jdx you may have legally enforceable pet trust, nonetheless I usually use precatory trusts. "if upon my death I own any pets, I devise the sum of $2000 to Suzy Q conditioned upon her taking possession of that pet or those pets and the devise to her is to be used to defray the expenses of caring for the pet or pets" or something like that.

Ronald Jones, Florida

Most states nowadays have enforceable pet trusts. I helped with the Illinois one a number of years ago (although beyond that, I don't do estate planning, for pets, people or otherwise). Looks like you are in NJ, and Jersey does have an enforceable pet trust law: NJ Rev Stat § 3B:11-38 (2013). Here's one link: https://law.justia.com/codes/new-jersey/2013/title-3b/section-3b-11-38/

Precatory trusts are ok so long as your client is really, REALLY sure his wishes will be honored. I'm more of a cynic, I imagine, than Ron (or most people), and would opt for an enforceable trust as long as the option is there. It can be a freestanding document or (more commonly) just a couple of provisions within your main trust document. Basic idea is, like with children, you want one person responsible for the cat and another person responsible for the money. One of the biggest problems is the lag time between someone's death and administration of the estate, so your client needs to make his wishes known and have specific instructions at the ready so anyone (because what if his girlfriend is killed in the same car accident as him?) can step in and know 1) where the cat food is, 2) any special medical needs and who the vet is, 3) have cash on hand to buy food and supplies, etc., in the interim.

Here's one resource from the NYC Bar's animal law cmte that's been around for years, and looks like it was updated fairly recently: https://www2.nycbar.org/pdf/report/uploads/8_20072453-ProvidingforYourPetintheEventofDeathHospitalization.pdf. Hope this helps.

Amy A. Breyer, California

Amazing responses, thank you!

Jason Komninos

One resource can be pulled from Professor Beyer's website. It includes discussion and forms for pet trusts. Look under http://www.professorbeyer.com/Articles/Articles.html

Darrell G. Stewart, Texas

I highly recommend you reach out to Debra Hamilton, who is an expert in these issues: http://hamiltonlawandmediation.com/HLMHome.html

Here's a great podcast and overview of her work: https://puredogtalk.com/podcast/96-divorce-disease-disaster-disability-delay-death-and-your-dogs-debra-hamilton-esq-how-to-make-a-maap-plan-2/#:~:text=As%20the%20principal%20at%20Hamilton,over%20a%20barking%20dog%2C%20and

Jacqueline Horani, New York

You can find lots of form "pet trusts" around. Look for some from your state.

Robert W. Hughes. Jr., Georgia

As someone who does many pet trusts, and works with pet rescues and humane societies in my personal life, I have to completely disagree with Deborah.

The large chunk of pets going into shelters are there because the owner has died and family doesn't want them. HSUS/ASPCA have statistics on it.

Right now, there are a couple dogs and a pig/pet that are looking for homes here after owner passed. I've placed several with rescues in these situations.

A pet trust is best but will language coupled with a bequest is certainly better than nothing. For anyone interested in pet trusts, Google "Gerry Beyer" at Univ of TX for comprehensive resources, attorney Peggy Hoyt in FL, and I'm happy to send what I have.

Julie Mills, Ohio

NJ Statute on pet trusts:

http://www.professorbeyer.com/Articles/Animal_Statutes/NewJersey.html.

Julie Mills

Correction as to location. Gerry Beyer is at Texas Tech. His website is professorbeyer.com.

Darrell G. Stewart

Smack me--my alma mater's GOAT went from Indiana Univ to Texas Tech, and I knew that. My apologies to The General, and Prof. Beyer! Thanks Darrell.

And fortunately, Coach is back in Bloomington. No offense to Texas.

Julie Mills

Struggling right now with a client who is in Skilled Care (probably for life) she is angry because her friend placed her dogs with a rescue, she wants them back. Of course, she can't care for them.

It is a very difficult situation as client is calling everyone she knows trying to get the dogs back. Back where? Don't know her house is sold.

Martha Jo Patterson, California

Martha Jo, I'm so sorry to hear that. Here in central Ohio is a nonprofit called "Hospets," which finds homes for pets of people going into assisted living/nursing homes, in terminal conditions. It's a great organization, I hope similar ones exist elsewhere. https://hospets.org/

Julie Mill

Ya know, you won't know if the cat's dead or alive unless you open the box.

Russ Carmichael, Pennsylvania

I thought that was Schrodinger’s cat only. :)

Darrell G. Stewart

Martha Jo - That is an extremely sad situation. Perhaps it would be possible to negotiate with the rescue to simply have one of the volunteers bring the dogs for a visit to the skilled care facility? If she's unable to care for the dogs, then it's not in their best interests (or even hers) to try to get them back, but perhaps a little closure would do the trick. Maybe if your client had a chance to meet someone from the rescue she'd also get a greater comfort level that her dogs will be taken care of, which is probably the thing she wants the most (and you can probably help adjust her expectations here by leading her to make this realization for herself). 

If the new foster or adoptive family would agree, they could even send you some photos to share with your client of the dogs in their new home (without any geographically identifiable markers, of course). When we adopted our previous cat, Shauna, she was actually living with a foster mom who was crazy about her, but the foster mom's previously-adopted dogs were not. So the foster mom transferred Shauna to us, but I kept in touch with her for the remainder of Shauna's life, sending pics once or twice a year just so she could see how Shauna was doing. It's possible that the dogs' new family might even be agreeable to something similar here, but at least one photo should be fairly easy to negotiate with the rescue, in exchange for what the rescue really wants, which is to re-home the dogs without the prior owner continually pleading for the dogs back, legal action, etc., etc.. Best, Amy

Amy A. Breyer

Nope. It's all cats, including "fat", "hep", and "booted".

It's a law. Or something.

Russ Carmichael

Again, sorry, late to the party. You can do a pet trust, but with something as simple as this I'd put a devise of "any pets I own at the time of my death" to girlfriend and maybe a continent cash devise if he has pets and she accepts.

Local to my Florida office we have a local pet shelter organization specifically to take in pets for people who are ill.

https://www.pawspetsanctuary.org

Cynthia V. Hall, Florida

Litigators Who Charge at Least X for a Court Appearance

In my fee agreement, I charge at least 30 minutes for any in-person court appearance, even if it is a brief matter. I was thinking about making it longer; perhaps an hour. FYI, I handle divorce cases in California.

What do other litigators think about charging a minimum for in person court appearances?

If I am charging hourly for a case, I also charge for my travel time. Since you and I are essentially neighbors, neither of us can get to court in less than half an hour. So I don't have it in my fee agreement, but the minimum for a court hearing is an hour.

Jonathan Stein, California

Do U charge for Travel Time; & Preparation Time?

Paul G. Kostro, New Jersey

I charge for prep time. As for travel time, I charge if it is not my nearby courthouse.

Matthew Rosenthal, California

Absolutely, unless it is the county courthouse, which is about 3 blocks from me. The other counties in this area are at least 30 minutes, most are an hour drive each way

Bobby Lott, Jr., Alabama

I do . . ..

Walter D. James III, Texas

I usually but not always bill for travel time plus time in court and return travel; possibly prep time depending on the case. If the appearance is by court call, there is no travel time. There is no need to mention a minimum; that might be misinterpreted as the charge for every court appearance, which would be too low for most appearances.

Roger Rosen, California

When I litigated, I charged for travel time (to and from) and time waiting in the courtroom to be heard. I did not charge for sitting in the hallway if I got there early and the courtroom was locked. So, no need to have a minimum time for attending he hearing.

Scott I. Barer, California

I charge door to door. Period.

Robert "Robby" W. Hughes, Jr., Georgia

One critical point is that you fully disclose to your clients how you charge. 

I can’t now lay my hands on it, but there was an ethics opinion a few years ago (from Colorado, if I recall) about a lawyer with a high-volume practice (something like consumer debt collection or similar) whose engagement agreement stated that he charged for time spent (including travel time), in increments of 0.1 hours, with a minimum of 0.2 hours. But when he had multiple appearances on the same day (which was common for him), he would charge each client for the travel time to court, plus a minimum of 0.2 hours. For example, if the return date for several cases was at 9:00 on Tuesday morning, he would charge each client for the 30 minutes it took him to get to the courthouse from his office, for the 30 minutes it took him to return, plus the 12 minute minimum—a total of 1.2 hours. If he had 10 cases on which he went to the courthouse and got a default judgment, he could bill 12 hours (10 x 1.2) in the course of an hour or two. The opinion was that this practice was improper, and that he should have divided his hour of travel time across all of the matters he handled that day, so he could have billed 3 hours total based on his engagement agreement (1 hour total travel time, divided by 10 matters equal 6 minus or 0.1 hours for travel, plus 0.2 minimum charger per case, multiplied by 10 equals 3 hours). Oftentimes, that was still more than the actual time he spent (because his motions for default did not generally require 12 minutes apiece), but it was consistent with his engagement agreement. 

Incidentally, his argument was that if he had only a single matter that day, it would still have taken him an hour of travel time, so none of his clients was billed more than he would have charged if he had needed to go to the courthouse 10 separate times. The ethics panel did not buy the argument. 

Brian H. Cole, California

A law school classmate was convicted and disbarred for billing 13,000 hours in a 13-month period using a minimum period system. As I remember he was billing several failing/failed banks. The invoices were funneled to a government regulatory agency who aggregated the bills and raised the issue.

A few years after this he was killed in a car crash.

This occurred in the early '90s so I may have the actual numbers wrong.

Jim Pardue, North Carolina

Hopefully the billing issue and the car crash weren't related.

Joseph A. DeWoskin, Kansas

I borrowed a friend’s fee agreement 15 years ago as a guide for my own. His fee agreement then was an hour for any in court appearance, minimum.

I think it’s fairly common, particularly when you consider the time you spend between getting up from your desk and having your case called in the courtroom.

Barry Kaufman, Florida

Door-to-door. But, I just lump it all in one time ticket: "Appear for hearing on Motion to Vacate (including travel time)". My Representation Agreement is also clear that travel time will be billed. But, I do not double bill. For example, I will reduce the travel time if I am able to bill another client for phone calls or correspondence made on the road or while waiting for a case to be called. I just don't point it out to the client I'm waiting for. Their expectation should be to pay their attorney for all time.

Ryan Young, Virginia

I'm also a divorce lawyer. I charge a minimum hour for all court appearances. I don't charge for travel time (but I never have to travel far). A lot of family law attorneys in Chicago charge a higher hourly rate for court appearances and a minimum time.

Betsy Ehlen, Illinois

I wish Michael Boli were still around to chime in, but his advice would likely tell you to be careful and make sure you meet the reasonableness standard.

Also watch whether your local court has restrictions on certain types of charges. For example, my bankruptcy court has a long list of billing requirements and work that can't be charged for. These restrictions have been in place, with minor changes, for decades.

https://www.canb.uscourts.gov/procedure/guidelines-compensation-and-expense-reimbursement-professional-and-trustees

Some highlights include minimum billing must be no greater than 0.1 and no charging for roundtrip travel of less than an hour. I have heard that our Chief Judge and Bench-Bar are taking a look at these for possible revision, including allowing us to bill for CourtCall.

Corrine Bielejeski, California

I have taken issue with different rates for in court vs. office work. My time you pay for is the same regardless of where I am doing the work from. Doesn't matter if I am writing at my desk, or arguing to the Court. Also, it can have a "chilling" effect on whether a client decides to proceed in a certain way, or a motivation for an unscrupulous attorney to promote in court work.

Phil A. Taylor, Massachusetts

I do not have a minimum cost for a court appearance. On an hourly case I charge for prep, travel, and the hearing. That is sufficient and I do not need to pad the bill with a minimum charge. I do not think it would be ethical to charge 1-hour min for in court time and travel, prep, etc. 

if the hearing took 15 minutes. Yes, I have been in and out of a court that fast.

Phil A. Taylor

Validity of Electronic Signatures That Look Nothing Like Your Actual Signature?

A lot of stores now have you sign for credit card transactions on an electronic screen. Sometimes it's with a stylus. Most places -- a lot of restaurants, it seems -- ask you to use your finger now instead. With the finger one especially, my signature often looks nothing at all like my actual signature.

A signature seems to serve two purposes: (1) indicating that a specific person signed the document, and then (2) that that person's signature signaled their consent/agreement, etc. A finger signature doesn't seem reliable at all then as a means of proving (1) and, thus, (2).

Does anyone know how the credit card companies handle disputes based on finger or stylus signatures?

Or do they just accept the cost of losing credit card disputes based on these signatures as a cost of doing business and outweighed by the fact that finger signatures make credit card use more frequent? I wouldn't be surprised if that's it, especially given that transactions under $25 or so often don't require a signature at all.

Genuinely curious,

Many credit cards, including the Apple card, no longer require signatures for this reason. And since you can't use a pen-and-ink signature online, they are becoming less and less prevalent anyway. See https://creditcards.usnews.com/articles/credit-card-signatures-are-disappearing-what-you-need-to-know

The fact is that you can sign almost anything and the system is not going to reject it. I seem to remember a story about guy experimenting with different signatures and having all of them accepted--even signing "I stole this card." So there's not much point to them anymore with the chip identification, etc. Claims of fraud generally don't rely on comparing signatures in any event.

Kevin Grierson, Virginia

My husband has been known to sign with something other than his signature. He hates them. Charges always go through. My signature has become asquiggle becomes there are so many letters in my name and I get writer's cramp.

Elizabeth Pugliese-Shaw, Maryland

Oftentimes at Lowe’s and Office Depot, I sign the electronic signature pad “Batman”. I have never had a cashier question it. Just sayin’

John Miles, Georgia

Would electronic signatures not matching written signatures be an issue for those attorneys that email retainer agreements and such to clients that allow for electronic signatures like DocuSign?

Oscar Acuna

I routinely use digital signatures from clients on intake agreements and court filings. My assumption is that the validity of such signatures is not based upon the resemblance of the digital signature to the client's "real" signature, but rather on the fact that my client's e-mail address is the one that was used to receive, access, and digitally sign the document.

I confess that I haven't spent much time thinking about how I'd prove my client was the one who signed the document, but I know that the signed docs are stamped with a long code consisting of random letters and numbers. I assume the provider has a method of using this code to ensure traceability.

Now you've got me wondering. Has anyone had to prove that a specific person digitally signed a document?

Andrew C. McDannold, Florida

The Uniform Electronic Transactions Act and ESIGN determine validity of electronic signatures. No need for them to look like anything.

Mitchell Goldstein, Virginia