Attorney Trey Wilson - RL Wilson Law

13 April 2016

Breaking Conventions with Lofty Expectations -- the New Consumer of Legal Services

I recently returned from a seminar called Lawyernomics. It is presented annually by legal directory company Avvo (tagline: Legal. Easier). I believe this year was the 7th installation of the seminar, but it was my first attending.  

Avvo is one of those newer (founded in 2006), west coast (based in Seattle) enterprises founded by former tech company hotshots who made a name (and presumably a bundle of money) for themselves in the legal department of other (non-legal) internet services companies. It was a start-up, but has now launched a national TV commercial campaign, so it is fair to say that Avvo has arrived in the theater of general public relevance.   

Admittedly, I admire the Avvo founders' entrepreneurship, and applaud anybody who can make a profitable career in law without struggling with the many pitfalls that come in the form of clients, other lawyers, judges, cashflow problems, deadlines, and never-ending stress.  I do, however, struggle with understanding Avvo's exact business model, and whether it intends to be consumer-oriented, lawyer-oriented, or simply a broker that brings the two together and gets paid a fee by one or both (think eHarmony with a legal slant).  Others are equally confounded, and Avvo has certainly drawn its share of critics, including Avvowatch, whose members seem to be particularly upset with the CEO. 

All in all, the seminar was good (at some times excellent), and I gleaned some very valuable information and perspective. The theme was "The New Legal Consumer," and the lawyer-attendees were treated to a wealth of information about: 1) what potential clients are looking for when they go online to look for lawyers; 2) what these consumers already know and are likely to do with the lawyer websites their searches return; and 3) how to cater to their "modern" consumer desires.

Much of the information was backed by statistics and what appears to be thorough research (though I'm unsure whether it has been peer-reviewed or put through any of the rigors of the "gatekeeper" test for admissibility under Havner and/or Daubert).  

The resounding narrative of the presentations was that modern consumers of legal services (i.e potential clients) are sophisticated, knowledgeable, independent, "informed/connected/picky," and prefer their legal services to be: "simple, mobile, On-demand" and utilitarian to a "Do It Yourself" approach to solving legal problems.  

In a nutshell, they (in my words) desire a quick, remote, inexpensive and limited/defined interaction with a lawyer vetted by them in advance.  

As I wondered about how legitimate this analysis consumer desires was, my Facebook newsfeed hit me with somewhat correlative proof in the form of an "Open Letter from Millennials to the Real Estate Industry." It states, in relevant part: 
Everything I buy is on-demand. Running out of soap? Amazon will have it here tomorrow. Need a ride? There is an Uber around the corner. Wondering which country has the highest coffee consumption per person? My phone can tell me instantly. If I want to watch my favorite TV show I don’t wait for a marathon or even go buy the DVD. I expect it to stream on any device, at any time for minimal cost to me. My life is built around efficiency and convenience. Keep in mind that most of us can’t even remember a time before we had cell phones permanently within arms reach.
WOW, I thought, maybe there is something to this "new consumer."  And boy are they demanding...  

Both during the seminar, and for the few days since,  I've kept thinking that this all sounds so inherently un-personal. Kinda like Lawyer = Uber driver, being someone you converse with on a very temporary  superficial level as they provide you with an on-demand service. 

Truth be told, at 43, I'm just old enough (Gen X) to not like the concept of the "new consumer" who wants to order fixed price, bundled, on-demand legal services off of a "menu."  I don't like it one bit.

The romanticized lawyers of my youth were trusted advisors and friends; principled advocates for a cause  (Lt. Daniel Kafee; Atticus Finch; Jake Brigance), and sometimes even family (Tom Hagan, Consigliere). True life lawyers such as the OJ Simpson defense team also acted as collaborators with their clients.  Most importantly, I frequently describe my own practice as "relationship-driven," and many clients have become good friends with who I socialize. I have represented several of them for a decade or more.  

It is difficult to fathom basing my law practice on selling legal forms online, offering "quick answers" through online chats with internet tire-kickers, or furnishing legal advice on Facebook for the person who wants a DIY solution.  But, if this is truly what the "new legal consumer" desires, many lawyers -- particularly young ones or those in saturated and competitive practice areas -- will be forced to offer services in that format or starve. 

I recognize the validity of giving the consumer the product (in this case the product is legal service) they want. But, with any luck at all, I'll be able to maintain my "look you in the eye and tell it like it is" approach to getting and keeping  clients who trust me to "do what it takes" to get the results they need without churning the fees. After all, it has worked for almost 20 years, and I enjoy few things more than an "old" client contacting me years later for something "new." 

02 July 2013

Tucson Man Guilty for Real Estate Fraud

The office of the US Attorney, District of Arizona, reports that a Tucson, AZ man was found guilty of real estate fraud.  Dino Sisneros, 42, was charged with three counts of wire fraud and two counts of money laundering greater than $10,000.

Sisneros will be sentenced September 5, 2013.

Sisneros masterminded a real estate fraud scheme between 2006 and 2008.  He told investors that he would invest their funds in real estate and they'd receive a large return on their investment.  Instead of investing the funds, Sisneros allegedly used a large portion of the funds for his own personal use.  The indictment alleged that Sisneros received approximately $861,000 in loans from the investors to invest in real estate, but he he failed to pay the victims as he had promised.

The indictment against Sisneros states that five separate victims  loaned him money to invest in real estate, but that Sisneros failed to pay them as he promised.

The Arizona US Attorney's office stated that, " An indictment is simply the method by which a person is charged with criminal activity and raises no inference of guilt.  An individual is presumed innocent until competent evidence is presented to a jury that establishes guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."

The investigation was conducted by the Criminal Investigation Division of the IRS.  The prosecution is being handled by Jonathan Granoff, Assistant US Attorney, District of Arizona, Tucson.

Pakistan Native Charged in Real Estate Fraud

As reported by various news publishers, A South Florida resident, formerly from Dublin, OH, was charged with a $13.8 million dollar real estate fraud scheme.  He is being held without bond for fear he will flee the country.

Zafar allegedly convinced an investor, Patwinder Sidhu, to send him $10 million, beginning in 2008, to purchase property in Pakistan.  Zafar purported that his uncle was the Defense Minister in Pakistan. Zafar told Mr. Sidhu that his uncle told him that the Pakistani government was going to buy the land.  Zafar convinced Mr. Sidhu that they could purchase the land and then sell it back to the Pakistani government at a huge profit.  Mr. Sidhu sent him nearly $8 million in 2008 and 2009, and later, another $2 million.

Zafar filed no income-tax for 2008 & 2009, but reported zero income for 2006 and 2007.   Zafar's wife, Cynthia King-Zafar, filed taxes separately from Zafar and reported earnings of $5,849 in unemployment income in 2009.

Zafar put the money into an account in his father-in-law's name, Jacob R. Johnson of Delaware; however, he controlled the account and used the money for his extravagant lifestyle.  Zafar spent the money on expensive luxury cars, expensive diamonds and watches worth an estimated 200,000.00, and an extravagant night club life.  He rented expensive cars, including one that was shot at in a drive-by shooting that killed a budding rapper.  He purchased a Lamborghini, a Rolls-Royce and an Aston Martin.

The Pakistan Native, Haider Zafar, 35, is charged with wire fraud, money laundering and tax evasion. 

18 June 2013

New Judicial District in the Hill Country

A Bill signed into law on Friday will create a new judicial district in the Hill Country and two other districts will be realigned.  The new bill was created to accelerate dockets in the 9 affected counties and will be established on September 1st.  The new district will cover Mason, Menard, McCulloch, Kimble, and Edwards counties, which are currently in the 198th District, and also includes Kerr County.  

The new legislation has lawyers aiming for Gov. Perry's appointment as district attorney or judge in the new 452nd Judicial District by letting him know they're interested in the positions.  The legislation will have various effects on each of the respective county budgets.

The 198th District will be a two-county district by moving Bandera County from the 216th.  Kerr, Kendall, and Gillespie Counties will remain with the 216th.

Kerr County will remain in both the 216th and 198th under the provisions of the CSHB 3153.  CSHB 3153 also affects several other districts.

The change will positively affect the respective judges by reducing the backlogs, thus improving efficiency.

20 May 2013

Electronic Filing to be Compulsory in Bexar County on January 1, 2014

Trey Wilson, Lawyer in San Antonio, Texas wrote:

On December 11, 2013, the Supreme Court of Texas rendered an Order compelling electronic or "E" filing in all Texas counties by July 1, 2016.  The Order applies to civil cases (including family cases) in the district courts, statutory county courts, constitutional county courts and statutory probate courts on a graduated schedule based on population.

As a County with a population of more than 500,000, E-filing will be mandatory in Bexar County on January 1, 2014. Once a county is subject to mandatory E-filing, attorneys must E-file all documents in civil cases through TexFile. Unrepresented persons are permitted, but not required to E-file.

TexFile is billed as following the " toll-road model, but drastically reduc[ing] the cost of e-filing and electronic service.

The transition should be interesting for attorneys and court clerks, alike.

21 March 2013

Chief Justice of Texas Supreme Court transmits "Call to Arms" to Legislature

On March 6, 2013, Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson addressed the Texas Legislature in the annual "State of the Judiciary" presentation.  Although traditionally considered a "health and funding" check on our state's courts, Justice Wallace characterized his speech this year as a "Call to Arms."

In his heartfelt address, which can definitely be considered as a departure from tradition, Justice Jefferson focused on a few universally important questions:

Is our system of justice is working for the people it has promised to serve? 

Do we have liberty and justice for all? 

Or have we come to accept liberty and justice only for some? 

With brutal honesty, Jefferson admitted that in many areas, the Texas judiciary falls far short of the standards set by a justice and equality-loving populace:
For those who can afford legal services, we have a top-notch judicial system. Highly qualified lawyers help courts dispense justice fairly and efficiently. But that kind of representation is expensive. A larger swath of litigation exists in which the contestants lack wealth, insurance is absent, and public funding is not available. Some of our most essential rights – those involving families, homes, and livelihoods – are the least protected. Veterans languish for months before their disability, pension, and educational benefits arrive. As a result of the recent financial crisis, lower- and middle-income homeowners and tenants face foreclosure and eviction. Ever-increasing numbers of consumers and small businesses have filed for bankruptcy. And few can afford a lawyer to guide them through these crises. 
The full transcript of the speech can be found HERE. It is most definitely worth a read.

Proposed Law Would Mandate Education for Texas Notary Public Applicants

San Antonio Texas  Attorney Trey Wilson wrote:
**Disclosure: Lest this post be construed as a dig at notaries, I hereby disclose that, in addition to being a lawyer, I am a Texas Notary Public.**

As a Texas lawyer with an active real estate practice, I daily encounter deeds, powers of attorney and other documents that are notarized.  I have also handled several real estate lawsuits where it is alleged that conveyance instruments are improperly notarized, or are outright forgeries.  
Frequently, the Notary Public will become a central witness in the case, with his or her act of notarization being central to the validity of a disputed document.  I have been amazed at how clueless some Notaries have proven to be.  In addition to not sufficiently maintaining records, there seems to be a trend of notaries neither reading nor understanding what they have notarized. Unfortunately, this can be fertile ground for litigation, and can make or break a case.
Obviously, this problem is widesperead.  Thus, two companinon pieces of legislation have been introduced this legislative session. They are SB 1037 and HB 1954.  Their iedntical language provides for an addition to Section 406.005 of the Texas Government Code (which governs the qualifications for notary public qualifications in Texas) to read as follows:

(c)  The applicant shall provide satisfactory proof to the secretary of state that the applicant has completed a course of study of not less that three hours on notary laws, procedures, and ethics. 
Another section of the bills seeks to require the Texas Secretary of State to "establish the standards of, and procedures for approving" the required course of study. 
While this requirement is undeniably vague, I believe that the bills are a good idea, and will improve the quality and reliability of notarized documents.  But my opinion is not global. 
The American Association of Notaries (a group of which I am a member as a Texas Notary Public) has opposed the bills on grounds that they are "vague" and "leave too many unanswered questions about the requirements that notaries will have to fulfill to be commisioned."
In an email that was presumably sent to all members, the AAN  raises another concern, which I believe is valid, but easily solved:

What we do not want to happen is that notaries in rural Texas will be required to drive to a larger city to sit in a classroom for a course of study that costs them $100-$200. If education laws are passed, we want them to be the right ones!   We want the requirements to include courses that are affordable and accessible for all Texas notaries.

 It will be interesting to track the outcome of these bills, and the position of the various interests weighing-in on them.

01 January 2013

New Year Brings New Judges

Today is the swearing in for a slate of new judges swept into office in last November's election.

Bexar County will get 5 new district court judges, a new justice of the peace in precinct 3, and 3 new justices in the Fourth Court of Appeals. The majority of these new judges are Democrats, and many are new to the bench.

Congratulations to the new judges, as we raise a prayer for wisdom and fairness for each of them.

21 December 2011

11 Ridiculous Laws Still on the Books

From Reader's Digest

See a slideshow of 11 ridiculous, antiquated or downright strange laws still in effect today.

Happy Reading!

10 June 2011

R L Wilson Law Firm-Sponsored Bobcats Win McAllister Park Softball Championship

Congratulations, Girls!

Trey Wilson --Named By Scene in SA Magazine As One of San Antonio's Best Real Estate Litigation Attorneys -- September 2008 -- As voted on by peers