Finding a lawyer is not difficult; they are on television daily, in the newspaper, yellow pages and on the internet. The problem is not finding a lawyer; it is choosing the right lawyer for your particular case or situation.
When I need to find a lawyer for a client in another state or jurisdiction where I do not know anyone, I go to what I consider the only proven rating system for lawyers, Martindale-Hubbell Legal Directory. Started 140 years ago, Martindale-Hubbell lists every lawyer by geographic location and provides basic biographical information, such as where they went to school and when they graduated, as well as their rating. Lawyers and firms can also pay for more detailed biograhical information which indicates the areas of law in which they practice, but the real value of Martindale is the peer review rating system. Lawyers are rated by the other rated lawyers and the judges in the area where they practice. The judges and lawyers periodically receive a questionaire with a list of names. The system is simple. The first question is whether a lawyer has very high ethical standards. If not, the lawyer receives no rating by Martindale-Hubbell. If he or she has high ethical standards, he or she is rated for legal ability and may receive a rating of a, b, c, or no rating. For example, in Fayette County there are only a few lawyers with a rating. It is a high standard. My bv rating can be found at: http://www.martindale.com/Paul-O-Clay-Jr/1784440-lawyer.htm
There are also a number of websites on the internet which list lawyers. The number one is www.lawyers.com which is affiliated with and linked to Martindale-Hubbell.
What about television advertisements by lawyers? Television advertisements are unreliable. They provide no real information and are like all advertising; nothing but attempts to get your attention. Sometimes young lawyers try to create a name and name recognition by bombarding the public with telelvision ads. But the cost of advertising significantly increases a lawyer’s office overhead, and sometimes influences the lawyer’s desire to get cases settled to create cash flow to pay for the advertising. Unfortunately, having practiced for thirtyfive years, I have seen this happen all too often. The impact of lawyers settling cases for less than they should, despite what they say in their ads, has been that some insurance adjusters have decreased settlement offers in certain cases in our area because they say that “ such and such a firm” (on television constantly with a catchy jingle and their phone number) settled a similiar case or cases for a low amount. While I believe it is possible for me to counter the trends created by this conduct with preparation and experience, this conduct has not been good for injured people or the public.
Finally, what about the lawyer who calls you on the telephone after an accident? Recently, a man called and told me that his wife was in intensive care five days after an accident in which a tractor trailer ran a traffic light and struck her vehicle broadside. Before he called me, he had five lawyers calling him, pressuring him to hire them. One told him that the intersection was filmed by a traffic camera and that he only had five days to request a copy or the tape would be erased. After several conversations with the Deparment of Highways, I learned that there was only a traffic counter at the intersection, no camera! Such tactics drove this man to call me for straight answers because he needed straightforward answers. After several days I was retained and represented these good people through various insurance issues and ultimately settlement of the case, without high pressure, deceptive tactics.
The Rules of Professional Conduct for West Virginia lawyers are clear. Rule 7.3 provides:
“(a) A lawyer shall not by in-person or telephone contact solicit professional employment from a prospective client with whom the lawyer has no family or prior professional relationship when a motive for the lawyer’s doing so is the lawyer’s pecuniary gain.”
Further, any written correspondence is required to have the words “Advertising Material” both on the outside of the envelope and in the written material inside.
A lawyer who is not family or already your lawyer who calls you after an accident with even partial motive to obtain employment in your case is violating the ethical standards required by the profession and should be reported to the State Bar for disciplinary action. see www.wvbar.org Please do not be offended if I do not call you after an accident in your family. While I may wish to reach out to you, and would be glad to represent you, I believe you should be allowed to make your decision concerning choosing counsel without any pressure whatsoever.
I sincerely hope that this information is of help to you in choosing or selecting a lawyer. Please do not hesitate to contact me for further information.
PURCHASING REAL ESTATE
Purchasing real estate can be intimidating if you are not familiar with the process.
Here in West Virginia we pride ourselves on keeping our word and the validity of the handshake, but established real estate law through the Statute of Frauds, which has come down to us through the centuries from England, requires that a writing signed by the seller is necessary for any agreement respecting real estate to be enforceable. To establish the terms of a real estate transaction the parties should enter into and sign a written contract. If there is a realtor involved, the realtor will present a contract form for the parties to sign. Consider it carefully. Is the real estate agent working for you or the other party? If there is not a real estate agent involved, have an attorney prepare a contract for you to establish the terms and bind the parties.
A real estate contract should set forth at least the following terms:
- Down payment:
Some contract forms provide that on default by the purchaser the down payment is forfeited to the seller as liquidated damages with no further liability to the seller, but other forms apply it to the realtor’s commission and leave the buyer open to suit for damages to the seller. Read it carefully!
- Date for closing
If the contract uses the term “Time is of the essence”, there is no grace period and time deadlines will be strictly enforced with no variation.
Typically the contract should provide for contingencies for:
– Title examination by an attorney for liens or title defects.
– Loan approval by a bank.
– Engineering or home inspector for construction defects.
You are required to use due diligence to find any problems with the structure before you buy
Typically the seller pays for preparation of the deed, the excise tax on the sale of real estate imposed by the state ($6.60 per thousand dollars of purchase price), pest inspections, the realtor’s commission, and maybe the survey, while the buyer pays for the title examination, deed recording, any bank or loan fees, survey, deed and lien recording for the bank or other lender and any other inspections. These are all negotiable.
- Personal property
Will the sale include appliances. drapes or other property not part of the real etate?
You should never purchase real estate without a title examination by an attorney! A title exam should reveal whether the property includes mineral rights, whether there are easements for utilities or adjoining property owners for access, whether there are liens such as deeds of trust to banks or lenders, judgments or tax liens against the current or prior owners, and whether the real estate taxes have been paid for current and prior years.
You should also know that there are three different kinds of deeds. A General Warranty deed warrants that the seller is the owner and has good title to the property. But a Special Warranty deed (sounds better doesn’t it?), usually used by trustees and corporations, warrants only that the seller or grantor has done nothing to mess up the title himself; he warrants nothing beyond himself! The third is a Quitclaim deed which says only…”Whatever I have I grant to you, but I might have nothing and might have given someone else a deed yesterday; I promise you nothing!” To my surprise, the general practice in some other states, such as Florida, seems to prefer the exclusive use of Quitclaim deeds. If you did not get a title certified by a lawyer or title insurance company you have no recourse if there is a problem.
Title insurance is an insurance policy insuring the title to real estate. Upon payment of a premium, the company or its agent issues a policy so that even if the lawyer is deceased, or has made an error, the title company stands good for the title, and matters of survey, if included in the policy. I am, and have been for years, an agent for First American Title Insurance Company, an outstanding company which is the largest underwriter in West Virginia, and I can write the policy for you based on my examination of the title, but then backed by First American.
Please understand that this blog is a short overview of the law in this area and is not a substitute for a conference with a competent real estate attorney who can advise you based on the specific facts of your situation. Of course, I stand ready, willing and able to help, but always prefer to meet my clients face to face with all the facts and documents on the table to insure the best and most accurate advice possible.