O’ the Shame of Legalese!

   I try to write as much as I can in plain English.   As a lawyer, that isn’t always easy.  Lawyers use five words with five syllables where a single two syllable word would do for many reasons — They don’t know any better; i.e., that’s the way it has always been done. They’re afraid they’ll miss some nuance or meaning.  They’re lazy or their client won’t pay for better; i.e.,  the form they used as a template was written that way or the client won’t pay for a decent revision. (I want a lease tomorrow and I want it cheap.) They think it makes them sound like a “real lawyer.”  Other lawyers will criticize them and accuse them of being a poor lawyer if their writing isn’t impenetrable.  Sometimes it is an artifact of the negotiation process with each side adding words to “spell it out a little better” or to “clarify a point.”  The end result is a morass that is neither spelled out nor clear the day a dispute arises.  Here are some particularly egregious examples from The Legalese Hall of Shame.  I’m really terrified by the thought of a four page 1,000 word sentence.  Is such a thing even possible?

I believe that impenetrable legalese creates more problems than it solves.  It can actually breed litigation when documents are so lengthy and ambiguous that they can be read a dozen different ways.  It may take a third party in the form of a judge or jury to decide what it means, and they may not agree with the litigants.  More on this tomorrow.

A Lawyer’s Dream: Michael Jackson’s Estate

Michael Jackson was as much a corporation as a person.  Like any major celebrity or company, he had ongoing litigation and business operations.  “The National Law Journal” has an article detailing the myriad suits Jackson and his company, MJJ Productions, had at the time of his death.  These suits will continue being litigated by his corporation or his estate.  The corporate suits will proceed with nary a hiccup.  The corporation’s existence is unaffected by Jackson’s death.  Unlike a very small corporation that may be little more than a one man band, MJJ Productions probably has full time professional management.  That management will continue to run the company.  However, there may be issues as to who runs MJJ.  Assuming Jackson owned most, if not all, of the shares of MJJ, the person who controls the estate and eventually his heirs will have control of MJJ as well as his other personal assets and business. 

It is unknown whether Jackson had a will or a trust (or trusts).  According to one attorney,most celebrities have living trusts.  If he has a will or if he died intestate, there is likely to be a delay while a personal representative (a/k/a an executor) is appointed.  If he had a living trust, then the successor trustee can more or less immediately take control of all the assets in the trust.  However, if he had some assets in the trust and some not in the trust, then he may still need a personal representative to manage assets outside the trust. 

Numerous sources estimate his debt at $500,000,000.00.  His spending habits were legendary.  The good news is that his one-half interest in the music catalog that includes 250 Beatles tunes is estimated to be worth as much as $500,000,000.00 to $1,000,000,000.00, but may already be encumbered with a $300,000,000.00 loan.   Other sources say the music business is so bad that Jackson’s assets may not cover the debts.  It is also possible that a fire sale could be forced for the Beatles catalog if creditors get greedy and over anxious.

However, Jackson’s estate may earn even more than Jackson.  Even as I write this, radio stations and TV stations are playing Jackson songs and videos and the royalties are pouring in. Itunes is probably sellng Jackson’s music at a record rate and CDs and posters are flying off the shelves at WalMart.  This income is likely to go further without Jackson to spend it faster than it comes in.  It is likely to support an army of lawyers and accountants and still be able to pay debt and a legacy for his three (3) children.  Elvis Presley’s estate earned $52,000,000.00 last year, which may be more than Jackson earned while living.  Jackson’s estate may do better than Presley’s for the next year or two.  On the other hand, a rush is on for refunds of the tickets sold for his upcoming concert tour.  At least some of that is insured, but one wonders whether there will be suits for the lost profits and money spent in expectation of the tour.

We won’t know for some time just how things will shake out.  One thing is for certain, whether Jackson’s estate proves to be flush or broke, his confused finances and personal life are likely to be a bonanza for a cadre of lawyers on both sides of the issues.

How to Clean Up Your Social Networking for Your Case

Texas lawyer, Jeff Rasansky, gives some sound advice on managing your social networking in the event that you become involved in a lawsuit.  Although written in the context of his personal injury practice, this advice pertains to any lawsuit.  If you’ve read some of my other posts, you already know that your online image can affect your case, including even a landlord/tenant case. An opposing lawyer or client can find out more about you in 2 minutes for free than thousands of dollars and hours of private investigator time would have revealed just a few years ago.  Right now Casey Anthony’s online trail is playing a major role in the investigation into her daughter’s murder as well as influencing any potential juror pool.

Of course, my preference would be for you to properly manage your online image to create a positive impression of yourself from the beginning, as I describe here in “MySpace Can Help Your ‘Case’ Too.” However, if all else fails and you find yourself embroiled in a lawsuit, Mr. Rasansky offers some good advice for how to manage your online postings. Step one is no matter what kind of case you’re involved in, let your lawyer know if you maintain any social networking sites or any personal websites.  Step two is to Google yourself and see what comes up.  Other people may have posted things about you that you are not aware of.  Step three is to adjust privacy settings as necessary, delete as necessary, and quit posting or control your posting to create a positive image.