General Questions:

Why hire a lawyer?

Why hire a lawyer? Because you have a specific need or problem that may best be addressed or can only be addressed through the legal system. And a lawyer is invaluable in gaining access in Hillsboro, Beaverton and the Portland, Oregon area.

A lawyer is an officer of the court and is bound by strict rules of professional ethics torepresent you with zeal, loyalty, and competency. A lawyer knows how to use the legal system to solve your legal problem. A lawyer is sometime a necessary evil but is almost always a loyal advocate. Some minor matters can be handled pro se, meaning by yourself on your own behalf, but most matters require the specialized knowledge possessed by a trained legal expert. You would not perform surgery on yourself of even repair your own brakes in most cases, right?

Many lawyers offer a free consultation, so, if you have a legal matter looming, interview a lawyer or two or three. Choose the one who has the requisite experience and who inspires you with trust and confidence.

How to hire a lawyer?

Hiring a lawyer is not something most people have ever done. Hiring a lawyer is a daunting experience particularly for someone who is not simply willing to throw a dart but wants to make an intelligent and informed decision. And there are many to choose from in Hillsboro, Beaverton, and the Portland, Oregon area.

Have you ever hired a lawyer? If so, I hope it was a positive experience but the question at hand is how did you do it? Did you use a friend’s referral? The Yellow Pages? Cold call interviews? How about the internet – reading a firm’s web site material? I like to analogize obtaining legal services to obtaining medical services. Some medical issues can be handled by a generalist or primary care physician. The same approach applies to legal services. Many legal matters can be handled by a generalist but some need a specialist because of complexity or because of the very specialized knowledge required to deal with legal nuances. Nevertheless, if you are not convinced otherwise, you should begin your journey with a generalist whom you can trust because a competent generalist is easier to locate and typically much less costly.

In the event that the case proves to be highly complex or requires specialized knowledge, your generalist will either associate or refer a specialist. Associating a specialist means you have more than one lawyer on your case but should never mean that you pay more for the services rendered. A modified or new representation agreement should be executed indicating the nature of the association between your generalist and the additional attorney(s). It should also state that your cost will remain the same or should provide a clear proposal and explanation for any additional charges.

Bottom line, I recommend that you begin by interviewing two to three lawyers before deciding on who will represent you. The relationship you are forming will likely be very intimate in that you will be revealing confidential information and will be lasting in that it will be difficult to change lawyers in the middle of a case should you become disenchanted with your lawyer’s performance. Take some time and make a decision you can live with.

How will I be treated if I become your client?

The Legal Client’s Right & Responsibilities
Should you become my client and I your attorney, you will have certain inalienable rights as well as distinct responsibilities. Your rights include:

  1. A low cost, no obligation consultation. Actually, you are not yet my client but this is our first date, so to speak. We can do this at my office or possibly at a private location more convenient to you, if one can be found. The purpose of a consultation is for me to learn more about your legal needs, for me to evaluate whether I want to or whether it is appropriate for me to handle the matter, to fully disclose my fees, and for you to determine whether you wish to retain me.
  2. To have your calls promptly. I provide my cell phone number to current or prospective clients as well as an emergency, late night and weekend number that is answered 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I will return most calls in two to four business hours or less.
  3. A clear explanation of legal fees and costs, including a written fee agreement when required or request. I fully disclose my flat fees, hourly rates, and typical costs at the outset of every consultation. While I cannot always guarantee how many hours a particular task or litigation case will take, I will provide you with a good faith estimate.
  4. To handle all matters competently. I want to get to know you and your business from the start of the relationship, and will utilize that knowledge to assemble a comprehensive legal strategy for all your legal matters.
    A detailed statement of legal services and costs.Every charge and every bill will be explained to your satisfaction.
  5. To receive frequent updates and to make the ultimate decisions on course of action. As your attorney, I will educate you as best I can about the legal options available to you, make recommendations, and let you make the final decisions after having been fully informed.

And finally, a few responsibilities I ask my clients to observe faithfully.
Your responsibilities include:

  1. To fully and truthfully communicate with me on any matter related to your legal matter. Everything you divulge will be held in the strict confidence. My ability to competently represent you is dependent on knowing about everything related to your case and that means everything. Also, I can only address conflicts of interests if all relevant facts are communicated to me.
  2. To pay your statement promptly. I greatly appreciate prompt payment from my clients – enough said.
  3. To consistently ask me questions during our relationship. I will do my best to keep you informed and to provide clear explanations, however, there will naturally be gaps in your understanding. Do not hesitate to ask questions regarding anything that is puzzling you or to gain confirmation of an issue or out of just plain curiosity.

What is a representation agreement?

If you are hiring a lawyer to perform legal work, you will want to make sure the two of you are in agreement as to what is to be done, in what period of time, and at what cost. Oral agreements are highly ineffective and subject to misunderstandings, vagaries, mischief, and the sands of time. A written agreement is not perfect but by nature avoids many of the aforementioned pitfalls. Ultimately, a signed written agreement is required so that you and your lawyer may enter into the attorney-client relationship with confidence. Any lawyer worth his or her salt in the Hillsboro, Beaverton and Portland, Oregon area will draft an agreement detailing the work to be done and goals to be targeted.

Often, a pre-representation consultation for th purpose of exploring the merits of entering into a representation agreement results in a decision not to do so. In this situation, the lawyer should provide the potential client with a written statement confirming that no attorney-client relationship was formed. This is important in order to prevent any misunderstanding on the part of either party but especially to clarify matters for the potential client.

Finally, a lawyer’s representation for the client’s legal matter will presumably end at some point. It is then appropriate for the lawyer to send a writing to the client stating that the representation has officially ended. Often this occurs after all issues in the matter have been addressed and settled. However, representation may be terminated by either the client or the lawyer while the matter is still unresolved. In the situation where the lawyer terminates the representation, the lawyer must state a reason, five adequate notice, and must make provision for communication of status to the client’s new lawyer. If the case is before the court, the lawyer must also request the court’s permission to terminate. In the case where the client terminates the representation, the lawyer should follow up with a written statement confirming the end of representation and offering assistance in bringing the new lawyer up to date. In addition to the written notification of termination of representation, the lawyer should return to the client all documents provided by or obtained on behalf of the client.

What about confidentiality?

Lawyers are bound by a code of professional ethics that requires them to hold in confidence whatever information a client communicates when it pertains to the attorney-client representation. You should feel secure in revealing all information relevant to your legal matter. In fact, such revelations are essential to achieving optimum outcomes. Any lawyer in Tualatin, Hillsboro and the Portland, Oregon area and beyond is subject to disciplinary action and possibly civil penalties for revealing confidential information beyond what is necessary within the legal framework. Refer to the Oregon State Bar’s information page for a general discussion of what to do if you are concerned about a confidentiality breach or any other misconduct by your lawyer.

Can results be guaranteed?

Your lawyer can tell you what the law says and he can tell you what has happened in other similar cases but, if there is a question of law or fact, an outcome cannot be guaranteed. Results involving questions of law and/or fact can never be guaranteed. Presumming to guarantee results in such a situation is a violation of ethics rules. However, a lawyer may give an opinion as to the likelihood of prevailing or may predict a likely outcome. You should never believe a guarantee, whether explicit or implicit, and never trust a lawyer who gives one.

Can I fire my lawyer?

There may come a time when you suspect that your lawyer’s services are no longer acceptable for any number of reasons including your waning confidence and lack of communication or progress. You may feel your lawyer is not fiercely loyal nor a zealous advocate. Whatever the reason, before taking action, be sure to discuss your concerns with your lawyer to see if the relationship can be righted. This is appropriate out of respect for the time you and your lawyer have already invested and because a new lawyer could do better but could also do worse.

Changing lawyers in the middle of a case is problematic. But if you have lost confidence and are convinced that you need a new advocate, don’t feel bad about it – your lawyer will survive. What is most important is that you get the representation you feel you need. At the end of the day, your the one who must live with the eventual outcome of the matter. Take whatever steps are needed in order to remain in control of your legal problem.

When terminating a representation agreement, it is best to do so formally (in writing) and in harmony with applicable provisions of the original agreement. Your lawyer will need to respond in kind in order to be absolutely clear that the representation is terminated. Further, your lawyer will need to return any of your original documents as well as any documents created while working on your legal matter. These documents will be essential to enable your new attorney to get up to speed on your matter, especially if there are any deadlines relating to court filing or statute of limitations. Make sure your interests are not compromised by your own failure to communicate clearly and timely.

What Is A Petition

A petition is the document that contains your request to the court. It is not a law suit. You do not use this document to sue someone. It is commonly used in domestic relations matters. In a petition, you do not have a plaintiff(s) and defendant(s). Rather you typically have a petitioner and a respondent, however, in some cases you can have two co-petitioners. The eventual result of a petition is a court order.

Bankruptcy Questions:

Isn't bankruptcy extreme, why not just do a debt settlement?

Many people wonder why they should pursue bankruptcy rather than one of the many debt settlement offers they see on television. Bankruptcy law provides a specific legal process to eliminate your debt while many, if not all, of the offers you may have seen advertised do not.

Many debt settlement firms instruct you to stop paying your creditors and instead pay them. They extract their fees from the money you pay them and often they pay nothing to your creditors until their fee is paid. During this time, with no legal process to stop the creditors, you continue to accrue late charges and interest, the calls from debt collectors do not stop, and most importantly you have no legal protection against a creditor taking you to court and garnishing your wage.

Once the debt settlement firm has satisfied their fee from the money you have been paying them, they then attempt to settle your debts but with no legal leverage. The creditor is under no obligation to take less, to reduce interest rates, or the minimum payment. All of these are possible under bankruptcy law.

You would be wise to consult your attorney before you sign any agreement with a debt settlement company.

If I file for bankruptcy will I lose my personal property?

No, at least not all of your personal property. In fact, the idea of a Chapter 13 bankruptcy is actually to preserve all or most of your personal property. But the idea behind a Chapter 7 filing is to cash in or liquidate all personal property of value that is not exempted from the process by law. In Chapter 7, both federal and state law work to protect or exempt some minimum amount of your personal property from the bankruptcy process. Exemptions cover everything from real property to motor vehicles and from furniture to tools of the trade. The exact exemptions you can claim in your bankruptcy will depend on which state exemptions apply to your particular case. In Chapter 13 you work to protect your property by proposing an adjusted (down) payment plan. If the plan is accepted and you complete it then you keep your property.

Will I lose my car?

Not usually. The dollar amount specified under a Chapter 7 bankruptcy vehicle exemption depends on which state’s exemptions apply to you. Typically, a certain amount of value can be exempted allowing you to protect a vehicle you own, if that vehicle is worth less than the exemption. If it is worth more, then the trustee will consider selling it. You will be reimbursed the exemption amount and the balance will go to pay off your creditors. An alternative in the case where you still owe money on the vehicle is to “reaffirm” the loan. As a result, it will be removed from the bankruptcy estate and you will simply continue paying under the existing loan. But this only works if you can afford it.

Will I lose my house?

Not usually. Typically there is a Chapter 7 homestead exemption that allows you to exempt a certain amount of equity in your home. The mortgage for your property will remain valid and as long as you remain current the loan will continue as before. If your home is in foreclosure, bankruptcy will delay the process but it will not stop it. Saving your home from foreclosure will happen outside of bankruptcy under non-bankruptcy law, i.e. state law or possibly federal law should Congress choose to provide a federal remedy.

What about my retirement savings?

Most forms of retirement savings are exempted, however, exemptions do vary from state to state. Qualified ERISA (Employee Retirement Income and Security Act) retirement and pension plans are fully exempt and do not become part of the bankruptcy estate.

Do I have to list all of my debts/creditors in the bankruptcy petition?

Yes, without a doubt. All of your debts/creditors must be listed in the bankruptcy petition even if you intent to reaffirm them. In fact, even debts that cannot be discharged must be listed on your bankruptcy petition. Failure to list all your debts/creditors can result in your bankruptcy being dismissed. The Court does not like to play guessing games regarding who your creditors are.

If i am married do i have to file a joint petition with my spouse?

No. If you are married you may file with or without your spouse. Treatment of joint debts and joint property varies by state, however, if your spouse is not included in the bankruptcy they will not benefit from any of the protections conferred by the bankruptcy. Debts that are discharged as to you may still be a liability for your spouse. Also, your spouse’s credit may be adversely impacted by the fact of your bankruptcy.

Can a judgment lien be discharged in bankruptcy?

Only unsecured debt judgments are routinely discharged in both Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy. A judgment lien is considered a secured debt because all of your property secures it and, therefore, is not routinely discharged. Nevertheless, within certain limits, judgment liens on wages, bank accounts and real estate can be discharged. When you file a bankruptcy, all action to enforce or perfect the judgment lien will stop immediately pursuant to the automatic stay. During the course of your bankruptcy proceeding, a Motion to Avoid A Judicial Lien should be filed pursuant to Section 522 of the Bankruptcy Code. If the Court avoids the judicial lien, it then becomes an unsecured debt paid at the same percentage as your other unsecured debts. If the Court does not avoid the lien, it will be paid in full by the trustee as a secured claim.

Can I discharge my student loans?

No. Student loans are not normally dischargeable through bankruptcy. To discharge student loans a debtor must prove undue hardship. This is a high standard and requires showing that repaying the loan will prevent you from providing a minimum standard of living for yourself and your family, not only currently but in the future as well. Showing such hardship will continue into the future is very difficult to do unless, for example, you have become disabled and are unable to work.

What debts can't I discharge through bankruptcy?

Certain debts cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. Some examples are: unfiled taxes and tax debt less than three years old, domestic support obligations, criminal fines, and claims for accidents involving intoxication.

Can I get a credit card after filing bankruptcy?

It depends. Filing bankruptcy does not prevent you from obtaining new credit, however, your credit rating, which is a consideration, will be adversely effected. To overcome the added risk you present, many creditors offer credit cards secured by valuable personal property and others provide you with credit but at higher rates. Whether you can obtain a credit card after bankruptcy will depend largely on your financial condition at the time of application and how the bank views its need for security in light of your prior bankruptcy. Generally, your opportunity to obtain a credit card will be less and less affected by your past bankruptcy as time passes.

Domestic Relations Questions:

Can my spouse stop me from getting a divorce?

No, your spouse cannot stop you from getting a divorce but your spouse can contest issues in the divorce, such as child custody and support, spousal support, and property division. This can complicate and delay the divorce. In some counties, your spouse can ask the judge to postpone your divorce and order both of you to see a counselor.

Can I get a divorce in Oregon now if I just moved here?

In almost all cases either you or your spouse must have lived in Oregon for the past six months before you are permitted to file for divorce. This is to prevent people from coming to Oregon for a short time just to get divorced because it may be easier under Oregon law than under the law of their state of residence.

Will i be able to get a divorce if i don't know where my spouse is?

Yes, but you will have to prove to a judge that you have tried in many ways to find your spouse before a judge will let you go ahead with the divorce. If your spouse can’t be found for personal delivery of the divorce papers, you will be able to end your marriage and (usually) get custody decided, but you will probably not get child support or any divorce terms which require your spouse to pay money or do something (such as transferring title to property).

How long will it take to complete the divorce process?

An uncontested divorce can be final within 90 days of filing the divorce petition and serving your spouse. You may be able to reduce this time if the judge thinks you have a very good reason. If you and your spouse have agreed on the divorce terms and both signed the proposed final judgment, the judge can waive the waiting period. A contested divorce could take much longer than three months because court hearings and a trial may be needed.

What is a prenuptial agreement?

A prenuptial agreement is a private contract between two persons contemplating marriage. The couple generally settles, in advance, financial matters in the event of death or divorce.”Lifestyle” or non-financial topics also may be included. Once the marriage takes place, the agreement becomes enforceable. The contract overrides and preempts state, family and probate laws that otherwise would apply. The agreement must be “fair and reasonable”, meaning you both have to offer full and fair disclosure, have separate and independent counsel, and make sure there is ample lead-time to provide for contemplation of the terms before the wedding occurs. Note that prenuptial agreements may be modified during the course of the marriage as long as both parties agree.

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