How Do I Keep Someone Away From Me?

It’s no secret: Family quarrels bring out the worst in people. Many have said that family disputes are usually pretty good people on their worst behavior.

In a perfect world, people would have their dispute, reach a reasonable compromise, and then leave each other and each other’s stuff the heck alone. But we do not live in a perfect world—not even close.order-of-protection

That’s where things like an Order of Protection and No-Contact Order become important.

(Note: These are different from a Restraining Order under Arkansas law. (Or, in the words of Louis Tully, esteemed attorney for the Ghostbusters, a “judicial restrangement order—that blue thing I got from her!”)

Order of Protection

You can request that an Arkansas court give you an Order of Protection if you allege an immediate and present danger of domestic abuse. It does not cost anything to file for an Order of Protection (usually it costs $165 to file a new case in Arkansas).

Immediate simply means that the person’s threats or actions suggest that the abuse will occur in the near future. The term “domestic abuse” is very broad: It can mean physical harm or the infliction of fear of physical harm. Domestic doesn’t just mean your immediate family. It can be people you use to live with, relatives by marriage, someone you dated, etc.

Normally a judge will go ahead and grant what’s called an Ex Parte Order of Protection—meaning you don’t have to serve the other person first. This Order of Protection is just temporary. The Court will then set a hearing for the Order of Protection and it’s your job to serve the other person. If you don’t serve them, the Order of Protection will just go away.

To get a permanent Order of Protection, you’ll actually have to show up at the hearing and prove to the judge that the person really did commit an act or threaten domestic abuse.

No-Contact Order

A No-Contact Order is issued when someone is charged with a crime. (You can’t go get a No-Contact Order—the prosecutor requests it from the Court.) A No-Contact Order prevents the person charged with certain crimes from having any contact with the victim.

As a practical matter, it is important not to treat an Order of Protection lightly. Once you file for one, it is public record for the entire world (your boss, your kids, etc.) to see. Forever. Many people will file for one just to get back at a spouse or significant other. The effects of requesting an Order of Protection, however, usually last a lot longer than the fight itself.

On the other hand, domestic violence is a serious (and seriously underreported and ignored) problem. If you’ve received a legitimate threat from someone close to you, it is your right to use the Courts to protect yourself.

People don’t usually hire lawyers to handle Order of Protection hearings, but sometimes they do—particularly if someone has made false allegations about him or her. If you find yourself in that situation, please call us. An Order of Protection can affect your relationship with your job, your kids, and even affect your ability to own firearms.

How Can I Terminate Parental Rights?

I have discussed it before, but it’s worth repeating: Family Law has a strange mythology. One of those myths is the myth of terminating your parental rights (or “signing your rights away”). I don’t know where it comes from and—despite my best efforts—I haven’t figured out how to make it go away. This is a big body of knowledge that everyone seems to “know,” little of which is true or even close to true. Some of it’s TV. Some of it’s family. The rest?—I don’t really know where it comes from.

parental rights

 Somewhere along the way, everyone (or at least a lot of people who call me) decided that your parental rights and responsibilities are something to be given away, like a coat or a book. They are not. You do not give your parental rights away—they must be taken from you.

There are two ways that someone’s parental rights may be terminated:

  1. The child is adopted.
  1. DHS terminates someone’s parental rights through a Dependency/Neglect case.

In an adoption, one of the following things are happening:

a) a court is replacing two biological parents with two new biological parents. This is what you might call a “traditional” adoption.

b) A court is replacing two biological parents with one biological parent. This is a “single-parent adoption.”

c) A court is replacing one biological parent with a non-biological parent who’s married to one. This is a “stepparent adoption.”

In each of these scenarios, at least one person is going from parent to non-parent. From a legal perspective, it is as though the parent never existed—his or her parental rights have been terminated.

The other way that someone can lose his or her parental rights is through a DHS proceeding. This process normally takes around a year, at which point there is a final Termination of Parental Rights (TPR) hearing. This doesn’t happen by accident.

The point of all this is simple: If you are a parent, you stay a parent until a Court says so. You are still responsible for supporting the child until a court says’s you’re not, and any back-due child support sticks around even after your rights are terminated.

 

Do I Have to Take the Standard Field Sobriety Tests?

One of the most common questions I get is whether one should take the Standard Field Sobriety Tests given by police officers. The answer is no.

We can all agree, I think, that drunk driving is bad. Buzzed driving is bad. What we don’t agree on, however, is what it means to be drunk. Law enforcement often use Standard Field Sobriety Tests to know whether you’re drunk. This is also bad.

Under Arkansas DWI law, you do not have to submit to Standard Field Sobriety Tests. There is no legal consequence for refusing to submit to Standard Field Sobriety Tests.

field sobriety tests

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) sets out guidelines for the proper administration of field sobriety testing.  The three most common test which you will encounter are the Walk and Turn, the One Leg Stand, and the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus tests.  Most of the time, these tests will be conducted at the site of the traffic stop.  However, in some cases weather or road conditions will cause the officer to transport the person stopped to another venue to conduct the tests.

In the Walk and Turn, the officer puts you in an instructional stage position and explains the test to you. You will then walk a straight line, taking nine heel-to-toe steps. At the end of nine steps, you will take a series of small steps to turn around and take another series of nine heel-to-toe steps.  If you step off the line, sway too much, raise your hands too high, or do a number of other things, you give the officer clues to score your test.

In the One-Leg Stand Test, you raise one of your feet at least six inches off of the ground with your hands at your side while you count to thirty out loud.  Again,  swaying, raising your hands for balance, or placing your foot back on the ground before instructed to do so can all be used as clues about whether you’re intoxicated.

In the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test, the officer has you follow his or her finger with your eyes while not moving your head.  If your eyes don’t track smoothly or you making involuntary twitches (known as nystagmus), you can fail this test.

Again, you have a choice as to whether you take the Standard Field Sobriety Tests. As you probably gathered from my descriptions, these tests are easy to fail, even if you’re sober. It is almost never in your favor to submit to a Standard Field Sobriety Test. (If the officer thinks you’re drunk, it’s almost impossible that you could convince him or her otherwise. Once you take the test, however, it’s almost certain that he or she will think you’re drunk—or at least have enough “information” to arrest you.)

Don’t confuse the Standard Field Sobriety Tests with a request to take a Breathalyzer Test. You can refuse that one, too, but it will result in an automatic suspension of your driver’s license.

4 Things that are NOT in the Best Interest of the Child

There are a lot of concepts that are hard to define. Irony, for instance, is a tough one. Love, too—how do you define a word that can both be used to describe affection for french fries, The Beatles, and your mother?best-interest-child

Here’s another concept whose meaning is unclear: The Best Interest of the Child. Everyone knows that it’s the most important thing to consider for child custody cases. Judges throw the term around. Lawyers throw the term around. Parties throw the term around. But when it comes to nailing down a definition, you’re unlikely to get anything more than intuition and emotion. Everyone knows the best interest of the child is important, but no one knows just exactly what it means.

If you’re having trouble defining something, I think the easiest thing to do is figure out what it’s not. So until we get a better definition for what best interest of the child means, we can at least identify what’s NOT in the best interest of your child.

These aren’t extreme examples. These are real-life actions that people take. And it never turns out well.

Withholding Visitation: Not in The Best Interest of the Child

There’s nothing like a child custody fight to make someone adopt a God complex—belief in one’s own infallibility and inability to see anything else. And the ability to justify nearly anything.

I see it all the time: One parent decides that the other person isn’t doing exactly what he or she is supposed to be doing. For example: He or she didn’t pay the bill for the credit card. Or dad missed his child support payment. Or mom smokes with kid in the car. So the good parent decides to withhold visitation.

There are few black-and-white, “Thus Saith the Lord” principles in Arkansas family law, but here’s one: Don’t withhold visitation unless there’s an emergency. I understand that an emergency is in the eye of the beholder, but I can offer some guidance.  The following situations pose an emergency:

  1. Your child will go hungry if left with the other parent.
  2. Your child will be exposed to dangerous, illegal drugs if left with the other parent.
  3. Your child will not be clothed if left with the other parent.

That’s pretty much it.

Being around a new boyfriend or girlfriend: Not in The Best Interest of the Child

As humans, we are expertly programmed to be able to justify nearly anything. Even things that are manifestly, obviously, unequivocally unwise, like exposing your kids to a new love interest.

A good family lawyer can spin a lot of things, but it’s nearly impossible to explain why it was a good idea to bring your kids around someone new. It is confusing to kids. It makes your kids’ other parent (understandably) furious.

No one said that co-parenting with someone you don’t live with, love, or even like would be easy. Much like being an adult in general, it often means you can’t do the things you want to do. As much as you might think it’s important for your new companion to meet your kids, you do so at your own peril. 

Talking to your Kid about Custody: Not in The Best Interest of the Child

It is always in the best interest of your child to feel comfortable, safe, loved, and valued. It is also in his or best interest to be given age-appropriate issues to handle. It is not age appropriate to unload child custody issues on a kid. (This should not be a surprise, of course. Watch a few episodes of Judge Judy and you can see that child custody is hard for many adults to understand.)

A kid is not a therapist and cannot be expected to fill that role. Call your mother, call your friends, post something (anonymous) on Reddit, but don’t expose your child to the details of your custody case.

Geting the police or DHS involved: Not in The Best Interest of the Child

How can the police or DHS help resolve your child custody situation? They can’t. All they can do is manage an emergency, so you shouldn’t contact them unless it is, in fact, an emergency. (For some help on what qualifies as an emergency, see above.) In emergency situations, people act fast and focus on one thing, meaning other things get overlooked or even damaged. (Nobody cares about breaking your rib when you’re chocking to death, for instance.)

Child custody fights need precise, specific care—something like a scalpel. The police or DHS are more like sledgehammer. Using one of them might make you feel good. It will certainly make a change. Unfortunately, however, it may destroy other things in the process.

Okay—enough metaphor. Good lawyers, counselors, mediators, teachers, and coaches are how you solve child custody issues. The police and DHS are ultimately a hindrance.

Jury Trials and Duck Hunting

I never knew I wanted to be a lawyer, I’m still not really sure I do now. However, from around age eight I have been an avid duck hunter.  I have come to find some amazing similarities between being a duck hunter and lawyering, and maybe that is why I keep coming to work each day.

In the world of being a lawyer, the jury trial is the equivalent of the opening day hunt for a duck hunter.  Everything you do for the rest of the year is preparation and anticipation for opening day.duckhunt

In a jury trial, voir dire is your first chance to actually see the jury, and your only chance to have them talk back to you.  When you are duck hunting, just before the sun comes up, you have your first chance to converse with the ducks.  You call and they talk back.  The rest of the of the hunt progresses as a jury trial.

After your initial conversation with the jury, you have spotted which jurors you want, just as you have spotted the group of ducks which you want to work.  In a jury trial, your next move is an opening statement. This is where you make your initial plea to the jury, you tell them your side.  In duck hunting, you want to make your spread of decoys look the most appealing. You want to make your calling the most believable.  You want the jury of ducks to choose your spread, just as you want the jury to choose your side.

Several steps still lay between killing the duck and getting the jury’s verdict.  After making your initial statement to the jury, you now have the chance to call witnesses in direct examination.  Just as you select your best witnesses for direct, you choose your favorite call for this step in the hunt.  The ducks are starting to circle the trees; they are listening to your call.  The jury is listening to your conversation with the witness.  Both the ducks and the jury are deciding what they think about your performance.

Everything can seem to be going your way, but then comes cross examination.  Things can be brought out that you did not want exposed.  Just like hitting a bad note on your call or moving suddenly, many things can flair the ducks you are working.  Bad facts or a nervous witness can flair the jury.

But do not fear, all is not lost.  Just as soon as you start to flair a group of ducks, you can sweet talk them back.  The same is true for a jury.  You just have to keep the ducks circling and the jury hooked.

Now you have made it to closing arguments.  Everything is on the line.  You must make your final argument, hit those last few sweet notes on that old cutdown.  Make them commit. Make the jury want to believe you.  Just as you make the ducks cup up and sail through the trees, you drop your call, raise your gun and take the shot—Not Guilty.

The Temporary Hearing in Child Custody Cases

If you’re going through an Arkansas divorce or child custody case, you may need to attend a temporary hearing. This is because the process to finalize a case can take a long time. There may be discovery and depositions and experts and spreadsheets and mediations, all of which make the process complicated and time-consuming. And that’s if no one deliberately tries to prolong the process!

In the meantime, however—before all that stuff gets done and there’s some final decision—there may be some issues that need immediate attention. Usually, the biggest issue at first is kids. Someone needs to make sure that they’re getting to school, eating regularly, taking baths, getting haircuts, etc. One parent may also get temporary child support at this time. When the judge makes a decision at the temporary hearing, he or she doesn’t have all the best information. But a decision has to be made. When it comes to someone taking care of kids, any decision is better than no decision, even if it’s not the best decision.

There may also be a need for a temporary hearing if one spouse is completely dependent on the other. If a husband is the sole breadwinner, for instance, and decides he’s going to leave his wife and immediately stops supporting her. Her lawyer may need to set a temporary hearing to ask a judge to force the husband to make the mortgage payment, water bill, etc.

temporary-hearing

The advantage of a temporary hearing is that it is short—usually thirty minutes. Because it’s short, a temporary hearing can be scheduled with the court within a few weeks. The first available date for a full hearing may be months down the road.

Although they are often necessary, I am not a big fan of the temporary hearing. It favors the loudest party. It favors the party most willing to throw the other party under the bus. It favors the lawyer most willing to make accusations that aren’t true but can’t be defended against. If the parties are in such disagreement that they can’t agree on temporary issues, the hearing is likely to be a disaster. (Regardless of who “wins,” an absurd concept in this context.)

Whatever happens at the temporary hearing sets a pattern for the rest of the case, and it’s usually not a positive pattern. The person who gets a more favorable custody arrangement now has time on his or her side—what lawyers will normally call the “status quo.” The parties have already had the chance to say hateful, possibly untrue things about each other. These things cannot be un-said or un-heard, and they make peaceful resolution far less likely. (Nobody wants to negotiate with a person who called her a liar, cheater, slut, absent mother, or any other ugly thing.)

Even if the case cannot ultimately settle, there are better ways to deal with temporary issues than a temporary hearing.

I try to practice a different style of family law, which is apparent to you if you made it to the end of this. If you’re interested to know more about what I do, why I do it, or how it might be a better choice for your family law situation, please contact me. I can be easily reached at stefan (at) whlawoffices (dot) com.

Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act. Explained.

Our subject today is the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act. There, I said it.

This blog exists for a few different reasons, but this is the biggest one: We want to explain how laws that you otherwise would not know or care about can make your life better. Laws are—after all—yours. You should be able to use them. We make money by helping you use them. Simple.

Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act

So here’s an example of a law’s usefulness from the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act. Nothing sexy about that name, for sure, but then again sexiness is only skin deep. This law can be a big help when you need it and was created to help people who inherit property so that they can keep their property. Keeping property = good.

Here’s the scenario: Mom leaves the house and land to her two children, Andrew and Bonnie. Andrew makes $40,000 a year (must be a lawyer) and has 3 kids, while Bonnie makes $175,000 and has one kid. They were born 10 years apart so they did not grow up together and never were close. After mom dies they fight over everything, which is normal because they’ve never really liked each other. When mom was alive she stopped the fighting, but now she’s no longer around to referee.

Bonnie gets mad and goes to her lawyer. He advises her to partition the property and buy it at auction. (Partition simply means to split it up.) This is good advice because she can afford another mortgage and her brother can’t (Remember, he’s a broke lawyer.). Bonnie sues to partition, there is an auction, and she buys a $150,000 piece of property for $90,000, and writes her brother a check for $45,000 (half of the selling price, of course). Now she owns the land, and her brother lost (and she gained) $30,000 of value.

Here’s where the non-sexy-but-otherwise-cool law called The Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act (UPOHA) comes into play. It provides Andrew with several remedies.

Remedies Under the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act

1) It allows co-tenants the right to buy out the other tenants,

2) It gives preference to “partition in kind” as opposed to “partition by sale,” and

3) it reforms the sale process to improve the chance of maximizing the heirs’ share of the proceeds. Yay for more $$$!

So you file a lawsuit and serve everyone as usual. What is different from a normal petition for partition?

When Can the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act Apply?

First, before the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act applies, it must be determined that the property is an “heirs property.” “Heirs property” means real property held in tenancy in common that satisfies all of the following requirements as of the filing of a partition action:

(A) there is no agreement in a record binding all the cotenants which governs the partition of the property;

(B) one or more of the cotenants acquired title from a relative, whether living or deceased; and

(C) any of the following applies:

(i) 20 percent or more of the interests are held by cotenants who are relatives;

(ii) 20 percent or more of the interests are held by an individual who acquired title from a relative, whether living or deceased; or

(iii) 20 percent or more of the cotenants are relatives.

This law is found at Arkansas Code Ann. 18-60-1002(5) if you’re interested. Once you can determine that the property is “heirs property,” the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act applies.

Second, the court appoints commissioners that must be disinterested (This does not mean they’re bored. That’s a given.) and impartial and they cannot be parties to the lawsuit.

Third, the court determines fair market value (not an auction). This can be done by an appraisal, an agreement between the cotenants, or by the court after an evidentiary hearing. Parties will receive notice of the fair market value and can object if they want.

After fair-market value is determined, all cotenants will be notified of the fair-market value given the option to buy out other cotenants. The cotenants have 45 days after the notice of fair-market value to notify the court that they wish to buy the property. They can pay the court for the portion they wish to buy and the court will reallocate the interest in the property.

If not all the interests are purchased or if a cotenant requests a partition in kind (splitting the property into different parcels), the court will order a partition in kind unless it will result in great prejudice. An example of “great prejudice” might be a single-family home on a single lot. One-half of a home is not worth half the price of the home; it’s worth nothing. You can’t split up a home like you can split up a farm or commercial property.

If cotenants don’t want to buy the property and partition in kind is not practical, then the court will order a sale. The sale must be open market, unless sealed bids or an auction would be in the best interests of the cotenants.

This new law (enacted in 2015) protects heirs and gives co-tenants a lot more freedom and protection. If you find yourself in such a situation, contact us and we can explain how the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act might allow you to keep more of your inheritance.

Family Law 101: Don’t Do Stupid Stuff on Facebook

There is so much to say about social media and family law—perhaps a small book is in order. I will add that to my list of things to do. In the meantime, however, Facebook has an overlooked option that is a game-changer and deserves its own post.

I don’t know that it has a name, but the concept is simple: Facebook now allows you to download your entire Facebook history into a .zip file. It creates several different folders—one for photos, one for videos, and a bunch of .html files (basically web pages) that have all your messages, posts, friends, status updates, photo albums, etc. Between this download and your activity log, there is a convenient, easily accessed record of everything you’ve ever done on Facebook.facebook social media

I won’t call this a full-blown divorce-lawyer miracle, but it’s definitely somewhere between “boon” and “blessing.” Most adults have Facebook, and (anecdotally) most of the people who will go through a divorce or child-custody battle have put valuable evidence about their case on Facebook.

And it’s not just that one’s Facebook might reveal a so-called “smoking gun”—the admission of infidelity or drug use or hiding assets—although that would obviously be nice. The information in this download is comprehensive enough to lead a careful reviewer to other things. The way many adults use Facebook, this download is like a daily diary of the last several years of your life. It would give any private investigator the bread-crumbs to find what would ordinarily be hidden, or at least very difficult to find.

This feature not only makes this information available, it is now far easier to review. Most any piece of information will be eventually be available with enough time, effort, and skill, but this download is easy. It doesn’t take any advanced security equipment or stakeouts or data mining. All it takes is a discovery request, a Dropbox link, and the opposing party having a free evening to do some electronic dumpster-diving. The popcorn is optional.

All of this takes me back to the place I usually get on these issues, and I’ll try my best not to be paternalistic: If you want to survive family law litigation and make sure your interests are protected, you need to be above reproach. Very few people are able to hide their misdeeds forever and from everyone. Most of these cases are won on good facts, not good law—make sure your facts are good.

Thoughts on How to Pick Your Local Judge

This is a short article reflecting on how I think about local elections. Specifically, it is my attempt to take my Christian worldview and translate that into a guide for deciding which local politicians I will support. The point of this is to explain that the decision-making process is different for local elections than it would be for a local judgenational election.

I decided to write this because I have two friends running for local office: David Johnson is running for district judge in Jacksonville and Maumelle, and John Tidwell is running for 202nd district judge in my hometown of Texarkana, Texas. Both of these men have earned my respect. Both of them are smart. Both of them are good lawyers. Both of them treat people well. Both of them are good fathers. Both of them are good examples for me to emulate as a young lawyer. They’d both make good neighbors. I can’t vote for John because I live in Arkansas, but I would if I could. I will be voting for David, and I would vote for him no matter who he was running against.

Here’s the thing, really the point of this whole piece: I don’t agree with either of them on most political issues. If I engaged either one of them in a political discussion, we would immediately disagree. I’m not sure that I would vote for either of them for President. But they will both make outstanding judges.

There is so much that is troubling about politics. Like many people, I feel lost. I feel forced to figure out what the least evil option would be in a system that was (apparently) designed to produce terrible options.

This national and statewide election tragedy affects the local election situation. That is, we get so polarized by the candidates and by the media that we adopt the same mentality with local elections—perhaps the elections that affect us the most. The habits and thought patterns that we develop in trying to choose a president or governor follow us when we’re choosing our mayor and local judge. Or dogcatcher (Is that really a thing?).

The spillover to local elections is unfortunate. That is, the habits built for national elections are poorly suited for local ones. I think that we need to have different standards for each type of office. Our voting preferences should track with the office we’re selecting. Put another way: The person that you vote for when selecting a President need not be a good judge or dogcatcher, and vice versa. And there have been many fine dogcatchers who would not have been a good president.

Neither David nor John will ever make a policy decision about abortion or climate change or immigration or gay marriage. So it doesn’t matter much what he thinks about those issues. Those issues do matter, but they don’t matter for a local judge. Instead, they’ll be making decisions about foreclosures, child custody, how to sentence a criminal, whether a witness is telling the truth, etc.

What kind of person do you want making those decisions? You want integrity. You want wisdom. You want someone who is decisive. You want someone who is smart. You want someone who is discerning. You want someone who will show up to work on time every single day.

As a Christian, I think there is something to be taken from Deuteronomy Chapter 16 on the role of a local judge:

“You shall appoint judges and officers in all your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous. Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”

There is certainly a lot about ancient Israel’s government that we would not want to replicate now, but it’s interesting that this particular office hasn’t changed much. The qualification for a local trial judge has pretty much always involved the same skill set: Someone who’s fair, someone who can’t be bribed, someone who follows the law.

David Johnson and John Tidwell meet those qualifications without reservation.

Takeaways from UALR Bowen’s Legal Hackathon

Last Saturday, I had the pleasure of helping with Bowen Law School’s Legal Innovation Hackathon. (Go here for details.) I was there as a lawyer-advisor, I guess—tasked with helping the teams answer any legal questions they might have.

The concept was simple: Tech folks get together and use their skills to solve a legal issue (literally) overnight. There were eight teams of tech-inclined people, lawyers, and law students, each of which addressed a pressing legal issue and used various coding platforms to offer a technical solution.  The results were impressive. I conveyed my first impressions in real time on Twitter, which you can find at @sk_mcbride.

hackathon

My tendency is to be a critic first and gracious afterward, an ugly trait that I am going to avoid here. So—lest my critique and questions obscure the most important takeaway, I will make it clear: This event was exciting. Every lawyer should recognize the dramatic effect that technology can have on our legal system. New technology can help bridge the justice gap. New technology can help lawyers be more effective advocates. New technology can help lawyers make money and clients save money.

We need more events like this. Lawyers must be more proactive in seeking out tech solutions. We should be leading the charge, begging tech to help us.

Despite all its promise and all its intrigue, however, we also need to think (more?) carefully about the intersection of law and tech. I walked away from the Hackathon encouraged. I also thought the Hackathon exposed a few areas that may need improvement. If the happy marriage of law and tech is good—and it is—this is where we need to work.

Technical People Have to Learn to Speak Lawyer

There were several points during the Hackathon where the forces of tech and the forces of law were two ships passing in the night. The result: The tech people designed creative, practical solutions to non-existent issues. This obviously won’t work.

The blame does not lie with either group, but I believe the solution lies with tech. Lawyers are not going to learn to code—many lawyers are not even going to learn anything. But a tech person—that person is immersed in change, enjoys it, and can thrive in it. A tech person has to be a life learner. Or a law learner, as it were.  I am confident that a coder can learn to think like a lawyer.

Note: I don’t mean that coders should learn to speak legalese. Certainly not. Legal lingo is nothing but a protectionist barrier to entry—obviously not the thing to promote when you’re trying to lower that barrier.

This is what I mean: coders and other technical people are problem solvers. It’s critical that they’re able to solve real legal problems, not problems that a tech person might think a lawyer would see.

This should be no more difficult than sharing a beer or coffee and talking candid shop. No Latin, No HTML.

People Don’t Need Another Way to Get Legal Advice or Find a Lawyer

One surprising aspect of the Hackathon was how unfamiliar some tech people were with existing tech solutions for legal issues.

Put another way: Despite the fact that there are many legal problems for which technology might offer a solution, there are some legal problems for which there are a myriad of legal solutions. When it comes to the low-hanging fruit—like internet legal advice (AVVO)  and referral services (LegalMatch, NOLO, etc.)—I think we’re good.

This issue is connected with the first. The two groups are going to have to develop meaningful conversation to understand where the good, meaningful work lies. Otherwise a lot of technical work might be mooted (see what I did there?).

So, the fact that technology exists to address a legal issue is not enough; it’s gotta be a real issue.

Technology Isn’t Helpful Unless It Can Make Someone Some Money

Based on the results of the Hackathon, the people inclined to merge tech and law are also inclined to give their work away. This is great, in a way—it’s refreshing to see the emphasis on public service. It also means that whatever those people create will be mediocre, outdated, and boring unless they can write excellent grants. It’s impossible to make and keep good technology without money.

It may be that the missing third leg of the law-tech stool is entrepreneurship.

As a small-firm, wanna-be entrepreneur-lawyer, I am bombarded with sales pitches and marketing ploys. I know better—I know that someone can’t guarantee that I rank highest in Google search rankings. I know that canned content is garbage.

But the fact that the marketers are calling me let’s me know that someone is buying. And if they’re currently buying junk, why can’t they be sold something good, something innovate and clever?

The money is there. Lawyers will buy technology, but tech people must create it to be sold.

This need not be sordid or greedy. Consider, for example, Wal-Mart. Has any other entity (including our government) done more to help the poor? (This excludes people working there, of course.) A scalable, saleable, profitable business is often the best way to help people.