Friday, February 17, 2012

It's a Rollercoaster

Ain't life full of surprises?  A couple months back a friend of mine up and died while sitting at his desk in the office.  One heart attack and he was snuffed out leaving behind 2 daughters and a wife. Yesterday, my wife's nephew's wife gave birth to their first child (congratulations).  A beautiful boy - rosy, juicy cheeks and everything.  I remember when my daughter was born.  She was the most beautiful person I had ever seen (next to my wife on our wedding day, of course).  What bothers me is that with all of life's ups and downs, you never know when you're going to breathe your last breath.  Yeah, I know - that sounds pretty morbid and all but when you're a dad (as I am now), I'm always (well, maybe not always - but a whole lot) thinking of what my daughter is going to have to face on her own and later without me and/or my wife at her side.

It's thoughts like these that have been driving me to research something a bit more personal as of late - specifically, the creation of my family estate plan.  You know - a will, powers of attorney (health and financial), and a trust.  While some states don't really care if you have a trust (as they treat trusts like a will and toss everything into probate), California still revers trusts as a sacred document.  Mess it up, and your estate is royally screwed.  So, what can you do to protect yourself?  What resources are out there than can help you plan now for the inevitable end game?!  Glad you asked.

Don't live in California?  Then what you might want to check out is The Estate Planning Series (Justice Publications).  You might also want to look at Drafting Wills and Trust Agreements (West) or Last Wills and Testaments Line by Line: a detailed look at last wills & testaments and how to change them to meet your needs (West).  I'm sure there are other resources out there in Internet land but this should get you started with your own estate plans.

So, to recap - whether your at the beginning of your rope or nearing the end, know that there are always options to help get you where you want to be (or ensure that your loved ones are secure).  On the other hand, you can always do what the bumper sticker said:  Screw the kids- spend your kids inheritance (it's your money, anyway).  Whatever you decided to do, know that the good folks at your local county law library know how to help you do what you want to do whenever you get around to doing it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Best Job in the World

librarians help everyoneWhen I was young(er) I wanted to be an astronaut.  Flying up in space, lighter than air - what a ride.  Then about age 10 I wanted to be a fireman.  Around 13 I wanted to be a doctor, then at 17 a pharmacologist, and later an accountant (yeah, that one must have been when I smacked my head pretty hard), then around 21, I decided I wanted to be a lawyer.

After I graduated from law school I worked for a time doing research and investigative work for attorneys in Orange and Los Angeles Counties until a friend suggested I get a masters degree and become a librarian - so I did and here I am and I have to say, I've got the best job in the world.  What really blows my mind is that I actually know what I'm doing  when I'm doing librarian stuff.  Let me elucidate.

The other day we had a guy looking for information on Medicare.  Seems the government was looking to cut his medicare benefits because he made some money gambling in Vegas (I know, I know - no one makes money in Vegas except the casinos - so it was a stretch...but who am I to judge) and they said he was making too much money to earn medicare.  Anyway, turns out our library has a two volume set called Medical and Medicare: claims and procedures (West) that was right up his alley.

Then I was online helping a lady who was looking for information about Unlawful Detainer (i.e. evictions and landlord/tenant stuff).  Apparently, she was wondering if she could sue in Small Claims Court for monies owed to her by her tenant.  Quicker than I could blink, I suggested she look at Everybody's Guide to Small Claims Court in California (Nolo Press).  

Just today a guy came up to me looking for information about discovery in a criminal case.  Without thinking I walked him back to our criminal section and in about 5 minutes, I had him looking in Witkin's California Criminal Law (West), and (the bible of criminal law) California Criminal Law: procedure and practice (CEB).

So whether you are looking to get married and need a prenuptial agreement, you're just looking to sell a car and you need a simple bill of sale, you're local county law library knows what you're looking for.  They really can.  Just walk in your local county law library and know that you are in good hands because we're Law Librarians and (most of us) LOVE our jobs!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Let Me Count the Ways

girls fight kindergarten
Once upon a time when I was young(er), I had two girlfriends.  OK, we were in kindergarten and I had a toy they both, in a way - because I had the toy and they wanted the toy, they wanted me.  Yeah, I was 6 and that's how a guy's head works, OK?!  Anyway, there I am with the toy of envy and these two girlies say to me, who do you like better?  I suspect they were just playing me and it didn't matter who I gave the toy to, I was going to end up having someone hate me.  So, I kept the toy and the girls decided they both hated me which was ok - I mean, they did have cooties and what 6 year old boy wants to be seen hanging around girls anyway?!?

Now that I'm a Law Librarian I get asked that question a lot  - which (resource) do you like better?  Specifically, the two products that I get asked about most often are my preferences between Westlaw and LexisNexis.  Short answer: I really don't like Lexis and while I'm not head over heals in love with Westlaw, it is a lot easier to like than Lexis.  Let me elucidate. 

I want to say at the start of this that I don't own stock in Thompson Reuters and they are NOT giving me a kickback for writing any of this.  That said, a key difference between Weslaw and Lexis is that in order for Lexis to recognize a particular citation, you have to have darn near PERFECT citation notation.  Otherwise, Lexis will say - I don't know what the heck you are talking about.  In Westlaw, as long as you get the major points (volume, reporter, page), it figures you're working hard enough and it will cut you some slack and will sort out what you were looking for.

For example.  If you were working in Westlaw, you could type 134ca3d121 and Westlaw would know you were looking for volume 134 of the California Appellate Reporter, 3rd series, page 121.  Lexis on the other hand would give you an error message because you failed to type in perfect citation notation:  134 Cal.App. 3d 121.  The problem is that when most people are flying through research, they're not thinking about perfect citation notation (and most people don't know what the true blue book citation should be).

Another problem with Lexis is how their system accepts Boolean search syntax.  In both Westlaw and Lexis, you can search for information using natural language (which is what you're reading here) and Boolean syntax.  If you search using natural language, you might find what you're looking for but most likely not (imagine a tiny needle in a huge haystack).  If you use a Boolean syntax, you can narrow your search exponentially.  Example of operators include:  "/#" = within a number of words; "/s" = within a sentence; "/p" = within a paragraph.  So, for example, if I ran a search in Westlaw for:  (pit /2 bull), that would say I'm looking for "pit" within 2 words of the word "bull". 

The problem is that Lexis requires you have to add a "w" to every operator as such: w/2 or w/s or w/p to suggest "within /2 words" or "within/a sentence" or "within/a paragraph" - it's a
insane crazy mind numbing problems
royal pain in the neck (especially when you have your boss breathing down your neck and you're trying to crank out a search syntax and the the #%@#%@ thing won't work because you forgot the #%@#^@$^ "w" before the syntax.  It's enough to drive anyone a little nutsy. 

There are dozens of other things that bother me about Lexis but to summarize my feelings on the subject - if you want to save yourself a migraine later (or you have the cash to buy only one online license) stick with Westlaw because as the fortune cookie said, "man who plays with two women gets what he pays for."

Thursday, February 2, 2012

It's the Soup Line All Over Again

Recently, there have been a number of articles about how law schools have inflated their GPA and employment rates to entice new law students to come to their institutions and now a class action has been filed against a number of these law schools to recoup some of those "ill gotten" gains (see Another Shoe Drops; to view complaints filed against law schools, see Law Offices of David Anziska).  Hey, there's big business in the law school business.  When I went to law school (Western State University College of Law; 1990-'93), I started school paying $379 a unit and when I graduated, the cost per unit was about $412.  I hear it's upwards of $750 a unit, now.

While law school was sure a bear, not having a job lined up (or even have any reasonable prospects) when you finally get out of law school can be even harder to stomach.  For those law students who are now realizing that their law school may not have been totally forthright when it told them that if they forked over their $50,000 a year and passed the bar exam that they would easily be making 6-figure incomes, might I suggest you head over to your local county law library and take a look at What Can You Do With a Law Degree?  a lawyers guide to career alternatives inside, outside & around the law (Niche Press), Non-Legal Careers for Attorneys (ABA), America's Greatest Places to Work with a Law Degree: and how to make the most of any job, no matter where it is! (West), 50 Unique Legal Paths: how to find the right job (ABA), and Better Resumes for Executives & Professionals (Barrons).

So if you've got that JD (or other professional degree) and you find yourself in the proverbial soup line, know that the good folks at your local county law library have just what you need to help get you on your feet.