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By Strich Law Firm, Aug 16 2017 05:49PM

Governing the practice of law in New Jersey is a set of Rules of Professional Conduct. In June, three committees of the New Jersey Supreme Court joined in issuing an opinion that a legal service called Avvo has been violating these ethical rules. Avvo Legal Services is an online client-matching service that pairs clients seeking legal assistance with lawyers in their geographical region and desired area of practice. Lawyers are rated on Avvo on a scale of 1-10 based on client and peer reviews. If the client is matched with an attorney, the client pays $39 for a 15 minute consultation. The attorney gets that $39 in their account and $10 is subtracted from that amount by Avvo for marketing services.


Under the Rules, lawyers are permitted to pay for advertising and marketing services so long as the advertisements are not false, misleading or deceptive. They are not, however, allowed to pay non-lawyers for “recommendations.” The New Jersey opinion asserts that Avvo creates implicit recommendations of the lawyers through their rating system and “satisfaction guarantee” for their service. By matching clients to the “right” lawyer based on the substance of their issue and the lawyer’s own experience, Avvo implies an endorsement of the lawyer’s qualifications. For these reasons, the New Jersey ethics committees believe that the “marketing fee” Avvo charges its lawyers is an impermissible referral fee.


Many other states have already issued similar opinions deeming Avvo’s practice to be unethical, including Ohio, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania. Quick to follow New Jersey’s lead was New York, with the State Bar Association issuing an opinion in agreement that Avvo’s practice violated the Rules, though their reasoning was somewhat different. However, North Carolina Bar was more favorable to Avvo’s practices and has proposed an amendment to their rules to accommodate the Avvo program.


The New York State Bar Association made a point of describing how legal services such as Avvo could operate within the boundaries of ethical rules. They state that as long as the service selects lawyers in a transparent and unbiased method, does not explicitly or implicitly recommend any lawyer, and complies with advertising restrictions, they may operate without legal or ethical issue. It seems legal services such as Avvo may need to reform as states crack down on enforcing ethical rules.


Comments: Avvo reacted to the opinions of the New York and New Jersey committees by claiming that the committees focused too heavily on the “marketing fees”, rather than ensuring that lawyers and the public are given the protection they are due under the First Amendment. The chief legal officer of Avvo, Josh King, believes that the ethics committees applied the standards too “narrowly.” The Bar associations that are finding Avvo’s practice unethical are focusing on misleading consumers, whereas Avvo is relying on First Amendment rights.


The North Carolina amendment that is referenced above would address Rule 5.4 regarding the Professional Independence of a Lawyer. The amendment would create an exception to the fee-splitting prohibition in the Rule and states the following: 6) a lawyer or law firm may pay a portion of the legal fee to a credit card processor, group advertising provider or online platform for identifying and hiring a lawyer if the amount paid is a reasonable charge for the payment processing or for administrative or marketing services, and there is no interference with the lawyer’s independence of professional judgement or with the client-lawyer relationship.


Call us at 609-924-2900 if you have a possible case or visit our web site at www.strichlaw.com.


Disclaimer: Any and all information contained on this site is for informational purposes, and should not be utilized as a substitute for a full, in-person consultation with a lawyer in your State and familiar with your circumstances. Strich Law Firm PC is in NJ and the comments relate to NJ only. Strich Law Firm, P.C. assumes no responsibility for any information contained on this site, and disclaims all liability in respect of such information. In addition, no part of this site shall be deemed to form any contract between Strich Law Firm, P.C. and anyone viewing this site.





By Strich Law Firm, Aug 14 2017 05:52PM

Courts consider a wide array of factors in awarding alimony and equitably distributing the assets of parties in divorce cases. Often, a question arises about whether an asset should be used to determine alimony or whether it should be subject to equitable distribution—or both. Awarding a portion of an asset from the same source in alimony and in equitable distribution is referred to as “double dipping”. Interestingly, New Jersey law prevents double dipping only when the issue concerns pension or retirement benefits.

The rule preventing “double dipping” originated in the 1982 case of D’Oro v. D’Oro. In this case, the court ruled that a pension cannot be counted as “income” for the purposes of determining alimony if it has already been considered under equitable distribution. The court upheld this rule in the landmark case of Brown v. Brown in 1990. Here, the ex-wife of a retired naval officer claimed to be entitled to an equitable distribution of her ex-husband’s retirement pension. The Mississippi Supreme court rejected the plaintiff’s claim on the grounds that the distribution of such an asset constituted “double dipping”. The court agreed with the logic of D’Oro v. D’Oro, stating that it would be inequitable for the pension to be counted both as a share of equitable distribution and as a cash flow determination for alimony.

The case of Steneken v. Steneken in 2004 raised the issue of whether “double dipping” applied to the distribution of business-related assets. The defendant had appealed a court decision that gave his ex-wife both a share of his business and a monthly alimony based on his salary from the same business. However, the court argued that the present value of a business, based on its past earning, can be considered entirely separate from the earnings it would provide a shareholder in the future. In other words, a business can be both an asset for equitable distribution and a source of income used to determine alimony. The precedent allowing double dipping to occur in non-pension or retirement benefit cases continues to be upheld by New Jersey courts today.

Comments: Numerous courts around the country have since expanded the “double dipping” rule to protect business-related assets from being distributed twice. However, New Jersey courts continue to uphold that the “double dipping” rule applies only to pensions and retirement benefits. Whether or not this statute is unfair to business owners is widely disputed.

Call us at 609-924-2900 if you have a possible case or visit our web site at www.strichlaw.com.

Disclaimer: Any and all information contained on this site is for informational purposes, and should not be utilized as a substitute for a full, in-person consultation with a lawyer in your State and familiar with your circumstances. Strich Law Firm PC is in NJ and the comments relate to NJ only. Strich Law Firm, P.C. assumes no responsibility for any information contained on this site, and disclaims all liability in respect of such information. In addition, no part of this site shall be deemed to form any contract between Strich Law Firm, P.C. and anyone viewing this site.

By Strich Law Firm, Jul 31 2017 05:28PM

A new standard for workplace harassment was established in a recent decision by the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. The plaintiffs in Castleberry v. STI Group, two African employees of staffing agency STI Group, claimed that their supervisor threatened to fire them if they “[N-word]-rigged” the job of clearing a fence. The employees reported this comment and were terminated two weeks later without explanation. Claiming harassment, discrimination and retaliation, the two workers filed suit against their employer. The case reached the Third Circuit after a trial judge in Pennsylvania’s Middle District dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims of harassment.

At the onset of this case, workers needed to show that their employer’s behavior was “severe and pervasive” to be considered harassment. In other words, treatment had to be both seriously offensive and repeated to constitute a viable harassment claim. However, the Third Circuit judge in Castleberry v. STI Group believed that this standard was vague and inconsistent. He clarified that the correct standard to determine workplace harassment was that treatment had to be “severe or pervasive”. This meant that behavior did not have to be both serious and repeated to be harassment, but could rather be viable if one or the other created a hostile work environment.

The Third Circuit judge in Castleberry v. STI Group ruled that the supervisor’s use of the N-word together with a threat of termination made his behavior “severe”. The application of this new standard reversed the trial court’s decision and allowed the plaintiffs’ claim to stand as harassment. Thanks to this new standard, employers will likely face a greater responsibility to act respectfully in the workplace and employees can expect wider protection from offensive treatment.

Comments: Clarification of the harassment standard in this case is very useful to both employers and employees. The new standard is more logical: I agree that threat of termination and subsequent termination after complaining of harassing or discriminatory language is severe and should be considered harassment and/or discrimination. I believe that this will be a landmark decision in employment law.

Call us at 609-924-2900 if you have a possible case or visit our web site at www.strichlaw.com.

Disclaimer: Any and all information contained on this site is for informational purposes, and should not be utilized as a substitute for a full, in-person consultation with a lawyer in your State and familiar with your circumstances. Strich Law Firm PC is in NJ and the comments relate to NJ only. Strich Law Firm, P.C. assumes no responsibility for any information contained on this site, and disclaims all liability in respect of such information. In addition, no part of this site shall be deemed to form any contract between Strich Law Firm, P.C. and anyone viewing this site.

By Strich Law Firm, Jul 28 2017 04:27PM

A recent case in New Jersey, Ricci v. Ricci, raised a number of questions about the duty of divorced parents in supporting their child’s education. The parents of the child, Caitlyn, had been divorced since she was 4 years old. She lived with her parents throughout high school and enrolled part-time in a community college after graduation. However, upon having issues with her parents, she left her mother’s home at the age of 19 to live with her grandmother. Her parents agreed that she was emancipated and sought to end their child support responsibilities.

Caitlyn legally objected to these efforts and compelled her parents to pay for the cost of her community college education. Though a judge initially approved her intervention and required her parents to pay, Caitlyn then committed to attending a four-year out of state university and sought to make her parents to pay for the cost of this tuition as well. The issue became whether Caitlyn’s parents could be held responsible for paying these costs.

The first consideration in Ricci v. Ricci is whether Caitlyn was legally emancipated upon moving out of her mother’s house. Generally, child support automatically terminates when the child turns 19. However, children can be emancipated before this age upon request by the parents. A child can also request for their support to be extended past the age of 19 if they are enrolled in a higher education program.

If Caitlyn was found to be unemancipated, the second issue was then whether her parents could be held responsible for the cost of her education. The court takes two factors into account in determining whether parents should be held responsible. First, they consider whether it is equitable for the parents to pay the costs. Second, they consider whether the parents have the means to contribute financially.

The court examined the details within this case closely and determined that the facts surrounding Caitlyn’s potential status of emancipation were too contradictory, and remanded the case (sent the case back to the trial judge for a hearing on the facts). If the trial court decides that Caitlyn was unemancipated, it will then consider whether the parents have an obligation to pay. This complex case establishes the principle that parents must be involved with their child’s education decisions to a certain extent in order to be held responsible for their costs and that a child must be unemancipated before parents have an obligation for advanced/technical education.

Comments: New Jersey is one of only a few states that holds parents responsible for advanced/technical education, potentially up through graduate school. The responsibility is, however, limited by whether the child meets emancipation criteria, whether the child and parent/parents are estranged, and if so, whose fault it is, the involvement in the choice of college, the ability to pay for college or technical school related cost, the parents’ education, the child’s ability and other factors (see Newburgh v Newburgh). Here, the Court makes it clear that the emancipation or lack thereof of the child must be determined before there is any obligation or the degree of obligation by the parents for advanced education.

Call us at 609-924-2900 if you have a possible case or visit our web site at www.strichlaw.com.

Disclaimer: Any and all information contained on this site is for informational purposes, and should not be utilized as a substitute for a full, in-person consultation with a lawyer in your State and familiar with your circumstances. Strich Law Firm PC is in NJ and the comments relate to NJ only. Strich Law Firm, P.C. assumes no responsibility for any information contained on this site, and disclaims all liability in respect of such information. In addition, no part of this site shall be deemed to form any contract between Strich Law Firm, P.C. and anyone viewing this site.

#childsupport #collegetuition #emancipation

By Strich Law Firm, Jul 21 2017 04:58PM

A recent decision in a New Jersey court affirmed the privacy rights of individuals diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in the case of Smith v. Datla. The New Jersey law addressing the privacy of individuals diagnosed with HIV/AIDS is called the AIDS Assistance Act. First implemented in 1984 to address the spread of AIDS, this Act requires that all diagnosed cases of HIV/AIDS and information regarding diagnosed individuals be reported to the Department of Health. In addition, the law states that any information about the individual and their diagnosis is confidential and can only be released for purposes defined by the Act. The confidential information can be obtained if prior written consent exists or can be accessed by individual’s executor, spouse, or primary caretaker only if the individual is legally incompetent or deceased. But for this latter provision, the executor, spouse or primary caregiver could not get medical information without permission from the court as part of a guardianship order.


The AIDS Assistance Act also allows individuals against whom this Act is violated to seek actual damages, equitable relief, reasonable attorney’s fees and court costs, and punitive damages if the violation shows wanton recklessness or intentionally malicious conduct.


In Smith v. Datla, the plaintiff, Smith, was under the medical care of Dr. Datla for kidney failure. During a consultation, Datla disclosed the information that Smith was HIV positive to an unidentified third party who was also in the room without prior consent. The plaintiff brought suit against Datla for invasion of privacy by public disclosure of private facts, medical malpractice, and violation of the AIDS Assistance Act. The plaintiff argued that his claims of personal injury should be subject a two-year statute of limitations. Statute of limitations are laws that place a maximum amount of time after an event occurs in which legal proceedings must be initiated. The defendant argued that the plaintiff’s claims fell instead under the realm of defamation and should be subject to a one-year statute of limitations. However, the defamation cause of action requires that the publicized information be false; it was true here.


The court sided with the plaintiff in ruling that the defendant’s disclosure of the plaintiff’s HIV-positive status constituted an invasion of privacy, medical malpractice, and a violation of the AIDs Act, and agreed that the two-year statute of limitations applied. The precedent established by this case should allow more individuals to seek protection under this act and ensure that their rights to privacy are protected.


Comments: Strich Law Firm PC will initiate actions for defamation, violation of privacy and violation of the AIDS Assistance Act. If you, a family member or a friend need legal assistance in these areas, please call Strich Law Firm PC at 609-924-2900 or email us at info@strichlaw.com. But for the AIDS Assistance Act, families of patients with AIDS would be limited in getting medical information without the applicable Power of Attorney or Guardianship. Also, the AIDS Assistance Act has “teeth” in it for enforcement.


Call us at 609-924-2900 if you have a possible case or visit our web site at www.strichlaw.com.

Disclaimer: Any and all information contained on this site is for informational purposes, and should not be utilized as a substitute for a full, in-person consultation with a lawyer in your State and familiar with your circumstances. Strich Law Firm PC is in NJ and the comments relate to NJ only. Strich Law Firm, P.C. assumes no responsibility for any information contained on this site, and disclaims all liability in respect of such information. In addition, no part of this site shall be deemed to form any contract between Strich Law Firm, P.C. and anyone viewing this site.


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