It’s About the Money – Or Not

Some time ago I attended an evening meeting for ADR professionals. Our presenter was extremely well-versed in conflict resolution. She teaches courses all over the world on human dynamics, power, mediation and conflict resolution. During the course of her presentation she made several comments that caught my attention. Among other things, she claimed that no disputes are truly about money.

Her claim surprised me. I’ve litigated for decades, and I’ve spoken to plenty of people about money. Sometimes it seems like the only thing that matters is the money, and for many years I’ve often said “It all comes down to money.” When our presenter said that no disputes are about money, I knew I would be asking her some follow-up questions.

After the presentation, I sat down at a table with her and with her non-attorney sister. Several ADR attorneys joined us. I asked the presenter about her “non-money” comment. She reaffirmed her position: “They (the conflicts) aren’t about money.” I responded, “Of course they are.” She said, “Give me an example.” I said “Take a personal injury case – there is wage loss, medical bills, pain and suffering. Clearly it’s about the money.” The presenter then started listing case examples where plaintiffs sought money, but where the real issue driving the litigation was actually something entirely different.

One of the lawyers at the table spoke up and described a case where a brother and sister, both in their eighties, were suing each other. His client (the brother) agreed to settle the dispute for far less than the attorney thought he should. The brother finally said “Now I will be able to sleep at night.” Clearly that litigant had non-monetary concerns that were bothering him. Was the litigation just too taxing for this octogenarian? Did he feel that he needed to salvage his relationship with his sister by taking less than he might otherwise get? Whatever the reason, something moved him to settle for less than his attorney thought he should accept.

After this story, one of the other attorneys shared a story about a personal injury case where a claimant was injured in a public facility due to negligence. During the case, this attorney asked the claimant how much money she wanted in settlement. The claimant had no idea – because the issue wasn’t really about money. The real issue was about an injury caused by a defendant’s negligence. The claimant wanted recognition and an apology – and she wanted the condition to be fixed so it didn’t happen again. The attorney observed “People make mistakes. If they (the public facility) had just acknowledged their mistake and apologized, it would have been all over. As it was, we went through a lot because they wouldn’t admit that.” That night I realized that many lawsuits have less to do with money and more to do with feelings, emotion, pride and the need to be respected.

The following story won’t come as a surprise to anybody who has been a litigator. I once litigated a case between family members that ended up in mediation. Emotions were high. Everybody was suspicious of everybody else’s motives. I finally said to the mediator (in private) “This isn’t about the money.” And it wasn’t. It was about respect. It was about emotion. It was about treatment. It was about equality. But sometimes the only way we can address those things is through a lawsuit about money. In those situations, the money is important, but only because of what the money represents. Sometimes a plaintiff can’t take less money, not because they want more money but because taking less would represent a victory for the other side, or an admission of defeat or wrongdoing themselves.

Notwithstanding these examples, some cases truly are about money. But others aren’t. Why is this important? Because a mediator who quickly and accurately discerns the true cause of conflict will be in a superior position to settle a case. If a party tells the mediator “It’s not about the money,” then a perceptive mediator will ask “Then what is it about?” Once a mediator finds out what the lawsuit is really about, the mediator can fully address the core issues. And once a mediator does that, the non-monetary case is far more likely to settle.

The foregoing article is provided for general informational purposes and should not be used in connection with any specific legal matter. Persons with legal issues or matters should consult an attorney.

Keeping Your Checks

           I recently spoke to an accountant about tax problems.  He pointed out that there are certain statutes of limitations as to tax disputes with the IRS, and that due to these statutes of limitations many accountants advise people to keep their financial records for at least seven years.

Makes sense.  But what’s the preferred time to keep financial records? Is it five years? Seven years?  Something more?  Something less?

Well, it all depends on why the records are being kept. If you want to feel a bit more snug in your home, then of course it’s possible to fill closets and file drawers with old financial records.  At least then you know what you’ve bought, saved, and spent.  I remember my mother showing me her account ledgers from the 1940’s.  It was delightful to see what she paid for a quart of milk in, say, 1942.  And her household expenses were far less when my dad was teaching typing for 25 cents an hour.  It can be a great nostalgia trip to look back and remember those days when bread cost 10 cents a loaf, an ice cream cone was 10 cents, a candy bar was 5 cents and a gallon of gas was 19 cents (I don’t think of myself as being old, but even I can remember those prices).

So nostalgia aside, why is it a good idea to keep old financial records for a period of time, or is it even necessary at all?

If you never have a future dispute or misunderstanding with the IRS, or your lender, or anybody else, then you may never have a need to keep any records.  But the several statutes of limitations are written, in part, because old records tends to get discarded after a period of time.  The thinking is that it’s unfair to allow old, stale claims to be made against people after they’ve tossed all their old records and can’t prove much through their documents.

But the follow on to that line of thinking is that people do tend to keep their written financial and other records for some period of time.  And there is good cause for this.  If there’s a financial dispute or a claim of any kind, then much of the evidence may well be centered on financial records.  For example, an accountant might say that the IRS has a period of several years in which they can come back and challenge a tax return.  Just because the IRS doesn’t say something now doesn’t mean they can’t in the future.  If a taxpayer can’t produce records to verify the deductions claimed, then that taxpayer could find themselves in a very difficult (and potentially expensive) situation.  If a borrower claims to have made payments that can’t be proven later, then it can be both difficult and expensive to resolve a dispute that might have easily been settled if the proper documents were available.

How long does a bank keep copies of checks?  Some banks will tell you that they only keep them for a period of a few years.  So what happens if there’s a dispute?

Over the past few years, there have been a number of reports about banks not being able to find an original loan agreement, or an original promissory note.  What happens if the bank modifies a loan agreement – but if nobody can find that modification agreement?  Loans get paid back over a period of 30 years or more.  There can be a lot of water going under the bridge in 30 years.  If at the end of the day the Bank says that one amount is still due to pay off a loan, but the borrower says it’s something less, then how can such a dispute be resolved?

The best way to resolve such a dispute is through producing a copy of the signed loan agreement, a copy of the signed loan modification agreement, and by producing copies, front and back, of each and every check submitted in payment.  That’s a bit of an administrative feat – but it sure makes things easier if there’s a dispute about how much has been paid.  Borrowers should also review their statement each month to ensure that their loan payments are being properly credited, and should immediately raise a protest if the numbers aren’t correct.  And copies of these statements should also be saved, front and back.

And what if a borrower wants to start making extra payments each month to pay off their loan early?  In such a case it’s certainly a good idea to keep a copy of the canceled checks – just in case the extra payments aren’t properly credited to the account. Early payments can have a profound effect on the interest charged on a loan – but only if the extra payments can be documented, or proven, in the event of a dispute.  Some loans provide for a fee or a penalty to be paid for the privilege of making early payments.

Proper calculation and application of interest can be complex.  Persons with any question about their loan, whether about the interest or otherwise, should contact a trained professional.

Issues Exist With Use of Inspection Reports

            You be the judge.  Here’s a real-life case that was recently decided by one of the California Courts of Appeal.

A daughter inherited a property from her mother.  Her mother lived in the property for over forty years. Before inheriting the property, the daughter had the property inspected by a licensed home inspector.  The home inspector’s report noted that there was evidence of “wood destroying insects, organisms and/or rot observed at posts, doors, and trim.”  The inspector also noted loose flashing at a balcony deck, which could lead to water intrusion (and damage).  The inspector recommended a further inspection by a termite inspector.

The daughter thereafter hired a termite inspector.  The termite inspector found drywood termites throughout the main house and also found damage to a support post.  The termite inspector recommended fumigation and that a licensed contractor be hired to repair the termite damage.  The termite inspector didn’t find or report any damage to the balcony railing at the elevated deck.

The daughter paid to have the house fumigated.  But the daughter didn’t have any repairs made to the wood that had been damaged by the termites or other wood-destroying pests. A few months later, the daughter’s son and daughter-in-law purchased a one-half interest in the property, and they moved into the property.

Some time later, the daughter’s son and daughter-in-law invited a guest to their new home.  This guest leaned against a balcony railing.  Due to the unrepaired wood damage, the balcony gave way and the guest fell approximately ten feet to the ground below.

The falling guest filed suit.  Who is at fault?

The Court of Appeal decision noted that the daughter who had arranged for the inspections knew about the wood damage at the deck. She chose to have the house fumigated, but she didn’t repair the damaged wood.  However, Court didn’t discuss the daughter’s liability and it appears that the daughter was not part of the lawsuit filed by the falling guest.  It’s not clear whether the falling guest didn’t sue the daughter, or whether the falling guest settled with the daughter at some point.  However, the falling guest did sue the termite inspector by claiming that the termite inspector should have discovered and reported the wood damage to the balcony railing.  The falling guest claimed that the damaged railed constituted a safety hazard, and that the termite inspector had a duty to discover and report the damaged wood and to recommend that it be repaired.

So as between the falling guest and the possibly negligent termite inspector, who wins?

The Court of Appeal found that a termite inspector does have a duty to “make a reasonable assessment of property for potential safety defects.”  But the Court also found that the falling guest didn’t hire the termite inspector and so there was no contract between the termite inspector and the falling guest.  The court further found that the termite inspection report was prepared the daughter’s benefit.  The court found that the termite inspector didn’t prepare the report for the benefit of the falling guest, and as a result, the termite inspector owed no duty of care to the falling guest.  Therefore, even if the termite inspector failed to find or report the damage to the balcony railing, the falling guest had no valid claim against the termite inspector.  This decision is reported as Formet v. The Lloyd Termite Control Co. 2010 DJDAR 8738.

So the score at the end of the day: Termite Inspector – 1, falling guest – 0.

This case involved a complex analysis by the Court of duty and negligence liability theories.  Liability issues and questions can be complex, and they are governed by a sophisticated set of statues and case law.  The fact that the falling guest lost this case is no indicator as to a how a court may rule in any given situation.  As with all legal questions, persons who may have a claim should seek competent, qualified legal counsel.

Deal Points Can Be Critical

               So when is a deal not a deal?  The answer is, it depends.

Sometimes it seems like half of the law is tying down loose ends.  And sometimes it seems like the other half consists of getting written commitments so people don’t change their minds.

Here’s a good example.

A Seller sold a house to a Buyer.  After the sale was completed, the Buyer filed a lawsuit against the Seller, claiming breach of contract, misrepresentation, negligence and negligent misrepresentation by the Seller.

Both of the parties were represented by attorneys.  The attorneys agreed, with court approval, that the claims would be submitted to “binding arbitration.”

Binding arbitration is a substitute for trial.  In binding arbitration, an arbitrator makes a decision or renders an award in favor of one of the parties.  This arbitrator isn’t usually a judge.  It can be an attorney, but it’s not necessary that an arbitrator be an attorney.  The arbitrator can be anybody the parties agree to.

The matter was decided by an arbitrator at “binding arbitration” and the arbitrator rendered an award of $55,475 in favor of the Buyer.  The Buyer asked the Court to make the award enforceable, but the Seller objected.  The Seller claimed that he had never agreed to binding arbitration.  The Seller apparently may have agreed to non-binding arbitration, but not to binding arbitration.

The Court had to make a decision whether or not the binding arbitration award was valid and enforceable.  In order for the award to be valid, it was necessary that the parties have agreed to submit the matter to binding arbitration.   The Seller claimed that he had never agreed to binding arbitration, and the Buyer wasn’t able to provide the court with definite proof that the Seller had agreed to binding arbitration.  The Court held that an attorney’s agreement to binding arbitration is insufficient to commit the client to binding arbitration.  Because the Seller’s attorney had agreed to binding arbitration, but because there was no proof that the Seller himself had agreed, the Court found the arbitration award unenforceable. Giving up a right to trial is a substantial right, and the Court wasn’t satisfied that the Seller had ever actually given up his right to a trial.  The case is reported as Toal v. Tardif (2009) DJDAR 15540.

That’s a tough spot for the Buyer.  The Buyer had spent all of the time, money, and attorneys fees necessary to get through arbitration and receive an award, only to find out that the award was no good.  As far as the Buyer was concerned, this was a done deal. But due to an uncertainty, this Buyer lost his entire award.

Sometimes legal proceedings seem like a ponderous, complex, over-the-top process.  But it’s exactly these types of situations that cause lawyers to spend so much time confirming every arrangement, crossing every “t” and dotting every “i”.  It can be surprising, frustrating and disappointing to think that you’ve got a solid deal in place, only to later find out there’s an infirmity.

Attorneys Fees Can Be Significant

            Be careful what you wish for.

There’s a lot of pent up frustration these days in the housing market.  It’s clear that all kinds of people are frustrated – buyers, sellers, borrowers, lenders, real estate agents, and others.  It’s just a difficult time (for many reasons).

But frustration can lead to action.  Some of the key factors that can lead to litigation are surprise, frustration, disappointment.  When someone comes out of a transaction and is surprised by something they didn’t expect – they may end up calling a lawyer.  This can likewise happen when someone is disappointed or frustrated with the results of a transaction.

In some situation, litigation may be the best – or only – alternative.  But even though someone may have experienced a loss, or even though they may be frustrated, careful evaluation and analysis should always be used before proceeding with a formal lawsuit.  Following is a case in point.

Several individual plaintiffs sued a title company and an individual defendant. The individual defendant apparently acted as an agent for a mortgage brokerage firm.  The plaintiffs claimed that the individual defendant wrongfully and fraudulently induced the plaintiffs into refinance their real estate loans by doing such things as misrepresenting the loan terms and failing to disclose various loan features (including payments that the brokerage firm would receive).  At trial the evidence showed that the individual defendant also induced some of the plaintiffs to make improper payments to his telemarketing company, and the evidence showed other wrongful acts by this individual defendant. The plaintiffs alleged that the title company facilitated the fraud by failing to require title company supervision when the individual defendant got signatures from the plaintiffs on the loan documents.

The lawsuit went all the way through a jury trial.  The jury found the individual defendant liable to the plaintiffs.  However, with one small minor exception, the jury didn’t find the title company to be liable to the plaintiffs.  This meant there was a mixed result – the plaintiffs succeeded with their claims against the individual, but they lost their claims against the title company.

The escrow instructions apparently provided for an award of attorneys fees in the event of litigation.  After the trial was over, the title company asked the trial court to award the title company its attorneys fees.  The plaintiffs asked the court to discount any attorneys fees award due to the plaintiffs limited ability to pay.  The Court found that an awarding of the substantial fees requested would be “ruinous” to the Plaintiffs. The trial court apparently considered the negative financial impact on the Plaintiffs that a fee award would have.  After considering the negative affect of a fee award on the Plaintiffs, the Court entered a fee award in favor of the title company and against the Plaintiffs in the amount of $884,036.62.

On appeal, the title company claimed that the negative impact of a fee award on a losing party should not be considered.  The Court of Appeal agreed.  The Court of Appeal reversed the decision of the trial court, and sent the matter back so the trial court could enter a fee award without taking into consideration the impact of the award on the losing Plaintiffs.

The amount of the fee award requested by the title company?  Over two million dollars.  Certainly a difficult day for the Plaintiffs when they lost their case against the title company. The final amount of the fee award is not given in the reported opinion, but it may be higher, or maybe considerably higher, than the initial award. The case is reported as Walker v. Ticor Title Company (2012) DJDAR 3467.

Litigation involves many complex considerations.  Litigation can be expensive, difficult, and time-consuming.  Persons involved with potential or actual litigation matters should seek the assistance of competent, qualified legal counsel.

Two Words Can Be Expensive

            You just never know.

These days, there are many, many loans that are not being repaid.  The large majority of foreclosures undoubtedly happen because a loan was not repaid.  But what happens when a loan is in fact repaid, but the lender claims it wasn’t?

The United States Supreme Court ruled on just such a case in Jerman v. Carlisle (2010) 130 S. Court 1605.  In the Jerman case, a lawyer (who was acting as a debt collector) filed a lawsuit against a borrower.  The lawyer sought to foreclose a mortgage from a lender.  The complaint that was filed and served on the borrower included a Notice to the borrower that the mortgage debt would be presumed valid unless the borrower disputed the debt “in writing.”

The borrower’s lawyer sent a letter to the debt collector lawyer challenging the debt.  The lender eventually confirmed that the debt had been paid in full, and the debt collector lawyer dismissed the lawsuit.

After the debt collector lawyer dismissed the lawsuit, the borrower filed her own lawsuit against the debt collector lawyer for violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (which is sometimes known as the “FDCPA”).  The FDCPA is a federal law that contains certain steps that debt collectors must follow when collecting a debt.  According to the FDCPA, a debt collector must send a borrower a statement that a debt will be presumed valid unless the borrower disputes the debt within 30 days.  However, the FDCPA does not provide that the borrower must dispute the debt “in writing.”  Instead, the FDCPA only provides that the debt will be presumed valid unless the borrower disputes the debt.  Apparently, the borrower can dispute a debt by a telephone call or some way other than “in writing.”

The borrower’s lawsuit claimed that the debt collector lawyer had violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act by requiring that the borrower dispute the debt in writing instead of just disputing the debt.  The debt collector lawyer claimed that this mistake was a good faith error and that the debt collector therefore shouldn’t be liable to the debtor for violating the FDCPA.

The Supreme Court disagreed, and held that the debt collector lawyer could in fact be liable for violating the FDCPA by requiring that the borrower dispute the debt “in writing,” when the FDCPA didn’t require the borrower to dispute the debt “in writing.”

In this case, the phrase “in writing” consisted of two very expensive words.  Cases don’t usually get filed in the Supreme Court.  Instead, they almost always get filed in a trial court, and they usually reach the Supreme Court only on appeal.  In this situation, the borrower filed her lawsuit in Federal District Court, which eventually held that the debt collector lawyer wasn’t liable because the error was made in good faith.  The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit agreed, and held that the debt collector lawyer wasn’t liable.  However, on further appeal the United States Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and found that the debt collector lawyer could be liable for requiring the debt to be disputed “in writing.”  And that’s not the end of the story.  The Supreme Court didn’t render a final judgment in its opinion but instead sent it back to the lower court for further proceedings.

The FDCPA allows a court to award actual damages to a borrower. Where a violation is made through a good faith error, the FDCPA allows a court to also award a borrower up to one thousand dollars in additional damages.  In class actions, this additional damage award can be $500,000 or 1% of the worth of the debt collector, whichever is less.  But a debt collector can also be liable for a borrower’s attorneys fees,  which in this case could be very, very expensive.  (Where a lender violates the FDCPA with actual knowledge, the lender can incur civil penalties of up to $16,000 per day.)

Those two additional words “in writing” proved to be a very costly error for the debt collector.  But that is sometimes the nature of the law.  Words which are imprudently, or improperly, or unlawfully spoken or written can sometimes result in a big problem, and a costly situation.

Facing the Music

So what can five dollars get you?

At the right fast food place, it can get you a cheeseburger, fries, and maybe a drink.

It can get you just over a gallon of gas.

It can get you several candy bars.

It can get you a fantastic bowl of ice cream at several Bay Area high-end ice cream shops.

And, if you happen to find yourself in Escalon, California on the second Wednesday of any given month, five dollars can get you an admission ticket to the Escalon Community Center.

Why, you may ask, would anybody want to pay five dollars to gain entrance to the Escalon Community Center on the second Wednesday of any given month?

Because the Good Time Accordion Club holds its regular monthly meeting on the second Wednesday of every month at 7:00 p.m. at the Escalon Community Center, 1055 Escalon Avenue, Escalon, California. (Website address http://www.goodtimeaccordionclub.org)

So why would anybody want to drive all the way over to Escalon to attend the regularly scheduled monthly meeting of the Good Time Accordion Club?

Because after the initial club business has been conducted, the club hosts about two hours of the most joyful, rollicking accordion music you could ever hope to hear.

I’ve been playing the accordion for nearly  40 years.  But the only person I’ve ever heard play was myself – and a certain deceased television personality who has several resorts named after him (website address https://welkresorts.com/san-diego/)

On a recent Wednesday evening, I made my way with my favorite date of nearly 30 years over to the monthly meeting of the Good Time Accordion Club.  There we listened to a world class accordion player, who had no less than 3 microphones trained on his accordion.  He sat down, I had high expectations – and I was not disappointed.  He began the evening by playing The Blue Danube waltz by Johann Strauss.  This number is sometimes referred to as one of the most popular classical numbers ever written.  I’d never heard anything like it on the accordion.  The accordion is sometimes referred to as a “one man band” and this professional accordion player referred to it as a “Pipe Organ in your lap.”  And it truly was.

The number started slow, and as it went along it built in tempo, complexity, and intensity.  The performance was exhilarating.  As the artist got underway, I thought to myself “I could learn this music.  I could play this piece, just like he’s playing it.  But it would take me some time to learn it.”

I’m self employed, so if I don’t work, there’s no income.  So I sometimes think of activities in the context of how much income I’d have to give up to do something else. I know how to play the accordion and the piano, and I know how much time it takes to learn new music.  As this artist got underway, I thought “You know, I could do this, but it would cost me $10,000 in time.”  As he continued, I thought “No, better make that $50,000.”  As the music became more complex, I thought “No – better make that $100,000.” Eventually I thought to myself “You know, I think I’d rather just pay $5 and listen to him play it.”

And that’s what I did.

So what does playing an accordion have to do with being a lawyer?  The answer is opportunity cost.  I could learn to play The Blue Danube waltz as well as this professional played it – but it would take me something like a year of full time work to do it.  It’s considerably more cost efficient for me to pay $5 and enjoy the benefits of his thousands of hours of practice.

The same is true for legal work.  Most legal training consists of reading, writing, thinking, speaking and analyzing – and these are activities that many of us do all day long for much of our lives.  So sometimes it’s tempting for people to want to save costs by doing their own legal work.  But the amount of  time, effort, study and experience necessary to do it well – or to do it correctly – can be staggering.  Many times its just plain simpler, easier, faster, cheaper, and better to let somebody else do it who has made a lifetime study of it.

Easter a Traditional Time

On Easter a lot of colored Easter eggs will show up in homes all across the country.  And a lot of sugar and chocolate Easter candy will show up as well.

Who delivers all of those eggs, and all of that Easter candy?  Opinions vary.  My youngest daughter did volunteer work in Sweden.  She emailed me a photograph of the business district of the city where she’s serving.  The photo showed a number of young, small city trees with hundreds of black, yellow and red feathers tied to the branches.  Why the feathers?  As reported by my daughter, the Swedish Easter tradition involves “Easter Chicks” instead of “Easter bunnies” because bunnies don’t lay eggs. (Apparently the Swedish Easter Chicks do lay such eggs).

So the Easter Bunny has been has been around for a long time.  If Wikipedia is correct, then the tradition of having an abundance of eggs on Easter may be traced to an old custom during Lent of forbearing from eating eggs – with the result that perhaps many eggs might be consumed on Easter.

The Easter Bunny is clearly a well-known part of American culture – so well known, in fact, that the Easter Bunny shows up in the occasional legal opinion.

In 2007, a father and a son sought to obtain special permits under Iowa law that would allow them to carry a concealed weapon.  They met all of the legal requirements for getting such a permit, but a local Sheriff denied them the permits anyway.  According to the court opinion, the Sheriff did so because of the father’s political writings and affiliations.  It appears that the Sheriff did not agree with these writings and affiliations, or that the Sheriff may have had other concerns about them.

The father and the son filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court, alleging that the Sheriff had infringed on their right to bear arms under the Constitution.  The father and the son also argued that their civil rights had been violated under a civil rights law known as section 1983.

During the course of the lawsuit, the Sheriff’s deposition was taken (a deposition is an out-of-court proceeding where a witness or a party is asked questions and must give answers under oath).  In the deposition, the Sheriff conceded that he had acted improperly in denying the father and the son’s applications for the weapons permit – in essence, the Sheriff admitted that he had violated the constitutional rights of the father and the son.

The lawsuit proceeded to trial, and the father won.  The civil rights law that had been violated provided for an award of attorneys fees.  The father asked that his attorneys fees be awarded.  The Court found that because he had won, the father was entitled to an award of attorneys fees.  However, the Court felt that the amount of fees requested was excessive (the father requested over $118,000 of fees).  The Court stated, in its written opinion, that after the Sheriff admitted his constitutional violations at deposition, that it would be about as likely for the father to lose his case as it would be for the Easter Bunny to throw the winning touchdown pass at the next Super Bowl game, off a triple reverse on the last play of the game. The Court felt that because it was so highly likely that the father would win, the amount of fees incurred by the father’s lawyers were unnecessary and excessive.

The case is reported as Dorr v. Weber (2010) 741 F. Supp. 2d 1022.

(Incidentally – the father did receive an award of his attorneys fees, but the judge discounted the fees from $118,415.75 to $54,174.86 – for an award of approximately one-half of the fees incurred).

Attorneys fee awards, civil rights claims, and weapon issues can all involve complex issues of law.  Persons with issues, matters, or questions on such matters and on all legal matters should seek competent legal counsel.