What if I'm not sure whether I need a lawyer?
That is among the issues that will be discussed during the free consultation.
With the availability of so much information on the internet, can't I
just represent myself and not have the expense of hiring a lawyer?
Last time you needed a haircut, although you likely already own a pair of scissors, you probably did not question whether you
really needed a barber or a hair salon. The truth is that in most cases you are not required to hire a lawyer, but we strongly
recommend that you use a legal professional to attend to your legal needs, just as you call upon an array of other trained
individuals to attend to other endeavors in your life -- accountants, physicians, plumbers, pharmacists, dry cleaners,
shoemakers, travel agents, and carpenters, to name but a few.
Why should I form a corporation or limited liability company, when I can just operate my business under my
The primary purpose of forming a corporation or limited liability company is, not surprisingly, to limit your liability. Each is
a separate entity and, provided that you do not intermingle your own affairs and assets with that of your business entity, your
personal assets cannot be reached by a creditor. There are a few exceptions to this, such as liability for, say, payroll taxes.
I am thinking of starting a lawsuit. What do I need to know?
Probably the first and most important thing to know is how much time you have available. There are statutes of limitation that
prevent you from starting a lawsuit after a particular amount of time. These limitations periods vary depending upon the
nature of the claim and where you bring the lawsuit. This is a complicated area and it is important that you consult an attorney
and not rely exclusively on the information in this paragraph. As a mere guideline, however, we can tell you that in New York
claims for breach of contract are among the longest of limitations periods -- six years. Personal injury and property damage
claims have a three-year limitations period. Medical malpractice is two and a half years. Intentional torts (like assault and
defamation) have only a one-year statute of limitations. There is a four-year period for breach of sales contracts, a two-year
period for a wrongful death claim, a one-year and 90 day period for claims against municipalities (provided a notice of claim
is filed within 90 days), a six-month period for breach of a labor union's duty of fair representation. You will need to consult
with an attorney to determine precisely when these time periods begin to run and what factors, if any, may "toll" (or freeze) the
Should my lawsuit be started in federal court or in state court?
There are a variety of factors that must be considered by an attorney before he or she can advise you as to which court or
courts have jurisdiction. If both state and federal courts have jurisdiction, it often is a strategic decision as to where to bring
that suit. New York State Supreme Court has jurisdiction over matters involving $25,000 or more, as well as a variety of non- monetary remedies. New York State Surrogate's Court has jurisdiction over probating of wills. U.S. District Court has
jurisdiction over a wide variety of matters that either arise under federal law or that involve citizens of different states (which is
known as diversity jursidiction); in the case of diversity jurisdiction, the matter must involve a claim of at least $75,000.
Factors that will determine which court in which to start a lawsuit involve such considerations as where all the parties reside
and where they can be found, the nature of the claim, and the issues and amounts at stake.
What are the different stages of a lawsuit?
A lawsuit in state or federal court begins with the filing of the summons and complaint with the Court. There is then a 120-day
window to serve the defendant(s) with a copy of the summons and complaint. After that, the defendant(s) either provide a
written answer to the complaint or make a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. Assuming that the lawsuit is not dismissed,
the parties then enter into the discovery process, during which they exchange information and documents, followed by
conducting depositions. A deposition is an in-person interrogation in the presence of a stenographer who takes down every
word that is said. After the discovery process is completed, the defendant(s) (and, on occasion, the plaintiff(s)) usually make
a motion for summary judgment. The notion behind summary judgment is that there are no genuine material issues that are
in dispute, and thus no trial before a jury is needed, such that the Judge can apply the law to the undisputed facts and render
a judgment. Assuming summary judgment is not granted, the matter is marked for trial. Usually, there are various motions
that are made at different stages of the lawsuit. Each lawsuit in a sense takes on a life of its own, making it difficult for any
lawyer to tell you how long the lawsuit will last, how much it will cost, or precisely what the results will be. Rather,
appropriate strategies will be evaluated, selected, and executed, with continual re-evaluation to determine the extent to
which those strategies are proving effective.
Aren't some lawsuits a slam-dunk?
Not really. There are very few lawsuits where the outcome can be perfectly predicted. In fact, when there is a dispute
between two or more persons where the outcome is obvious, the matter is usually promptly resolved between the parties
without going to court.
Do most cases settle?
A case is more likely to settle than to go to trial. It is also true that many cases are dismissed at some stage prior to trial. A
common joke among lawyers is this: "What are the four magic words to get a case to settle? 'Call your first witness.'" While
that joke highlights the powerful effect upon settlement negotiations of an imminent trial, it is likewise true that a case may
settle at any point during the litigation process -- sometimes quite early on, sometimes during discovery, sometimes
immediately before trial.
What is arbitration?
Arbitration is a process by which you bypass the court and instead use one or more persons (who usually are lawyers) to
hold a hearing that is typically less formal than a court proceeding. Arbitration can be used instead of litigation if the parties
agree or if there is a provision in the contract from which the dispute arose as to the use of arbitration rather than litigation.
Federal court has a comprehensive arbitration program that is mandatory under certain circumstances.
What is probate?
Probate is the process by which a will is validated by the Surrogate's Court. The word "probate" stems from the Latin verb "to
prove," and refers to proving the genuineness and validity of the will.
What is "administration" of an estate?
The word "administration" in estate proceedings usually refers to the fact that a person (the "decedent") died without a will
and that a statute (section 4-1.1 of New York's Estates, Powers & Trusts Law) governs the distribution of the decedent's
What if a will has been lost or destroyed without an intention to revoke it?
There are provisions for probating a lost or destroyed will. It is, however, a significant burden to prove that the will was not simply revoked.
Who Gets Notified of a Probate Proceeding?
The persons entitled to notification of a probate proceeding are those who are named in the will as well as those who would be entitled to share in the estate if there were not a will.
I think I may have been fired (or not hired) because of my race, color, religion, gender, national origin, age,
sexual orientation, or disability. What do I need to do?
Employment discrimination (whether involving termination of employment or the refusal to hire) requires a thorough
evaluation of the type of discrimination, so that a determination can be made as to which administrative agency with which
to file a charge (federal, state, or municipal). Most types of discrimination in New York can be filed with the Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission, the New York State Division of Human Rights, or the New York City Commission on
Human Rights. The time period in New York is within 300 days of the act of discrimination complained of. It is important to
meet that deadline and it is equally important to consult an attorney as soon as possible after the discrimination takes place
to make sure that no valuable rights are lost.
Under New York law, under what cirumstances may an employer terminate an employee?
Employment in New York is "at will." That means, unless it falls within a narrow set of exceptions, the employer can
discharge the employee for any reason, just as the employee can quit for any reason. One exception is where there is a
contract of employment that supplies the terms and duration of employment, including but not limited to a collective
bargaining agreement. Another exception is where the employer discharges the employee for a reason that violates federal,
state, or municipal law, such as termination that is motivated by issues of age, race, gender, disability, nationality, religion,
color, and the like. If none of these exceptions apply, the employer can terminate the employee at will. The employer need
not have a "good" reason, i.e., you can be fired for the color of your tie, but not the color of your skin.
Things aren't going well at work. I believe I am being discriminated against because of my background. What
should I do?
It would certainly be wise for you to start keeping a journal as to any communications or occurrences. Your journal should
indicate the date and time of each entry, and you should make entries at or near the time that anything unusual occurs. Err
on the side of inclusion within the journal -- that is, record entries even as to events that may seem minor; it may be that
some later occurrence sheds light on the particular event. Make sure to write down the content of any relevant
communication -- who said what, when they said it, where the conversation took place, who was present, etc. You might
wish also to be a bit proactive; that is, to approach a supervisor and inquire in a non-confrontational way as to anything that
you might do to improve your standing within the workplace, and be sure to include the substance of that conversation in
your journal as well.
Do contracts have to be written?
Many types of contracts do not have to be written. The "statute of frauds" dictates which kinds of contracts must be in
writing. The most common types of contract that are required to be written are those for the sale of goods valued at $500 or
more and those involving an interest in real property.
What is the difference between a gift and a contractual obligation?
With a gift, the receiver does not make a promise to the donor or put up anything of value in exchange for the item. A
contract, however, requires "consideration" from both parties. The law will not usually inquire into the value of the
consideration, and it is a common statement among lawyers (and law professors) that a peppercorn may serve as
consideration. There are certain situations in which the line between a gift and a contract blurs, such as in the case of
"promissory estoppel," in which a person changes one's position to his or her detriment in reliance upon the promise.