Local government attorneys, it’s time to revise your sign codes to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Reed v. Town of Gilbert, 576 U.S. __, 135 S. Ct. 2218, 192 L. Ed. 2d 236 (2015).
In this landmark case, Pastor Reed successfully sued the Town of Gilbert alleging violation of the First Amendment because the town’s code provided for greater restrictions on temporary event directional signs compared to other noncommercial signs like ideological and political signs. The court held that content-based laws, such as laws applying to temporary event directional signs, are presumptively unconstitutional and must meet a strict standard of review. To be held constitutional, they must be justified by a compelling governmental interest and be narrowly tailored to achieve it. A sign law is content-based when:
If the sign law is content neutral, the court explained that the standard of review is intermediate. The law must be justified by a substantial government interest such as legitimate aesthetic and traffic safety objectives.
In his concurring opinion, Justice Alito provided a non-exhaustive list of sign rules that are content neutral:
Based on this decision, local governments should avoid any content-based sign laws such as laws specific to political and real estate sale signs. This brings many challenges for local government attorneys who must revised sign codes. For example, if a municipality allows political signs for an upcoming election in its right-of-way, it must also allow other temporary signs as it cannot discriminate based on content.
Timeframe can also be an issue. Let’s say that temporary signs are allowed for 30 days, what happens to real estate sale signs and political signs which are based on an event? One could draft an ordinance to say that if a temporary sign pertains to an event, it should be removed within five days after the conclusion of the event. However, this would allow a temporary sign to be posted months before the event. This may work well for real estate sale signs, but not so much for other event-based temporary signs. I have studied and reviewed many revised sign codes to see what other cities have done to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, but I have not found one that solves the above-mentioned issue.
As you can see, this decision provides a few guidelines on what content-based signs are, but it also creates practical issues for local government attorneys revising sign codes.
Last year, the Florida Legislature created Section 189.069, Fla. Stat., (Chapter No. 2014-22, Laws of Florida), requiring special districts to maintain an official website. Under the provision, the website must include the following information by October 1, 2015:
If you have special district clients, don’t forget to tell them about these new requirements. To help ensure all required content is posted, use the Special District Website Requirement Self Checklist provided by the Special District Accountability Program. And don’t forget to provide the website address of your special district clients to the Program.
It’s that time of the year. The 2015 Florida Legislative Session starts today and will last until May 1. Over 1460 bills have been filed. Only a few will make it to the end of the session and become law. Below are bills of interest to attorneys and legal professionals. Keep an eye on them as they may impact your practice areas if they pass in a few months. For your convenience, I’ll provide a status update at the end of the legislative session.
HB 47 State Minimum Wage
HB 47 increases state minimum wage from $6.15 to $10.10. It provides that an employer may not pay an employee at a rate less than the state minimum wage. It deletes the requirement that only individuals entitled to receive federal minimum wage are eligible to receive state minimum wage. (Identical Bill: SB 114)
CS/SB 102 Digital Assets
Known as the “Florida Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act,” this bill authorizes a personal representative to have access to specified digital assets and electronic communication of a decedent and provides compliance requirements to receive and collect digital assets. It also give a similar authorization to guardians, agents and trustees. (Similar Bill: HB 313)
CS/HB 113 Local Government Construction Preferences
This bill prohibits local ordinances and regulations from restricting competition for award of construction services based upon the location of the vendor’s office or place of business. It requires state colleges, school districts and other political subdivisions to make specified disclosures in competitive solicitation documents. (Similar Bill: SB 778)
SB 126 Social Media Privacy
SB 126 prohibits an employer from requesting or requiring access to a social media account of an employee or prospective employee. It also prohibits an employer from taking retaliatory personnel action for an employee’s refusal to allow access to his social media account. However, it provides that an employer is not prohibited from seeking access to social media accounts used primarily for the employer’s business purposes.
SB 150 Student Loans
This bill would require the Justice Administrative Commission and the Office of the Attorney General to implement a student loan assistance program to assist a career assistant state attorney, assistant public defender, assistant attorney general, or assistant statewide prosecutor in the repayment of eligible student loans. (Similar Bill: HB 45)
SB 462 Family Law
This bill provides that a collaborative law process commences when the parties enter into a collaborative law participation agreement. It prohibits a tribunal from ordering a party to participate in a collaborative law process over the party’s objection. SB 462 provides for confidentiality of communications made during the collaborative law process. (Similar law: HB 503)
HB 611 Residential Properties
HB 611 provides requirements relating to the request for an estoppel certificate by a unit or parcel owner including a 10-day timeframe to deliver the certificate. It also provides that an association waives any claim against a person or entity who would have relied in good faith upon the estoppel certificate if the association failed to deliver the certificate. It revises fee and supplemental fee requirements. (Identical Bill: SB 736)
As you can see I can’t cover all bills that may affect your practice areas. If you want to look and find bills, you can do a word or statute amended search under the Bills tab on the Florida House of Representatives website.
Do you have a hard time delegating? It’s understandable because you have always done everything yourself. You are just used to it. However, when you reach the point when you have too much work to do and not enough hours in the day to do it, you need to delegate. Even though you know you should delegate, are you still making excuses not to? These are the most common ones:
I can’t delegate because you are not in my office: As a virtual paralegal, I have heard this one several times. Maybe you feel you don’t have as much control over the work if it’s done outside your office. Or maybe you think it’s quicker to delegate if the person is right in front of you. It’s not when you follow the tips below.
I can do it quicker than you: This may be true at first, but if you delegate the same tasks on a daily basis, the person you delegate it to will get used to it and become faster at it…maybe faster than you.
You don’t work the same way I do: What you should keep in mind here is the end result, not the way used to achieve it.
I can do it because it’s quick and easy: You’re right, but if you combine all the quick and easy tasks you do throughout the day, it amounts to a good chunk of time you could have spent developing leads or doing substantive work.
Delegating is expensive: How much is your time worth? If your time is worth more than the time of the person you delegate to than go ahead and delegate. You will save time and money.
Do you still think your reasons for not delegating are valid? If so, let’s see what the consequences are:
As you can see, there may be risks when delegating, but they outweigh the consequences. If you are finally ready to delegate, here are some tips that may help you:
It’s time to let go and rise above your delegation fears. The end result will be positive for both your business and yourself.
With the advance of electronic filing and paperless offices, attorneys and paralegals use Adobe Acrobat Pro on a daily basis. Not only can you turn a Word document into a PDF, but you can also use it to sign, redact and Bates stamp documents. In this blog post, I’ll show you how to use these tree basic features with Adobe Acrobat XI Pro.
Save time and paper! Instead of printing, signing, scanning and then emailing your electronic document, sign your document directly with Adobe Acrobat Pro. Under Fill & Sign, select Place Signature. You have several options to create a signature:
Redaction is often used for litigation and public record requests. Once done, there is no going back. So don’t forget to save a copy of the original document before you redact it. Under Tools, select Protection and click Mark for Redaction. With your mouse, select the text you want to redact and click Apply Redaction. If you are looking for specific words to redact, use the Search and Remove Text function. You can also change the Redaction Properties if you want to pick a different color or add text over the redacted elements. You can even refer to the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act provisions.
Bates numbering is used to organize and find litigation documents. Under Tools, go to Pages. Click on Bates Numbering and select Add Bates Numbering. On the top left corner of the window, click Add Files. Then you have the option to add files, folders or use open files. Let’s say your documents are already open. Click on Add Open Files. Select which open files you want to Bates number. When you’re done click OK. You can then format the numbering by choosing the font style, size and color. After selecting where you want the Bates numbering to appear on each page, click on Insert Bates Number. Select the number of digits and the start number. Add a prefix or suffix, if necessary, and click OK. A Bates numbering preview will appear. If everything looks good, click OK and Adobe Acrobat Pro will apply the Bates numbering to your documents.
Hope this quick tutorial was helpful. If you have any questions, comment below.
Thanks to the General Practice Solo Small Firm Section of the Florida Bar, I attended my first legal tech seminar last week. On Day 1, the speakers talked about courtroom technology, e-discovery, social media and blog ethics, Microsoft Office, PowerPoint and Adobe Acrobat. Day 2 was mostly on practice management. There was also an interesting conference on social media discovery and jury selection. I learned a lot and met great attorneys and paralegals. For those who couldn’t make it, these are my favorite tips of the Wild Wild Tech Seminar:
The GPSSF Section will host another legal tech seminar next January. I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to keep up with legal technology and trends.
It's the last month of the year already. As a thank you for following my blog and social media pages, I would like to offer you 31 practice tips until the end of the year. My hope is that these practice tips will give you the tools to increase your legal practice's efficiency, productivity and profitability for 2015.
31 Days Until 2015
Casemaker and Fastcase are great alternatives to Westlaw and LexisNexis, especially for primary law. And the best thing is, they are often offered free of charge to state bar members.
Are you wondering why your law practice is not growing? Do you meet with potential clients without any results? Do you have to go back and forth with clients because you forgot to ask important questions during your initial meeting? You may be one of many attorneys who do not have a procedure for client intake. Not only is client intake important for the reasons mentioned above, but it also helps ascertain whether you should take on a matter. A typical client intake procedure include a client intake form and checklist.
Client Intake Form
A client intake form is a questionnaire completed by the potential client prior to the initial meeting. It usually asks for basic information about the client and the matter: full name, contact information, the reasons for assistance, parties involved, etc. It may also include marketing related questions about the referral source. Questions may vary by matter (probate v. real estate) and client type (individual v. business).
Client Intake Checklist
A client intake checklist is used by the attorney, paralegal or secretary during the initial phone call or meeting. The checklist helps collect all essential information for a conflict check. It also helps determine whether you should take on the matter or not. Below are items to include in a checklist:
Refusing a Client
There are many reasons to refuse a client. Some of which will be revealed by using the client intake form and checklist. The most common ones are:
If you refuse a potential client or refer him to another attorney, it is good practice to send him a non-engagement letter.
Using Potential Client Data
Once you obtain all relevant information about the potential client, store the data in a spreadsheet or practice management program. The data will be used while providing services to your client. You may also use it for marketing purposes. For example, you can find out through which marketing channels your clients find you. You can also use their contact information to send out informative newsletter, announcements and holiday cards.
This is a summary of client intake procedure. If you would like client intake forms and checklists for your law firm, visit the Florida Bar and Michigan State Bar.
Disclaimer: The content on this website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. Your Paralegal Help Desk's blogger is not an attorney and cannot give legal advice. If you have a legal issue, you should immediately seek the advice of a licensed attorney in your state.