Holding Court
The region’s respected attorneys share insights and expert opinions on various legal matters, from Arbitration to Zoning and everything in between
by Sharon A. Shaw and Bill Donahue

As humankind evolves, the law evolves with it. Considering the fact that U.S. law is undergoing this continual metamorphosis, it’s more important than ever to have an individual—an advocate, an educator and, in some ways, a guardian—who has mastered the skills required to navigate the waters of the U.S. legal system well enough to usher clients safely to the other side.

Following are insights and opinions from some of the Philadelphia region’s most skilled and respected attorneys, known for being at the top of their game in their particular areas of practice—from family law and employment/labor law, to elder law and wills, trusts and estates. When in doubt, they collectively say, contact an attorney you can trust. Doing so “too early”—rather than “too late”—can save time, money and who knows what else farther down the road.

The following information should not be considered legal advice; rather, it is for general information purposes only. Legal advice can come only from a qualified attorney after having had an opportunity to become familiar with all of the fact-specific circumstances of a particular legal matter, and then to apply or research the relevant law.

Pietro A. Barbieri, a graduate of Widener University, is also a private pilot and a major in the U.S. Air Force auxiliary Civil Air Patrol, which provides search and rescue, disaster relief, humanitarian services and support for the USAF and the war on drugs. In 1984 he was presented with an award for his work with the indigent in Philadelphia by Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan. 

How should small-business owners ensure that they are complying with the many regulations required while running their business?
The first rule is to know the regulations before you start your business. The second is to know how to classify your business operation. This can save thousands in startup costs. Recently we helped set up a bakery. The client was told by a consulting firm that her startup costs would be approximately $50,000.

She came to our office asking only if she should incorporate or not. Before we answered that question, though, we asked her to walk us through the business as she saw it today and in five years. Her ideas and recipes for “Amy’s Cake Kitchen” were fantastic. Soon we realized that she did not need to be classified as a commercial/retail bakery; she could start her business with a different classification. The change saved her more than $40,000, not to mention the delays caused by endless inspections and approvals and licensing. Today she is saving her money, and our firm is actively looking for an up-and-running bakery for sale. Transferring her business to an ongoing licensed and inspected enterprise is significantly easier than building one from scratch.

How can they be certain they have not overlooked something?
A long time ago I created a bike-repair program for Sears, and during my tenure there I developed a “Bike Department Philosophy” that fit very well. When people would bring their bike in for repair, they were confronted with a sign, which simply said: If we fix your bike, it’s $25 per hour; if you watch us fix your bike, it’s $35 per hour; if you help us fix your bike it’s, $45 per hour; but if you fixed it first, it’s $100 per hour.

The same holds true today. Most of the time a simple problem only gets worse when the client tries to fix it. So don’t fix it first. Turn it over to us. The client should run the business. Amy cannot make great cupcakes if she fighting with OSHA. In short, don’t fix it first; it is always more expensive in the long run.

Barbieri and Associates | 657 Exton Commons, Exton | 610-280-7078 | www.pennlaw.us

E. Garrett Gummer III limits his practice to the areas of elder law and wills and estates. He received his Juris Doctor from Widener University and his Master of Laws from Temple University. Gummer has been certified as an Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation, is a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, and has been selected as a Pennsylvania “Super Lawyer.” He is licensed to practice law in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and has served as a captain in the U.S. Naval Reserve. He has been serving the greater suburban area and senior citizens and their families since 1985.

What is elder law?
Elder law is the legal specialty devoted to helping senior citizens and their family members with their legal needs. It is an interdisciplinary approach to law. The elder law attorney, utilizing many diverse areas of the law, can assist you in long-term care planning, estate and financial planning, nursing-home assistance, guardianships, end-of-life decision making and estate administration.

Does everyone need estate planning and long-term care planning?
Yes. You’ve worked hard all of your life to provide for your family and preserve a “nest egg” for retirement. However, while we do not like to think about it, death is inevitable, and studies have shown that many of us will become disabled or incapacitated in our later years and require nursing-home care. An elder law attorney can assist you in preparing your estate-planning documents and protecting your financial assets.

If a husband and wife have done no planning and one of now needs nursing home care, is it too late to plan?
No. While more planning options exist prior to your admission to a nursing home, many options are still available even after care begins. An elder law attorney can work with you to help protect a substantial portion of your assets.

Can someone prepare legal documents from standard legal forms available on the Internet?
Yes, you can, but it is not recommended. A competent estate/long-term care plan begins with clearly defined goals, supported by well-drafted legal documents, and the repositioning of assets, as needed, to protect your estate from taxes, probate costs and catastrophic nursing-home costs. Your specific circumstances may not be properly addressed in a generic document, which can cause serious problems to your estate at a later date.

Elder Law Offices of E. Garrett Gummer III | 1260 Bustleton Pike, Feasterville | 215-396-1001 | 220 Farm Lane, Suite 201, Doylestown | 215-345-5858 | www.paelderlaw.info

Through his firm, the Law Office of Gregory P. LaMonaca P.C., Greg LaMonaca has represented individuals throughout Pennsylvania, and has also been admitted to practice in New Jersey, the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. His primary focus is family law, though the firm’s associates and affiliate attorneys handle a wide area of general practice, including but not limited to personal injury, estate planning, employment law, medical malpractice and criminal defense. He’s also an author—he expects his newest book, “The Brutally Honest Guide to Sur‘thriving’ Generation Now,” to be out by year’s end—martial-arts enthusiast and married father of two.

When considering relocation issues, what do parents who share custody of a child need to know about changes in the state’s child-custody laws?
In January 2011, Pennsylvania’s child-custody statute was revised. It’s now mandatory, before you relocate to another county or to another state or another country, to give the other side very specific notice, and it must be by the letter of the law. After receiving notice, if the other party agrees, then the party can relocate. If not, then it must go through the courts over whether the party can relocate. Right now, in this economy, people are traveling the globe to find work and support their families, so the increase in relocation cases has been dramatic. Our firm has many of these matters pending in many counties throughout the state seeking relocation within the county, to other states and internationally.

If the relocation issue goes to court, what does a parent have to prove to help one’s case?
In general, you have to show that the relocation will enhance the general quality of life for the party seeking relocation, including but not limited to financial or emotional benefit or educational opportunities, as well as whether the relocation with enhance the general quality of life for the child. If it goes to court, the outcome is based on many things: the age of the child, the developmental stage of child, the feasibility of preserving the relationship between the child and the non-relocating parent of the child, among many other factors. If you’re seeking to move, you also have to show the steps taken to minimize the detrimental effect on the parent remaining here. Also, there might be provisions needed to balance the parents’ interests, such as extended time with the child during the summer for the remaining parent. 

Now, after this new change in the law, it’s critical to make sure it’s done right. At the end of the day, if contested it’s up to the judge to weigh all the factors. Now, before you ever get to that point, there are about 50 pitfalls you could fall into if you don’t navigate it the right way or file the right paperwork.

The Law Office of Gregory P. LaMonaca P.C. | 755 N. Monroe Street, Media | 610-892-3877 | www.lamonacalaw.com

Roberta A. Barsotti earned her J.D. from the Temple University School of Law. She focuses her practice with Archer & Greiner P.C. on counseling high-net-worth individuals and families concerning wealth preservation, transfer and tax issues; highly sophisticated estate, gift and trust planning; asset-protection strategies; succession planning for closely held businesses; creative income and transfer tax strategies; charitable planning; trust and estate administration; and Orphans’ Court litigation.

In regard to the need for an estate plan, what happens to one’s assets in the event of one’s death?
If you die without a will, assets in your sole name (“probate” assets) will be distributed according to state “intestacy” laws. In Pennsylvania, if you are married with children and die without a will, about half of your probate assets go to your spouse and about half to your children. Minor children’s shares may be held in custodial accounts until they reach age 21. If you are married without children and if a parent is living, about half will go to your spouse and half to your parent(s).

Most families would not design a plan with these provisions. Most couples would keep most of the assets of the first-to-die available for the surviving spouse, and most families would keep assets in trust for a child beyond age 21. You cannot accomplish those goals without an effective estate plan. Of course, many couples hold assets in joint names. Joint assets are not part of the “probate” estate. Instead, they pass by law to the survivor. Similarly, assets in tax-deferred accounts and life insurance pass according to beneficiary designation. However, at the second death, such assets will pass to intestate heirs if there is no estate plan in place. 

What about taxes?
Two separate “death taxes” may apply to a Pennsylvania estate: the Federal Estate Tax and the Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax. The current Federal Estate Tax rate is 35 percent. However, certain deductions, exclusions and exemptions may reduce or eliminate the tax for many families. For example, the current exemption from tax is $5 million. Caution, however: The current law is due to expire at the end of 2012 and no one can predict what Congress may do. If Congress does nothing, the exemption will drop to $1 million and the maximum rate of tax will increase to 55 percent. 

For very wealthy individuals, there may be advantages to making substantial gifts before the current law expires. However, such aggressive gift planning should not be undertaken without careful and thorough review of all the ramifications. The rate of Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax is much lower than the federal tax. Gifts to spouses are taxed at 0 percent and gifts to children, grandchildren and parents (called “lineals”) are taxed at 4.5 percent. In addition to “death taxes,” an effective estate plan should consider asset protection, succession planning for a family business and potential income-tax consequences for your beneficiaries. 

How do I make an effective estate plan?
You should consult a qualified lawyer who specializes in this area of law. These laws are complex, with many “traps for the unwary.” Beneficiary designation forms provided for IRAs, 401(k) plans and insurance policies are notoriously unaccommodating—and can lead to unintended allocations of these valuable assets. A sophisticated estate-planning attorney will integrate such assets into your plan—and will advise how to complete the beneficiary designation forms. Attorneys who do not specialize in this area of law can make unintended mistakes that lead to emotionally and financially draining disputes about what you really intended.

Archer & Greiner P.C. | One Liberty Place, Thirty-Second Floor | 1650 Market Street, Philadelphia | 215-963-3300 | www.archerlaw.com

Michael Eisenberg has been practicing law since 1987. His Hatboro-based firm, Michael E. Eisenberg Attorney at Law, handles a variety of cases, including divorces, annulments and other aspects of family law. He graduated from Brandeis University with an undergraduate degree in American studies, and then earned his J.D. from Widener University. 

What’s one thing most people probably don’t realize about law or about being an attorney?
There is the law and then there are the rules of evidence and procedure. If a person is handling a case on their own and is not familiar with the rules of procedure and evidence, even a great case can fail.  How a case proceeds through the court system is determined by Rules of Procedure. Which evidence and testimony is presented at a hearing or a trial is governed by the Rules of Evidence. Knowledge of these rules is essential to the handling of a case in and out of court.

If you had to pick one thing you like most about being an attorney, what would it be?
I can have a real positive impact on my clients’ lives—particularly in family law, with their kids’ lives and their futures. I tend to be an optimist; it’s about impact and outcome.

Name one person—living or dead—you would like to have dinner with, and why.
I would like to have dinner with Lance Armstrong. He is, in my opinion, a national icon. He has been at the top athletically and has fought hard to get there. He has also had controversy in his life and listening to how he has dealt with it would be fascinating and educational. Dinner would not be about the bike.

Name something about yourself that most people don’t know about you.
I’m a second-degree black belt in taekwondo, and I competed nationally for a time. I also enjoy rock climbing, especially at Devils Tower [in Wyoming], where I’ve gone an average of twice a year since 2002. I’m also president of an organization called Devils Tower Sacred to Many People, which we started two or three years ago to help the native people of the region.

What’s the best piece of free legal advice you can offer?
Be prepared to make decisions. It’s not our role to say, “You must do XYZ.” It’s the client’s job to listen to the answers and then be able to make decisions, because the ultimate outcome of a case is often determined by the lawyer but also by the client. Also, tell your lawyer everything and tell the truth. The rules of confidentiality are there for a reason.

Michael E. Eisenberg | 2935 Byberry Road, Hatboro | 267-722-8383 | www.eisenbergfamilylawyer.com | www.meelawoffice.com

Robin Bond is the founder of Transition Strategies LLC, an employment law firm in Chesterbrook. She is a nationally recognized attorney with wide-ranging experience as an in-house corporate counsel, a private practitioner and an entrepreneur. She is former mergers and acquisitions attorney who uses those skills to now represent executives in the negotiation of pay, perks and protections in both new employment contracts and severance deals. Also, she is a contributing legal analyst for the FOX and CNN television networks, and is regularly quoted in various television, radio, online and print media.

Can employees be fired over comments or images posted to personal social media accounts?
Yes, it has certainly happened, but it doesn’t always happen. It’s not easy to draw a line between what is “protected” on social media and what is not. Employers need to be aware that some social-media posts may be protected by various laws. For example, The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) protects most concerted activity. The National Labor Relations Board has defined concerted activity broadly to protect the rights of employees to post disparaging comments about the terms and conditions of their employment. This can include comments about workplace safety, wages and working conditions, company products, discrimination and harassment. 

To simply have a rule that says, “Anyone who posts bad things about the company will be fired” would violate the NLRA. Employers will have to manage these situations of “disparaging posts by employees” on a case-by-case basis, determining which situations to investigate and which to ignore.

What are some guidelines for how candidates should conduct themselves on personal social media accounts so as not to damage their chances of being hired?
Monitor Your Profile: Delete comments, pictures and postings made by others to make your profile “work appropriate.”

Set Your Privacy Settings: Customize the privacy settings of your social network page in order to limit who has full access to your profile and the information that it contains.

Know Your Company’s Social-Networking Policy: Know where your company stands on social-networking content before sharing posts, pictures or comments that may be deemed inappropriate.

Make Better Social-Networking Decisions: If you think that something you are going to post is even remotely inappropriate, then don’t post it. Use your better judgment to decide what you want your future or current employers to see.

Robin Bond | 88 Militia Hill Drive, Wayne | 610-640-5373 | robin@transition-strategies.com | www.robinbond.com | www.transition-strategies.com

Robert Angst of Angst & Angst P.C. is a graduate of Villanova University School of Law and a graduate of Ursinus College, where he earned degrees in accounting and economics/business administration. He has been admitted to practice in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, as well as the Federal District Court of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. He has experience representing clients in civil litigation, personal injury, family law and all aspects of bankruptcy, and is also a trained family law mediator. The firm has been in practice in Doylestown since 1998, and its Harleysville office opened in 2005.

If a business is “winding down” and going out of business, which creditors need to be paid first?
My best and only advice is to get to an attorney as soon as possible, and not to make decisions without qualified legal counsel. There are different priorities of debt—tax debt vs. secured debt vs. guaranteed debt—and the business owner needs to know which to pay first to avoid exposure. Any debts guaranteed by the individual, as in they signed a personal guarantee, those would get the highest priority. Then you have tax debt—taxes on payroll and that sort of thing—and secured debt against things like equipment; for example, a machine shop that’s paying down the debt to keep the creditor from taking the machines back. From there the rest is unsecured debt. The goal is to wind down the business properly without getting into trouble.

How can a business owner make sure his or her personal assets are protected when winding down a business?
People drain their 401(k) sometimes to pay down their debt, but 401(k) plans or IRAs are exempt in bankruptcies. In order to pay an American Express bill or some other creditor, sometimes there’s a knee-jerk reaction for the debtor to give up an asset that would otherwise be exempt. You can’t get that back once you let it go, so before anyone pays a creditor, talk to an attorney. In distressed situations, you have people who have major financial problems that are trying to get themselves out of it. Some people are going to credit-consolidation companies, and those can work when you have a low amount of debt and a decent income, but it’s almost impossible for those to work if you a lot of debt; you can end up getting in deeper trouble and getting nowhere. The point is this: There are different types of people to go to so they can deal with credit and debt, but going to anyone other than a local Pennsylvania attorney is very risky.

Angst & Angst P.C. | 37 South Clinton Street, Doylestown | 215-348-5200 | 878 Main Street, Harleysville | 215-513-1517 | www.angstlaw.com

Tiffany Thomas-Smith earned her bachelor’s in history from Duke University in Durham, N.C., and her J.D. from Howard University School of Law in Washington, D.C. In practice for more than 15 years and licensed in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey, she founded The Thomas Smith Firm P.C. as a client-centered practice dedicated to family law, small business and estate-planning issues. Prior to founding her own firm, she served as an associate at notable firms in Bucks County, as law clerk in Superior Court of New Jersey, and the Associate Public Defender in Philadelphia County. She is married and is the mother of two sons.

What are the alternatives to litigating a divorce?
Alternatives to litigating a divorce include collaborative law and mediation. Collaborative law is a team-based approach to resolving family law disputes without litigating in court. Both parties and counsel participating must sign a participation agreement pledging to resolve their disputes by agreement. Mediation is also an alternative to litigation. With mediation, the parties come to a neutral party who helps them reach an agreement, which can be reviewed independently with counsel. When selecting the optimal approach for you and your situation it is best to consult with a legal expert in deciding how to proceed.

What are the differences between collaborative law and mediation?
Collaborative law provides for other collateral team members. The parties’ attorneys may work together with a neutral child specialist, coach or financial specialist to come to a resolution. Mediation is not a team-based approach. Oftentimes if there is an imbalance in the nature of a relationship—if one party is a stay-at-home dad and the other party worked outside the home and, as a result, one party feels less familiar with the finances—a mediator might not be appropriate because one of the parties feels there is an inequity. However, if the parties are on equal footing then mediation may be the better approach.

When is collaborative law a suitable solution for divorcing spouses?
To succeed in the collaborative process parties must be willing to work together civilly to resolve their issues in divorce, custody and the division of assets. If there is a protection-from-abuse order or if one is involved in a criminal case then they will not be suitable candidates. If parties are unwilling or unable to work civilly and respect each other, the collaborative process will not work.

The Thomas Smith Firm P.C. | 777 Township Line Road, Suite 260, Yardley | 215-860-3747 | www.thomassmithfirm.com | tiffany@thomassmithfirm.com

Jamie L. Sheller, who earned her J.D. from Villanova University School of Law, is admitted to the practice of law in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Washington, D.C. She handles medical-device and drug-product liability cases, breach and identity-theft class action, as well as consumer class actions, general personal injury and product-liability cases.

The insurance company or broker suggests a driver can have “full coverage” but can save approximately 15 percent by choosing limited tort instead of full tort. Is this correct?
If you choose limited tort you give up the right to receive any compensation for pain and suffering if you are injured in a car accident in Pennsylvania, with some limited exceptions. If you have never been injured in a car accident, you may not realize the pain and suffering that a person goes through. Car accidents can lead injuries and disabilities that last for months or even years.
By choosing limited tort, you sacrifice full protection not only for yourself but also your family members including your spouse and children. Limited tort not only puts you and your family at risk in your own car, but it even applies when you or your children are injured as passengers in someone else’s car.

Should a driver purchase uninsured or underinsured motor vehicle coverage, and why is this necessary?
Under- or uninsured motor vehicle insurance coverage pays for damages caused by a driver with no motor vehicle insurance or not enough motor vehicle insurance coverage for the extent of your injuries. This is extra protection that you can purchase from your own insurance company to which you can make a claim if you were injured and the party at fault had limited or no coverage. This is an important protection for you and your family since Pennsylvania only requires a minimum of $15,000 of liability motor vehicle coverage to meet Pennsylvania law.
Who covers one’s medical bills in the event of a motor vehicle accident?
Most motor vehicle policies only cover the first $5,000 or $10,000 in medical bills if you or your family is in an accident. This is usually covered under your own policy regardless of who was at fault for the accident. Once that amount is exhausted, the medical bills often have to then be paid by your health insurance, if you have it, or out of your own pocket if you don’t. If the medical bills are covered by your health insurance you will be subject to all of your normal deductibles and co-pays under your private health care policy.

Sheller P.C. | 1528 Walnut Street, 4th Floor, Philadelphia | 800-883-2299 | 215-790-7300 | www.sheller.com

Randi Vladimer heads the Radnor-based firm Randi J. Vladimer P.C., which focuses solely on the practice of family law. In addition to assisting families in Philadelphia and its suburbs resolve difficult issues such as child support, custody and visitation, spousal support and alimony, and the division of the marital estate, she has served the community as president of the Women’s Resource Center’s board of directors and continues to volunteer with PALS for Life.

How should one prepare for the difficulties of a divorce?
Divorce and family-law disputes present emotional as well as financial challenges. Issues such as custody, support and visitation are highly charged and sometimes make amicable resolutions difficult. When confronted with divorce and the myriad attendant issues, you need someone who is a skilled and experienced legal counsel, so that you make decisions that are in the best interests of you and your family.

What should one look for in a family law attorney?
The selection of an attorney should be done after careful research and consideration. Although your attorney is neither your therapist nor your new best friend, your attorney should be someone that you can confide in and someone that you trust is always acting in your best interest. There is no question that litigation can take a toll, both emotionally and financially. Therefore, you need an attorney that is both an experienced negotiator as well as a highly competent trial attorney. A divorce, custody or support matter does not have to drive a permanent wedge between family members, nor does it have to be a win-lose situation. We work hard to resolve family matters amicably, as the parties will often be in regular contact for years. Nonetheless, we will aggressively and zealously protect your interests.

How do you assist families through this process?
Because we understand the emotional challenges that accompany a divorce, we provide close and personal attention to our clients. The legal process is often intimidating and confusing. We always take the time to ensure that you understand the legal process, your options and the potential outcome of different legal strategies. We offer experienced and highly competent legal advocacy in matters related to divorce, custody, child support, visitation, alimony or spousal support, or the division of marital assets.

Randi J. Vladimer P.C. | 320 King of Prussia Road, Suite 140, Radnor | 610-975-9898 | www.vladimerlaw.com

Slade McLaughlin is a founding shareholder and CEO of McLaughlin & Lauricella P.C., which handles cases surrounding issues of wrongful death, personal injury, sexual assault and medical negligence lawsuits in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. He received his B.A. from Ursinus College and then earned his J.D. from the Villanova University School of Law. McLaughlin also successfully completed Harvard Law School’s Mediation Training Program for Lawyers. He is a member of the Mensa Society and also enjoys adventurous activities such as running, scuba diving and skydiving.

What is the most important outcome of a case for the client?
Many lawyers will push clients into a result or an approach without consideration of what the client wants. At the end of the day I want them to feel the outcome was a result of their decision. I will give them my professional opinion and advice but will not make the decisions. People have asked me to and I tell them, “No way. After this is over I will go on to another case, but you will have to live with the outcome.” Since I have adopted this approach I have found that my clients are much happier, they are a part of the process, they had a say and they are comfortable with the results.

Each client wants different things. I have the largest punitive-damage verdict ever awarded against a physician in a medical malpractice case in Pennsylvania [for the family of a young woman who died as a result of a plastic surgeon who refused to call an ambulance to resolve complications]. They didn’t want the money. They said, “We have plenty of money; we want to go to trial.” They wanted the jury to say he was negligent, that he was guilty of malpractice, that he was a bad person—and they did.

When or why is it advantageous to pursue a trail vs. settlement?
The phrase we have had trademarked is “Don’t settle for a lawyer who will settle.” That’s been the credo we live by. Many call themselves litigation or trial lawyers but don’t go to trial often. The courtroom is stressful; you either win or lose, and many don’t want to put themselves out there like that. We put the effort in as if every one of our cases is going to trial. The insurance company has lawyers who know which attorneys are willing to settle and which will go to trial.

What sets you apart from other firms who handle the same category of cases you do?
My partner Paul Lauricella and I have developed a unique approach to litigation. Medical malpractice cases require a specialized approach. You must have medical knowledge. I worked with a firm providing defense for the first 16 years, representing doctors, dentists, nurses and hospitals. So I have a unique perspective from the insurance company’s side. Cases are not won and lost at trial; they are won and lost in the discovery phase. We don’t hand off the case to a young associate; we do it ourselves.

We videotape each deposition, we have a live feed from the court reporter—without that you cannot confront a witness who changes their answer—and we have a printer, scanner and Internet connection. One of us is questioning the witness while the other can go online to look up the facts of their statement. We can quickly access information in order to react quickly. We’ve tried in excess of 250 cases, so we know what is important.

Paul Lauricella is a graduate of Hofstra University and Villanova University School of Law. Out of law school, he spent five years as an assistant district attorney, where he tried and convicted violent criminals. Lauricella then brought his trial experience to the Beasley Firm, where he spent 24 years as an associate and as a partner, 18 of those working with legendary trial attorney James E. Beasley before he died in 2004. He is a regular contributor to the Michael Smerconish radio program, where he provides comedic commentary as “Liberal Paul.”

What amount of medical knowledge does a lawyer require in order to prosecute a medical malpractice case?
The biggest mistake many attorneys make with malpractice is they dive into these cases without an understanding of medicine. The people on the other side are physicians with a repository of knowledge that often allows them to run roughshod on an attorney that does not know better. A doctor may say something that is flat-out crazy, but unless you understand the science you do not know that they are blowing smoke.
What factors make such cases difficult and demanding of expertise?
All medical malpractices cases are like David and Goliath, really. You are up against an insurance company with unlimited resources. Insurance companies win 95 percent of the cased tried outside of Philadelphia or Pittsburgh. People would be surprised by how difficult it is to bring a case to trial, the tenacity it requires. You have to be a bit of a sleuth. The onus is on the attorney to find the information.
What are some of the factors that can contribute to a successful outcome?
Attention to detail. We take a fairly unique approach. Many practices have a senior and junior attorney work on a case. Slade and I realize if you have two of us handling a case, one plus one equals three. We take depositions in tandem; one is asking questions and the other is reading the court reporter’s notes, flagging discrepancies or areas for follow-up questioning. You have two very senior attorneys—we are both 30 years out of law school—side by side, and very little gets past us. We have cases where we’ve taken 20, 30, 40 depositions. When you do that, you eliminate the risk of surprise in the courtroom, and you never know what you will find. The stuff we find may factor into the case—altered records, personal notes—and we would never know about such evidence unless we took those depositions and did the legwork.

McLaughlin & Lauricella P.C. | One Commerce Square | 2005 Market Street, Suite 2300, Philadelphia | 215-568-1510 | www.ml-law.net

Practicing family law since 1978, Elizabeth Bennett has built a successful family law practice all while being a single mother and active member of her community. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree at Swarthmore College, she earned her J.D. from Villanova University School of Law. Bennett’s work includes advocating for reforms for the family-court processes that have been adopted in numerous jurisdictions, as well as the authorship of American Bar Association resolutions intended to provide divorced women and children with medical insurance. 

How should one go about picking a divorce attorney?
The quality of the lawyer’s undergraduate and law-school education, their participation in law review and any awards are relevant. It is a good idea to look at their years of experience and who supervises them, if they are young. Most lawyers have fairly extensive bios on their web pages, which detail articles they have published and continuing legal education provided to other lawyers.

Being prepared for the initial consultation will improve the attorney’s ability to give reliable advice and indicate what a court would order as well as ballpark support to be paid or received. The initial consultation should be the most useful hour spent. Take advantage of it even if one feels broadsided or adrift because of the loss being experienced. Meeting with at least two different lawyers is a good idea; chemistry is important, so follow your gut. First and foremost, finding a smart and efficient professional who is accountable to the client’s needs is of primary importance.
How should one determine which process to follow? 
There is traditional negotiation, litigation, the collaborative method and mediation or a combination of the above. Find out if your attorney uses a private arbitrator when appropriate. Are they certified and have they had adequate training in collaboration or mediation? For cases that require court intervention, ask how frequently the attorney goes to court. If it is frequently, they will know their way around your county courthouse, but it will make them less accessible for phone calls. Mediation takes place primarily with one supposedly neutral individual, while collaboration provides the full protection and comfort of an advocate and advisor for each side. Collaborative attorneys work together to provide the parties with an out-of-court settlement.
How does one keep costs down? 
Be attentive to all matters relating to billing. Clients should receive a retainer letter setting forth the terms of engagement, billing rates of all relevant staff and the amount of the retainer. The retainer should be refundable, if not used. Itemized invoices should be received monthly even if the retainer has not been fully exhausted. Asking questions about your bill, asking for an associate with a cheaper rate to work on your matter, and requesting an adjustment for gross inefficiencies are ways to limit the cost. Generally, the total cost has to do with the client and their spouse’s ability to cooperate. The more adversarial the case, the higher the cost. Clients should weigh the value of phone calls and interactions with their attorney, and rely on other professionals where possible, as each interaction affects the total legal expense.
Bennett & Associates | 150 Strafford Ave., Suite 210, Wayne | 610-254-9060 |