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This month, Seaside Legal is celebrating its fifth anniversary since its founding in December of 2010. We would like to thank all of our clients, co-workers, and colleagues that have worked with us over the past five years—we (literally) could not have done this without you.
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I went to Gloucester Public Schools from K-12. There, I received educational lessons on how to think critically. I also received lessons in life about the importance of speaking up when you see an injustice unfolding or when things simply don’t add up. However, when those lessons are applied to the City’s plans (or lack thereof) for the buildings in which they were taught, the result is sadly ironic.
We have 6 elementary schools; 5 are old and lack room and resources. These are the ones in use. One elementary school, also old, has more than double the capacity of any of the other elementary schools (possibly triple for some) and unmatched extra-curricular resources. That one has been shuttered. That doesn’t add up.
All 5 active elementary schools are in need of renovation / replacement but we lack funds to properly renovate or replace each. One solution is to invest funds into renovating Fuller and consolidating several of the smaller schools for the most cost-savings. This option is not even on the table. An impractical solution is to replace only one school at a cost of $30mil, and let the other students/staff deal with old facilities and/or modular classrooms that need replacement before the City is even finished repaying the money borrowed to buy them. That is what we’re apparently going with. And that not only doesn’t add up but is tremendously unfair to the 3/4 of the elementary school population that suffers as a result.
City officials say people like me are mistaken and that Fuller is in bad shape. Yet last year’s re-use study commissioned by the City (no school option allowed) recommended it was better to repurpose Fuller than to tear it down because it was still so structurally sound. That doesn’t add up.
The City says that Fuller is unfit to be used as a school and isn’t worth the investment to restart its use as a school. But the City wants to keep it available to invest in and reuse as a school while they rebuild West Parish. That doesn’t add up.
The City says that reuse of Fuller is not preferred because City has opted for a neighborhood school system. Currently, neighboring children are bused all over the City to different schools (I believe Prospect Street alone is zoned for three different schools) and central Gloucester has no neighborhood school to call its own. That is deemed acceptable. West Parish students bused instead to Fuller could maintain same neighborhood routes and add only 3 minutes of drive time from exit 13 to Blackburn Circle. That is deemed too far to travel. That doesn’t add up.
I know a lot of citizens also went to GPS and learned the same lessons in thinking critically and standing up for what’s right. Hopefully they will be provided the opportunity to put those lessons to work by being given the opportunity by the City to have their voices heard on this matter as well.
Joel’s letter to the editor was published in the September 15, 2012, Gloucester Daily Times.
Read here: http://www.gloucestertimes.com/opinion/x550072227/Letter-Hard-lessons-taken-from-Fuller-School
Joel’s letter to the editor was published in the Gloucester Daily Times on July 11, 2012. You can read it online here: http://www.gloucestertimes.com/opinion/x1447680443/Letter-States-figures-on-West-Parish-dont-begin-to-address-needs
The following Letter to the Editor was submitted to the Gloucester Daily Times, a slightly edited version of which appeared in the print edition on May 22, 2012:
I first would like to thank the Mayor and the Chairman of the School Committee for their recent letters to the GDT addressing the West Parish project. The more information that is made readily available and the more thorough an explanation provided to the residents of Gloucester, the better off everyone is.
However, as a former student of the City’s schools, with relatives currently enrolled in the City’s schools, and who would like to someday be able to send any future children I might have to the City’s schools, I feel that there are still many important but unanswered questions.
Chairman Pope noted that this West Parish project, although won’t fix all of the issues surrounding the City’s school buildings, is the first step in bringing Gloucester Public Schools “into the 21st century.” Okay. What is the next step? And what is the step after that? Calling it a “first step” suggests there’s a complete plan—that’s great—what is it?
My understanding is that all of the elementary schools are old. I would guess that West Parish’s inability to meet the “spatial demand” of 21st century education is not unlike spatial conditions at East Gloucester, Beeman, Plum Cove, and Veterans (although maybe not Fuller, given its size). However the Mayor points out that the idea of closing neighborhood schools was “soundly rejected by the parent community.” Last I checked: citizens, parent and non-parent alike, were soundly against the closing of neighborhood fire stations too and yet they remain closed. But I’ve digressed.
So our plan is for 5 elementary schools, with West Parish, to the tune of $30-$40mil (with a potential for a rebate), being welcomed into the “21st century” first. When, then, do the East Gloucester, Central Gloucester, and Northern Gloucester students get to join us? We’re already 10+ years into the century as it is. Will they all need the same investment to be brought up to modern standards? If so, do we do one school at a time, every 5-7 years? That at least gets all elementary students into the 21st century before it’s half-over for somewhere around $200mil. And while we’re planning—what about O’Maley? By the time we finished with the elementary schools, O’Maley would be as old as West Parish is today.
Admittedly, that’s a lot of questions. And I’m sure I (and other citizens) have plenty more. Fortunately for everyone involved, the easiest way to answer most all of them: show us the plan. The plan that outlines how every student will be afforded the same educational upgrades currently slated for West Parish. The plan establishing the timeline in which projects are started, finished, responsibly borrowed and paid for, etc. The plan that explains how these school improvements interlink with the City’s overall financial plan for the future. My hope is that City would have already developed such a comprehensive plan before it would ever pay $500k for a study regarding the feasibility of a $30-40mil investment referred to as only the “first step.”
Here’s something we’re guessing many professionals come across as they conduct more and more business communication online: the “Thank You” email and whether it does more harm than good.
Think about it. After a 17 email exchange back and forth with another attorney or professional, you receive an email indicating that everything is all set; something along the lines of “Ok. Sounds good. That will all go out in the mail tomorrow morning.” You may instinctively be inclined to hit Reply and shoot back “Thank You” or even just “Thanks.” But is that last email necessary? Does it possibly create more hassle than the thanks itself is worth?
Most likely, by email 17, you’ve ended most if not all of your emails with a closing “Thanks” or “Thank you.” At this point, should you choose not to send this final single-word email, it’s hardly likely the recipient would think you were ungrateful for whatever you worked on together. Additionally, the recipient may even be grateful to you for not interrupting their train of thought via their smartphone vibrating or their computer screen filling with a notification of a new email (or however they choose to be alerted). After all, if they notice that you’ve sent them an email, they will be inclined to stop what they’re doing and quickly check it–they’re under the impression that those 17 emails concluded business and will be curious as to (or dreading) what new wrinkle you might be adding with email 18. When they see that it’s just one non-substantive word, their frustration with the interruption may overpower any appreciation the actual message of the email was designed to evoke.
What do you think? Are single-word “Thanks” emails a necessary display of manners or an unneeded distraction on the recipient’s end? Tell us in the comments below. Oh, and, thanks.
Here at Seaside Legal, our focus is bringing a 21st century law practice to Cape Ann. To achieve this goal, we have instituted flat fee billing, a commitment to running a paperless office, and are soon launching online access for clients to log-in and view documents pertaining to their matter. In addition to these existing efforts, Seaside Legal is developing a firm style guide based around the acronym “K.I.S.S.” – Keep It Simple & Straightforward. What does this mean for Seaside Legal? It means that documents produced in-house at Seaside Legal will be devoid of unnecessary lawyer-isms or ancient terminology. What does this mean for clients? It means most clients will have a much easier time reviewing and approving documents drafted on their behalf—just another helpful solution from Seaside Legal Solutions.
By: Joel Favazza
The majority of established attorneys I encounter at meetings, functions, or in the court room are almost always very well dressed; suit and tie (sometimes a vest), shined shoes, leather briefcase, clean shaven—the works. The standard rationale behind their attire is a dress-for-success mentality that is common throughout licensed professional fields. After all, clients expect that an attorney with decades of experience charging hundreds of dollars per hour will back up this reputation in appearance. More than that, it also sends a message to your adversaries and peers (any number of National Geographic wildlife specials will tell you that animals showcasing physical extravagance do so not only to attract a mate, but to intimidate their competition and/or predators as well). While I won’t be rocking a three-piece to a closing and I’ve essentially quit wearing ties outside of a courtroom setting (why should I dress like I did when I was a teenage bank-teller?), I know better than to show up in jeans and a pair of sandals if I expect to be taken seriously.
However, what I find quite perplexing is that this same dedication to physical appearance of one’s self is rarely mirrored in dedication to the preparation of one’s documents. I’m not talking about a bunch of crumpled paper or motions written on lined notebook paper. Rather, I’m talking about documents with inconsistent formatting, unprofessional font choice, randomly switching use of the third and first person, and refraining from using tabs, auto-numbering, etc.—documents that demonstrate little to no spell-checking, grammar-checking, or proof reading (note to the reader: if you happen upon a similar error in this post, know that I recognize the hypocrisy and apologize in advance).
What does one have to do with the other? Lots. If I meet with an attorney with whom I have not worked previously to negotiate a deal between my client and their client and he or she hands me a proposed settlement plan typed in Courier or Times New Roman (for more on this poor font choice, see Jay Shepherd’s piece on the subject, here) or rife with the easily-avoidable errors I mentioned previously, it suggests one or more of the following things to me: (1) you don’t care much about your client or this matter; (2) you’re too busy to divert time/energy into this matter and won’t as it progresses; (3) you have failed to evolve with technology and are unable to navigate a computer at a 6th grade level; (4) you really don’t have the mental acuity to notice the difference between what you’ve written and what is correct. Whether or not any of those statements are accurate, you’ve totally undermined the fact that your tie is impeccably full-windsor’d and your shoes cost more than cars I’ve owned. Nice work.
In the same way that Clients expect you to back up your fee schedule with professional attire and articulate advocacy, so too should they expect that your documents will display a baseline knowledge of modern word processing programs and the written English language. In the same way that your peers and adversaries read your wardrobe as a sign of competence, so too will they read your Comic Sans signature line in your emails as a hint of ineptitude.
Image courtesy of Google Images
Note: this blog entry gleans legal life lessons from the 1971 Gene Wilder version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, which is not to be confused in any way with the 2005 Johnny Depp film, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which never taught anyone anything but how to regret the purchase price of a movie ticket.
Many folk first learn to fear contracts and their “fine print” as a child from Willy Wonka. Mr. Beauregarde, Violet’s car-salesman father, hesitates to allow Violet to sign the large wall-sized contract with ever-shrinking text size that Mr. Wonka insists each child sign prior to entering the factory, explaining to the candy man, “Don’t talk to me about contracts, Wonka; I use ‘em myself—they’re strictly for suckers.” And who could forget the dramatic office scene toward the end of the film when Grandpa Joe attempts to collect on the unlimited chocolate supply Charlie had been promised? In that scene, in response to Grandpa Joe, Mr. Wonka deftly whips out a magnifying glass and reads from the incredibly small print contained on a photocopy of the wall-sized contract, rattles off complex clauses written partially in Latin, and concludes with a thunderous “You get nothing! You Lose! Good day, sir!” While the obvious lesson to be taken from these scenes is that it’s very important you read and understand the entirety of any document you are about to sign (or safer yet, have a lawyer review it for you), there are additional lessons to be learned if we imagine a hypothetical where Charlie Bucket immediately leaves after Mr. Wonka’s outburst, Everlasting-Gobstopper in hand, and makes formal demand for his lifetime chocolate supply.
While there is no denying the power of the written agreement, it is not absolute—especially when complex, misleading, or extreme terms are involved. One such claim against the enforceability of a contract or its terms is that of unconscionability. While very difficult to successfully raise in most matters, Charlie just might have a shot in attacking parts if not the totality of the contract standing between him and his lifetime supply of chocolate. In light of Charlie’s claim of unconscionability, the court will look at the circumstances and evaluate whether substantial unfairness occurred during the formation of the contract. Unfairness can be drawn from both procedural unconscionability, such as the bargaining position of each party, and substantive unconscionability, such as the actual writing and terms.
Procedural unconscionability can be in recognized in numerous ways. Sticking with the Chocolate Factory contract, take for example the unequal bargaining power between Willy Wonka and Charlie Bucket. Wonka dealt with business on a regular basis as the owner of the candy company; Charlie, on the other hand, was a child who did not regularly conduct business nor would ordinarily be involved in interpreting and signing contracts. Charlie also could have brought forth evidence of an oral misrepresentation. Wonka explicitly told the participants that the contract was a “standard-form contract,” which is a basic ready-made contract that is preprinted and only slight additions or modifications are made to meet the current circumstances. The specific language within the contract, as we later hear him read, is far from slight. The contract was original in many aspects and Wonka’s description of the contract as “standard” and “form” could be deemed an oral misrepresentation. Another option for Charlie would be to bring to light the lack of choice and the surrounding circumstances in the bargaining process. Charlie was invited to the Factory for a tour after finding the Golden Ticket; however, once he arrived he was told unless he signed the contract he would not have been able to go in. There was no other candy factories offering a tour of this nature and, having brought his disabled grandfather at presumably great risk to Grandpa Joe’s health, Charlie had made a significant sacrifice to get there.
Substantive unconscionability also comes in various forms and may also be available for Charlie to use in fighting for his chocolate supply. For this claim, the court will look at whether there is good consideration or at the actual writing in analyzing this claim. To determine consideration, the court will search for something such as an act or forbearance that had been bargained for; there needs to be a benefit that motivates a party to agree to an inconvenience. Consideration may exist in the Chocolate Factory contract: Charlie agreed to the terms in order to gain access to the factory. As for what Charlie agreed to, the actual writing, the court may find substantive unconscionability. To be deemed unconscionable the terms can be unduly harsh, commercially unreasonable, or unfair given the existing circumstances. The contract signed by Charlie was unclear on the specific punishment regarding the ingestion of “fizzy-lifting” drinks (the “rule” he apparently broke). In addition, it was clouded with complex Latin terms and interpretation of the actual writing would have been difficult to any person, let alone a young boy. Taking everything into account, the terms could be found unfair given the totality of the circumstance and thus ruled unenforceable due to unconscionability.
While it is important to first read and understand any legal document you sign, the party that drafts the contract is not given free-reign and must draft in a reasonable way.
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