Legal Document Preparer Certification

Legal Document Preparer Certification

If you would like to enter the legal field, but do not want to be an attorney, one possibility is to become a certified legal document preparer. Being a certified legal document preparer can provide opportunities for you to help others and learn about various aspects of the legal world.

To become a certified legal document preparer in Arizona, you must be certified and keep current on legal practices each year. For example, a certified legal document preparer must attend a minimum of ten hours of approved continuing education annually, between the period of May 1st and April 30th of the following year. You must also complete a total of no less than twenty hours of continuing education on or before April 30th of every odd-numbered year.

These continuing education requirements do not apply to certified legal document preparer business entities, however.

According to the AZcourts.gov website, here is the process for becoming receiving certification as a legal document preparer:

  1. Check the Arizona Code of Judicial Administration, specifically section § 7-208(E) for eligibility requirements to ensure that you are eligible for certification.  Read the Arizona Code for Judicial Administration rules ACJA § 7-208
  2. You must first sit for and pass the examination. To download the exam schedule and registration form for the Legal Document Preparer (LDP) Knowledge Examination click in this link.  Please note that all fees are non-refundable, so be sure to schedule your exam on a day that you can attend as scheduled. There is a study guide that corresponds to the current examination being administered. Please see the link below. The Supreme Court does not provide any preparatory classes or training for the exam or the Legal Document Preparer Program in general.
  3. After the Exam; Test results will be mailed to the address you provided to Division staff within 2-4 weeks.
    1. If you passed: An application for initial certification and a fingerprint card will be included if you have successfully passed the exam.
    2. If you did not pass, you may send a written request to retake the exam to LDP@courts.az.gov and further instructions will be provided.
  4. Fill out the Initial Certification Application as instructed.  Be sure to include the required picture and fingerprints for the background check. If any further information is needed, Division staff will be in contact with you. Please note that any deficient information or documentation will prolong the application process.
  5. After the Application: Once the application process is complete, Division staff will present your application during the next scheduled Legal Document Preparer Board meeting for a decision. The decisions made during the Board meeting will be mailed to any and all applicants on the agenda unless the applicant is deferred due to deficient information.

    Allow 2-4 months to process applications.
Homeowners Association Problems: Dealing with an Overbearing HOA

Homeowners Association Problems: Dealing with an Overbearing HOA

Are you dealing with Homeowners Association problems? If so, you need to know the following:

  1. The HOAs Rights
  2. Your Homeowners Rights
  3. Arizona Laws governing Homeowners associations
  4. How to replace an overbearing HOA
  5. Getting Legal Advice to Deal with an HOA

HOA Rights

Homeowners Associations have the right to govern some community rules. However, there are state and federal laws restricting what they can do.

HOA’s Have the Right To:

  1. Set reasonable rules that comply with local and federal law
  2. Impose financial penalties for non-compliance
  3. Collect unpaid fees
  4. File lawsuits against defaulting owners
  5. Enforce the governing documents

More importantly, homeowners have certain rights. It’s important to know your rights when dealing with an overbearing HOA.

Homeowners Rights

As an owner, you have the right to:

  1. Have free access to your own property
  2. Fair treatment (non-discrimination)
  3. Call for the enforcement of the governing documents
  4. Review the HOA’s Records. Including annual budgets; meeting minutes; vendor contracts; tax returns; membership lists; and financial statements.
  5. Be a part of hiring or calling for a competent, responsive, transparent and, accountable HOA board.
  6. Be a part of community governance, by volunteering, attending and speaking at meetings. Or by joining or being elected to the board.
  7. Appeal decisions of the HOA when provided with notice of an alleged violation.
  8. Modify your property for access for people with disabilities. In accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  9. Display the American Flag on your property.

These two lists are not all-inclusive. Homeowners and HOA’s may have other rights granted to them by law.

 

Arizona Laws governing homeowners associations

You should learn what the laws are governing the conduct of associations.

If you review the statutes found online, starting at A.R.S. §33-1801. yYou will probably see statutes and regulations that your association is violating.

Some of the highlights of these statutes are:

  1. Late Fees. The maximum late fee that an association can charge is $15.00 or ten percent (10%) of the amount due, whichever is greater.

  2. Property Transfer Fee. The maximum total amount that the association can charge related to the transfer of the property is $400.00. This amount can only be charged upon the successful closing of an escrow. Therefore, a property transferred without the employment of an escrow company is not subject to the transfer fee. (Note: if there are pre-paid or back-owed regular HOA dues to be paid at closing, those amounts are usually not covered by this limit.)

  3. Notice of Violation. Upon written request, within ten (10) business days from the date of a notice of violation, the association must provide the homeowner with certain information.

    This includes:

    1. the specific provision of the CC&Rs that are alleged to have been violated
    2. the first and last name of the person that reported the violation.

  4. Partial Payments. An HOA cannot refuse to accept a partial payment of the amounts owed to the association.

    The association must apply all payments to the member’s account. This must be done in the following order:

    1. Unpaid assessments
    2. Late fees
    3. Costs of collection
    4. Attorneys’ fees and costs.

The homeowner may also direct a payment to be applied to a certain specified item.

real estate lawyer
 

Replacing an Unreasonable Management Company

As a homeowner, you can lobby for the replacement of the current management company. If the company is overbearing, hiring a more reasonable one may help.

Licensing of HOA Management Companies

Unfortunately, there are no licensing requirements for HOA property managagers.

This means that anyone can start a property management company for HOAs regardless of experience. And, as with any profession, some management companies are better than others.

Many times it is the property management company that is the one that is overbearing. Terminating the property management company may improve the culture of the community.

HOA Board Members

Usually, individual homeowners who serve on community boards are hard-working and well-meaning volunteers. They’re genuinely trying to create, maintain or re-create a great community for all homeowners.

Occasionally, problems are caused by an individual or group of board member who are out of line.

Resolving Issues with an HOA

Whether the problem is the management company or the Board members themselves, the solution is a long-term project, not a short-term fix.

Replacing the management company takes time and you might need to be a member of the HOA Board to make this happen. At a minimum, you’ll need a group of homeowners willing to support the effort to replace the management company. HOAManagement.com has a list of companies by state.

Replacing individual HOA Board members also takes time. This is because you’ll need to launch your effort when there’s an open Board seat up for election. You’ll also need to find a candidate willing to run and serve.

Getting Legal Advice for Dealing with an HOA

Would you like more advice or advice personalized for your situation? We offer creative fee arrangements, including some types of flat fee billing.

We also offer some types of “pay-as-you-go” or “unbundled legal services.”

Learn more about those here, and then give us a call.

We’ll be happy to speak with you about handling your homeowners association problems.

For more information on homeowner’s association email or give us a call.

Ten Tips Every Business Lawyer Should Give You

Ten Tips Every Business Lawyer Should Give You

Small businesses have enough to do just to succeed. The last thing you want to worry about is a lawsuit. If you are a business owner follow these tips to start and contact us for individual advice suited to your situation. This is not formal legal advice, simply thoughts from your years of experience.

1. Keep it structured

Choose the business format that offers you the most protection against personal losses and financial liabilities. A sole proprietorship may be the easiest but it also leaves business owners open to the large legal risks. Consult your attorney to find out if an LLC or PLLC would keep your personal assets safer.

2. Keep it in writing

Put every business transaction you can into writing. This includes agreements, contracts, orders, and of course all financial transactions. Don’t count only on forms you find online. While these can be a good start, you must ensure the forms suit your particular business and are in agreement with your state laws. Have your attorney review all legal documents, even order forms and invoices.

3. Keep it simple

Keep the language on your printed forms simple. Jargon and confusing legalese don’t protect your small business any better than plain English does. In reality, using documents that the average person can’t understand can actually cause you more trouble in the long run. If you have to consult an encyclopedia to understand your business documents, ask your attorney to simplify the forms.

4. Keep them informed

Make sure your key policies are easy to find and easy to read. This includes disclaimers and return policies, as well as others. If the information is hidden, hard to understand, or simply too long, it’s not helping your business reputation. If you want happy customers, make sure it’s easy for them to understand your policies right up front.

5. Keep good records

Make sure your business accounts and other records are accurate and complete. You don’t want to be questioned by legal authorities, audited by the state or the IRS, or questioned in court by forensic accountants. Ask around for references, hire a good accountant and hire an independent auditor every few years.

6. Keep it insured

Don’t skimp on business liability insurance! And don’t procrastinate:  The longer you wait to apply for insurance, the harder it will be to get it. But if you don’t have adequate business insurance, you’re exposing your business and possibly your personal finances to maximum risk. Insurance can protect your business if you’re sued as long as you have not broken the law.

7. Keep it legal

Keep on top of making sure you’ve got all the required licenses, permits and registrations. File taxes and all other required financial and legal documents on time. File renewals of all these documents on time. With all the calendar software packages available today, it should be easy to set up a reminder system.

8. Keep them happy

Work to resolve customer, employee and other business complaints as quickly as possible. Don’t ignore them and hope they go away. It’s easier than ever for customers and competitors to make allegations, and even to file complaints or small claims court suits. Don’t fail to take prompt action or you’ll make the situation even worse.

9. Keep it honest

Never, ever assume you can “get away with it” if you’re tempted to skirt a rule or bend a guideline. Find out the law and the ethical guidelines for your industry. Then stick to them. If you’re ever sued or if someone files a complaint, you’ll be glad you didn’t cut corners.

10. Keep it legal

It goes without saying: don’t do anything illegal or unethical. If you don’t know the local, state and federal laws that govern your business and your industry, you could easily break the law and not know it. As lawyers are fond of reminding, “ignorance of the law is no defense.” Again, ask for references and hire a good business attorney.

These tips should keep you and your business on the right side of the law, ethical codes and help you keep your customers happy. If you need more information or have questions about your particular business, contact us at FowlerStClair.com or 480-788-9911.

Image used under creative commons llicense– commercial use (10/08/2013) plantoo47 (Flickr)

Litigation Basics: Rule 26.1 Disclosure Statements

Litigation Basics: Rule 26.1 Disclosure Statements

Continuing the series on Litigation basis, this section delves into Chapter 3 which discusses disclosure statements. Contact Fowler St. Clair for any litigation services you might need if you live in Scottsdale or Mesa, AZ.

Rule 26.1 Disclosure Statements

The purpose of a Rule 26.1 disclosure statement is to fairly, accurately, and candidly apprise the other side of your case. The most critical components of the disclosure statement are witnesses and documents. If a witness or document is not disclosed in a Rule 26.1 disclosure statement, the undisclosed witnesses and documents likely cannot be used at trial. This is why it is important to focus on gathering as many documents as possible and identifying as many witnesses as possible early on in the case so that they can be disclosed with the initial Rule 26.1 disclosure statement. Each side also has a duty to disclose all documents that are relevant or likely to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. The failure to disclose such documents can result in sanctions.

1. Timeframes

Rule 26.1 disclosure statements are to be exchanged within 40 days of the filing of a responsive pleading to the complaint, counterclaim, cross-claim or third-party complaint. The initial disclosure statement must be supplemented as additional witnesses and documents come to light. Each new document or witness must be disclosed within 30 days after they are revealed or discovered. If a witness or document is disclosed later than 60 days before trial, a motion must be filed asking the court to extend the time for disclosure.

2. Witnesses

All possible witnesses should be disclosed. And, the description of each witness should be as broad as possible and then narrowed to identify specific areas of testimony. For example, the description should read “Mr. Smith will testify as to his personal knowledge of the facts set forth in the complaint and this disclosure statement. Specifically, Mr. Smith will testify that . . . . ”

3. Documents

The best way to review and organize documents is by placing them in chronological order. This will allow for a better understanding of the timeline of events and eliminate any duplicates. When eliminating duplicates, care should be taken to make sure the document that is eliminated is truly a duplicate and does not have a slight variance to the other document (i.e. handwritten notes or edits). Once the documents are placed in chronological order and the duplicates are eliminated, they should be Bates labeled. Bates labeling allows for easy identification of documents at a hearing or trial. It also provides proof that the documents have been disclosed. Most professional PDF programs have the ability to create Bates labels.

4. Verification

The initial disclosure statement must be verified. The most critical components of the disclosure statement are witnesses and documents. If a witness or document is not disclosed in a Rule 26.1 disclosure statement, the undisclosed witnesses and documents likely cannot be used at trial. This is why it is important to focus on gathering as many documents as possible and identifying as many witnesses as possible early on in the case so that they can be disclosed with the initial Rule 26.1 disclosure statement. Each side also has a duty to disclose all documents that are relevant or likely to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. The failure to disclose such documents can result in sanctions.
How are Partnerships Formed in Arizona?

How are Partnerships Formed in Arizona?

Owning your own company requires having knowledge in many different areas. Depending on the type of company you own, you need to have a thorough knowledge of what makes it successful.

You need to know how to market yourself. You must keep detailed records of income, expenses, and client lists. Learn how to manage day-to-day activities.

More importantly, you’ll need to know how to legally structure your business to make it profitable for all partners.

How to Determine if a Partnership is Right for You

Facts to consider when deciding whether this is an appropriate structure:

  1. Can the firm be easily and properly managed by just a few people?
  2. Will adding more partners expand an existing sole proprietorship?

If either of these factors is present, a partnership entity may make sense. There are issues you need to evaluate to determine if it is the best structure.

A partnership is often less complicated to maintain compared to a corporation. Yet, there are other factors to consider before deciding which structure may be best.

What is a Partnership, and are there Various Types?

A partnership is a business entity or structure involving two or more owners.

Generally, partnerships form when a firm is growing. This does not require the complexity and flexibilities provided by a corporation.

There are four basic types available to partners operating as a joint venture.

Each type allows for different levels of personal and financial responsibilities for the partners involved.

The following is a basic overview of the partnerships recognized by Arizona.

 

1. General Partnership

A General Partnership (GP) forms when 2 or more people agree to operate a company with equal responsibility.
 
For example, two people are starting a professional home cleaning business. They expect to share the workload and financial responsibilities as an equal team.
 
In a GP, each partner handles expenses and liabilities and they share the management duties.
 
A general written agreement drafted by a business lawyer is often enough for a partnership. These are also known as a partnership agreement.

 

2. Limited Partnership

A Limited Partnership (LP) involves one or more of the owners gaining more responsibility. The other partner (or partners) wishes to have limited involvement.
 
An example is two people want to start a business. The two share in the financial and workload responsibilities equally. They have a third partner who is a financial investor only.
 
A LP can assure that a partner’s potential for loss cannot exceed the extent of their investment. It can also establish that they are not involved in the day-to-day operation.
 
As with a GP, a partnership agreement is suggested when forming a LP. The agreement contains details on each partner’s physical and financial responsibilities.

 

3. Limited Liability Partnership

A Limited Liability Partnership (LLP) is like a GP in that all parties share power in the business.
 
Partners are generally not responsible if another partner acts negligently on behalf of the company.
 
A partnership agreement protects each partner from liability for the actions of another partner.

 

4. Limited Liability Limited Partnership

A Limited Liability Limited Partnership (LLLP) is a combination of a LP and a LLP. One or more owners may have more day-to-day responsibility and/or financial investment than others. A negligent act by one partner should not result in liability to other partners.

Because of the complex nature of this type of structure, an a agreement that is drafted by an experienced business lawyer is strongly recommended.

Tax Liability

Partnerships must file a separate tax return with the IRS regarding the income, expenses, gains, and losses of the firm.
The liability for taxes owed goes to the people listed on the agreement not the company.
 
If one partner fails to hold up their end of the financials, the remaining partners may be responsible for all financial obligations.
 
Different types of partnerships allow for partners to have varying levels of authority of their additions and liability. To protect each partner involved, a business law attorney will draft a partnership agreement.

 

Management Structure Requirements

Partners can solely manage and operate their business. No formal meetings are required. This can make management of partnerships easier.
 

If a business is growing at a rapid pace, a change from a partnership to a corporation can help. This will help owners better manage their workload. The help of qualified board members can aid in this effort as well.

What Else Should I Know About Partnerships?

There are other ways in which partnerships differ from incorporated businesses.

As you decide which type of legal entity is best for you, you may want to consider the following facts:

1. Unlike corporations or LLCs, partnerships are not considered separate legal entities. The partners are fully responsible for any financial or legal liabilities.

2. All partners are equally responsible for debts incurred by the business. LPs can let specified partners give up management duties for the sake of the business.

3. They must follow their specific state’s registration requirements. Contact our office for more information on Arizona’s requirements.

4. Partners create a name to file their business under.

Partnerships are easier to create and manage than corporations or even LLCs. There are still important decisions that partners must make before outlining their agreement.

How do I Know if a Partnership is the Right Choice Me?

A partnership can be a good choice for a firm that is smaller and intends to stay that way for a few years but operated by more than one person.
 
It may not be a good fit for a business that is growing or needs the aid of a board of directors.
 
They do allow for more flexibility in establishing company rules and regulations. Yet, a corporation does help limit the owners’ personal responsibility for business debts and taxes.
 
There are many reasons why establishing a partnership could be beneficial for you and your partners.
 
Having a helping hand to walk you through the various avenues of business designation can save you a lot of work, time and money.