Buyer Beware

The general public does not seem to be aware that purchase, transfer, ownership and/or sale of real estate are often fraught with problems which are created by people taking legal shortcuts or failing to conduct due diligence, which means investigation and assessment into the quality and validity of the purchase, transfer, ownership and/or sale of real estate. As a result, many people find themselves in real estate situations which are confusing, expensive, and, often, regrettable. This doesn’t have to be the case if certain steps are taken. As the axiom goes — “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

The buyer alone bears responsibility for due diligence.    So, buyer be beware of:

Purchase, Title or Transfer Issues:

 Buyer Beware #1: Do NOT transfer title to a property into your name or into the name of an entity controlled by you without having an insured title search conducted by a reputable title company,  and an insured title report provided to  you as the prospective buyer.  Liens and judgments, even in the names of prior owners, or even in incorrect names, can attach themselves to the property, and once the title has been transferred to a new buyer/owner, they become the obligation of the new owner.  Any liens, judgments or issues which are attached to the property must be cleared prior to purchase of the property, and the method of payment and computation of amount due are at the discretion of the lienholder.,  If an agreement cannot be reached regarding liens, judgements or issues prior to purchase, settlement needs to be delayed until  agreements are reached, or an action may be required in court to clear title.  A court action in some counties must proceed  through an entire trial, even if the matter is unopposed, which can cost thousands of dollars.  If proper title insurance and clear title cannot  be provided, if the next buyer/owner does seek a title report, title may often not be able to be legally transferred due to some prior legal problem.  People often say they KNOW that the title is clear because their relative or friend told them so, or paid their bills on time, but that is not sufficient.

Buyer Beware #2: A power of attorney in Pennsylvania may require specific language in order to transfer a house or other parcel of land, condo or co-op shares, so it is a good idea to consult an attorney to determine if the power of attorney one wants to use  is valid or has the current language required under the law.   These concerns extend not just to description of an asset being transferred, but who is to receive the transfer, since if it is a gift, specific language is required.  As the law regarding durable powers of attorney has changed over the last few years, any power of attorney should be reviewed and updated to take into account current laws.

Deed Issues:

Buyer Beware #1: Do not assume that a deed which is maintained at home or in a safety deposit box, or even filed with a government office, is the most recent deed on file.  Fraud or forgery may have occurred, especially in Philadelphia, or numerous and conflicting deeds may be on file, or could have been executed before death and then filed post death.  A government office will usually file any document and does not check its legitimacy or have the legal responsibility to do so.  That is the reason that a formal title search is required.

Title or Title Insurance Issues:

Buyer Beware #1: When you buy or transfer a property, purchase formal title insurance to insure the search and transfer. Although a lender requires such insurance, in private sales or other instances title insurance is not required, but should still be purchased to protect the new buyer/owner. A reputable title company will represent you if litigation arises, and will take the time to solve any title or escrow issues that may arise. A reputable title insurance company may also agree to resolve or waive some issues regarding satisfaction of prior debts or liens, judgments or debts which are not legitimately on the report.

Real Estate Tax Issues:

Buyer Beware #1: DO NOT pay real estate taxes, or make an agreement to pay real estate taxes with a local government authority or its agent without first determining if you are the legal owner of the property. These entities will accept tax payments or make agreements with anyone, and they do not determine who is the legal owner of the property, and can’t be relied upon to protect your interest. People often assume that because they have been left the house via a will or inherit the property by law, they can transfer the title into their name without undertaking the required probate process. That is not correct. We have also encountered people who are paying taxes on property foreclosed upon by mortgage lenders or which has been sold at sheriff’s sale, and is no longer their property or their family’s property.

Inheritance Issues:

Buyer Beware #1: Just because you took care of an owner of the house does not automatically entitle you to more of a share of the house than any other heirs, when that owner dies.  A family member is presumed to provide services out of love and affection and not for compensation absent an explicit written agreement addressing the scope of services and method of compensation.

Buyer Beware #2: Just because your name or one or both of your parent’s names are on a deed, does not mean that you automatically inherit the property as there may be faulty language in the deed stating that the parties are tenants in common and not joint tenants with the right of survivorship.  If the deed language states “tenants in common” the deceased’s owners share passes to their estate and not to the other named person/people on the deed. Also, if one or more of the parties’ names in a deed are incapacitated or deceased, etc., a new deed cannot automatically be drafted.  Similarly, if the deed was owned as a husband and wife, and there was a divorce, but there is no agreement or order dividing the property, it is automatically owned by each ex-spouse 50/50 and each 50% share passes to the respective spouse’s estate.   This may create complex inheritance issues, so even if divorce counsel was retained for the divorce, an estate planning and real estate attorney should review the situation.

Buyer Beware #3: Inheritance tax may be due on a property that one inherits, if it bears a Pennsylvania address.  Non-payment or late payment of inheritance tax can lead to interest and penalties, tax liens, and possible action by the Department of Revenue in removing the administrator/executor of the estate and other actions, and the inability to sell or transfer a property at a later date if the inheritance tax is not paid. Inheritance tax is different from other types of taxes, and people sometimes confuse them. Inheritance tax can also have deductions taken against the amount owed, and the amount owed may depend on a different property value than originally assumed, so it is a good idea to consult an attorney before paying inheritance tax.

Buyer Beware #4:  If a deceased real estate owner  was in a nursing home or received care at home paid for by a grant from the Department of Human Services under Medical Assistance or Medicaid, before his/her death, the property  would likely have to be sold to reimburse the state for some payment, with some exceptions. An attorney should be consulted prior to signing any documents with a government entity for care of a relative or friend.

Buyer Beware #5: If you decide not to open an estate and just live in a house which you believe is yours, problems may arise with:

  • Inheritance tax still being due and, if not paid, accruing interest and penalties or possible action by the Department of Revenue.
  • An heir does not have the right to live in a house rent free for more than the first 6 months of someone’s death, which is subject to court review and changes in case law.
  • Any improvements or repairs to the property may be considered gifts to co-heirs although they aren’t residing or supporting or improving the property.
  • If more than 21 years pass and an estate must be opened, court approval is required.
  • If one of the heirs of a house owner dies after the house owner dies, an estate needs to be opened for the deceased heir as well as the deceased house owner.

So, buyer beware.  It is highly recommended that an ounce of prevention be taken by consulting an attorney.

Faye Riva Cohen, Esquire, President of the Law Office of Faye Riva Cohen, P.C., focuses her practice on labor, employment, civil rights, real estate and elder law.  You can learn more about her firm here:


Faye thanks Adam S. Bernick, Esquire, for his contributions to this Blog post.


1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Dirty Secrets of Sexual Harassment: A Behind-the-Scenes Perspective

The topic of sexual harassment has been trending in the news, prompted by the revelations made against Harvey Weinstein and many other men by women who allege harassment by these men, some of these allegations occurring many years ago. There are conflicting opinions as to whether and how to report sexual harassment, what the likely outcome of said reporting will be for the accuser, and even what is interpreted as sexual harassment by women of various ages. For example, in October, 2017, The Philadelphia Inquirer ran an interview with a seasoned lawyer about her experiences in handling sexual harassment cases. Although her responses appeared a little blunt, they resonated and affirmed not only my experiences but, indeed, the experiences of any seasoned employment lawyer in handling such cases.

The interview unleashed a barrage of vitriolic criticism attacking the lawyer, with many people expressing dismay at her advice and conclusions, and some even calling her views dangerous. Therefore I have decided to examine some of the lawyer’s comments and compare them to the reality of pursuing a sexual harassment claim.

Is it a bad idea to complain about sexual harassment in the workplace?

That depends on the workplace and whose responsibility it is to handle the complaint. The law generally requires an employer to investigate a sexual harassment complaint and remedy it if the complaint is substantiated. The investigation is under the sole control of the employer. In an investigation, the accuser and the accused start off on an equal footing, and quite often the accused is someone’s supervisor. That supervisor is often in their position because the company’s higher-ups see something to admire and promote in the supervisor. Frequently, this perception already skews the investigation.  An employer can conduct an investigation (or say they did) without providing the accuser with information about how that investigation was conducted, and who was interviewed. The accuser is never present for the interviews, and often the people the accuser suggests be interviewed are not.

Even if the employer decides to remedy a complaint, that remedy usually does not involve terminating the accused harasser. It may involve training, or moving the accused or the accuser to another position or department or location. When the accuser is moved to a new position, they face the risk of retaliation, as most companies no longer want the accuser as an employee because they are concerned that the accuser will accuse another supervisor.  Often the new supervisor of the accuser, of either sex, is leery of the accuser, who is often labeled as a complainer and not a team player. Even worse, if the employer finds the accuser’s allegations not to be substantiated, which is possible as often there are no witnesses of the harassment, the accuser is considered to be untrustworthy.

The lesson to be learned is if you are going to complain about sexual harassment you need to be aware that said complaint may cost you your job. If you don’t care about losing your job, or if you plan to leave anyway, that is fine. But if you leave there probably won’t be an investigation, so the accused can then go on to harass other people. Even if there is an investigation, it will be private, as will any remedy. Consequently, others won’t learn about your efforts and the remedy won’t necessarily have a deterrent effect on the accused.

Is Human Resources Your Friend?

“Human Resources (“HR”) is not your friend,” the lawyer stated in the article. This is true, with few exceptions. HR employees are paid by the employer and their job is to protect the employer. It is human nature for people to not bite the hand that feeds them. It is HR’s decision as to whether they want to conduct an investigation of a complaint, who will conduct the investigation, and what the remedy will be. An HR employee may start out as sympathetic, but over time, chronic complaints will often turn HR against the complainer.

Are the Client’s Goals Realistic?

The lawyer’s final comment was that she only accepts clients with realistic goals, such as seeking a fair financial settlement, as the law doesn’t deliver “justice” or “vengeance.” Those who disagreed with this assessment argued that financial settlements will allow complaints to be swept under the rug and will allow other women to continue to be harassed.

Although clients often say they want their day in court, the reality is that to pursue a sexual harassment complaint to litigation is financially costly. Litigation routinely can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and continue for years. Even if an attorney agrees to accept the case on a contingency fee basis, the costs are often very substantial, and someone, normally the accuser, has to pay the costs.  Also, there is the possibility that the accuser, if she loses her case, will have to pay the opposing party’s costs. The end result may not really impact the harasser, as the employer or the insurance carrier will bear the brunt of an award of the accuser prevails in her case. In some cases the accuser has been sued by the accused for damages, and having to defend such a lawsuit can also be costly, and may result in an award of damages.

Additionally, the components of a sexual harassment complaint are often more emotionally devastating than allegations of other types of discrimination. If the case proceeds to litigation the accuser must expose her life and personal history to examination, which is embarrassing and may result in victim shaming.

Some of the lawyer’s critics pointed out that government agencies, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), exist for the purpose of filing, investigating, and remedying sexual harassment complaints via sanctions and the imposition of huge monetary damages. That is not the reality of how these agencies handle these complaints. The EEOC prefers big impact cases. If one examines their settlement history, their settlement numbers for individual cases are not impressive.

Agencies are often understaffed and underfunded, and investigations, if they are conducted, are not conducted by attorneys, but by folks that generally interpret the law in a straightforward manner, without creative or nuanced interpretations that private lawyers develop. Most of these investigations are inconclusive or do not support the accuser if the employer provides some form of pushback.

So while a lawyer’s advice may seem abhorrent – that one should cope with sexual harassment, find other women to support you, hang in there, try and leave your department, try to outlast the accuser, or quit – this is generally an unfortunate reality and one of the dirty secrets of sexual harassment.


Faye Riva Cohen, Esquire, president of the Law Office of Faye Riva Cohen, P.C., focuses her practice on labor, employment, and civil rights law.  You can learn more about her firm here:


1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A Lesson Learned From Taylor Swift On the Meaning of Damages

The composer and singer, Taylor Swift, recently won a sexual assault lawsuit against a former radio host. He initially sued her stating that she had caused his dismissal. She countersued because she wanted the trial to serve as an “example to other women.” Swift only sought a single dollar in damages, which the jury awarded her.

Yes, Even $1.00 Award Has Implications       

The dollar awarded to Swift brings up some interesting points about how damages are calculated under the law. There are two parts to every case:

  • The first part is liability, meaning that one has to first prove their case before they are entitled to damages. Many people spend most of their energy on the facts of their case, as they are so personally involved in it.
  • Yet, once they are able to prove their case, the next step, and often the most important step, is for them to prove how they were damaged. I often tell clients that even if they receive one dollar in a negotiated settlement, mediation, arbitration, or judge or jury award, that they have prevailed under the law. The one dollar amount is significant because that one dollar can trigger a statute which awards the prevailing party fees and costs in certain areas of the law, including areas of civil rights law.  These awards of attorney’s fees and costs can often be quite large.

Would you be pleased if you only received $1.00 in damages?  No doubt, most people wouldn’t.  The question of how damages are calculated can sometimes be mysterious and it’s good to understand this upfront. The concept of damages is not as simple as one would think. There are different kinds of damages that can apply to different areas of law, and the terms “statutory,” “compensatory,” “liquidated” and “punitive” refer to the types of damages which may be available depending on the type of lawsuit one brings. Damages can sometimes be enhanced by added-on interest or a multiplying factor due to the nature or type of law being pursued, because the lawsuit conferred a benefit to a class of people or the general public, because the lawsuit produced some drastic change in the law, or as otherwise permitted via statute or case law. Many clients feel that they are entitled to receive damages due to their “pain and suffering,” “humiliation,” “emotional distress,” “mental anguish,” or “loss of enjoyment of life,” but these types of damages are not available in all areas of the law.

Is Your Expectation of Damages Supported by the Facts?

Damages generally require an underlying basis in fact. In certain areas of the law, such as personal injury, damages are easy to calculate as they are based on discrete items such as lost wages, and expenses relating to medical care and treatment. In other areas of the law, damages are difficult to calculate, and some damage requests are outside the parameter of what the law or the decision makers are able or willing to do, such as restoring someone to their prior occupation.

What We Think We Deserve May Not Be What the Law Thinks We Deserve

Many people have unrealistic expectations of the damages to which they are entitled, either because they feel that someone has to “pay” for what has happened to them, or because they have heard about large awards received by others, and do not understand the circumstances that distinguish their lawsuit such as forum, jurisdiction, decision-maker, location, the statutes involved, and the factual details of their case. They also do not understand that these large awards are sometimes reduced or overturned at the appeal stage of the legal process, or that the award may never be able to be collected, like the Silverman family who has never been able to collect on their judgment against OJ Simpson. Other times, such as in employment cases, the damages are greatly reduced as they are offset by the earnings or other benefits the terminated person has received, which must be offset against their lost wages.

Our Kudos to Taylor Swift

It is highly likely that Swift would have received a large financial award had she sought it, as many celebrities do.  Quite often it is their very celebrity that leads to their victory or a high award, as well as their ability to afford excellent and expensive attorneys. I give Swift credit because she stood up for her principles. On the other hand, few people can afford to fund an expensive lawsuit in order to arrest their own principles. Bear in mind that someone has to pay for a lawsuit. That someone can be the parties to the lawsuit, their lawyers, or some third party who agrees to fund a lawsuit due to personal or public interest.

I am Faye Riva Cohen, Esquire and am a Philadelphia attorney who has been practicing law since 1974.  I am the president and managing attorney of both the Law Office of Faye Riva Cohen, P.C. and Legal Research, Inc.  You can find more about my law office here  and Legal Research, Inc. here.  After my many years of experience, I would like to share my thoughts with you!  You can always contact me via email at, telephone at 215-563-7776, facsimile at 215-563-9996, or in person at 2047 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103.  Please note that nothing on this blog should be construed as legal advice; every case is unique and the appropriate action for it must be individually considered.  A lawyer/client relationship is not established unless you execute a fee agreement with one of my offices.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized


Aretha Franklin sings in her song, “Respect”, “all I’m askin’ for is a little respect, R-E-S-P-E-C-T”.  I think all of us are looking for some respect these days, because respect seems to be missing in the manner in which people treat each other.  Surveys indicate that legal profession, which in years past was a highly respected profession, has been reduced to one of the least respected professions.  Lawyers are not alone, and elected politicians and teachers are examples of other professions which are no longer respected.  On the personal side, respect for one’s elders and even parents have diminished over the years.

As my perspective derives from being a lawyer, and because the rest of the universe daily weighs in about a lack of respect involving politicians and the political process, I will limit myself to my experiences in the practice of law, plus what I have read of late about respect, or the lack thereof, in and about the legal system.

My mantra has always been, in my personal and professional life, that “you don’t have to like me, but I expect you to respect me”.   A legal columnist recently wrote an article opining that senior lawyers no longer receive the respect that their predecessors received for their experiences as being part of the legal system and toiling in the field of law for years.  These days senior lawyers who can no longer be relied upon to produce new clients or create the revenues expected of them are often asked to leave their firms.  I frequently see notices in the legal newspapers that a lawyer is joining a different firm, or starting their own practice after spending 20, 30 or more years at a particular firm.  These lawyers are frequently in their late 60’s or 70’s.  In the “old’ days, that was unheard of.   As lawyers aged in the larger firms they were permitted to retain their offices, but they were able to reduce their schedule if they wished to do so.

Aside from being able to keep one’s job as one ages, I notice there is no longer a connection between how long one has practiced law, and the automatic respect that experience used to generate.  These days when I mention to a judge, arbitrator, or other decision-maker, how long I have been practicing law, that information is often met with disinterest, and sometimes I get the impression that they don’t really care, as they are only interested in how they want to do things.  The reason I mention it at all is usually because I feel that the actions of these individuals is sometimes not aligned with historical practice.  Even if the respect for my many years of experience is acknowledged, it doesn’t usually influence the result.

The other day, a well-respected and experienced lawyer, who has chaired both his local and the state bar associations, was involved in an altercation with a guard in a government building housing criminal courts.  The details of the altercation was sparse, and apparently occurred because there was a disagreement over which door the lawyer could exit from, but he suffered a broken shoulder.  Things have certainly reached a low point when a security guard and an elderly lawyer duke it out in the halls of justice.

Lawyers’ relationships have also changed with their clients.  Gone are the days when a lawyer was a family retainer, often representing two or three generations of a family.  Today clients and potential clients read the news in various formats, have access to a wide variety of case law, judicial decisions, and cases they think are similar to theirs, on the Internet, and view television series about the law and the justice system.  As a result, some clients feel as if they know the law as well as, if not better than, their lawyers; however, clients often do not know the nuances of the law, the reality of how law is actually practiced in a given geographical area, and other realities of how the legal system may work.  This disconnect between reading about the law versus actually practicing the law can lead clients to have unrealistic, and often fantastical, expectations about what can be accomplished for them by their lawyers.  This is also true of potential clients who don’t want to hear about the reality of pursuing one’s case and the expense involved in what they seek.  They often state that they will continue to look for a lawyer who “knows the law”, meaning a lawyer who agrees with them, even if they are misinformed.

People need to be respected for their life’s experiences and their history.  Respect shouldn’t be attached to how much money one has, how much money one earns, and/or what occupational position or celebrity they have achieved, because quite often the factors of luck, family background, or knowing the right people influence this type of success.  A lack of respect for one’s peers, family members, or anyone else, will greatly diminish our society and cause the type of problems in our society which currently exist, and seem to be worsening.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized


I am not a particularly spiritual person. I consider myself to be a very solid, staid and responsible person. That is probably why I became a lawyer. The legal profession does not lend itself to meandering thoughts, and regular self-examination. The law is a profession of evidence, rules, and having to do things in a certain way.

But lately I seem to be seeing terms which formerly were considered “woo-woo” making their way into mainstream thinking and literature. So if I am reading an article or magazine about architecture and exterior design, there is generally a mention of feng shui or creating good karma, or the importance of surrounding oneself with crystals or harmonious colors. If I am reading a women’s magazine there are always articles about wellness, relaxation, meditation, etc. Although in years past the West Coast in the United States was the origination point for many of the health, wellness and lifestyle concepts, these concepts have now become national, and many of these concepts are international and derive from other cultures.

I was recently reading about the first conference presented by Gwyneth Paltrow and her Goop website. Many of the topics presented at the conference were very “out there” for me, and I had never even heard of the type of food that was offered. But I was interested in learning that someone I knew and am related to by marriage was one of the speakers, and a spiritual advisor to Gwyneth. His name is Barry Michels, and he, along with partner Phil Stutz, practice as therapists in Los Angeles. They recently wrote a book called The Tools, which details a methodology Stutz developed to awaken creative impulses and provide people with a means for reaching their potential. Michels and Stutz present regular workshops on the book’s concepts.

I confess that I don’t always understand some of the concepts mentioned in the book, but a recent article about Stutz’s speaking engagement with students and community members at the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, was of interest to me based on the advice that he provided to budding entrepreneurs.

His comments are below, and I have freely quoted from the article I received as I am on their mailing list. I agree with some of the comments, and I don’t agree with others, but they provide food for thought.

  1. It takes courage to move beyond one’s safety zone when starting a company, so if you don’t feel afraid, you are not trying hard enough. Failure is a real possibility, and a good likelihood, but that shouldn’t stop you from developing the courage to try every day, and it is normal to feel scared in the process.
  2. Make a daily list of challenges you intend to take, and then inventory that list every night. If you seem to be avoiding things, then take a step in the direction of what you are avoiding, as that is the right direction.
  3. If something is painful, go towards it. The normal human desire is to avoid pain, but if these painful things exist in life and business, and you avoid them, then they will grow into massive problems. If you try and confront that pain it will become diminished. After a period of time you will learn how to deal with that pain.
  4. Fear must be acted upon and not merely thought about. Sometimes one must repeat statements about confronting fear regularly to assist with the process of confronting fear. He encourages yellowing out these affirming statements.
  5. Defining success doesn’t always mean having lots of money. If you fail and lose your money, which has happened to many successful entrepreneurs, and money is your only measure of success, you will be devastated. Success should be defined more by what motivates and fulfills you, and it may not only be based on results.
  6. Have the power to walk away, even if it means losing, in negotiations. If you can’t walk away and you are so attached to prevailing on your point of view, your view is distorted, and you may not win. There is a power that comes from being willing to lose.
  7. Free yourself from the need to be liked. A leader must stand to be alone. A leader also must understand that he/she may be uncertain, be misunderstood and be hated at times. But he stated that the person who can tolerate being alone has freed himself from the need for adoration.
  8. Approach life like a string of pearls. Each pearl represents an action one takes, and it is unlikely that even if one reaches the goal one thinks they would like to reach, like fame or fortune, their world will be transformed. Generally, even if one reaches that goal, they discover that the “magic” pearl doesn’t give them what they want. So, people have to be disciplined enough to keep adding pearls to their strings and move forward.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized


Recently I was featured in an article called “Pushing At The Edges,” which appeared in SuperLawyers Magazine, which also published the 2017 (Annual) List of Top Attorneys in Pennsylvania and Delaware (see here).  The article constituted an oral history of eight selected women who began practicing law in the early 1970’s.  It is interesting to consider how much things have changed in 45 or so years for women lawyers in some respects, and how little things have changed for women lawyers in other respects.


Despite the below examples of boorish behavior and discrimination in the 1970’s, ours was the first generation of women who began to make their mark by being accepted in law schools.  In 1970 women made up only 4% of the student body in U.S. law schools, and the prevailing opinion was that a woman attending law school was displacing a man who had to support his family.  When I attended the University of Denver College of Law, I recall being only one of five women in my class, and I was the only married woman until our last semester when two of the law students married each other.  Prior to that time, many women were not accepted into law schools, and women law graduates generally were not hired as attorneys, and sometimes couldn’t get interviewed for any positions dealing with the law.


Sexist, Condescending and Disrespectful Remarks, Threats, Taunts and Jibes


Some of the experiences recounted by me and other women lawyers featured in the article are that women lawyers were sometimes addressed in rude, disrespectful, condescending, and often sexist terms.  One lawyer noted that her opposing male counsel told her to “shut up sweetie”, and the arbitrator before whom she was appearing, did not comment.  My law school was very progressive at the time I attended, and had one of the few trial tactics internships.  I appeared in juvenile court one day in Denver, and my assignment was to argue to the judge that he was not granting due process to juveniles.  He told me to shut up, sit down, and if I spoke up again he would have me arrested.


When I began practicing law I practiced with an all-male firm in Wilkes-Barre, PA, and I believe I was the only woman lawyer practicing in Wilkes-Barre at the time.  I attended a Bar Association golf outing, and, since I was the only woman lawyer there, they gave me a radio as a prize.  No one felt there was anything offensive about this; rather, they thought that it was a compliment to my gender.


Other women in the article recall hearing from clients that they felt women were pushy or they didn’t like them.  Women were often subject to tasteless remarks, or had to listen to sexist jokes and not be expected to comment.  Women who were forceful and aggressive were considered to be arrogant and obnoxious.


You Are What You Wear


Women did not wear pants to court or even to the office in the 1970’s.  Many female lawyers tell stories that if they wore clothing that a male judge did not consider appropriate, they were told they could not appear in court.  I recall an elderly male judge in Municipal Court in Philadelphia County, who always asked me, whenever I entered or left the courtroom to use the restroom, why I was carrying a briefcase.  He did this in the middle of hearing another matter, in a room full of people waiting for their cases to be heard.  He did not consider that women could be lawyers and carry briefcases.


Women were cautioned about wearing clothes that were too sexy, but if a woman didn’t dress well she was considered unattractive and dowdy.  It was a difficult line to walk.


Sexual Harassment and Hostile Work Environment 


At one of the large law firms I practiced with, when there were only a few women there, no women lawyers discussed their private lives or mentioned that they had children.  There were no specified family leave policies.  One woman I worked with waited until she was made a partner, and then rather late in life, had children.  I am certain that she wanted to secure her position before having children as she was concerned that she would be terminated while out on pregnancy leave.


Sexual harassment was very prevalent, and women who resisted such harassment did so at their own risk of being terminated. Female lawyers are loath to discuss their experiences in this regard, but we all shared them in the 1970’s.


The Future


Over the years progress has been made, and the numbers of women lawyers and judges have greatly increased.  Yet women lawyers still register many types of complaints regarding unequal pay, lack of flex-time, lack of respect, dissatisfaction with the hard-nosed legal profession, and gender hostility when women act as vigorous advocates for their clients’ causes.  Unfortunately, there has been a resurgence of what types of behavior are permissible in public, and social media is fueling negative behavior in all professions, including the law.  It is common knowledge that women do not always respect each other, or vote for other women.  We will see what the future has to bring.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Don’t Dig Yourself Into A Hole

Don’t Dig Yourself Into A Hole

This is a pop quiz on when it is advantageous to hire a lawyer:

  1. At the beginning of a significant matter in your life which could have a financial and/or emotional impact on your future.
  2. After you have – already signed legal documents that could encumber you, or after you have been sued, or after your deadline to pursue a matter have passed.
  3. After a judgment has been entered against you in a lawsuit you did not defend; years after you did not monitor what was happening with a relative’s estate of which you are a beneficiary; after you settled on a piece of property and begin having major problems.

I would hope that most of my readers would have selected A. Yet in my experience, most people do not hire a lawyer until they have experienced problems in B or C. It is definitely easier to dig oneself out of a hole before one is too deep into the hole to do so.

I surmise it is human nature to wait to take action until a situation has reached crisis proportions. I will provide some examples of problems that clients could have avoided if they would have hired a lawyer at the beginning of their matter. Some of the facts of the matters have been changed, and the names are fictitious.

Example One

John Jones decided to place an offer on a house. The agreement of sale was drafted by a real estate agent who was a friend of John’s family. John decided to have us review the agreement of sale after he and the seller had already signed the agreement. Many people do not realize that a written document takes precedence over a verbal agreement, and even if the parties agree to change the agreement of sale, that agreement is often not valid until it is reduced to writing in a specific form. An exchange of e mails is not the necessary specific form.

We pointed out problems with the agreement because there was no limit on the amount of repairs John would have to pay for after he received his inspector’s report, it would have been John’s sole responsibility to pay for any citations the city would have issued prior to the sale, and the seller asked John to waive any disclosures he would otherwise been legally required to make.

Also, John owned 3 cats. John did not see the documents governing the homeowner’s association until after he signed the agreement, and those documents limited him to 2 cats. Although John was told he could move in with his 3 cats, restrictions were placed on him on whether the cats could remain if problems arose, and John was required to pay a deposit that had not been mentioned before. John has decided to cancel the deal and is waiting to see if there will be a problem with receiving a return of his deposit. If there is such a problem he may have to engage in an expensive mediation process.

Lesson: Always hire a lawyer at the beginning of a legal transaction.

Example Two

Debby Doe contacted us because she was told that she had 21 days (this is a federally mandated time period for employees over 40) in which to review a severance package after she was terminated from her employment. There were two parts to the agreement. Debby was told by her manager that if she signed the agreement the day she received it she would be considered for another position. However, Debby was not offered another position. Debby also suffered from some medical problems, of which her employer was aware, and became confused, upset and anxious when she learned she was being terminated. Debby retained us to secure a better severance package than the minimal package she was offered despite years of being a good employee, and because Debby was confused and intimidated and misled, she did not realize that she had signed both of the agreements, instead of one of them. We are now pursuing a discrimination action on behalf of Debby for lack of accommodation by her employer due to her medical condition, as well as not complying with giving Debby 21 days in which to consider the severance package.

Lesson: Do not let your employer bully or intimidate you into signing a severance package. Give yourself the legally allotted time to review the agreement, and have a lawyer review the agreement and either make suggestions to you as to whether changes are suggested, or try and negotiate a better package for you. Remember, that non-monetary changes are often just as important as monetary changes when considering these agreements.

Example Three

Bill Smith’s mother passed away in 2014.  She did not leave a will, but Bill agreed that his brother Jim could be named to administer their mother’s estate. Bill trusted Jim, and asked him every few months how things were progressing. Jim said things were fine, but there were many things that had to be done under the law, and that he would distribute Bill’s share of the assets as soon as their mother’s house was sold. In 2017 Bill became suspicious and checked some records at the courthouse. He learned that Jim had sold their mother’s house for $1 to Jim’s son, who in turn sold it to a third party for $100,000. Jim also confessed to Bill that he had spent $50,000 in their mother’s bank account on gambling, and had declared bankruptcy. Bill retained us, but by then very little could be done without extensive and expensive litigation which most likely would not have been fruitful.

Lesson: The law books are full of estate cases in which family members have taken advantage of each other. Greed unfortunately trumps kinship. It is wise to hire a lawyer at the earliest opportunity in estate cases and have that lawyer monitor what is happening and what should be happening. The law gives the administrator/executor of an estate broad discretion to act, and often spend the estate’s funds to defend themselves if they are accused of improprieties. It is preferable to hire a lawyer to monitor the situation, than spend many times that amount to sue an administrator whose fees are covered by estate resources.


1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized