Court-Appointed Ad Litem: Are They Helpful?

holdinghandsA court appointed ad litem (often referred to as guardian ad litem in Raleigh) refers to a court-appointed advocate for children involved in court proceedings.  These guardian ad litem volunteers represent the best interests of the child and will give the court the best recommendations for the child regarding custody disputes and child support based on prior communications with the child.

Appointment of an Ad Litem

Throughout North Carolina, more than 1,500 abused and neglected children go to court without an advocate.  This means that there is no one to stand up for their rights and speak for their best interests.  North Carolina initiated the guardian ad litem program in 1983, and completed the 1983 mandate to have a program in each judicial district in 1994.

Guardian ad litem programs rely heavily on volunteers, and 2010 saw the milestone of over 5,000 volunteers advocating for the interests of children throughout North Carolina.

Responsibilities & Duties of an Ad Litem

A guardian ad litem is a community volunteer who is appointed (along with an attorney) by a district judge to investigate into the best interests of abused and neglected children.  Guardian ad litem volunteers must spend a lot of one-on-one time with the child in order to fully understand what is best for the child and take this information to advocate for the child.  Their duties also include interviewing adults who the child has regular contact with, such as teachers and family members.  A guardian ad litem must additionally get in contact with the attorney advocate in order to help develop a strategy that works for the child’s case.

Guardian ad litem advocates spend around 8 hours a month on each case, with cases typically taking around a year to resolve.  While guardian ad litem volunteers have specific duties they must fulfill over the course of their case, there are several duties they must specifically not involve themselves in, such as acting as a mediator during a case or seeking to enforce a court order.

Benefits of Ad Litem

A guardian ad litem provides a voice to children who otherwise would not be able to speak for themselves during difficult court proceedings.  Children often fall through the cracks in major urban centers, such as Raleigh, which can result in child placement with relatives who do not have the best interests of the child in mind.  Abused and neglected children often feel as though the court system does not care about them and will be afraid to speak to an attorney or judge about their situation.  A guardian ad litem spends months building up confidence with the child and interacting with the child through a variety of activities.  Therefore, a guardian ad litem will know how to best approach a situation and will understand what needs to be done during court proceedings to best protect the child.

Overall, court appointed ad litem volunteers offer a unique perspective into family law cases.  They are not lawyers and are often ordinary individuals in the community with average jobs who simply want to be a part of changing a child’s life for the better.  A guardian ad litem has this ability to stand up for a child who other people will overlook.

About the Author:

Andrew Miller is a passionate member of the End Ecocide movement, an avid legal blogger and Environmental Law Student. He has worked in marketing for over a decade and finds his passion in bringing concepts to life. As a Socialpreneur, he is an agent for positive social change through both his writing on Legalnews.tv and through his business endeavors.  This post was sponsored by:
The Reeves Law Group 515 South Flower Street, 36th Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90071. (213) 271-9318 Website

Bag the “Ag Gag” Bills

Cow-in-penYou’ve probably seen the shocking videos of de-beaked chickens shoved thirty to a cage at a factory farm, or rats running rampant at a food processing plant. Such things are upsetting to see- but as a member of the public, you have a right to know how your food is produced, and to be informed if cruel, illegal or unsanitary conditions exist in food production operations- right? Not according to the agricultural industry. These are the type of problems and practices that large agri-businesses hope to prevent the public from knowing about-by introducing the so-called “ag-gag” bills.

“Ag Gag” Bills Would Silence the Whistleblowers

Ag gag” is the popular term for agri-business sponsored bills, which, if enacted into law, prevent agricultural employees from exposing any cruel, illegal or unsanitary practices of their employers (basically, the types of disclosures often described as “whistleblowing”).

The ag-gag bills (sometimes called “anti-whistleblowing” bills) restrict employees from releasing information by making it illegal to take unauthorized photos or videos of a factory farm, preventing investigators from working at factory farms, and requiring that mandatory reporting of abuses at factory farms be made within short, impractical timelines (resulting in the inability to document any pattern of abuse).

Ag-gag bills are a blatant effort by large agri-businesses to shield themselves from the consequences of poorly run operations. By passing the bills, big-ag companies hope to protect themselves from lawsuits and liability that might result if a whistleblower informs the public of any potentially unsafe, unsanitary, cruel or illegal practices in their operations.

The Importance of Whistleblowers

Historically, employees working in agri-business have played an important part in disclosing unacceptable (for example, illegal, cruel, unsafe and unsanitary) conditions at factory farms. For example, through videos and exposés released by whistleblowers employed in factory farms and meat processing plants, the public has learned about animal abuse and cruelty in violation of federal animal-care laws, as well as unsanitary conditions and other violations of USDA laws that endanger food safety. This type of information has led to a number of criminal convictions, factory closures and food recalls. For example, in 2008, after a whistleblower released an undercover video showing a California meatpacking company allowing sick cows enter the meat supply, the USDA ordered 143 million pounds of beef recalled; the largest meat recall in U.S. history.

Agri-Business Industry’s Reaction

You might think that the rational response of the agri-business industry to whistleblowers’ revelations would be to tighten internal regulations, and self-monitor to prevent abuses. Instead, their reaction (by supporting the ag-gag bills) has been to try to keep the status quo in their operations, while taking away the “whistles” from their employees. The agricultural industry seems to have adopted a strategy of silencing employees, so the public won’t find out about the sometimes abhorrent conditions in their factories and plants. Perhaps they’re thinking “what they don’t know can’t hurt them!” While that might not be true for the public (certainly tainted meat can hurt us!), this approach does hurt the big-ag industry’s pocketbooks less, since silencing employees is cheaper than making any operational changes.

The Importance of Opposing Ag-Gag Bills.

The agricultural industry has introduced ag-gag bills in many states. Although the details of the bills vary, their impact is the same: protecting the agricultural industry at the expense of the public’s right to know. Due to public opposition and activism, thankfully, many of the bills have failed to pass into law. To help ensure a safe, well regulated food supply, the public needs to keep pushing for even more access to information about where there food comes from and how it’s produced, not less.

About the Author:

Andrew Miller is a passionate member of the End Ecocide movement, an avid legal blogger and Environmental Law Student. He has worked in marketing for over a decade and finds his passion in bringing concepts to life. As a Socialpreneur, he is an agent for positive social change through both his writing on Legalnews.tv and through his business endeavors.

How Your Solicitor Can Help You

solicitorsA solicitor can be employed in a number of different ways throughout our lives. Without seeking the proper guidance of one, legal disputes can be extremely difficult to come through unscathed. Solicitors can discuss your permissible legal options, converse with the opposing party and also represent you in court.

There are numerous cases for which a solicitor can be called upon, from minor personal disputes up to big corporate takeover deals. However, for the average person in the UK the most likely reasons for hiring one include:

Buying or selling a house

When it comes to property, the term ‘conveyancing’ is used to refer to minefield of legal and administrative work associated with transferring property from one person to another. A solicitor, or special licensed conveyer, will draw up all the relevant contracts involved with buying or selling a house, taking the potential stress away your end. Although they will charge for their services, without their experience and legal input the chances of something going wrong will increase. Some sellers may even reject a bid if there is no legal representative involved in the deal.

Getting a divorce

Divorces can get messy, especially if one party is not willing to cooperate or listen to reasonable demands. There can be a number of factors to consider on both sides, such as property, possessions, children, childcare payments, vehicles and pets. You also need to be clued up on how the divorce will affect and benefits and tax credits you have. If a legal battle ensues, solicitors will be able to provide the best council over some crucial decisions.

Drawing up a will

Although it is possible to draw up a will without professional advice as a way to save money this can have detrimental effects on your loved ones once you are gone. Even minor details missed by a poorly worded, neglectful or injudicious will can end up costing your family in the long run. A professional legal advisor will make sure that your wishes are carried out properly after your death and also give advice on possible tax loopholes.

Seeking personal injury compensation

An abundance of TV, radio, internet and newspaper adverts informing us of how compensation can be claimed from an injury that wasn’t your fault have crept into society recently. Teams of specialist lawyers who are trained in personal injury claims are on hand to take your case in respect to accidents that could have been avoided. The most circumstances will involve accidents in the workplace, on the road or in privately owned buildings.

Starting up your own business

Business solicitors are crucial when it comes to sorting the important, and often tedious, legal aspects of your company. From the initial start-up to an unfortunate winding down and everything in between, a professional solicitor can assist even the smallest of matters that can save you a lot of hassle and money in the long run. If your business is faced with a lawsuit, then having an established solicitor in place to provide legal representation is also very beneficial.

Solicitors are an unfortunate necessity for many of us at some points in our lives. There are numerous reasons why we might need one, either for simple legal advice or to represent us in court. When coming to appoint one, take your time and commit to a good deal of research beforehand.

Wait, July already happened? It’s August, really?!

I know I’ll regret saying this later, but I’m pretty excited summer’s just about over. August means cooler weather, the beautiful New England foliage is just weeks away and college football season is about to kick-off (Go Big Red!). More importantly, I’m so excited to start my last year of law school. It’ll be great to go back to a routine, visit again with school friends who have been busy researching, writing, wining and dining at their summer jobs, and begin planning the rest of my life as a (hopefully) budding lawyer.

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As I begin my 3rd year of this incredible journey, many new law students will just be getting started. Unfortunately, the law student experience is not as comforting or exciting as it used to be. With the high (and growing) unemployment rate, job prospects for law students are not the greatest. But that doesn’t mean going to law school is a bad idea. We’re a smart, problem-solving, critical-thinking bunch. For those willing to go beyond the everyday law student experience and take a bold and innovative approach, the opportunities are out there.

Shifting the Way We Approach Our Legal Education

For the fresh bunch of hopeful lawyers entering this three-year journey (or labyrinth, depending on your view), I thought I’d share my first-hand perspective on starting out in law school.

Grades Matter

I will say this now but won’t dwell on it: grades are really important. Your first priority is your coursework and the grades that go with it. In this difficult legal market, employers of all shapes and sizes are looking for quick ways to sort through piles of applicants. For better or worse, GPA and class rank are the first things they all look at.

But Don’t Forget Everything Else

You can’t stop with grades. Far too many 1Ls seem to make that mistake. I’ve learned that legal education does not stop on the last page of Calamari and Perillo on Contracts. Reading a case and communicating the facts, holding and reasoning to someone a million times smarter than you is great, but it has little application in legal practice.

Involvement and Initiative: Thriving in Today’s Legal Market

My humble advice? This resonated with me in undergrad when I first heard it, and still rings true today: Engage. Connect. Balance.

Get involved with your school and community through extracurricular activities, internships and practical opportunities. Network with your law school’s alumni and area attorneys to develop mentors and future colleagues.Balance your time and priorities. Spend time not only hitting the books, but also developing the practical legal skills that will make you a more effective advocate right away. If you really want to stand out, work to demonstrate that you have the practical experience to dive right in once you land a job.

Develop and demonstrate your leadership, teamwork and time-management skills by becoming a leader in student and community organizations. Hone your skills by joining a moot court team or participating in other competitions, like mock trial practice, where you regularly have to stand up in front of peers, professors, law practitioners or judges. Continually work on your legal research and writing skills by joining a journal or law review, or finding legal internships or clerkships during the academic year to supplement your coursework.

The best way to show employers you’re ready to be a lawyer is to start doing the things that lawyers do every day: lead, collaborate, advocate, research, write, multi-task and budget your time.

You Only Law Once

So for all the incoming ILs planning to bury your face in the books for the next three years of your life, think bigger and better. In closing, I’ll leave you with my own spin on a phrase all of us have heard too many times: YOLO. You Only Law Once.

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(images CC via Flickr courtesy of : Nietnagel and Fahim Fadzlishah)

 

Author Bio: Sammy Nabulsi is a third-year law student at Suffolk University Law School and is currently a Legal Marketing and Interaction Intern for Mootus.com, a forum that helps law students and lawyers at all levels build reputation and knowledge through competitive, collaborative legal argument.

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