bootstrap modal

Law Firm Blog

Driving down the highway, listening to the radio, concentrated on getting where you need to be, when all of the sudden, a cop car appears on your rear view mirror and its siren lights are on. You pull over to the shoulder of the road and the cop walks over to the side of your car and signals you to roll down the window. He tells you that you were going “a little bit fast.” Your first thought? “I didn’t even notice.” This is one of the most common traffic violations: a speeding ticket. But in reality traffic violations come in many forms: driving on the left lane, driving wrong way on one-way street, following too closely, improper passing, such as passing on the right or passing in a no-passing zone, crossing the yellow line, driving left of center, the list goes on and on.

Most of us have been in this situation at least once in our lifetime. The easiest thing to do after getting a ticket is to pay it and get it out of the way, or worse, ignore it hoping that it will somehow just disappear. However, if a ticket is simply paid off it will become a conviction, if it becomes a conviction, points will be added to your driving record. In Texas, this point system is called the Driver Responsibility Program (DRP). Points are applied for moving traffic violation convictions and remain on the driver record for three years. Two points are given for any moving violation and three points are given for violations resulting in a collision. If enough points are accumulated, it will result in the suspension of your driver’s license. Additionally, depending on the type of conviction, you may also be required to pay surcharges every year for three years. Useful information regarding the DRP and surcharges can be found at http://www.dps.texas.gov/internetforms/Forms/DL-103.pdf.

After getting a ticket there are several ways to prevent these points from accumulating in your driving record. Most of us know about the safety driving course. A defensive driving class that can either be taken online or on site and that, after completing it, the court agrees to dismiss the violation. However, defensive driving is NOT available for those who:

1. have taken the course to dismiss a traffic ticket within the past 12 months;

2. have a violation in excess of 25 MPH or more over the speed limit; or

3. have a commercial driver’s license (CDL).

Even if defensive driving is an option, many do not want to or simply do not have the time to complete this course by attending a 6 hour class or by setting aside time to complete the course online. So what can be done if you do not qualify for defensive driving or if you do not have the time to complete the course? You hire an attorney to handle your citation for you. An attorney will know how to get your ticket dismissed without you having to deal with the defensive driving course, plus you will not have to take a day off work to attend court yourself since the attorney will appear on your behalf.

Now, if a ticket is simply ignored, it will not magically disappear, in the contrary it will become an even bigger problem for you. In addition to having to take care of the original ticket, you will now also have to deal with a Failure to Appear (FTA) and a warrant. An FTA carries new fines that you will have to pay to the court in addition to the fines associated with the original violation, and a warrant, well a warrant, as we all know, has the power to get you arrested. Moreover, ignoring tickets will also place a hold on your driver’s license not allowing you to get it renewed. So, please, do not disregard traffic tickets, if anything, at least reach out to the court before the appearance date located at the bottom of the ticket and ask what your options are to take care of the infraction.

If you recently received a traffic citation or you are just trying to take care of old tickets that you have pending in Texas, please reach out to the Dorothy Butler Law Firm at 512-699-5632 or vanessa@dorothybutlerlawfirm.com.

It’s everyone’s favorite time of year again – tax preparation time. If you dislike doing taxes as much as most individuals do, why not let a professional do it? Dorothy Lawrence (formerly Butler) specializes in the preparation of tax returns for both individuals and businesses. We are more reasonable than the “big box” tax preparation places and have years more experience.

Most people don’t realize that the “professionals” at some of the tax preparation businesses have only a few hours of training in preparation of tax return. Every year, we get tax returns from individuals for different legal matters and in a matter of minutes, Dorothy finds mistakes either that cost the client money that could have been received in refunds or mistakes that cause the return to be amended to keep the client from committing fraud! Mistakes are regularly made in the classification of taxpayer filing status. The most common? People filing as head of household who are actually married. A head of household status can ONLY be claimed by a single person (single = unmarried) that care for another individual, whether that is a child, elderly relative, or someone else that does not claim themselves on a tax return. A married couple cannot file separate returns and allow one spouse to file as head of household.

Tax returns must be postmarked by 04/18/2017. We recommend sending your tax return registered mail so you have proof of the mailing date to the Internal Revenue Service. If you live in Texas and are getting a refund or do not owe, you will mail your tax return to:

Department of the Treasury

Internal Revenue Service

Austin, TX73301

If you live in Texas and owe taxes, you should mail your tax return to:

Internal Revenue Service

PO Box 1214

Charlotte, NC28201.

If you haven’t already started your 2016 tax return, contact us for assistance. We prepare federal and state tax returns annually for individuals all over the country. If you are self-employed, we will work with you to find the most deductions possible for your business. Texas Legal Protection Plan members can also use their member benefits to have their tax return prepared.

Dorothy Lawrence prepares hundreds of returns annually. She holds a Masters in Tax Law from the University of Denver, in addition to her law degree. Contact Dorothy Butler for assistance with your tax return at (512) 699-5632 or dorothy@dorothybutlerlawfirm.com. 

Why should I write a will? Why should I have an attorney draft my will—can’t I just write it on a napkin?

The importance of writing a last will and testament cannot be understated. People often assume that if they were to pass away, their estate would automatically pass to their spouse and/or children. Sure, that is sometimes the case. But in the absence of a will, the laws of Texas dictate whom a person’s estate passes to and in what percentages! So, one of the more important reasons to write a will is so that your estate passes to who YOU want it to go to—not who Texas law says it goes to. I often tell clients that writing a will is one of the greatest gifts you can give to your spouse and/or children. It’s an unfortunate fact that when money is involved, even the most cordial family members can disagree. Having a will ensures that your wishes are clearly stated and honored.

Having an attorney draft your will is extremely important and a worthwhile investment. First and foremost, attorneys know what language to put in a will! An experienced attorney knows how to craftfully draft a will so that your wishes are clearly stated and leave no room for error. Second, there are several, preferred formalities that a will should contain. Most notably, a Texas will should provide that the Executor of the estate serve independently and without bond. And, don’t forget about those witnesses! A valid will in Texas needs to be witnessed by two disinterested people.

If you or a loved one are in need of an experienced estate planning attorney to help draft your will or other estate planning documents, please reach out to our team. We would love to work with you and your family. Eric Nelson can be reached at eric@dorothybutlerlawfirm.com

There is a place where first impressions are more crucially important than at a job interview, a first date, or meeting your future in-laws for the first time: inside the courtroom.

Lately I have been surprised and disappointed by the indiscretion of people's clothing choices inside the courtroom. Lawyers, jurors, and witnesses are also offenders. Some days I can't tell if I'm in court or a People of Walmart video shoot (no offense to Walmart).

I am not someone who judges others by their outward appearance or what they are wearing. Just last week I dropped my child off at school still in my pajamas, and picked her up in sweaty workout clothes. (I do that more than I should, and I practically live in yoga pants) I like to think I am open minded and free of bias, after all, I'm not a judge or juror. So I'm happy to argue that you are a great person or outstanding citizen regardless of how many visible tattoos and piercings you have. However, like I said earlier, I'm not a judge. I'm not the one who is going to be making a very important decision about your life based on very little information. Part of that information is your appearance in the courtroom. Keep in mind that your judge is going to be older and more conservative than you are. While you don’t think the diamond stud in your nose or the tattoo on your neck is a big deal, your judge might. In a perfect world, how you are dressed or what you look like shouldn’t matter. You should win or lose your case based on facts and the law. But, guess what? The world isn’t perfect, and neither is your judge.

So, with that in mind, here are my top ten suggestions on how to NOT dress when you have any type of court appearance in front of a judge:

1. There are no gyms or workout equipment in the courthouse!

You love to workout and you care about your health, good for you! You should not show up for court in workout attire. Ladies, leave the yoga pants at home. Leggings and spandex are not appropriate and do not belong in a courtroom. Men, no sweat pants or basketball shorts. Also, this isn't the gun show, you do not have the right to show your "guns" in court. Please do not wear shirts with the arms cut off. No sneakers or athletic shoes, ever!

2. You are not going to a sporting event!

Jerseys or any attire showcasing your favorite team are not appropriate for court. Your judge might be a longhorn fan, but he is not going to be a fan of you sporting your UT Longhorn football jersey in his courtroom. This includes baseball caps, leave them home with the jerseys.

3. It's not a pajama party!

You are not going to a sleepover. The judge will not be asking you for suggestions on face masks and night creams, there will be no braiding each other's hair. Do not show up at court looking like you just got out of bed. So no pajamas, no rollers in your hair, no lounge wear.

4. No, you can not wear jeans to court!

It doesn't matter how nice you think your rhinestone bedazzled jeans are. You are not attending a rodeo, you are going before a judge. Unless your courtroom appearance is in cowboy court in a rustic, backwoods, middle-of-nowhere courthouse, jeans are a no no.

5. You are not going out for a night at the club or a party!

You are going to court, not a singles bar. No low cut or crop tops. No sequins, no see through lace, no glitzy or flashy attire. Looking too flashy can hurt your credibility and judges do not like short skirts. Do not wear skirts and dresses so short that you need a Brazilian wax before wearing them. Do not wear too much jewelry or heavy cologne/perfume.

6. No one wants to see your toes!

Unless you are going to the beach or the pool, you should leave the flip flops at home! Open-toed shoes are not appropriate, nor are they allowed in a courtroom. This goes for open toe sandals as well.

7. You are not auditioning for Duck Dynasty or joining the lumberjack club!

Men, you don't have to be clean-shaven, but you should definitely look groomed. If you have a beard trim it up. You should avoid having stubble. It would probably also be best to avoid any extra-ordinary facial hair, such as super-long beards and crazy mustaches.

8. Don't let your face set off the metal detector!

Ok, we live in Austin, I understand that piercings are your way of expressing who you are, but it's not going to kill you to take them out temporarily for a court appearance. One earring in each ear for women is fine. Men should NOT wear any earrings or other facial jewelry. So the nose ring, the lip ring, the eyebrow piercing – they all have to go. I have no advice for gauged ear piercings. Whether you leave them in or take them out, it’s going to look odd. Just try to style your hair so your ears don’t show, I guess.

9. Tattoos, cover them!!

This one should be a no-brainer right? However I'm constantly seeing neck and face tattoos that can easily be covered. If you have tattoos that are gang related, you definitely want them covered. Wear a scarf, use makeup, bridal shops sell flesh-colored patches to cover tattoos.

10. Court isn't a rock concert!

T-shirts, NO, just no! No band t-shirts, no tie dye, no t-shirts with writing on them! No solid color t-shirts, no t-shirts with pictures. I don't care if you ironed it and it's nice and crisp, it's a T-SHIRT!!

What you SHOULD WEAR to court:

For Men:

• if you have a suit and tie, that is always preferable

• dress slacks

• blazer/sport coat (if you have one) and a tie

• a collared shirt, tucked in, with a belt

• make sure you are well-groomed

(If you have long hair, please pull it back)

For Women:

• a dress or skirt with a conservative top

• dress pants or pantsuit

• light makeup

• modest jewelry

• make sure you are well-groomed

• please do not wear anything that reveals your bra straps

This list is just my opinion. If you are going to court you should ask your lawyer how he/she thinks you should dress. The lawyers at Dorothy Butler Law Firm counsel their clients on how to make the best impression in court, including how to dress and present themselves. 

Shannon Strong of the Dorothy Butler Law Firm 

Shannon Strong is a Real Estate Attorney that is a native Austinite. She is familiar with Hays, Travis and Williamson Counties. Ms. Strong has lived in San Antonio, as well, where she has presented property tax appeals before the Bexar County Appraisal Board. She has successfully appealed a large number of assessments in the Central Texas Region.

All property is taxed as of January 1st which marks the beginning of the appraisal process across Texas! May 31st is deadline to file appeals (or 30 days after receiving notice).

Reasons to hire an experienced professional:

1) A Real Estate Attorney is familiar with the process, evidence requirements and deadlines associated with the Appraisal Districts;

2) A Real Estate attorney is well-versed in the variables used by the appraisers in placing a value on your property and can make an educated argument that includes supporting documentary evidence. In doing this, your attorney will explain why the assessment should be reduced. A non-exclusive list of the type of documentary evidence that the attorney can help you gather include: comparable properties (comps) from a licensed professional, any receipts reflecting large repairs that your home may need, any closing documents related to the purchase of your home, photos of the home if useful (noting the condition and/or age of your home), and any other relevant information that may be useful in appraising the actual value of your home (such as conditions that may affect your value that the board may not be aware of);

3) Being “armed” with a comprehensive knowledge of your home, your lot size and hiring a professional to document it in a well-organized file for the three members of the appeals review board in a succinct, knowledgeable presentation is likely to increase your chances of success.

4) You, the client, do not have to spend your time attending either the crowded initial informal hearing or the formal appeals hearing when you have a representative negotiating on your behalf;

5) Once you have hired a representative and they have become familiar with your property, you can hire them annually to consistently attempt to stabilize the appreciation of your home's value from being affected from market booms that cause home prices to sky rocket unreasonably; and finally

6) Leave the worry and stress to a knowledgeable real estate professional while establishing a trusted relationship that can potentially reduce your property taxes over the years.

My heart is back home in Louisiana and I am devastated by the flooding, so many of my friends have lost their homes.


Here is some information about the relief offered by the IRS by the way of tax filing extensions. If any friends back home need help with any of these documents, please contact us - those affected by the flooding will be assisted at no cost.


In response to the severe weather, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has announced that Louisiana storm victims will have until January 17, 2017, to file certain tax returns and make certain tax payments. Additionally, all workers assisting the relief activities who are affiliated with a recognized government or philanthropic organization qualify for relief.

Read more @ forbes.com



Flood Insurance & FEMA Tips:

Download an app or use a camera that has a time/date stamp on all photos

Take a picture of your street sign

Take a picture of your numerical address

Take pictures of water lines on all four sides of the house

If you video, DO NOT TALK

Get pictures of all damage

If you remove damaged floors, leave at least one piece still down to prove quality for replacement costs

When removing carpet, put it in a pile with a person beside it for reference in the photo

Leave a small amount of sheet rock up to show the water line inside of the house

Make sure you have photocopies of anything you give FEMA (they might lose some documentation)

It’s everyone’s favorite time of year again – tax preparation time. If you dislike doing taxes as much as most individuals do, why not let a professional do it? Dorothy Lawrence (formerly Butler) specializes in the preparation of tax returns for both individuals and businesses. We are more reasonable than the “big box” tax preparation places and have years more experience.

If you own a business or have ever thought about going down that road, intellectual property is an important issue that you need to consider. Depending on the type of business, you may need trademarks, copyrights, patents, or all of the above. Here are a few basic tips for these issues:

Trademarks:

What is a trademark?

A trademark is a group of words and/or symbols identify your business, usually the company name, slogan and logo. Once registered, your trademark is federally protected and you can take enforcement action against anyone who tries to use the same words and/or symbols. You can also apply to register the trademark internationally and enforce it in each country where it is registered. Trademarks can be registered nationwide through the US Patent and Trademark Office and statewide through the Texas Secretary of State.

Is a d/b/a the same thing as a trademark?

No! A “D/b/a” filing (doing business as) just lets the local government know that you are doing business under that name. It does not offer any protection of that name, and anyone who owns a registered trademark to that same name would win an infringement dispute.

Should I apply for a trademark?

If you are already using or planning to use a particular name and/or design in your business, yes. You want to be certain that no one else can steal your name or design, and likewise, you don’t want to get in trouble by using the same name or design as someone else. Be sure to do an online search via the US Patent and Trademark Office and Secretary of State websites before choosing a business name and purchasing marketing materials. You will also want to search the local Secretary of State’s website for conflicting business names. However, a registered trademark will trump someone who has merely filed entity formation papers such as an LLC or Corporation with the state and has not registered that name for a federal trademark.

When should I apply for a trademark?

Apply for a trademark as soon as you decide which words to use (company or product name, slogan, etc) and/or have a finished logo design. Trademarks are approved on a first-to-file basis, depending on the date of your application, so apply as soon as possible.

Should I reserve the company name by itself, the logo, or both?

Both! You can apply to reserve only words with no design element, and you can also apply to reserve a design (your logo) along with the company name or other applicable wording. By applying to reserve only the company name without the logo, you will be able to enforce the registered trademark against anyone who simply uses that name. Registering the design is definitely recommended; however, it protects that specific logo and the odds that someone would try to use that exact design are less likely than the attempted use of your company name. If finances are limited and you need to choose, then apply to reserve the name first.

Copyrights:

A copyright provides protection of original works of authorship such as book, song, movie, blog entry, etc. Like trademarks, copyrights are approved on a first-to-file basis, and are done through the US Copyright Office. Your copyright protects the content of the work, not the title; however, you can apply to register the title as a trademark. If you are producing works in a series, you can apply to register them as a group. Also, if you have reason to believe that someone will try to copy your work before it is complete, you can apply to pre-register it. Once the work is complete, then you will still have to submit a copyright application.

Patents:

Patents protect original ideas for inventions that include processes, designs, and other related elements. For example, if you create a new method to extract salt from ocean water, then a patent would prevent anyone else from stealing that particular method. If you want to apply for a patent, then seek out a patent attorney. This is a very specialized field and tedious process; you will want to make sure that the application is done properly from the beginning so you can enjoy the rights that it grants once approved.

Deciding to get divorced is often a scary and daunting decision, and those choosing to file for divorce often have questions regarding the legal process and what to expect throughout it.

In order to, hopefully, quell some anxiety and make the process easier for people considering divorce, I have gathered some frequently asked questions by prospective clients.

1. How long do I have to wait for my divorce to be finalized?

This is a question I get asked very often, although it’s easy to Google and find the answer. Here in Texas, a divorce cannot be finalized until 60 days after the original petition is filed. While 60 days is the bare minimum parties must wait to finalize their divorce, in most cases, parties are hardly divorced at the 60-day mark. Realistically, it simply takes longer than 60 days for parties to figure out how they are going to resolve the issues in their divorce. This is especially true in cases where one party has little to no knowledge of the couple’s finances. So, it behooves you to realize that although your divorce can be finalized in 60 days, it might take longer than that.

 

2. Do I have to be married in Texas to file for divorce here? How long do I have to live

in Texas to file for divorce?

You do not have to be married in Texas to file for divorce here; you just have to meet the residency requirements. The party filing for divorce must be domiciled in Texas for the preceding 6-months. The party must also be a resident of the county where the divorce is filed for the preceding 90 days.

 

3. Can I kick my husband/wife out of the house after filing for divorce?

Yes and no.

If you fear for your safety or the safety of your children, you can definitely file for a protective order and get your spouse out of the house without going in front of a judge. If that is not the case, you can request a temporary hearing where the judge will grant one party the exclusive use of the residence, but be careful, it might not be you!

4. Is my divorce contested or uncontested?

This is actually a question I ask my prospective clients, but I believe there is often confusion about what a contested versus uncontested divorce is. Many clients mistakenly tell me that their divorce is uncontested because they are not opposed to the divorce itself. However, they are still arguing about custody, property division, or debt division.

For clarification, an uncontested divorce is one where both parties are basically in agreement, but they need a lawyer to draft up legal documents and maybe hash out a few odds and ends. Therefore, even if you and your spouse agree that you want to get divorced, but can’t decide how split up your assets, it becomes contested.

5. Do I have to go to court?

It depends. If you and your spouse are able to come to an agreement regarding your assets, debts, and custody of your children, you will only have to go to court once to prove up your divorce in front of the judge. If this is the case, only one party has to go, as long as the other one signs the final divorce decree. If you are not able to come to an agreement at mediation or informally, a final trial is likely.

Hopefully these FAQs answer some of your questions about the divorce process, and calms some nerves about what you are facing moving forward. If you have more questions, feel free to contact us so we can help you along in your process.

On June 29, 2012, actress Katie Holmes filed for divorce from Tom Cruise. The filing came as a shock to the Mission Impossible actor and the rest of world. Less than a week later, however, the two high profile actors signed a divorce settlement and the case was over before it started. Why? Holmes reportedly hired three law firms in three states and spent over a year preparing to file.

There’s no need to retain three different firms if you’re contemplating divorce, but what many people do not know is that preparation is key. If you are expecting to file, here are a couple things you should consider when preparing for divorce:

Finances

Do you have records of all of your bank accounts? Retirement funds? Investment records? Insurance records? Things may go missing once you file. You should be able to give your attorney a picture of what your financial situation looked like before you filed. Make copies of everything and organize it. Take pictures as well. Most importantly, keep all of these records in a safe, but easily accessible place. This will save you a lot of time and money in the long run.

Social Media

Do you have a Facebook account? Instagram? Twitter? Consider changing the privacy settings so that your account is private. Consider deactivating while your case is open. You never know what may be uncovered.

P.O. Box

If you are preparing for a divorce, it may be difficult to intercept correspondence from your attorney before your spouse sees the mail. The Postal Service allows you—for as little as $5 a month—to reserve a Post Office Box.

Credit Report

The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires each of the nationwide credit reporting companies — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — to provide you with a free copy of your credit report, at your request, once every 12 months. The report will include information on your bills, loans, where you have lived, etc. Read the entire report before you speak with your attorney and ensure that there is nothing out of the ordinary. We can also run a more comprehensive credit report in house if you would like to review your credit report with an attorney.

Budget

Divorces are expensive. But most importantly, you will be supporting your own household individually, instead of with your spouse. Create a budget and put money away for the process of divorce itself and the months to follow.

Estate Plan

If you are planning on getting a divorce, it is a good time to dust off your old estate plan and revise it for the future. If you do not have an estate plan in place, consider hiring an attorney to put one together for you. Make sure to change the beneficiaries for any of your life insurance plans as well.

If you are contemplating divorce, feel free to contact us. We can help you prepare for the divorce process and also revisit your estate plan.

If you are planning on getting a divorce, it is a good time to dust off your old estate plan and revise it for the future. If you do not have an estate plan in place, consider hiring an attorney to put one together for you. Make sure to change the beneficiaries for any of your life insurance plans as well.

If you are contemplating divorce, feel free to contact us. We can help you prepare for the divorce process and also revisit your estate plan.