Tuesday, August 25, 2009

New York City (NYC) Leads Country in Divorce Lawyer Searches Online

New York City (NYC) is the national leader for divorce lawyer searches online for August 2009.

Monday, August 24, 2009

New York City (NYC) Leads Country in Immigration Lawyer Searches Online

New York and New York City (NYC) passed Miami in August as the national leader for immigration lawyer searches online.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Consumer Bankruptcies Continue At Record Highs

According to the American Bankruptcy Institute, consumer bankruptcies show no sign of abating after rising more than a third this year and may hit 1.4 million by Dec. 31 as jobs are lost and loans are harder to get.

Rising Unemployment & Growing Debt Burdens

More than 126,000 consumers filed for bankruptcy in the U.S. last month, 34 percent more than in July 2008, the ABI said in its latest report on Aug. 4. The increase came after a 36.5 percent rise in personal bankruptcies nationwide in the first six months, to 675,351, according to the ABI research group, which interprets data collected by the National Bankruptcy Research Center.

“Rising unemployment on top of high pre-existing debt burdens is a formula for higher bankruptcies through the end of this year,” ABI Executive Director Samuel Gerdano said in a statement. The group, composed of lawyers, accountants, bankers and judges, is based in Alexandria, Virginia.

Even Celebrities Are Filing

Debt problems don’t stop with sub-prime borrowers. Celebrities who filed for bankruptcy in July included movie actor Stephen Baldwin, who sought protection from creditors after lenders began foreclosure procedures against his home. Lenny Dykstra filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in a petition that says the former Major League Baseball All-Star owes between $10 million and $50 million.

Commerical Banks Getting Hurt By Bankruptcy Filings

Also last month, con man lawyer Marc Dreier’s luxury Manhattan condominium sold for $8.2 million, 21 percent less than what he paid two years ago, in an auction at U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan. Proceeds will be used to pay creditors in Dreier’s bankruptcy case and victims of Dreier’s fraud, said Salvatore LaMonica, trustee in the Chapter 7 bankruptcy case.

Steeply rising filings by consumers are hurting commercial banks. JPMorgan Chase & Co., the second-largest U.S. bank, predicted more losses on consumer loans last month even as it announced a rise in second-quarter profit on record investment banking fees. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon said he doesn’t expect the credit card business to make a profit this year or in 2010, and the company increased its loss projections for prime and subprime mortgages.

Credit Card Losses Continue to Mount

JPMorgan said losses in its Chase credit-card portfolio may be 10 percent next quarter and will be “highly dependent” on unemployment after that. Losses for cards issued by Washington Mutual, which the bank acquired in September, may reach 24 percent by the end of the year, the company said.

JPMorgan’s credit cards lost $672 million, compared with income of $250 million in the second quarter last year. Home- equity charge-offs climbed to $1.3 billion, or 4.61 percent. Prime mortgage defaults rose to $481 million, or 3.07 percent, from $104 million, or 1.08 percent a year earlier.

Dimon, 53, said the company supported “proper consumer protection” and that pending legislation setting up an agency to monitor consumer lending practices would hurt short-term profits in credit cards.

Effects of the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act

Congress, in October 2005, enacted the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act, a legislative reform package intended to make it harder for consumers to get court orders wiping out their uncollateralized debt.

The act required debt counseling and a means test for would-be filers. If you are a bankruptcy attorney, how are these record numbers of filers finding you?

Source: Aug. 10 (Bloomberg) www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=acQvgRoLQmXQ

Long-Tail Searches (Multiple Word Searches) Are Increasing

I am frequently asked by law firms what types of words and phrases prospective clients use to find them. Of course, the answer has a lot to do with their respective practice areas and the common terms searched within them. Then there is the 40-50% of those non-repeatable searches that although less in volume, tend to be more case specific and therefore more valuable to law firms.

According to a report out this year by Hitwise, the number of these long-tail searches continue to increase while the more simple searches of 3 words or less, although still significant in total volume, continues to decline. In fact, searches with 8 or more words witnessed the largest year-over-year growth at 20%.

So how do law firms increase the chances of catching these searches? SEO Design and increased SEO content is usually the first place to start. In highly competitive markets, it is also helpful to improve your off-site SEO methods as well with such things as inbound linking, Google local optimization, etc.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Some Condo & Hotel Buyers Are Going To Court

Desperate to recoup money paid to acquire condominiums in hotels, buyers from California to Florida are trying to use the courts to get their money back, arguing that condo-hotel developers violated securities laws when selling the units.

A few years ago, condo-hotels seemed like a great idea. Hotel developers could offset construction costs by selling rooms to individual buyers, then share the rental income with the owners every time a room was booked. However, instead of the lucrative venture some buyers claim they were promised by developers, condo-hotels have turned out to be one of the worst investments in decades.

The industry is getting hit on two fronts: The condo crash has wiped out the value of many units, and the hotel bust means the rooms are being rented only infrequently and at much lower rates than anticipated.

Now, some buyers are arguing in court that purchasing a unit in a condo-hotel is similar to buying a stock, where the buyer is entirely reliant on the operational skills of management for any return. Therefore, they contend, the purchases should have been regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission, which would force companies to issue a detailed prospectus and have agents licensed to sell both real estate and securities, a rare combination.

"These were not simple real-estate purchases," said Jared Beck, an attorney in Miami who is working on dozens of suits against condo-hotel developers. "A hotel is a profit-making enterprise, and by purchasing a condo unit you are giving investment capital and you expect a return." Moreover, Mr. Beck said, "When you look through these marketing materials, there's no question that in the mind of a reasonable consumer you're going to think it's an investment."
But attorneys for developers say such cases represent little more than buyer's remorse.

"What we're seeing across this entire country are buyers who have signed contracts and now want to take the position that [the] contract doesn't exist. From a legal perspective, I find that highly problematic," said Alan Garten, assistant general counsel for the Trump Organization, a defendant in several such cases.

Dozens of cases are in lower courts. A wave of decisions over the next few years could determine whether the condo-hotel business model survives. Attorneys said that if the courts decide that condo-hotel purchases should be regulated, the condo-hotel model won't be viable.

Plaintiffs may have an uphill battle, however. Lower courts have shown little sympathy for buyers of regular condos who alleged similar violations of securities laws, blasting them for not reading purchase contracts closely enough. But Mr. Beck and other lawyers are undeterred. They argue that the revenue structure of condo-hotels clearly separates them from plain vanilla condos.

In 1973, the SEC released guidelines related to the purchase of condos that specified when such purchases are subject to securities law. If developers made claims about rental income, marketed a rental program without prompting or placed any limitations on occupying units, the purchase could be considered a security. The "smoking gun" is often a newspaper ad or marketing brochure, said Rob Webb, senior hospitality partner in the law firm Baker & Hostetler LLP in Orlando, Fla. "Quite frankly, the main exhibit to the complaint and the single piece of evidence that's most damaging is the developer's own sales brochures," Mr. Webb said.

The SEC elaborated on those rules in a nonbinding 2004 letter to Canadian developer Intrawest Corp. Plaintiffs in current suits allege that developers exceeded the guidelines set in that letter. An SEC spokesman said the commission wouldn't comment on cases it wasn't investigating and said he was unaware of any additional forthcoming guidance or regulation.
Buyers claim that even if developers didn't make such promises about rental income on paper or in marketing materials, they did verbally.

John Mansour, 67 years old, bought a unit for about $700,000 at a complex now known as the Signature at MGM Grand in Las Vegas. He said he told agents from the start that he intended to use the 30th-floor penthouse as an investment and was encouraged to do so, with promises of $600-a-night rents. Mr. Mansour, a resident of Los Angeles who also owns a regular condo in Las Vegas, said he explained to the developers that he had no intention or need to occupy the Signature unit.

"They said it was OK not to live there, 'we will rent it, you will make a lot of money on your investment.' " He expects his lender, Washington Mutual, to foreclose, although he is trying to arrange a short sale.

A class-action lawsuit filed against the project's developers is in arbitration. Steve Morris, a Las Vegas attorney representing MGM in the case, denied that the condo units were marketed as investments, and said contracts signed by all buyers specifically disclaimed that.

In at least one case, a buyer charges that a developer and lender hid the fact that condo-hotel units were being purchased as investments by changing the wording on loan documents.
Laurie McNulty, a 40-year-old pharmacist in Charleston, S.C., who is suing over her purchase of a nearly $700,000 unit in a condo-hotel in Clearwater, Fla., said that when she applied for a mortgage at First National Bank of Cape Coral, Fla., in 2004, she indicated that the condo was for an investment. However, the loan documents were changed to show that the loan was for a second home, a change she said she only discovered once she had hired an attorney.

In the lawsuit -- which was filed in federal court in Florida against the bank; Cay Clubs, the developers of the condo-hotel; and others -- she argued that because her unit "was marketed as primarily an 'investment' with a heavy emphasis on leaseback payments and expectation of a profit from the sale of the unit, the investment constituted an investment contract and therefore a 'security.' "

Cay Clubs, which left multiple properties unfinished in Florida and Nevada, has closed down and couldn't be reached to comment. Fifth Third Bancorp, which acquired First National Bank, wouldn't comment.

Learn more about how to market your law firm to condo buyers

Source: online.wsj.com/article/SB124943301400306393.html