This post is part of our ongoing series translating the lawyer-gibberish of Pennsylvania lawsuits into something understandable. For the definitions of the terms in bold check out the post that launched this series. A list of the all of the posts in the series is at the tail end of this article.

So it’s time to go to the Court of Common Pleas. Whether you tried other steps first or elected to start here, today we walk through how the parties to a lawsuit lay the groundwork for their claims and defenses.

Complaint, Answer, and Reply

Both the Plaintiff and the Defendant in a lawsuit describe their claims and defenses, respectively, in documents called “pleadings.” This is just legalese for a type of court filing that describes in broad strokes what the parties’ positions will be. If all goes smoothly, you can expect this process:

  1. Filing the Complaint – The Plaintiff starts by filing a Complaint. The Complaint needs to outline the basic facts of the dispute and what the Plaintiff wants to get.
  2. Serving the Complaint -The Plaintiff serves the Complaint on the Defendant. In general, this must be done by having someone from the Sheriff’s Office hand deliver a copy of the Complaint.
  3. Checking for a Default – The Defendant must respond to the Complaint within 20 days of having a copy delivered to him or her. If he or she does not, the Plaintiff can send a warning called a “Notice of Default.” If the Defendant still does not respond, 10 days after sending the Notice of Default the Plaintiff can request a Default Judgment.
  4. Answering the Complaint – The Defendant responds to each of the numbered paragraphs in the Complaint in a document called an Answer. So paragraph 1 of the Answer responds to paragraph 1 of the Complaint, and so on.
  5. Raising New Issues – The Answer may also contain two types of statements beyond the responses to the Complaint. The first is called “New Matter,” which are new facts the Defendant thinks are important but that the Plaintiff left out. New Matter can also contain certain types of legal defenses. The second type is “Counterclaims,” which are legal claims back against the Plaintiff. Counterclaims are claims that could have been raised by the Defendant in a Complaint. But instead of having two lawsuits going at the same time, both sides’ claims are handled at once.
  6. Responding to the New Issues – If the Defendant’s Answer has New Matter or Counterclaims, the Plaintiff files his or her own response to those new statements. This responsive document is called a Reply to differentiate it from the Defendant’s

Continue Reading Explaining PA Lawsuits Using Plain Language (Part III) – Pleading (Not the 5th)

This post is part of our ongoing series translating the lawyer-gibberish of Pennsylvania lawsuits into something understandable. For the definitions of the terms in bold check out the post that launched this series. A list of all the posts in the series is at the tail end of this article.

The litigation process often begins before actual litigation.

Wait, what?

I mean that disputes often involve exchanges before we get in front of the court system you see on TV, i.e. the Court of Common Pleas here in Pennsylvania. Today let’s look at the common things that can happen before we get to the courthouse.

The Demand Letter – Kicking it Off

Many lawsuits start with a lawyer demanding action in a letter. Commonly known as a demand letter, this document is often a final effort by a Plaintiff to resolve a dispute out of court. While this letter doesn’t start a court case, it may indicate that the Plaintiff is serious and is ready to sue. Or maybe the Plaintiff is only willing to pay for a letter, not to actually take you to court.

How can you tell? Unfortunately, there is no one-size fits all answer to this question. It depends on what’s at stake, how strong the legal claims are, and the personality of those involved. Sometimes a dispute can be settled at this stage if both parties want to avoid taking the matter before a court, or it may be necessary to proceed to the next step of litigation.  So when you receive a demand letter, it may be time to talk with your own lawyer to plan a strategy (even if that strategy is to wait and see what happens). Continue Reading Explaining PA Lawsuits Using Plain Language (Part II) – Let’s Get It Started

As a lawyer, I have a love/hate relationship with television shows and movies that portray the legal profession. On one hand, I enjoy watching a romanticized and dramatized version of the practice of law. If I’m being honest, I thought that’s what being a lawyer would be like before I went to law school. On the other hand, I am often frustrated by the unrealistic portrayals of the legal process and the expectations that creates for clients. Although TV shows like Law and Order make it seem like you can commit a crime, go to trial, and be acquitted in spectacular fashion in less than 10 days, in real life, it takes a whole lot longer and is usually much less dramatic.

So when the Lancaster Bar Association advertised a continuing education class called “Ethics, Trial Practice, Two Yoots and One Cousin Vinny,” I was cautiously intrigued. My husband, also a lawyer (yes, our dinner table conversations are as contentious as you are imagining), and I, along with about 50 other attorneys, including RKG’s own all-star litigator Brandon Harter, showed up one evening last week to the sold out event at the Bar Association to see what it was all about. Continue Reading My Cousin Vinny – Lessons on Attorney Competence and the Correct Pronunciation of “Youths”

Last week, I had the honor and privilege of being admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the United States. The trip is organized on an annual basis by the Lancaster Bar Association. Since we were allowed one guest, I invited my mom to attend with me.

The admission ceremony occurred prior to two oral arguments before Court. After going through security to enter the building and spending some time in a conference room waiting for the next step, we were ushered into the Courtroom. My first reaction was surprise at how small the Courtroom actually is. This was immediately followed by nervousness – I was sitting about 15 feet from the bench where the nine justices of the Supreme Court would soon be seated. Continue Reading A Trip to the Supreme Court of the United States

When you think of a document drafted by an attorney, what do you expect? Crisp, clean prose that conveys its meaning in as few words as possible? Probably not. Large walls of incomprehensible text that no one (maybe not even the lawyer) has read carefully? Sounds more like it.

In the legal profession we refer to these regularly used blocks of text as “boilerplate” language (although boilerplate can also refer to blocks of frequently used computer code). The term boilerplate comes from the similarity between the curved steel used to make boilers and the curved plates that printed newspapers in the early 1900s. Boilerplate legal language often covers repeatedly used topics like the court where disputes will be resolved  or indicating that an agreement may be signed electronically. Continue Reading Boilerplate Language – What is it Good For? (Absolutely somethin’?)

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently issued an updated version of its Endorsement Guides, which includes important information about the FTC’s current thoughts on when and how material connections between brands and endorsers should be disclosed.

In yesterday’s post, I discussed some background information about the theory behind FTC rules and endorsements and summarized some of the key points from the FTC’s guidance on when disclosures should be made. Below is a discussion of a few key points from the Endorsement Guides about how disclosures should be made online. Continue Reading Marketers and Influencers: How Should You Make Disclosures Online?

For entrepreneurs in states that permit state equity crowdfunding, effective today, a change in federal rules will allow those states to allow entrepreneurs to use social media to solicit out of state residents to raise money for their business ventures. This article posted on LancasterOnline describes the impact of the law change on businesses raising money pursuant to state crowdfunding laws: Law change could boost little-used state crowdfunding laws.

Previously, social media solicitation was prohibited. The revised rules are 17 CFR Sections 230.147 and 230.147A and can be found at the Securities and Exchange Commission’s website.

Pennsylvania does not currently have a state crowdfunding law, but Pennsylvania residents and businesses could be impacted by this change if they are solicited by out of state companies raising capital for their ventures. Since May 2016, Pennsylvania businesses may utilize federal crowdfunding laws to offer equity in their companies. Continue Reading Federal Rule Changes Impacting Equity Crowdfunding and Social Media Use Go Into Effect Today

This is Part 1 of a series of posts analyzing the legal issues in the hit podcast S-Town, produced by the creators of Serial and This American Life. For more background, check out the introduction to the series. Although the events in S-Town occur in Alabama, for the purposes of this series, the legal analysis will be based on general principles of law and Pennsylvania law, since we’re Pennsylvania lawyers.

SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t listened to the series yet and want to avoid spoilers, proceed beyond this point with caution.

Chapters 1 and 2 of S-Town focus on what brought narrator/reporter Brian Reed to rural Alabama: John B. McLemore contacts Reed with a rumor that there may have been a murder committed by the son of a wealthy, well-connected business man in town. The son’s name is Kabrahm. The rumor mill is in high gear, and there are reports of a cover-up by local police and that Kabrahm is a brazen alleged killer who is said to be bragging about killing another man in a fight.

John goes into great detail about the rumors that he’s heard, and by talking publicly about the accusations, would Kabrahm have any legal recourse against John?

While this issue is not explored by the podcast, it provides an interesting case study for the law of defamation. Defamation is defined as the action of damaging the good reputation of someone, and includes libel and slander. Libel is when the action is in writing or another print medium, and slander is when the damaging action is verbal. People often get libel and slander confused – a simple device that I used in law school to keep them straight is that slander is spoken. Continue Reading Legal Lessons from Hit Podcast, S-Town – Part 1: Defamation

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of podcasts. At any given time, my Overcast queue is full of episodes covering a variety of topics, including tech, productivity, true crime, law and music. I also write about them from time to time – check out my posts Podcasts and the Law and The Law According to Planet Money.

Lately, I’ve heard a lot of buzz about a new podcast called S-Town, which is the latest series from the creators of public radio/podcast giant This American Life and the hugely popular podcast Serial.

So what is S-Town about? The show’s website introduces it this way: “John despises his Alabama town and decides to do something about it. He asks a reporter to investigate the son of a wealthy family who’s allegedly been bragging that he got away with murder. But then someone else ends up dead, sparking a nasty feud, a hunt for hidden treasure, and an unearthing of the mysteries of one man’s life.” Continue Reading Legal Lessons from Hit Podcast, S-Town – Introduction

Confession: my introduction to the legal profession started at a relatively young age, reading the popular novels by John Grisham. Of course, just like the Hollywood depictions of legal practice, Grisham’s books didn’t exactly give an accurate portrayal of the day-to-day duties of a lawyer. Fortunately for me, though my interest was piqued by those books, I quickly learned that other skills, including critical thinking and problem-solving, would be essential to my success as an attorney. I also learned that the best way to develop those skills is through reading and legal writing, which occupies the majority of my time in law practice. Continue Reading Legal Documents and Avoiding Costly Mistakes