Monthly Archives: July 2014

Why be a Small Town Lawyer? Top 8 Reasons

Michelle GI am frequently asked why I choose to practice law in a small town. I am not sure why this is such a common question. It may be that many people associate lawyers with big cities, large office towers, or proximity to a Courthouse. I suppose that it is also true that movies and television series involving lawyers are usually focused on “big city law.”
There is no one single reason why I love practicing law in a small town; there are many. While not an exhaustive list, here are my “Top 8” reasons (in no particular order) why it is great to practice law in a small town:

  1. Sense of Community. Our small town of Onoway has about 1,000 residents. It may be small, but it has a great sense of community. I love that everyone knows the Mayor and Councillors, there is great civic pride, and there are innumerable groups all working together to make the community a better place. It is also true that everybody really does “know your name.”
  2. Variety of Work. As a general practitioner in a small town, I have the pleasure of assisting a wide range of clients (individuals, small businesses, corporations) with a wide range of legal issues. This means my work is constantly changing and always interesting. You never know what kind of case will walk through the door, and you look forward to every new challenge.
  3. Small Office Environment. It is great to be your own boss and work with a close-knit group of people. I look forward every day to working with the other two lawyers in the office (Ed and Brian) and our support staff (Delphine, Amanda, and Brittany). We have a great team, enjoy our work, and enjoy each other.
  4. No Traffic. This may seem like a small thing but it is not. In my drive to and from work, I do not have to deal with a single traffic light, and only 3 stop signs. The drive to and from work is relaxing and scenic. No road rage!
  5. Small Business. Small businesses are a huge portion of the overall Canadian economy. I take pride in being a local employer and a contributor to the local economy.
  6. Dress Code. I don’t have to wear the women’s equivalent of the three-piece suit to work (unless I am going to Court). Our dress code is “professional, but approachable.” Life is more comfortable when you are not in a three-piece suit!
  7. Office Space. Our office is large and spacious. Almost all of us have “corner offices.” We have flowers out front. It is nice not to be in a “cubicle” in a downtown office tower.
  8. Distance from the Courthouse. It is sometimes necessary for me to appear in Court. However, the distance from the Court is one small factor that reminds me that all efforts to negotiate a resolution to a conflict should be taken before a matter needs to be resolved in Court.

Posted by Michelle Gallagher

Top 5 Misconceptions about Wills

Will 2

We deal with many questions about estate planning in general, and Wills in particular.  Over the years, I have encountered these mistaken beliefs on a number of occasions:

  • Misconception No. 1:  There must an official “reading of the Will” to the family after death.  I think this belief originates from American TV shows.  It is simply not true in Alberta.  There is no need for a family gathering where it is read in somber tones by the family lawyer (or anyone else for that matter).  The Executor under a Will generally controls who sees it.   If a grant of probate (basically, Court endorsement of the validity of the Will) is required, the Will is filed with the Court and becomes publicly accessible.
  • Misconception No. 2:  If you don’t have a Will, the government is entitled to your estate.  While it is possible for the Alberta government to be entitled to your estate, this could only occur in the rarest of circumstances:  where you have absolutely no living relatives (spouse, parents, children, siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces or nephews, cousins).  Even this remote worry can be completely removed by having a Will – it gives you control over who gets what.
  • Misconception No. 3:  You can easily make your own Will using free resources on the internet.  I guess that’s true, if what you want is a piece of paper that says “Will” on it.  If you want a document that will translate your intentions into binding instructions that will, if necessary, be enforced by a Court then you want a properly prepared Will.  I have seen many Wills prepared using freely available documents and “advice”.  Generally, they are worth what you have paid for them:  nothing.  Many that I have seen are deficient in one or more ways and end up undermining the intentions of the person who made the Will.  Remember, this is a problem that you can’t fix once you are gone.
  • Misconception No. 4:  You can’t cut your adult children out of your Will.  Sure you can.  I have drafted many such Wills where, for example, the adult child is not on good terms with the parent making the Will.  Alberta law allows a person almost compete freedom to dispose of his or her estate as he or she wishes.  Even so, a family member (spouse, child, and sometimes grandchild) can make a claim against the estate if that family member was dependent on the deceased at the time of his or her death, and was not provided for adequately in the Will.  Careful analysis is required to ensure that cutting out an adult child is appropriate in your circumstances, and precise drafting is also required in the Will itself. That’s where your lawyer adds value for you.
  • Misconception No. 5:  You don’t need a Will if you have a spouse (married or common-law) – he or she will get everything anyway.   The law in this area changed recently in Alberta.  If you have a spouse and no children, then the surviving spouse does get everything.  Same thing if you have a spouse and children who are all from your relationship with your spouse.  But, if you have a blended family with your spouse (very common these days), then your spouse does not necessarily get everything – it depends how large your estate is.  Even modest estates (currently, those worth more than $150,000) are divided between the surviving spouse and the children.  Keep in mind as well that while the same rules apply to “common law” spouses, it can sometimes not be so clear when a person becomes a common law spouse.  Finally, it is quite possible for a person to die having both a married spouse and a common law spouse.  No Will? Big problem.

Bottom line:  everyone should have a Will.  It allows you to have a definite plan for what happens to your estate, and to have it carried out by a person of your choice.

Posted by:  Ed Gallagher

Lawyer or Student-at-Law or Law Student or What?

 

studying

We’re going to be joined today by Brian Jalonen, our Student-at-Law.”

This has been the standard introduction to each client of Patriot Law Group that I have met over the past year as a “student-at-law”. He looks old for a student, I imagine the client thinks. Old for a student, yet he appears wise and capable, I hope the client thinks. And ruggedly handsome.

More likely, the client thinks something like, What’s a student-at-law? Why not just say “law student”?

A “law student” is still a student at law school, such as the University of Alberta Faculty of Law. Before they will admit a new student, most law schools require the student to have completed an undergraduate degree and to have earned high marks on the LSAT (Law School Admission Test) relative to his or her peers. Law school is where a student learns the academic basics of Canadian law and develops the analytical mindset necessary to approach legal issues. It is also where the law student amasses crippling student debt. A law student has no professional standing within the legal profession. A law student cannot provide legal advice.

A “student-at-law” is a defined term within the Rules of the Law Society of Alberta (the “LSA”), which is the legal profession’s governing body in Alberta. After a law student graduates, he or she can apply to be admitted into the LSA as a “student-at-law”. A student-at-law is admitted into the LSA as part of the year-long apprenticeship period or “articles”, where he or she learns the practical application of his or her legal education by working in a law firm under the direct supervision of a senior lawyer. It is also where the student-at law learns to use the photocopier and coffee maker and subsequently questions the series of decisions that brought him or her to such a low station in life. A student-at-law has professional standing within the legal profession and is authorized to provide a broad array of legal services that are specified in the LSA’s Rules. A student-at-law has a complete legal education, often has limited experience (both in law and life), but can provide some legal advice.

After the articling year is completed, the student-at-law can then apply to the Court to be admitted into the LSA as a lawyer. The ceremony for admission to the LSA as a lawyer is known as being “called to the bar.” After being “called”, the new lawyer is entitled to provide the full range of legal services described in the LSA’s Rules. It is also when the new lawyer starts peppering his or her speech with Latin phrases, ad nauseam.  An experienced lawyer has a complete legal education, can train new lawyers and can provide comprehensive legal advice.

In short, a law student is just a university student and a student-at-law is a lawyer in training. So when you need a lawyer, get a lawyer.

Posted by Brian

 

Real Property Reports and “Compliance” Certificates: What do you need to know?

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One of the common issues that crops up in a residential real estate purchase and sale (mostly for sellers) relates to the requirement to provide a Real Property Report and Compliance Certificate.   The purpose of this post is to provide some helpful comments about these documents.

If you are selling your property through a Realtor, the contract that you will likely sign will be a standard AREA (Alberta Real Estate Association) contract.  In most cases, this standard contract will require a seller to provide a Real Property Report reflecting the current state of improvements on the land and evidence of municipal compliance (or legal non-conformance).

So, the question is:  what are Real Property Reports and/or evidence of municipal compliance?

In the simplest sense, the Real Property Report (RPR) is a schematic diagram prepared by an Alberta Land Surveyor that shows the property boundaries, where the improvements on the land are located relative to these boundaries, and that highlights any encroachments of the improvements onto neighbouring lands or improvements on neighbouring lands that encroach onto your land.

Evidence of municipal compliance generally means either a letter, or stamp on the RPR, from the municipality (City, Town, County, Village, Summer Village, or Municipal District) that confirms, on the basis of the RPR submitted, that the property complies with the requirements of the municipal land use bylaw. In general terms, this means that the use of the property is consistent with the zoning, that all required development permits have been obtained, and that the improvements on the land meet all required set back distances from the property line.   Alternatively, where the property meets the municipal requirements that existed at the time of development (even though these requirements may have since changed), the property would be “legally non-conforming”, and this also meets the contract obligations.

So, if you are a seller, you may have questions about the RPR/Municipal Compliance requirements in the standard contract.  Our 5 most common FAQs regarding “things to know about real property reports” and the answers for each of these FAQs are as outlined below:

  1. Does the Seller have to provide a Real Property Report and Compliance Certificate? This requirement is governed by the terms of the contact between seller and purchaser. Read the contract.
  2. I have a Real Property Report and Compliance from when I purchased the property.  It is still valid?  It does not matter how old the RPR ad compliance certificate are, if they still accurately reflect the current improvements on the land.  If they do, your lawyer will simply have you sign an Affidavit or Statutory Declaration confirming this, which will be provided to the Buyers. If, however, there have been changes (such as the addition of a deck, gazebo, or fence), a new RPR will likely be required. 
  3. What if the contract requires that I provide a current Real Property Report and Compliance Certificate and I do not have these documents?  Your lawyer or Realtor will likely arrange for these documents to be obtained. If the RPR or Compliance Certificate cannot be obtained prior to the closing date, you can expect that the lawyers for buyer and seller will negotiate a “holdback” of some of the proceeds of sale until such time as the documents have been obtained and it has been confirmed that no issues have been identified, or issues have been resolved.
  4. What if I do not have a current Real Property Report and Compliance Certificate and I do not want to provide these?  If this is the case, you should identify this issue to your Realtor at the time of listing, and before you sign the contract.  You can always “contract out” of this requirement by changing the terms of the contract to confirm that you do not have to provide these documents.
  5. Are there any alternatives to providing a Real Property Report and Compliance Certificate?  Yes, a common alternative is for the seller to provide for a credit for title insurance in favour of the Buyer.  Title insurance, generally, insures a purchaser for many (but not all) of the title defects that would be identified by a current Real Property Report and Certificate of Compliance.  If you wish to pursue this alternative, you should ensure that your listing realtor (if applicable) is aware of this.

If you are a seller or a buyer and you have questions about Real Property Reports and Compliance Certificates, or any other matter respecting a potential contract, please contact us.  We are happy to help!

Why is our firm named “Patriot Law Group”?

We get asked this a lot.

Naming a law firm is an interesting process.  The most traditional method is to name it after the partners (for example, “Smith and Jones Law Firm”).

When Patriot Law Group was formed in 2003, we wanted a name that would establish an identity separate from the individual lawyers, and yet also connected to them.

The word “patriot” means different things to different people.  To us, it reflects a love of our country, and a choice to defend Canada and what it stands for.

In our careers before becoming lawyers, each of us served in the Canadian Armed Forces to defend Canada and Canadian interests directly.  We chose service before self.

As lawyers, we have chosen a different kind of service – promoting the ideals of a free and democratic society based on the rule of law.

In short, we are idealists.  We seek to do the right thing, for the right reason.  It’s the Canadian way.