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LEGAL

AskaLawyer

By: ATTORNEY TODD TUROCI

I am deep into a personal injury lawsuit and I no longer trust that my attorney is right for me, do I have to keep him, or can I hire a new one? No, you are not required to keep your attorney. Under California law you have an absolute right to fire or change attorneys at any time. However you will be required to compensate your attorney for the work that was performed. Under the old law, there was a large distinction between firing your attorney “for cause”, or discharging him at will. Previously, if you could prove “cause” you were only required to pay him under a theory of “quantum meruit”. Quantum meruit is a Latin phrase meaning, "What one has earned." This has been interpreted by the courts to mean that you were required to pay the “reasonable value” of his services, as opposed to the contract rate. This reasonable value could be much less than a contract rate. For example, in a personal injury case where you may have contracted to pay 30% of your recovery, you could be required to pay the entire 30% to the previous attorney PLUS the amount you have agreed to pay the new attorney. In a large case, this contract amount could be millions of dollars. In contrast, if the original attorney was on the case for a short time he may have only “earned” a few thousand dollars. This “for cause” distinction led to a great deal of fee litigation. Theoretically, if “cause” could be proven, then the client could save money and avoid having to pay double for exercising his right to change attorneys. In 1972 the California Supreme court in Fracasse v. Brent , 6 Cal.3d 784, did away with this distinction. Today, whether an attorney is fired for cause, or any other reason, you are only required to pay him the reasonable value of his services. In contingency cases, that reasonable value will depend on to what degree the case has been completed. In your case you mentioned that you were deep into the case. So, if your case is ready for trial for example, you may be liable to your old attorney for up to 80% of the contingency fee. This may make it difficult to find a new attorney or you may end up paying more for the privilege of changing attorneys than you are willing. Please discuss this issue with your new attorney and be sure that you are comfortable with all of the potential consequences of this switch. Todd Turoci has been practicing law in the High Desert for over 20 years. Please submit your legal questions to mail@hdbj.biz.

For the Water Cooler Companies are having to pay boatloads to shore up their pension funds, dragging down corporate earnings. The total estimated pension deficit at 400 large companies with defined benefit plans now stands at $408 billion, 23 percent more than in 2011. Companies are bound by law to fund those obligations over time. – Wall Street Journal Even though Americans drove more fuel efficient cars and consumed less fuel than ever in 2012, an Energy Department report states households spent nearly 4 percent of their pretax income on gas – the highest percentage in 30 years. -Los Angeles Times The number of stay at home dads rose from 81,000 in 2001 to 176,000 in 2011. Among men aged 25-54, 83 percent were in the workforce last year. Five years earlier that number was 88 percent. -Fortune.com Nearly 44 percent of Americans don’t have enough savings to cover basic expenses for more than three months in the event of a financial emergency, like losing their job or paying for unexpected medical care. Almost a third have no savings accounts at all. – NPR.org. Thanks to this year’s flu season, Clorox sales hit an all-time high of $1.33 billion last quarter. - MSN.com While wealthy Europeans prefer to park their extra cash in Switzerland, Americans tend to keep their offshore bank accounts in Panama and the balmy Caribbean. Britain, the Channel Islands, and Ireland are the second-tier offshore banking destination for people on both sides of the Atlantic. – The Economist Americans are hoarding their old phones. Only 20 percent of Americans sell or recycle their old cell phones, and more than half say they have two or more unused cell phones lying around. Collectively, those phones stack up to a trade-in value of $34 billion. – Marketwatch.com

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Fingers Crossed: California Workers’ Compensation in 2013

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By: MIKE NUTTER

ith the prospect of significant change to the California workers’ compensation system of benefits, Senate Bill (SB) 863 was swiftly approved. Proposed to improve benefits for most of the states injured workers while at the same time reducing costs, problematic facets of the former structure, such as the measurement of permanent disability; the compensation for permanent disability; the physician fee schedule; medical fees and billing schedules and the process used to resolve disputes over appropriate medical treatment, have all been included and will be scrutinized over the coming months and years, in an effort to gauge the true effectiveness of the reform. With over 14 million employees covered by California’s workers’ compensation system, reform was necessary to ensure a viable means for providing injured workers with the medical and indemnity benefits that are essential to a full recovery, while at the same time protecting the nearly 900,000 employers state wide. In their 2012 Annual Report, released by the California Commission on Health and Safety and Workers’ Compensation, an in-depth review of the reform affords the reader some very telling information regarding the current state of affairs and the overall likelihood of positive change for Of the 14 million insured the future. employees in the Golden All told, California insurers earned a whopping $10.4 billion in premiums from California employers State, nearly 525,000 of them reported occupational in 2012. With the deregulation of workers’ compensation premiums beginning in 1995, fierce injuries or illness to their competition ensued with nearly all California workers’ employers in 2012. compensation insurance providers slashing their rates to the detriment of many. Operating on paper thin margins and in many instances pricing their product below actual costs, insolvency soon followed as loss reserves were depleted and the impact of claims quickly overran many carriers, prompting the remaining few to quickly increase rates to meet costs and revive their dwindling surplus. Fast forward to the early part of 2000 and the legislative reforms which were implemented to control medical costs, update indemnity benefits and improve the assessment of permanent disability. The financial impact of these reforms was substantial, again lowering the cost of insurance and improving the overall profitability of the insurance carriers that were remaining. Having been fully realized, the savings have leveled out and workers’ compensation rates are once again on the rise, wreaking havoc state wide. As rates continue to climb, California business owners are scrambling for solutions with the hope that the benefits of reform will slowly rise to the surface. With the average medical and indemnity costs averaging 36% and 24% respectively, and expenses totaling 40% of the remaining distribution of insured employers’ workers’ compensation paid costs, skeptics will continue to scrutinize SB 863, expecting a significant drop in the expense column, as promised, in lieu of increased permanent disability benefits for California workers. Of the 14 million insured employees in the Golden State, nearly 525,000 of them reported occupational injuries or illness to their employers, ranging from minor medical treatment cases to catastrophic injuries and deaths. Recommendations by the CCHSWC include ensuring the adequate and timely delivery of medical benefits to injured workers’ and eliminating unnecessary costs, in addition to the State of California developing a “culture of safety” in the workplace. Additional efforts, to include Anti-Fraud measures such as stricter employer payroll reporting standards; workers’ compensation procurement monitoring; and the alignment of the California Labor Code definition of “first aid” with that of Cal/OSHA to eliminate a “barrier to compliance” and a “barrier to prosecution of willful violations”, are believed to be additional methods of lowering the overall cost of insurance in the marketplace. Despite all the efforts to mend a severely fractured system, California employers are just not convinced that enough is being done to thwart the financial impact of rising costs. Paul Cooley, co-owner of Cooley Construction, one of the area’s largest paving and grading contractors had this to say about the current conditions of the California workers’ compensation market: “It’s out of control, just like everything else in the State of California. It’s hard enough just to find work in this economy and many contractors I know are leaving the state. It’s just unbelievable.” Employers are keeping their fingers crossed as the full impact of the reform - for better or for worse - is yet to be seen. With the first quarter of 2013 coming to a close, keepers of work related injury data, like California’s Workers’ Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau are keeping close tabs on the numbers. With their Actuarial Committee slated to meet March 20, 2013, two items on the agenda include the SB 863 Cost Monitoring Plan and the impact of SB 863 on loss development. The results of their meeting should be interesting, to say the least.

Mike Nutter is the Senior Vice President of Sales with ISU Insurance Services-ARMAC Agency. Formerly the owner of a successful visual communications company, Mike’s thirteen years of entrepreneurial experience affords him a wealth of knowledge in all facets of business.

MARKETING

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Weapons of Business Influence By: SAM THATTE

Editor’s Note: This is part one of a seven part series whereHDBJ will be taking a look at the six weapons of influence based on the book, “Influence-The Psychology of Persuasion” to offer practical suggestions to help local business owners learn new strategies and get fresh ideas on how to sell their audeince.

If you wish to unlock the secrets of great marketers, one of the keys is to understand the psychology of persuasion. Over the next 6 months we'll explore the six weapons of influence that can be used as a marketer to influence the buying habits of your ideal client as laid out in Robert Cialdini’s book: Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion. What the series will do is help you look inside the mind of your ideal customer. This will help you understand triggers that make customers buy and what makes a client say yes. We will show local businesses how minuscule changes in the way a message is put out can give drastically different results. The six weapons are Reciprocation, Commitment & Consistency, Social Proof, Liking, Authority and Scarcity. To function in this complex and ever changing world, our minds use triggers that help us make decisions. These triggers usually save us time when making decision. These are basic instincts that in some ways are common to all animals. Let's explore that angle for a bit. One of the most bizarre events that have been recorded by Dutch ethologist Niko Tinbergen, is a cardinal feeding small worms and insects to minnows in a small pond. This bird had lost its chicks to a predator and was responding to a basic parental instinct. Upon being stimulated by the sight of the small open mouths of the fish, the bird was doing what it was naturally programmed to do, feed open mouths! This is a clear demonstration of an inborn and stereotypical behavior in animals. These behavioral reflexes are displayed by all humans, even newborn babies. Try offering your finger to an infant and she will grab your finger in seconds. Another example of behavioral reflexes can be found in yawning. We are programmed to yawn when we see another person yawning. Yawns last for about 6 seconds and once they start, they are difficult to stop. Sometimes even reading the word "yawn" can trigger the action. The most interesting thing about this is how behavioral reflexes are activated. In the case of the cardinals and the fish, it is not the fish or even their chicks that triggers the behavior, it is the open mouths. In new-born babies, it is not a hand that is the trigger, it is the need of the infant to feel secure. It is not tiredness that triggers a yawn, it is a very basic instinct to mimic others to show them natural affinity. This all plays a role in business influence through basic trggers. The "Because" Trigger When we ask someone to do us a favor we are more successful when we provide a reason. This is the “Because” trigger. People like to have reasons for everything that they do. An experiment conducted by Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer, proved that not only does this work when you give an important sounding reason, but it also works if the reason is completely ridiculous. "May I use the copy machine before you because I have to make copies?" Worked just as well as, "May I use the copy machine before you because I am in a rush?" The "Contrast" trigger No matter what you sell, sell the main item first and then show the accessories that will improve the experience. Imagine being presented with two things one after the other. If the second item that was presented to you was very different from the first, you will see it as being even more different than it actually is. This is the essence of how the contrast principle of perception works. The "Expensive = Good" trigger We as a society have accepted that if something is expensive it is probably worth the money. "You get what you pay for!" is a common axiom when it comes to products and services we buy. Pick a product or a service you currently offer that does not sell very well. Now double its selling price. According to this trigger that product or service should now fly off your shelves. Keep in mind, this works best with items that are difficult to place a value upon.

Sam Thatte is a consultant, blogger and trainer featured on popular websites and blogs like BrainShark.com and Indezine.com. He produces helpful content on presentations and marketing on his own website at SamThatte.com.

How Businesses Can Find Their Social Media Audience By: ALYSSA PENMAN

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s social media matures as a marketing channel, small business owners are realizing that it is here to stay and perhaps they had better start using it. According to the Wall Street Journal, in a Vistage Small Business CEO Survey in January 2013, 80% thought at least one of the major social media networks had potential to help their business. Where does a local business start when contemplating their social media strategy? The list of social media platforms available is so long that it can feel intensely overwhelming. There are three questions for businesses to consider when choosing a platform to focus on first: What would show off their product or service the best? What are they comfortable using, or able to learn? Where are their customers? Of those three, the most important is the last. No matter how pretty a page one puts together, or how well one uses that platform, if the people who want to put down money aren’t there, it doesn’t matter. Some information about where consumers are spending their time is available online. For example, according to BizRate Insights, 43% of Pinterest members agree that they use Pinterest to associate with retailers or brands with which they identify, compared to just 24% of Facebook users who agree to the same use with Facebook. The question then becomes, “How does a small business owner determine if their actual customers are using these social media sites?” FOUR Ways You Can Find Your Customers Online 1. Ask! Dedicate one week to asking every customer that comes in where they spend time online. Tell them the you are interested in offering deals and updates to your regulars and want to make sure you’re in the right spot. Enlist their help. 2. Do some footwork. Create a temporary Gmail account and import your email list. Use this account to create a temporary account on Facebook, Twitter and other social sites. There is almost always a way to find new friends or follows by importing your email contact list. Doing this successfully will let you know how many of your subscribers have an account on that platform. (You can delete the accounts you create after you get your number.) 3. Use a plugin like Rapportive. If you use Gmail, this is a great plugin. It turns the right hand side of your email into a little online bio of whoever you’re communicating with. You can start following people directly within your email. 4. Look at the demographics of your existing social media connections. Not every platform has this built in, and it is not always available for free from popular apps. However, Facebook definitely has this built in to your Insights. Take a look at the age and gender split of your fan base. Does it mirror who walks in the door and plops money down on your counter? If not, consider how to find and connect with your target a little better! Again, the best research is to go directly to your target and ask what kinds of information they want from a business like yours on Facebook. Social media may still frustrate a lot of small business owners. As a new-ish format, the rules aren’t as hard and fast as they are in newspaper, television or radio. The tools that have worked with customers previously seem heavy handed in social media settings. While change is uncomfortable, it can be done, and done profitably.

Alyssa Penman is a local business advocate and marketer who champions the independents of the Victor Valley through RelyLocal.com, and serves independent businesses nationally at LocalAndIndependent.com. She can be reached at AlyssaPenman@RelyLocal.com.

High Desert Business Journal  

April Edition