I normally only post about law-related matters, but as this is my blog I am going to take a moment to rant about cell phones. I'm old enough to remember when my mother got our first cell phone, a cake pan-size contraption that mounted to the center console of her car. Then the age of the pager arrived, passed, and was soon surpassed by the age of phones small enough to fit in your pocket (depending on the size of your pocket). I remember the Palm Treo, the "Blackjack," and several other early smartphones. Then I took three steps back and spent several years with one or two not-so-smart phones, which is about the time that I learned what text messaging was (those phones ALWAYS worked). Enter the modern age. A good friend of mine turned me on to the Android phones in the later part of the last decade (2009?), and for a few years I was a huge fan. I owned an iPod (it seems so odd to use that word now), and I hated the way that Apple forced you to use their interface to access their hardware. There was no copying and pasting of files directly onto Apple products. So, for that reason, in the two-party system that had developed in the phone world, I voted Android over Apple, no contest. And that was the state of things for a few years, until I rose high enough in the ranks at my then-employer to receive the benefit of having a company phone. Enter the iPhone. I was optimistic and thought that I would try to embrace the "ease of use" approach that has been a hallmark of Apple products. And it wasn't bad, other than having to cut back on my music (being limited to the hard drive storage on the phone, which was about half of what I had been used to) and having to use iTunes to do just about any transferring of data (which still annoys me - let me copy my MP3s directly to my phone!). I left that job and had to get my own phone, and I decided to stick with the iPhone, for two reasons. The first was simply that most of the people I communicated with (read: my wife and my mother) had iPhones. The second was simple inertia - I was already plugged in to the Apple apparatus, and it would be arduous to switch. And that's where I'm at now, with a modest iPhone 6 that has been okay other than some consistent issues with being heard over the phone's microphone (thankfully I make most of my calls in my car on Bluetooth these days) and a too-frequent but not often issue with the phone not being recognized when connected by cable to my car (no charging and no car-controlled Pandora). Now I hear the next generation of iPhones won't have a standard headphone jack. That's a deal-breaker for me. I listen to my headphones all the time, and I'm not going Bluetooth. My relationship with headphones (later earbuds) goes back to about the mid 1980s when I looked forward to enjoying one of my favorite albums while I cut the grass at my parents' house. And to parody Charlton Heston somewhat, you'll have to pry my headphones out of my cold, dead hands. Yes, I'm that guy that spends $100 on a pair of awesome, eco-friendly earbuds (hat tip to ThinkSound - HIGHLY recommended) because I CAN hear the difference and because anything less is, well, awful. The kind of awful akin to people who have the old-school "ring-ring-ring" sound as their phone ring tone (which makes me want to yell "I got it" to everyone around me, leaving anyone under about 30 wondering "what the heck?!?!"). Yes, there was a day when the phone would ring and you'd let everyone else in the house know if you were going to grab it, kind of like calling out from right field that you were going to catch the pop-up fly ball so that the center fielder didn't run into you chasing it himself. So there's all of that, but bear in mind that Bluetooth compresses the files, too. MP3s are already compressed, and at a good bit rate I struggle to tell the difference (I will always be an LP record guy, but it's a labor of love). Yes I know that I will be able to buy headphones that plug into the Apple charging port, but then how am I going to charge my phone while listening to music (a regular nightly ritual)? When my iPhone 6 eventually dies, it will be back to Android, and the inertia of getting used to the Android world again will probably mean then end of my several-year affair with Apple. I get that you want to innovate, but you guys are no Steve Jobs. Good luck with your "innovation."
I just read a recent case in which a landlord represented himself in an eviction, which you may know is called "pro se" representation. He seemed to do fine with the eviction itself, but he lost on two additional counts even though the tenant never even showed up to court. Normally that would be the end of the matter, but then he decided to appeal the decision. Eviction court is held by a magistrate, which you might think of as sort of a junior judge. Magistrates handle a lot of the more routine work on dockets, but, make no mistake, they have the full authority of the court within the scope of their assigned area. In any event, when the landlord wanted to challenge the decision, the first step was to escalate it to the municipal court (which affirmed the magistrate's decision), and then he escalated it to the court of appeals. I wanted to share a few points the court of appeals made about self-representation. When a party represents himself or herself, he or she is given some procedural leeway, but he or she otherwise is assumed to be competent in the law. In this case, the landlord apparently ran into some confusion with his arguments, which the court characterized as "difficult to follow," and he lost the part of the case that he was appealing. In reading what I see about the substance of the issues, I suspect I would have recommended that pursuing the appeal would be a waste of time and effort, although in fairness I have only a thin familiarity with the case. Regardless, it seems that he got in over his head once he reached the point of appealing the magistrate's decision. Good counsel could have at least helped him craft a solid argument. I think the lesson here is to know your limits. There are some legal things that you can do on your own (although even then I generally don't recommend it), but you have to know when to get help (or when to call it a day and move on). I can't help but wonder how deep the issue goes in this case, because the property couldn't have been in an LLC (or similar entity) or else the landlord would have needed to have an attorney involved (your LLC is a separate entity from yourself, so you would be committing the unauthorized practice of law if you represented it). LLCs are such a great bargain, offering a lot of protection for very little cost and maintenance, that often one of my first recommendations to my investor clients is to stop putting properties in their own names and start using LLCs. But I digress. My point is that you get what you pay for. When it comes to legal matters, there may be things you can do yourself, but consider the risk if you miss something, and know your limits. Please don't think I'm calling this landlord a fool, because it's impressive and gutsy to have taken the case as far as he did. But even attorneys (usually) hire separate counsel when they need help on something. I've always thought that there is some truth to the old adage that a person who represents himself has a fool for an attorney. Know when to get the legal help you need - even if you're unsure, most attorneys will at least give you a few minutes by phone to help get a rough idea of where things stand.
Ben Bauer is a Cincinnati-based attorney who writes about things in law and life that he finds interesting.