Oct 31, 2011 08:38AM
By Linda Sechrist
Popular television series such as The Practice, Boston Legal, and Law & Order have sensationalized the role of lawyers, creating more than a few myths and stereotypes. While it is true that attorneys may be passionate about their work, zealously advocate for their clients and burn the midnight oil in order to complete drafts of vital court documents, not all of them bang their fists on a conference table to make a point.
Although great debating skills and impressive oral arguments make for dramatic TV courtroom scenes, the majority of real-life lawyers spend the bulk of their time on more mundane tasks, like damage control and extensive research into relevant facts and law. This aids them in preparing legal papers for arguments that are frequently settled outside of court. The long days and late nights that never make it into movies or TV are part of Steve Benson and Theresa Hofmeister’s legal careers. As private legal practitioners, they both own law firms in San Diego and enjoy everything about their careers, including the myths.
Steven M. Benson
Born in La Mesa, Benson is a rare native San Diegan who grew up in the eastern part of the county, attended Granite Hills High School in El Cajon, San Diego State University and Thomas Jefferson School of Law, all local schools. He now lives in Crown Point and jokes that other than a vacation, there’s no need to go anywhere else. “As far as I can tell, this is one of the best places on Earth to live. Nearly everyone I’ve ever known who left San Diego has returned,” he says.
Benson specializes in bankruptcy and general civil litigation, working with homeowners on foreclosure and debt resolution issues. “One of the myths I’d like to dispel about lawyers has to do with a misconception frequently linked to doing business with larger firms,” says Benson, who finds that many new clients believe that other than their initial consultation and intake interview, their case will be handed off to support staff and attorney contact will be infrequent.
“New clients are surprised that I do it all,” quips Benson, who points to several benefits of having a one-on-one relationship with a legal representative: there is no need to explain or repeat your story more than once; you’re personally recognized when you call; and you get personalized customer service. “This is something we need more of in these automated times,” advises Benson,
who feels that clients need individualized attention. “There is no ‘one size fits all’ model in my practice.”
Benson’s Tips for Avoiding Bankruptcy
- Don’t live beyond your means: just because you can afford something on credit doesn’t mean you have to buy it. Take heed of the interest accrued on credit cards. If you have $3 in your pocket and want to buy a cup of coffee, pay cash, rather than using a credit card. By the time you get your bill, last month’s cup of coffee could cost you $5 or more. Also, pay off monthly credit card balances.
- Pay attention to contracts and agreements you enter into. While they were once tedious and complicated to read, today most are written in layman’s language, with understandable terms.
Drawn to a legal career and the intellectual challenge of criminal procedures and practices, Hofmeister still finds law the right career and outlet for a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy from the University of Southern California and a Juris Doctor degree from Southwestern Law School, in Los Angeles.
Hofmeister, who has been, “helping good people through bad times,” since 1996, is a criminal attorney, specializing in misdemeanors such as driving under the influence (DUI), domestic violence, drug issues, violations of probation or court orders, warrants, and failures to appear (FTA). After 15 years in practice, she’s still shocked to see individuals suffer in silence because they are too embarrassed or afraid to seek help for their legal problems.
“People make mistakes, but most of them do not warrant suffering for the rest of their lives,” says Hofmeister, who enjoys helping clients to get their lives back on track. A client’s job, reputation and resources are important to Hofmeister when she’s providing legal representation. She strives to make her clients comfortable, while still being effective in court.
Hofmeister’s calm demeanor, attention to detail and lack of judgment about the client’s situation are a personality mythbuster to some. She works hard to make her clients feel that she is someone who clearly cares about them and their results. “It can be challenging to keep my clients from negatively labeling themselves and accruing the psychological damage that comes from it,” advises Hofmeister, who believes that education and prevention are great tools.
Hofmeister’s Tips for Avoiding DUIs
- DUIs are one of the most avoidable misdemeanors. She says, “I can’t say it enough: Don’t drink and drive.” When you do drink, think ahead. Arrange for a designated driver or taxi. Consider purchasing a blood alcohol content (BAC) tester with a display. These devices are available on the Internet, and owning such a tool can be very useful. She states, “I can’t testify to their accuracy, however they are far better than self-diagnosing, which doesn’t seem to work at all.”
- For DUI purposes, California law defines impairment at a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 percent or higher. If your BAC exceeds the limit, you will be charged, regardless of actual impairment.
- Hofmeisters warns, “Just thinking, ‘I won’t get pulled over,’ is not a good strategy—don’t risk it!” The process, regardless of the ultimate outcome, can be very expensive. Attorney’s fees, court fines, cost of mandatory classes, increase in insurance rates, license suspension, jail time, missed work and/or other employment or personal effects of an arrest can add up quickly and be very expensive.