FreeAdvice.com Radio Interview with JOHN C. DVORAK, Real Computing

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February 2 to 9, 1999
JOHN C. DVORAK, Real Computing

JOHN C. DVORAK: Hi. Welcome to Real Computing. I’m your host, John C. Dvorak. Every week we take a look at the world of personal computing, high technology, the World Wide Web, and everything in-between. And we make it as interesting as possible. And this week’s show is particularly interesting, especially the people who want to get free legal, quality legal advice on the World Wide Web at FreeAdvice.com. Gerry Goldsholle, President of FreeAdvice and a number of other functions, the Web functions that are legally based or about the law or about lawyers, will be with us to talk about that fascinating new site they just put up.

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DVORAK: We have with us Gerry Goldsholle who is the Chairman of Advice & Counsel, on-line publishers that have, among other things, the AttorneyPages.com, the ExpertPages.com, which contain the listings of expert witnesses for you lawyers out there, and FreeAdvice.com, which is kind of—well, I don’t know, Jerry. Why don’t you explain exactly what FreeAdvice.com accomplishes.

GERRY GOLDSHOLLE: FreeAdvice.com helps people get answers to basic legal questions in about 100 different legal topics. It starts at accidents, winds up at zoning and covers everything in-between.

DVORAK: And is FreeAdvice worth what you pay for it?

GOLDSHOLLE: This free advice is worth an awful lot more than you pay for it, because you could pay a lawyer an awful lot of money to get the same general advice and not have it as detailed or as clear. And written by some of the leading lawyers across the country who are specialists in their field.

DVORAK: How do you differ from the on-line…say, how do you differ… if I was going to say, well, here’s NoLo Press and here’s this guy on-line. What’s the difference there?

GOLDSHOLLE: NoLo Press is terrific. It’s a very good site and I want to commend it as well. But NoLo Press has a very limited amount of information because they’re objective is to try to [get you to] buy one of their self-help books.

DVORAK: Right.

GOLDSHOLLE: Our objective is to educate you on the law, explain when you should get a lawyer and when you should not get a lawyer. And when you go into a lawyer, make certain that you are an educated client because an educated client is a better client for the lawyer and saves an awful lot of money because he or she does not waste time discussing the basics. You have an understanding of the type of lawyer you need, the type of matter it is, and you can really resolve it quickly.

DVORAK: Yeah, and, in fact, most good lawyers don’t like you to waste their time. They’d rather have more clients than less. So how does this make money for you, though? What is your business model?

GOLDSHOLLE: The business model is directory services that are related to the content. We have a series of directories that contain the names of lawyers across the United States. It’s called AttorneyPages.com.

DVORAK: Okay.

GOLDSHOLLE: And lawyers pay to list.

DVORAK: And so then the free advice is just kind of a fronting for that.

GOLDSHOLLE: No, FreeAdvice is helpful in and of itself. They’re separate, they’re independent, and it’s really good to give free advice. And most of the lawyers who’ve contributed their free advice by answering questions on-line and questions in the prepared Q&A’s, they’ve done it even though they may not be listed on our website.

DVORAK: And I suppose if nothing else, the kind of legal advice that you get tends… most legal advice, in fact, tends to be reinventing the wheel constantly, because people have the same questions over and over.

GOLDSHOLLE: Absolutely. And we also cover such things as the impeachment of the President and the historical precedents for it and the procedures involved. And how an impeachment trial differs from a criminal trial and a civil trial.

DVORAK: Oh, that’d be kind of interesting. I’ll have to check that out myself.

GOLDSHOLLE: It’s right on the front home page.

DVORAK: Now, what kind of free advice are you looking at that might be specific to the upcoming 1999 and New Year?

GOLDSHOLLE: Well, there are about 35 million legal cases that are currently on the courts’ dockets. Federal and state courts around the country as we enter the New Year.

DVORAK: That’s all traffic tickets, though, right?

GOLDSHOLLE: No. There’s an additional 50 million plus traffic tickets that are issued each year. And this is just a backlog of 35 million cases that are pending across the country.

DVORAK: That’s ridiculous.

GOLDSHOLLE: It’s a litigious society. But look, people have problems. And when they have legal problems, sometimes they go to court and they sue. I mean, there were 1.4 million bankruptcies last year alone. The largest number on record. Each year there about 1.5 million divorces. And the number of marriages are just a little bit more than twice as many.

DVORAK: Now, you… I’m looking at your legal check-up for 1999 list, which was provided me. One of them was you recommend, no matter who you are, to get a pre-marital agreement. Now, how… do you really think people are going to go for that, because it becomes such a sticky issue.

GOLDSHOLLE: It really sounds unromantic. But, if you’re entering into a second marriage, and about half of all marriages are second marriages. If you’re entering into a second marriage, you know darn well it’s really, really important to have a pre-marital agreement. You may have your kids. She may have her kids. You have property that you want to go in a certain way. And just getting married and saying, ‘Let’s hope it works out’ may be fine the first time around. It certainly doesn’t make sense the second time around.

DVORAK: What other things are you looking… would you recommend people look into?

GOLDSHOLLE: Well, more and more Americans are operating their own business or operating their business from home. And if you have a home-based business, really make certain that your homeowner’s insurance covers the activities you engage in for business. Do you have employees that come in there? You may be facing liability or worker’s compensation or just or[dinar]y job accidents. It could be really dangerous if you don’t have the proper coverage.

Similarly, does your house comply with the zoning rules? You know, neighbors are getting a little bit fussy when all these cars and FedEx trucks and…

DVORAK: I have a FedEx… Yeah, I have like a caravan that comes over to my place every day. FedEx, UPS, Airborne.

GOLDSHOLLE: And what happens is very often that people are operating a business from home without getting either a permit to operate their business or violating their zoning rules. They print up the stationery, they print up the cards, and they start doing business, and they find they’re in trouble.

DVORAK: How do you reconcile that with someone like myself who’s a writer? Now, that’s like a… it is by definition, unless you’re working for a newspaper or some publisher…. at home… is that an at-home business or is it a vocation or what—how is it categorized? Do I need a… to be a writer, to write something in my own house, do I need a permit for that?

GOLDSHOLLE: Each city and state has its own rules and regulations. And it may be, in my hometown of Mill Valley, may be different from your town in New York or California, elsewhere. So you have to know what your own local rules are. And they try to collect a franchise or business tax on you, if, in fact, you’re generating income from your writing as an independent person.

DVORAK: In New York, they try to tax you. City tax.

GOLDSHOLLE: They tax you on everything.

DVORAK: Yeah.

GOLDSHOLLE: I moved out to California from New York for those reasons.

DVORAK: In fact, a lot of people don’t realize it technically, if I go to New York and check into a hotel and I work for PC Magazine there, and I write a column in the hotel room, I’m actually liable for city tax for that, supposedly.

GOLDSHOLLE: In theory, if you earn income in a state, you owe the state money. Baseball players have all that figured out because their income is allocated among the states in which they do business from which they’ve earned their income.

DVORAK: So what I do when I go in there is I don’t write.

GOLDSHOLLE: You just lie[?]

DVORAK: I just think. So what about the Year 2000 problem? What do you see coming up that’s legally a problem here?

GOLDSHOLLE: Well, there’s a problem for businesses, but the biggest problem, I think, is for individuals. Just in case there is a problem, we strongly recommend that everyone get paper copies of your critical records. If you have an insurance policy, make sure you have a copy of it. If you have an investment account, get a copy of it. If you have a pension plan coming in or a 401(k) plan from a former employer, even a current employer, get a paper copy of it. And get a copy of your Social Security records. It’s free. You can get it right from the FreeAdvice web site. We have links to it. And find out from the government exactly what your benefits are because the government claims there’s not going to be a problem with Social Security. But every time the government tells me there’s not going to be a problem, I get worried.

DVORAK: So go to FreeAdvice.com and you link to the Social Security site and get the data.

GOLDSHOLLE: Oh, of course.

DVORAK: Anything else that concerns you about Y2K?

GOLDSHOLLE: I think businesses are going to face liabilities. They’re spending an awful lot of money, probably unnecessarily, making darn sure that nothing possibly goes wrong. And, if it does go wrong, they’re not going to find it anyway. But if you’re doing a business contract you ought to include as a condition for non-compliance the inability to comply because of the Y2K. And we sort of discuss that on our ‘Tips to Business,’ also off the home page of FreeAdvice.com.

DVORAK: Now, what other 1999-specific things should people be concerned about legally?

GOLDSHOLLE: Well, some people think that because the estate tax amount, the amount of money you can leave without paying federal estate tax, went up by $25,000, and it’s on its way up to $1 million, it’s now at $650,000, they don’t have to worry about estate tax. In fact, if you have life insurance, that’s part of your estate. So it’s not only the value of your home and the value of your investment accounts and the value of your 401(k), but the face value of your life insurance. You should make sure you’re doing some estate planning if you’re getting near that $650,000 limit. And we, again, discuss this in detail on our website.

DVORAK: You have any new projects underway?

GOLDSHOLLE: Oh, yeah. We have just launched a site called ‘DoItYourself.com.’ It’s not officially out yet, but it has the tremendous amount of home and household information. And we have a staff of writers that is adding to this every day.

DVORAK: How does that fit in with your normal legal… everything’s been legal oriented. You have the attorney pages, expert pages, and the free legal advice.

GOLDSHOLLE: Well, we really found, individuals are looking for information on the Internet. They’re looking for information that’s fair, unbiased, and straightforward. And it’s really…

DVORAK: DoItYourself.com?

GOLDSHOLLE: DoItYourself.com

DVORAK: Is it all one word or is it hyphenated?

GOLDSHOLLE: One word, no hyphen.

DVORAK: How did you get that?

GOLDSHOLLE: I have a very clever brother. He’s involved in this. He’s been in the homeowner parity group for years.

DVORAK: So he picked it up early? Because it doesn’t sound like it…

GOLDSHOLLE: Oh, he picked it up in 1995 when he first started working with us.

DVORAK: Yeah. It’s a good one. And that’s going to have all kinds of… It’s how to plumb…

GOLDSHOLLE: How to plumb, how to fix leaks, electrical repairs, paint, wallpaper, and all that sort of stuff.

DVORAK: What’s your business model there?

GOLDSHOLLE: Business model there is going to be e-commerce. That’s the principle business policy.

DVORAK: Oh, you’re going to sell some… so you’re going to sell supplies to help people fix things up?

GOLDSHOLLE: In affiliation with certain other vendors that I’m not currently able to discuss.

DVORAK: So that’s coming up?

GOLDSHOLLE: That’s coming up. And it also currently has a directory of various plumbers and electricians and others across the country. Done in cooperation with a third party. But we’re going to go towards a proprietary model there, too.

DVORAK: We’re talking to Gerry Goldsholle, who is the Chairman of a publishing company called Advice & Counsel, which right now runs AttorneyPages.com and ExpertPages.com and FreeAdvice.com and soon DoItYourself.com. He’s a one-man dynamo!

GOLDSHOLLE: Well, I wish were one-man. We have a large staff. That really helps us.

DVORAK: You better. Jerry, thanks for being with us today.

GOLDSHOLLE: John, it’s been a pleasure