Money & Career
On The Case – You & The Law
7/1/2019 1:00:00 PM
On The Case – You & The Law

Retaining the services of a lawyer may not be something you think about every day, but there are times in everyone’s life when seeking legal counsel is advisable. In this special law section, you’ll find useful information on what the various types of lawyers specialize in and a breakdown of the top ten reasons to hire a lawyer. Our July First Person features Jennifer Jones, Cameron Parish District Attorney – she has a fascinating and inspiring life story. And if you’ve ever wondered what our elected officials do day-to-day, read A Day in the Life of a Louisiana State Senator, featuring Senator Ronnie Johns.



First Person – Jennifer A. Jones, Cameron Parish District Attorney


by Angie Kay Dilmore


Jennifer A. Jones was born and raised in the quiet coastal town of Cameron, Louisiana. She passed the Bar Exam in 1981 and has been serving the people of Cameron Parish with their legal matters since then. In 1991, she even took a case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court . . . and won! Jones has been the Cameron Parish District Attorney since 2015. She’s hard-working and driven to success. She’s been active in numerous state and national law associations, and in 2015, Jones was selected as Distinguished Louisiana State University Law School Alumna.


Jones’ family on both her mother and father’s side has lived in Cameron Parish since before the Civil War. Her father, Jennings B. Jones, attended Law School at LSU on the GI bill after World War II and in 1949 became the first lawyer to practice law full-time in Cameron Parish. In 1958, his brother Jerry joined the firm and Jerry’s son-in-law Glenn Alexander came on board in the mid-70s. Jones’ sister Sallie also worked with the firm for several years. Jones says she wanted to be a part of her family’s law firm for as long as she can remember, "or at least until I figured out I would never be tall enough to be a Rockette at Radio City Music Hall.” Her natural sense of humor is noteworthy, considering the tragedies and heartbreak she has overcome during her life. 


In 2004, Jones’ father passed away. The following year in May, her 28-year-old son Christopher died in a car accident caused by a drugged driver. He left behind a wife and three young children. Four months later, Hurricane Rita decimated Cameron Parish. 98% of the structures in lower Cameron Parish were gone. Her and her family’s homes were lost. Her law office, serving Cameron residents since 1958, was destroyed. Needing to rebuild herself, she helped approximately 600 families fight insurance companies for hurricane damage coverage. For Jones’ pro bono work post-Rita, she received several accolades: the first ever Public Service Award by the Louisiana Association for Justice (2006), the Women’s Commission of Southwest Louisiana Jack V. Doland  Outstanding Community Service Award (2007), and the Southwest Louisiana Bar Association President’s Award for Outstanding Service (2007). And just when life started to settle down a bit, Hurricane Ike flooded the parish again in 2008.


Jones’ story of perseverance is inspiring, to say the least. She recently shared with Thrive the key turning points in her life, the challenges and obstacles she’s overcome, and the source of her triumph over adversity.


Describe your journey to becoming a lawyer. 

I majored in Government at McNeese, with an eye towards going to law school, but a few things slowed me down. I married as a freshman at McNeese and my first child, Patrick Hebert, was born on Graduation Day, May 8, 1975, so law school had to wait. I had another son, Christopher Hebert, a year later. My first husband and I were divorced not long after and I finally got to law school [LSU] in 1978 with a two-year-old and a three-year-old. (Jones gave birth to a third son, Michael Bercier, in 1986.)  My aunt, Sybil McCall, moved to Baton Rouge with us to help me. I could never have done it without her. After I graduated, I spent a year clerking with the late Judge Earl Veron, the federal district court judge in Lake Charles. I then returned to the family firm. We had a broad range of civil practice, with oil and gas work, family law, and business contracts, but we concentrated primarily on representing people who were injured in accidents, with a special emphasis on admiralty and maritime. In other words, we had a lot of cases for people who were hurt offshore. 


Tell us about your U. S. Supreme Court case. 

Our client John Wilander was employed by McDermott International as a painting and sandblasting foreman on vessels and platforms in the Persian Gulf. He was injured in an explosion at work off the coast of Dubai. We tried his case in Lake Charles in federal court, and he obtained a verdict which was affirmed on appeal by the United States Fifth Circuit in New Orleans. McDermott then applied for writs of certiorari (a type of legal appeal) to the United States Supreme Court. McDermott argued that Mr. Wilander should not be covered by the Jones Act, which provides a claim for maritime employees against their employers for negligence, because he wasn’t part of the navigational crew. There had been a case in Illinois where the court held that an employee must actually participate in navigation in order to be considered a seaman covered by the Jones Act, but this was not the rule in the Fifth Circuit, where many workers were employed in the oil field industry on jack-up rigs and were considered seaman. The Supreme Court granted writs, in other words, they decided to hear the case. My father insisted that I would argue the case in the Supreme Court, despite advice that we should hire an attorney with Supreme Count experience. At that time, I had only been out of school for eight years. I spent a whole summer writing the brief (in those days we did not have electronic research) and we all went to Washington for the argument in 1989. We won the case in a unanimous opinion by Justice Sandra Day O’Conner. 


After the devastating life events in 2004-2005, where did you find the strength to go on?

Somehow, Hurricane Rita saved my life, because it gave me a lot of work to do. The pivotal moment in my career occurred on the day when I went to look at Cameron three days after Hurricane Rita. My house was gone, my sister’s house was gone, both my sons’ houses were gone. I eventually made my way down to Cameron and had to walk the last quarter mile or so because there was so much debris on the road that it was impassable. I got to the Courthouse Square and there were soldiers there operating machinery to try to clear the roads. One of them told me he had only seen something like this once before – in Baghdad. The shell of my office was there – it had been flooded with eight feet of water. Everything was destroyed, including all my files. I met a man I had known for many years who asked me, "What are we going to do? Your daddy is gone and he can’t help us anymore!” I told him I would try. I became very involved in helping Cameron Parish residents with their claims against their homeowner’s insurers, which were almost all initially denied on the grounds that the loss of their homes was caused by flood and not windstorm, according to the insurers. We eventually mediated and settled about 600 claims over about a three-year period. I feel this was my greatest achievement as an attorney. 


Detail one highlight of your career. 

My favorite civil client is South Cameron Memorial Hospital. Our hospital was destroyed in Hurricane Rita, and we managed to put together enough grants and insurance money to rebuild, including a grant from the Bush/Clinton Hurricane Katrina Fund. I had called and asked to be included in this fund but was originally told that it was only for losses incurred in Hurricane Katrina, not Rita, which certainly did not seem fair to me. The then-Parish Administrator, Tina Horn, and I managed to get a meeting with former-President George H. W. Bush in Houston, who agreed to help us. In December of 2006, President Bush came to Cameron and brought us a check for $2 million for our hospital! President Clinton could not come, but he sent a representative, George Clooney, the movie star and sexiest man alive, and trust me, he is hotter than a $2 pistol! What a great day that was! Our hospital reopened in late 2007, one of the first public buildings reconstructed after Hurricane Rita.


What do you do in your free time? 

A couple years ago I took up painting, and I really enjoy this hobby, along with gardening. I live next door to my sister Margaret, who is a great cook! While most of our church congregation has moved away, I still take great comfort from our church, which is appropriately named Our Lady Star of the Sea.


What’s next for Jennifer Jones?

I will be 66 on my next birthday and I have no plans for retirement. I will be seeking another term as District Attorney in 2020. 


Is there anything else you’d like to add? 

My greatest challenge as a lawyer, as a mother, as a person, was just getting out of bed and putting one foot in front of another after I lost my son Christopher. I have lost my parents, my home, my business (twice) and I have been divorced twice. None of it can touch losing a child. I survived by throwing myself into my work after Hurricane Rita. My father once told me "Hard work is the best medicine for a broken heart.” These were the truest words he ever spoke. I am grateful to the people of this wonderful community for giving me an opportunity to serve them, which gives my life great meaning. 


A Day in the Life of a Louisiana State Senator


by Kristy Como Armand


As the sun comes up in Baton Rouge, Senator Ronnie Johns has already had his first cup of coffee, logged into the legislative website and reviewed the calendar for the day to see what bills will be heard on the Senate floor and in the various committees on which he serves. By 7:30 a.m., he leaves the small townhouse he calls home while working in Baton Rouge and arrives at the State Capitol to start a 12 – 15 hour day of work. 


Originally from Bunkie, Louisiana, Johns has called Southwest Louisiana home since 1982. A well-respected businessman and active community volunteer, he was elected without opposition to the open Senate in District 27 eight years ago. He previously served as a State Representative for three terms, the maximum allowed by the state, from 1995 – 2007. 

Johns says he is often asked, "What does a State Senator do?” He says this is an understandable question, but one that is challenging to answer in a way that accurately reflects the work done on a day-to-day basis, simply because every day is different.


In Louisiana, legislative sessions run for 60 days in even-numbered years and for 45 days in odd-numbered years. During session, a typical week for Johns is six or seven days of work, starting at the Capitol by 8:00 a.m. and usually continuing until 9:00 p.m. or later. "There really are no typical days,” he says. "There are many different important issues competing for my attention, as well the long-term work that needs to be done to ensure progress in our state.” 


Early mornings at the legislature are filled with meetings. Johns says the President of the Senate, John Alario, meets with the chairman and vice-chairman of each committee at least once each week to discuss their workload and to ensure they are moving their pieces of legislation forward. Other morning meetings are with groups or individuals who have an interest in pending legislation. These meetings take place in Johns’s office at the Capitol and several are typically completed by mid-morning. 


Committee meetings come next. Johns serves on four committees, which is more than most senators sit on. He is the Vice-Chairman of the Judiciary B Committee which hears criminal code and gaming issues. He sits on the Insurance Committee, Labor Committee, and what he says is the most time-consuming, the Finance Committee, which is responsible for constructing the state’s annual $30 billion dollar budget. Committee hearings begin mid-morning and can last until late afternoon, depending on the workload. 


Adding to the daily schedule is the work required to draft, present and debate legislation of his own. Once Johns’s sponsored legislation has cleared Senate committees, he then has to attend House committees to present and debate his bills there. "The schedule each day is quite a juggling act, but my staff and the Senate staff do an incredible job of keeping the schedule running smoothly.” 


Lunch is not usually part of the schedule. In fact, Johns says he rarely leaves the Capitol building most days. Meetings run through lunch and there is too much to do to go out.


In the afternoons, Johns says he moves to the Senate floor, depending on the workload and where they are in session. Once on the floor, bills are debated and votes are held. Most days, Johns says they are able to adjourn from the floor by 6:00 p.m., but by the end of the session, this is often much later in the evening. 


After adjournment of the full senate, the 11 members of the Finance Committee reconvene to continue their work on the budget. "It’s not uncommon for us to work through 9:00 or 10:00 at night, reviewing any legislation that has what is called a ‘fiscal note’ on it. This means any proposed legislation that costs money, comes to this committee for our review and debate about whether or not we can fit it in the budget. When you consider that a session can have 2500 – 3000 pieces of legislation, you can see where the work of this committee is extensive.” 


In between regularly scheduled meetings, Johns carves out any available time – often in short increments – to respond to calls and emails. "It’s important to me to be responsive, but it can be difficult to have a large block of time do this during session. I may return a call from the Senate floor during a break in debate, or I may respond to emails late at night.” 


The goal is to end each workweek at the Capitol on Thursdays, allowing legislators to work in their home offices on Friday and have the weekend with their families. But Johns says there are often committee meetings scheduled over the weekend, especially for the Finance Committee. "This gets more intense as the session progresses. This year, I was only able to come home once during the last six weeks of the session.”


Once the session ends, Johns says his work as a Senator does not stop. "This is not a part-time job. I spend at least 90 percent of every workday on Senate business – in meetings, on the phone, online and attending events throughout the community. In addition, I still go to Baton Rouge at least one day a week to attend meetings related to state business.”


Johns says although most days aren’t easy, many are very rewarding. "I have the unique opportunity – and responsibility – to address issues of specific concern to the community I serve, as well as other state-wide issues as they arise. However, working to help individuals I represent is what is most rewarding. I work very hard to understand and represent the best interests of our community, and that can certainly lead to long days, but I love this job and am honored to have it.” 


Who Does What – the Legal Edition


When you need legal advice or council, it’s important to call a lawyer who has the expertise necessary for your particular circumstances. Whether it’s your first time venturing into the legal world or you’ve had some past experience, the process of seeking legal counsel to meet a specific need can be overwhelming. Law practices are divided into several overlapping categories that collectively form a representative framework for society’s civil justice system. From business and personal injury to bankruptcy and real estate law to family and divorce cases, each lawyer has a defined niche that offers a refined skillset to potential clients. Here are seven areas of the most common types of law practice.


Personal Injury 

 If you have suffered an injury and feel that another party is responsible, a personal injury attorney may be able to help you. Personal injury attorneys represent clients who have sustained either physical or emotional injuries when another party was responsible. Common situations that require a personal injury attorney include botched surgeries, work-related injuries, traffic accidents, air pollution, and falling in public places. Personal injury attorneys usually charge based on contingency, which means the client pays nothing up front, and the attorney takes a percentage if the case wins.  


Nonprofit 

Nonprofit attorneys provide services for clients who cannot afford to pay for legal services. These law centers operate on a sliding scale for cases of family law, including custody child access disputes, child support, use and occupancy of home and car, spousal support, community and domestic violence, intra-family adoption, name changes, and successions; as well as landlord-tenant disputes and expungement cases.


Family Law 

The five basic areas of family law are divorce, child support, custody, spousal support, and community property partitions. Other issues that fall within the category are interdicting elderly people who can no longer care for themselves, name changes, and emancipation cases. 


Property and Real Estate 

Property and real estate lawyers provide a valuable service for clients who are purchasing homes and property. The lawyer is typically retained to perform a title examination, which ensures that a title is clear and there are no liens or judgments against the property. They also review the buy/sell agreement to ensure fairness for all parties. Transactional real estate attorneys are typically well-versed and up-to-date in current laws pertaining to property and zoning restrictions. Real estate attorneys also defend clients in litigation over property rights when a buy/sell agreement is violated or when a tenant or landlord breaks a law. 


Immigration 

The process of bringing a family member, employee, or friend to the United States from another country can be very complicated and involves many applications and filings with multiple government agencies. Hiring an immigration attorney who has expertise in local, state, and federal immigration procedures can streamline the process for businesses and individuals who are attempting to immigrate to and from the United States. Many businesses seek the help of immigration attorneys since they oftentimes hire and relocate employees from outside the U.S. 


Corporate/Business 

Whether it’s for a small business starting out or a large corporate merger, business transactions often require the assistance of a business attorney.  When it comes to business, the general rule is, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and consulting a reliable attorney is crucial for businesses of all shapes and sizes. In addition, retaining a business attorney can make a business more successful, stable, and profitable.  A good business attorney will provide vital assistance in nearly every component of business including hiring compliance, copyright and trademark advice, business incorporation, and lawsuits/liability issues. 


Admirality and Maritime Law

Geographically located near the Gulf of Mexico and home to the Port of Lake Charles and the Calcasieu Ship Channel, Southwest Louisiana may have more need of maritime lawyers than in other land-locked areas. This branch of law governs nautical issues and private maritime disputes. An example would be an injury dispute on an off-shore oil rig. Admiralty law consists of both domestic law on maritime activities, and private international law governing the relationships between private parties operating or using ocean-going ships. 


Top Ten Reasons to Hire a Lawyer


Not every legal matter requires the use of an attorney. Fighting a speeding ticket and going to small claims courts are two examples. However, in many other situations involving a legal dispute, challenge, or deal, you may not wish to chance the risks of going it alone without the advice of an experienced lawyer. In fact, while good legal representation may not be cheap, it can help get you out of several sticky situations, such as a bad divorce or lost job.


While each person's legal situation is different, there are times when you should hire a lawyer. Failing to work with an attorney in certain instances can lead to broken agreements, lost claims, or even prison time. Below are the top ten reasons to hire an attorney.


1. The Law is Complicated

If you're not a lawyer you probably have no business acting like one in certain instances. Even experienced lawyers typically do not represent themselves in court. Also, attorneys tend to specialize in one or more legal practice areas, such as criminal defense or tax law.

A solid case can quickly unravel without the help of a trained and emotionally-detached attorney. Similarly, failing to hire a lawyer when starting a business, reviewing a contract, or embarking on other endeavors with potential legal ramifications can result in otherwise avoidable pitfalls.


2. Not Having a Lawyer May Cost You More

What's at stake? A criminal case may determine whether or not you spend time behind bars, while a civil case could hurt you financially. There are civil attorneys who don't collect a dime from you unless they win your case. Also, you may be able to claim legal fees as a plaintiff in a civil case, so hiring a lawyer can actually save or earn you money.


3. Lawyers Know How to Challenge Evidence

Without the proper legal training, you may not know whether a key piece of evidence against you was improperly obtained or that the testimony of a witness contradicts an earlier statement. And did the crime lab properly handle the evidence every step of the way? Your attorney will find out and possibly have that evidence suppressed.


4. Filing the Wrong Document or Following the Wrong Procedure Could Ruin Your Case

If you're not an attorney, you may struggle with deadlines and protocol for properly filling out and filing certain legal documents. One late or incorrect filing could derail your case, delay a given legal procedure, or worse - have the case thrown out altogether (and not in your favor).


5. They Have Access to the Witnesses and Experts You'll Need on Your Side

Attorneys depend on an extended network of professionals to help their clients' cases. Most non-attorneys don't personally know the types of professionals who can help with discovery or challenge evidence or testimony by the opposing party.


6. A Lawyer Can Present Your Strongest Case

Pleading guilty or admitting fault isn't the only choice, even if there's evidence pointing directly at you. When you hire a lawyer, they can explain all your options and help you avoid potentially severe penalties even before a trial begins.


7. It's Always Better to Avoid Problems Rather Than Fix Them Later

You may have heard the saying, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Hiring a lawyer in many instances will help you avoid potential legal headaches down the road. Do you really understand the fine print of that contract you are signing and what it will mean for you down the road? A lawyer knows.


8. Lawyers Know How to Negotiate Settlements and Plea Bargains

An experienced lawyer probably has seen cases similar to yours or at least knows enough to make a calculated guess about how it might get resolved at trial. Sometimes a settlement is the best choice, while other times it makes more sense to see your case through to trial. An attorney can also help negotiate a fair settlement with the opposing party.


9. The Other Party Probably Has Legal Representation

Non-attorneys are generally at a disadvantage when squaring off against opposing counsel or doing business with another party that has legal counsel. As explained above, the law is complicated and an attorney representing your adversary (or even a non-adversarial party entering into a legal agreement with you) will take advantage of this inequity.


10. Lawyers Often Provide a Free Consultation

Since many attorneys will meet with you for free during a face-to-face consultation, there is no harm in talking with one. Not only will a free consultation give you an idea of the type of case you have and its likely outcome, it will help you decide whether you truly need to hire a lawyer.


Ready to Hire an Attorney? Find One Near You


Whether you're staring down the potential of prison time, trying to get the best possible arrangement for your children after a divorce, need to defend yourself from a lawsuit, or have some other legal matter, it's good to know there are experienced attorneys just a click away. Meet with a qualified, local lawyer near you today to get confidential, personalized answers to your questions.

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