Everyone is always looking for tips on how to be a better lawyer and that does a disservice to those who aspire to be full of the fail while acting in a representative capacity. After sitting in a crowded courtroom for way too long yesterday, I was able to finally witness a lawyer fully exude suck while arguing a simple motion before a crotchety jurist. The following suggestions have absolutely nothing to do with whether or not you will win your motion (though they might contribute to your ultimate fate) they however will make you seem like an asshat.
There are several precursors to having these suggestions apply. First, you have to have a disputed matter regarding something minor where the worst that could happen is something relatively insignificant. A motion to compel will suffice, as the Court will likely remedy the situation by just giving the non-moving party time to respond and a stern talking to about being timely. Second, you need to have a responding attorney that is unmoved by a blustering and hysterical movant. Think of a poker player bluffing or a unflappable politician gladly embracing those that wish them ill. Third, you need the moving attorney to do the following:
If you follow this simple guide, you will come off looking like an asshole.
Please do not follow this simple guide. Ever.
1. If you are testifying under oath, please do not let this be the first time your attorney hears you say “I lied to the doctor about my pain so I could get more pills.”
2. If you have been in a serious accident and are on your way to the hospital, please do not commit a crime before arriving.
3. For the love of God, do not bother me if you’ve been convicted of insurance fraud.
Simple tips that I wish more clients heeded.
To begin the day, I was out of the office masquerading as a competent attorney around the courthouse. After hours of dodging traffic, litigants, lawyers, judges, more litigants and a crowded grocery store parking lot, I returned to the office. I hadn’t sat down when one of the partners comes barreling in:
Partner: Good. You’re back. I wanted to let you know that I spoke with one of your clients this morning.
Me: Ok? Which one? Is everything all right?
Partner: Yes. Not to worry. It was Tom Smith. He wanted you to know that he received the memorandum, is reviewing it and will have his thoughts on it in the next day or so.
Me: I…ah…don’t have a client named Tom Smith.
Partner: You don’t?
Partner: He sure seemed to know you.
Me: Odd. Did he give you a number where he can be reached?
Me: That’s the phone number for Dawn Jones. Who is my client. And is also a woman.
Maybe this explains why so many things are screwed up around here.
Me: Had you been drinking before the accident?
Mr. Smart: No.
Me: Are you sure?
Mr. Smart: Well, I had a wine cooler in the afternoon.
Me: A wine cooler in the afternoon?
Mr. Smart: Yeah, it was a birthday party.
Me: What time did you leave the birthday party?
Mr. Smart: Oh yeah… That was about two in the afternoon.
Me: That was the last time that you had a drink?
Mr. Smart: Yes sir.
Me: What happened after you left the party?
Mr. Smart: I took a bunch of people home. Then the accident happened.
Me: And you hadn’t been drinking since the party.
Mr. Smart: That’s correct.
Me: What time did the accident happen?
Mr. Smart: About 7pm.
Me: I see. And you went to the hospital immediately after?
Mr. Smart: Yes. By Ambulance.
Me: It was a pretty serious accident right? You had to be removed from the car by the Jaws of Life?
Mr. Smart: Yes.
Me: When you got to the hospital, did they do a blood test on you?
Mr. Smart: They drew blood, but I don’t know what they did with it.
Me: Do you remember them telling you the results of your blood test?
Mr. Smart: I don’t remember exactly, they told me something.
Me: Did they tell you had twice the legal limit of alcohol in your system in order to be driving?
Mr. Smart: I don’t remember.
Me: Did they tell you that you shouldn’t drink and drive?
Mr. Smart: I don’t remember.
Me: Why don’t you take a look at your medical records to refresh your recollection. I’ve highlighted the portions that state your BAC, their admonishment not to drink and drive and where you signed in understanding of all of what the medical staff told you.
Mr. Smart: [Looks at them] Oh yeah, I remember this now. I wonder if that wine cooler stayed in my system that whole time?
As an associate, you are at the beck and call of the partners. This can mean getting the call at 9:25a.m. to show up for a 9:30a.m. court hearing knowing only the courtroom where you are supposed to be present in less than 300 seconds. If you’re lucky, you have good enough cerebral flexibility to (1) put on a tie, (2) while running to the courthouse and (3) formulating how you are not going to make an ass of yourself in front of a packed courtroom. If you’re not, well, these situations are probably not going to be your forte. The advantage to this 0-60 approach to litigation, is that you always have the out by blaming the partner who should have been there in the first place.
I mean, feigning ignorance of the situation.
The call came about 12 minutes before the court hearing. I hadn’t planned on being in the halls of justice today, so I was not appropriately groomed or attired when I picked up the phone. No matter, this was an ‘emergency’ and a ‘warm body’ was needed and not to worry, ‘nothing major was happening in the case so it will be rather simple.’ At the utterance of those words, I knew I was going to be in an uphill battle from the moment the judge asked that I come forward. Nonetheless, I went. And, predictably, it was boring. Not.
Counsel, I’d for you to explain to me why you think you can ignore a handful of prior orders and think I will do nothing. Tell me why I shouldn’t find you in contempt.
A couple of years ago, I would have likely stammered a little bit, had a blank stare and probably started responding with something eloquent like “Wha-ha-happened was…” but I am now a little more seasoned in dealing with adverse situations. Thus, a slight smile and conciliatory tone was needed:
Your Honor, I can understand your frustration with this case. As I said when I stepped up, I am standing in the stead of the attorney of record. I don’t even know if I am the Plaintiff or the Defendant. What I would suggest, and I believe that opposing counsel agrees with this, why don’t you give us a little more time. With a simple caveat, if your order is not complied with you can take lead counsel out and beat him with a stick. Knowing the lawyer as I do, he needs proper structure to ensure his compliance with simple, judicially required tasks…
After a little more banter, the Judge decided against corporal punishment as well issuing me a contempt citation. Turns out my approach to this mess allowed the partner and his client to survive for another day. For me, I consider this court hearing a victory as I got the judge and opposing counsel to laugh in open court.
That’s what matters right?
Congratulations, you got one of those elusive thingys where you (1) get really nervous, (2) get really calm and (3) then hope you get hired! That is a reason to be very happy in and of itself. I want to give you a little helpful three-step tip on preparing for the big day.
Step one: Research! Thanks to the modern world we live in, you can do in-depth internet research on your potential employer by using Google. Amazingly, this will be the one time in your legal career that using Wikipedia is probably frowned upon. You need to know the lawyers, their clients, their notable decisions, their future plans and then you need to know more. Which is why step two exists.
Step two: Reach Out! There is only so much that Google and Westlaw/Lexis can tell you about a place of employment. As long as there has been no public acts of workplace violence, you are only going to find out what the people are truly like by talking to fellow lawyers. Talk to their opponents and their co-counsel. If you are lucky, you can talk to a judge or two about how they present themselves to the court. Use every contact you can think of so you can get a clear picture of the environment at this firm.
Step three: Get ridiculously drunk the night before so you have the mother of all hangovers when you meet the hiring committee.
three two steps in mind, you will go into that interview with a sense of confidence that will help you deal with the rejection when you do not get that new job. Good luck and Godspeed!
The practice of law is a professional practice that unfortunately means we must comport ourselves as professionals. That means we, as a lawyer, must be able to filter what we think in a way that does not offend those that we come across in our professional lives. If we do not follow this basic tenet, we end up bringing great shame upon ourselves, our practice and potentially, our bank accounts. There are many times that I want to tell off a lawyer, client or judge but I have to stop myself mid-thought because I do not ever want to end up on Above the Law categorized as a “lawyer behaving badly.”
Thus we say things in a way that the listener would not grasp the derogatory nature of our speaking.
For instance I may say the client is “Not the most sophisticated client…” and I will mean “The client is a dumbass.” Other examples include:
For those in litigation, as respectable as they are, Judge’s are known to make decisions that can upset even the most seasoned lawyer. If you value your law license and your personal freedom, it is not wise to the give the Court the middle finger.
The key here is to do as I say, not as I mean.
When I was thinking about this week on Sunday, I really wanted to use this week as a chance to really restart my blogging. There have been a lot of funny things going on in my professional life and damnit, I like writing so that others can laugh. Then some assholes interrupted a marathon. Then West Texas blew up. And then, close to home, the monsoons descended upon Chicago. And then… And then… And then…
I don’t know about you, but I really want to laugh right now. Unfortunately, I am finding it really hard to be funny. That said, I honestly hope that by this time Monday, the chaos will have receded and jokes about the practice of law, my life as a poorly treated associate attorney and rascally clients will seem appropriate again.
To those on the East coast, in Texas and those in the flooded suburbs of Chicago: Stay safe, good luck and Godspeed. See you next week.
When I first started working, my employer was very proud to be equal opportunity. Those who applied for jobs were judged not by some subjective standard but by the content of our resumes when it was determined who was brought in for interviews. Well, that wasn’t entirely true, as at that time only us law students had Facebook and the managing partner had me dig through all of the applicant’s Facebook pages to see if there was anything untoward. While I did was I was assigned, I didn’t really dig that deep and I actually spent most of the time sanitizing my Facebook profile so that I couldn’t have this sort of opposition research used against me…but I digress. At my current workplace, equal opportunity is simply not how things are done.
Several years ago, a partner (who is no longer with us) was trying to hire a new paralegal and his process was…unique. Now, it must be said that this individual was a one creepy son of a bitch. You would not look at him and see a great legal mind, or hell, even be able to know that he was an attorney. The best way for me to describe him would be saying that he was the illegitimate love child of Jabba the Hutt and Frodo Baggins who was clearly a big deal twenty years ago. Back to his hiring process: he was walking around the office one day carrying a stack of papers that each had a paper clip stuck to them. As I tend to be curious when I see things that are out of place, I did my best to see what this mysterious stack was. Thankfully, he decided to review his collection by spreading each out over the conference room table. They were resumes and photographs of potential candidates that he had gone onto to Facebook to find. Those who got selected for an interview were the best looking women of the group and the one resume where he couldn’t find any photos.
Apparently the one individual he couldn’t find photos for was some poor guy and, needless to say, that guy did not get the job.
Back to the present day, two attorneys in the office just hired new support staff. Unlike the old pervert of the past, these were a little less obvious in their discriminating ways but yet, only one gender was represented in the interview process. Maybe that is why these two particular attorneys never seem to get any work done when their support staff are in the office. I’d like to think that when I rise to the level of authority where I can make hiring decisions, I will proceed not on what is visually appealing but on what matters most: being competent at lying to clients.
I mean dealing with clients.
According to my tax return I am due a meaningful tax refund this year. This is new ground for me as usually I end up owing a government or two some of my precious savings. Last year’s refund hope was mercilessly cancelled out by the fact my $85 federal tax refund was going to be spent funding my $87 state tax liability. Talk about a kick in the pants.
This year will be a different story as I will end in the black after tax season concludes. I still have to pay the robber barons that run this bankrupt state, but good ol’ Uncle Sam is sending me a check of my own, hard-earned money back to me. In theory, presuming the check clears, I’ll be able to pay my state income tax and have some for me left over. Being on a tight budget, this is super exciting news for the House of Pamby.
How will this money be used, you ask? Will I stash it in savings or pay down existing debt? Hell no! I am going to exercise my God-given American right to stimulate the economy while throwing all thoughts of future economic commitments out of my mind. I haven’t even gotten the money yet, but I’ve made my exciting purchase: On a kitchen trash can.
In case there was any question being an adult sucks.