I have long contended that I stay in the law for one reason only, the amusement factor. Case in point:
A fed-up bankruptcy judge Wednesday ordered a Hastings attorney and her
client to show cause why each shouldn’t be fined up to $10,000 for calling the
jurist a “Catholic Knight Witch Hunter” – as well as other names – in a court
In a pair of sternly worded orders, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Nancy Dreher said a
legal memorandum filed last month by attorney Rebekah Nett was filled with
“unsupported and outrageous allegations of bigotry, deceit, conspiracy and
Among other things, the attorney’s memo called Dreher, another judge and a
couple of trustees “dirty Catholics” and said the courts were “composed of a
bunch of ignoramus, bigoted Catholic beasts that carry the sword of the church.”
Nett had signed the document, but it was written by Naomi Isaacson, a
Minneapolis woman who is president of Yehud-Monosson USA Inc., which owned gas
stations and convenience stores. It is a subsidiary of a religious group known
as the Dr. R.C. Samanta Roy Institute of Science and Technology Inc., or SIST,
in Shawano, Wis., and is embroiled in a bankruptcy dispute in Dreher’s court.
Dreher set a hearing for Jan. 4 and told Nett and Isaacson they’d have to
come up with good reasons why they shouldn’t be fined.
She also said she plans to order them to write public apologies to those
slurred in the November filing and will order Nett “to attend, at her own
expense, no less than 30 hours of ethics training within the next 12 months.” Continue reading
As long time readers of this blog know I am an attorney, for my sins no doubt. Although the bulk of my practice is civil, over the years I have defended hundreds of defendants accused of crimes, mostly felonies. This is part of my ongoing series about the life of a lawyer. For people who have not heeded my warnings about the profession and want to become attorneys, here are some tips regarding criminal defense work:
10. Guilty, Guilty, Guilty!- Contrary to what you may have gleaned from television, movies and novels, almost all of your clients will be as guilty as mortal sin. However, there is a difference between actual guilt and what the State has the burden of proving at trial.
9. Clients lie- People accused of crimes will sometimes be forthright with their defense counsel, but frequently they will lie. This can be a dangerous handicap at trial, especially since an attorney has an ethical duty not to knowingly have his client commit perjury. Sometimes the best thing any defense attorney can do is to rip to shreds a client’s lies in an interview prior to trial and advise them that what you have just done is merely a foretaste of what they will receive in cross-examination from the prosecutor.
8. Cops lie- Not all cops by any means, but enough so that a defense attorney will treat police reports with the scepticism of a priest listening to a politician’s confession and not hearing the sin of lying brought up. An example of this is the videotaping of field sobriety tests. It was assumed in Illinois that this technological development would lead to more DUI convictions. After all, cops arresting people for DUI would routinely report that the person arrested had badly failed the field sobriety test. Instead, it has been a boon for defense attorneys, since the videotape evidence is often at variance with what the police initially report after the arrest.
7. Witnesses can surprise you-Last year I was defending an individual where a witness identification of my client was a significant factor. At the bench trial the State produced a witness to identify my client. The witness took a look at my client from the stand and said he could not be sure as to his identification. That took both the State and my client by surprise. Never assume that either your witnesses or the State’s will not give you both good and bad surprises.
6. Motion to suppress-Remember your constitutional law course? It wasn’t a complete waste of time after all! I enjoyed constitutional law in law school, and it is extremely useful on motions to suppress, as Supreme Court cases on fairly fine distinctions of constitutional law come in very handy in determining whether evidence is admissible or not. It is often advisable to do a motion to suppress even if you think you will lose. It gives you more insight into the State’s case as the prosecutor defends against the motion to suppress, since the investigating officers are subject to cross-examination, and often-times aspects of the case can be made to appear weak in the eyes of the judge, even if he allows the evidence in. That can be a useful factor at both the trial and, if your client is convicted, at sentencing. Most judges will be more inclined to leniency in sentencing in my experience if the conviction was based on some weak or questionable evidence. Continue reading
After 29 years at the Bar I only have one word to say to pirates: Amateurs. Oh well, since it is Talk Like a Pirate Day I will have to belay that and wish all pirates in Davy Jones Locker full sails, plenty of grog and vegetarian sharks! Aaargh!
Something for the weekend. The First Lord’s Song from Gilbert& Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore, a satirical look at how political hacks filled important positions they were completely unsuited for. With around 40% of Congresscritters members of the legal profession, and I believe some eight cabinet level officers, the song remains topical.
Abraham Lincoln on July 1, 1850 was writing down some notes for a lecture to lawyers. I have always found this advice helpful to me in my legal practice, and I think non-lawyers can benefit from it also:
I am not an accomplished lawyer. I find quite as much material for a lecture in those points wherein I have failed, as in those wherein I have been moderately successful. The leading rule for the lawyer, as for the man of every other calling, is diligence. Leave nothing for to-morrow which can be done to-day. Never let your correspondence fall behind. Whatever piece of business you have in hand, before stopping, do all the labor pertaining to it which can then be done. When you bring a common-law suit, if you have the facts for doing so, write the declaration at once. If a law point be involved, examine the books, and note the authority you rely on upon the declaration itself, where you are sure to find it when wanted. The same of defenses and pleas. In business not likely to be litigated, — ordinary collection cases, foreclosures, partitions, and the like, — make all examinations of titles, and note them, and even draft orders and decrees in advance. This course has a triple advantage; it avoids omissions and neglect, saves your labor when once done, performs the labor out of court when you have leisure, rather than in court when you have not. Extemporaneous speaking should be practised and cultivated. It is the lawyer’s avenue to the public. However able and faithful he may be in other respects, people are slow to bring him business if he cannot make a speech. And yet there is not a more fatal error to young lawyers than relying too much on speech-making. If any one, upon his rare powers of speaking, shall claim an exemption from the drudgery of the law, his case is a failure in advance.
Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. Point out to them how the nominal winner is often a real loser — in fees, expenses, and waste of time. As a peacemaker the lawyer has a superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough.
Never stir up litigation. A worse man can scarcely be found than one who does this. Who can be more nearly a fiend than he who habitually overhauls the register of deeds in search of defects in titles, whereon to stir up strife, and put money in his pocket? A moral tone ought to be infused into the profession which should drive such men out of it. Continue reading
I have sometimes been known to say, especially after a fairly crazy day in the law mines, yesterday was such a day, that I practice law mainly because of the amusement that it affords me. As long as courts, judges, attorneys, and innocent and not so innocent clients exist, vaudeville will never be dead. I rarely have found entertainment on television to match it in dramas or comedies regarding attorneys. Most of them tend to be bloated soap operas, a la that wretched piece of tripe from the eighties, L.A. Law, but every now and then I do find a show that is a cut above, entertaining while relaying some truth about the legal system.
Perhaps the best I have come upon is the British show Rumpole of the Bailey, which ran from 1975-1992. Written by John Mortimer, a playwright and noted Queen’s Counsel, (a rank given to British Barristers who are considered the top of their profession), it follows the legal misadventures of Horace Rumpole. Rumpole is a barrister, a British attorney who represents clients in court. A self-described “Old Bailey Hack” (The “Old Bailey” being the London criminal court.), both fame and fortune have eluded Horace. No judgeship for him, not even the rank of Queen’s Counsel. (Horace refers to them dismissively as Queer Customers.) However, Horace is a happy man. He realizes that he is a gifted trial attorney, and that knowledge is good enough for him. The episodes usually revolve around one case, as we see Rumpole mostly prevailing, while illustrating both his own absurdities and those of the British legal system, his clients and society at large. John Mortimer, at least in his younger days, was a political left winger, but there are no sacred cows in Rumpole land, no matter if they moo to the left or the right. Continue reading
As faithful readers of this blog know, I am an attorney, and I have written several posts which may be read here, here and here, warning about some of the pitfalls of the profession, especially the financial cost of attending law school. The facts of law school debt as opposed to the job market have become so grim that even the American Bar Association has now issued a warning on the subject that may be read here. This is significant since the ABA has studiously ignored this problem for over a decade, even denying that there was a problem, and has passed out accreditation to new law schools with a glad hand. Well, better late than never.
Far too many law students expect that earning a law degree will solve their financial problems for life. In reality, however, attending law school can become a financial burden for law students who fail to consider carefully the financial implications of their decision.
You can underline and put several stars by that! The general public has the illusion that the law is a quick path to riches. Few things are farther from the truth. Except for the top 10% of the top law schools most new attorneys, if they can find employment, will be starting out at around 40-45k a year. When I graduated from law school in 1982 I started out at 16k. Earning 40k a year and having 100k in law school debts is a very bad situation, and decades of dealing with a huge debt, which cannot be discharged in bankruptcy except under the most extreme circumstances, await.
Obtaining a degree from an ABA-accredited law school is not cheap. Over the last twenty-five years, law school tuition has consistently risen two times as fast as inflation. Consequently, the average tuition at private law schools in 2008 was $34,298, while the average in-state tuition for public law schools was $16,836. When one adds books and living expenses to tuition, the average public law student borrows $71,436 for law school, while the average private school student borrows $91,506. Many students borrow far more than $100,000, and these numbers do not even include debt that students may still carry from their undergraduate years.
The numbers speak for themselves. I would never have taken on this type of debt to become an attorney, and if I had, I can’t imagine how I would have serviced that debt in my first lean decade as an attorney. There is more good news for people about to begin law school: Continue reading
The ABA Journal reports on an attorney who is working harder than is humanly possible:
“An Ohio lawyer has been suspended for overbilling local courts for her representation of poor clients, submitting bills for more than 24 hours a day on three different occasions.
Glenn Reynolds, the Instapundit, has asked for thoughts about movies featuring attorneys. Faithful readers of this blog know that I have no hesitation about highlighting the less attractive aspects of my profession, for example here and here. However, I would be less than candid if I did not admit that there are rather amusing or exciting aspects to being an attorney, and many of those occur in court. Film reflects this, although it does not reflect the majority of an attorney’s work which is often congealed tedium.
10. My Cousin Vinnie (1992)-One of the funniest movies I have ever seen, and hands down the funniest movie about a trial. Joe Pesci is unforgettable as a fledgling litigator, a true diamond in the rough. The late Fred Gwynne as the strict judge is very true to life. (I suspect all attorneys who appear in courts encounter a judge as portrayed in the film sooner or later.)
9. The Verdict (1982)-Paul Newman is unbelievably good as a burned out alcoholic attorney who gives everything he has to win a personal injury case.
8. A Few Good Men (1992)-The court martial is fairly unrealistic, but no list of films about attorneys would be complete without the cross-examination featured in the above video clip.
7. Witness for the Prosecution (1957)-Charles Laughton steals every scene he is in as an aging barrister at the top of his game. Besides, I really appreciate the comments about the British National Health Care system in the video clip! Continue reading
Blogs seem to attract more than their fair share of lawyers, law students and people who want to be lawyers. As a 27 year veteran of the bar, pro bono publico, I am giving my top ten reasons why people should consider not going to law school. Continue reading