Brie: It's What's For Breakfast

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Linguistically Speaking

Linguistically Speaking... magnify

Sometimes I click on the links for Blogthings and take the little quizzes. Most of the time they’re just fun, silly things.

Your Dominant Intelligence is Linguistic Intelligence
Image You are excellent with words and language. You explain yourself well.
An elegant speaker, you can converse well with anyone on the fly.
You are also good at remembering information and convicing someone of your point of view.
A master of creative phrasing and unique words, you enjoy expanding your vocabulary.
You would make a fantastic poet, journalist, writer, teacher, lawyer, politician, or translator.

Wait. Did this thing just say I’d make a good LAWYER? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!

Please excuse me while I pick myself up off the floor.

I hate practicing law most days. I spend the day with my ear glued to a telephone listening to people complain. Often I listen to them cry. This is where I sheepishly confess that while they are crying I am usually playing solitaire, cold hearted bitch lawyer that I am. It’s not that I’m unsympathetic, but I’ve heard it all so many times before.

If it weren’t for the clients, the practice of law would always be fun.

I have a general law practice, and I am the only attorney in the office. That is good, because there is barely room enough for me here in the alcove off my kitchen. Days when Jane comes we are crowded and busy. Jane is my right hand and my left brain. I could never practice law without her. In fact, when she took two years maternity leave, I practically shut my doors. Thank god she’s back because Jack and I were getting hungry.

I handle a lot of divorce and family matters. I also have a pretty active juvenile law side to my practice. I adore the business, real estate and estate planning clients because their needs are normally simple and straighforward. It’s these children and their families that make me insane.

When a kid is in trouble with the law, when a couple is divorcing, when children have been snatched by the state for abuse, when there is a fight over custody and visitation, my clients are not rational people capable of reason and logic. Emotions run so high, in fact, that I hear myself telling the same clients the same information over and over and over again. They’re just too stressed out to put what I tell them in their long term memory banks. I don’t resent telling them the same things over and over – I understand how stressed they are. But there are times when I wish they would just write down what I tell them.

Once I represented another divorce lawyer in her divorce. She asked me three times which judge was assigned to her case and then asked where the courtroom was. This woman practiced in that courtroom in front of that judge regularly! The stress of family upheaval makes people nuts.

And clients lie. Oh, how they lie. They spin their facts and mislead their attorneys and we usually don’t find out about it until settlement conferences, or worse, when we are in court. I give every client the same lecture at the beginning of the case: “Tell me everything, no matter how damaging or negatively you think it reflects on you. The other side will bring it up. If I don’t already know about it, I can’t plan a response that makes you look good. ”

I’m capable of spinning most facts in my clients’ favor, but only if I know those facts in advance. Sure I can think on my feet, but getting broadsided with unexpected proof is excruciatingly unpleasant. And even though I investigate the case, no one but the client and the opposing party knows the client’s secrets, and the opposing party would rather blindside me in court to get me stuttering. If I can’t respond adequately, my client isn’t responding adequately, and no matter how hard I may have worked on it, the integrity of the case is compromised. And that is the client’s fault, not the lawyer’s fault.

Then there are whiner clients. These are the ones who call up every day because they thing the “counselor” part of my title means I’m a therapist. They could find a better therapist for much less than what I charge an hour.

There was this one guy I represented in a divorce a number of years ago who called three times a day, minimum. He always “wanted an update.” What he couldn’t seem to get through his head that if I was on the phone telling him nothing had happened yet, I couldn’t be on the phone with his ex-wife’s lawyer. If I was on the phone with him, I wasn’t drafting the settlement agreement. If I was on the phone with him, listening to him carry on about how poorly he was treated during his marriage, I wasn’t working on his case. But he was taking up my time and you had better believe I was billing him.

I told him that when something happpened on his case he would be the first to know. I explained that what he was telling me should be shared with a therapist. No, he wanted to talk to me. I can’t do a damn thing about his broken heart. He was taking away from time I could have been using much more productively. He just had to talk to me. Every card that I turned over in those countless solitaire games cost him money. Of course he complained about the fees. Had he gotten the therapist it would have cost him much less in the long run. And a therapist may have been able to help him deal with his broken heart.

Some clients believe I wait in my office all day for them to come to me with their cases, and that once they leave me I will devote 100% of my time to their case until it is completed. They disregard completely the fact that I have anywhere from 75-100 other clients, some of whom actually have the audacity to think that they should have priority. The worst offenders in this category are friends and family. After all, I’ve probably doing the case for free or damn close to it, so why shouldn’t I put it at the top of my list?

I have this one relative who likes me to handle real estate deals for her. Let’s call her “Auntie Itchy.” Auntie Itchy is well situated in life and has her hands in many pies, mostly of the vegetative sort that are grown here in Arkansas. She sometimes needs deeds, contracts, mortgages, leases, and the like, so she calls me.

As soon as I get off the phone with her, Jane and I are flinging files, slamming drawers, pulling out forms, looking up legal descriptions, calculating amortization schedules, and generally schizing out because we know the phone will ring again before we have everything pulled together and Auntie will be demanding to know why she doesn’t have her document yet.

Twenty whole minutes may have passed, and we aren’t moving fast enough to suit her. Auntie is very imperious and demanding. She is not at all understanding. And if I really need to be in court getting a protective order because some child is being sexually molested by mom’s boyfriend, I just need to shift my focus to the truly important thing: Auntie’s fucking lease. For the millionth time, I swear I will never again represent a friend of family member.

What do I do when friends and family come to me and beg? You guessed it. I take the case. Representing friends has cost me more than one friendship. It’s friends who sue their lawyers for malpractice when they don’t like the outcome of the case. That’s right. These friends are the clients I do listen to sympathetically, who I undercharge for my services, who call me at 11:00 at night (or 2:00 in the morning), who I don’t hassle when they are three months late paying my bill.

Those friends are the ones who threaten me and actually hire another lawyer to sue me because they didn’t get the miracle they wanted in court. Of course, I probably told them they were going to get less than what the ended up with, but still, anything they didn’t get is my fault because after all, I proved I could get more than I told them when I – true story – won their freaking case!

Clients also don’t understand that for their lawyers, the case is not personal. It is a case file that needs to be worked, investigated, prepared, and concluded. It has a beginning, middle and end. The client’s case is not the lawyer ‘s life – except in death penalty cases, but I don’t do adult criminal law so that doesn’t apply here. We have lots of cases, and none of them are “life” to us.

Furthermore, opposing counsel is the person we play tennis with, went to law school with, see at cocktail parties, and hang out with on weekends. Our kids go to school together. Lawyers tend to be friends with other lawyers. That’s why we speak to each other in friendly tones. We are doing our job, but our job is not to make enemies of the people we work with or with our friends. We work as hard as we can, but we work with a detachment from the emotions that our clients are caught up in. Clients get angry because lawyers aren’t as emotional about their cases as the clients are. I work hard for my clients, but I am not going to get ulcers over them if I can possibly help it.

Practicing law isn’t all bad.

I love crafting a good argument in a brief. I enjoy the interplay of cross-examining witnesses. I revel in the satisfaction that the right person is taking the children home, and that the kids are safe and won’t be abused. I like the feeling of accomplishment when the contracts or wills are signed and the files closed. I get so high when I win a difficult case in court – I go around declaring “DAMN, I’m good!” to everyone within earshot. I’ve held several leadership positions in the local and state bar associations. It’s am honor to be chosen for those positions.

It’s not like I’m some fat cat always sitting in my office collecting fees – hell, half my clients stiff me. I do represent poor people for no fee at all, and I don’t resent doing so when I see that I’m making sure someone without money has the same access to the legal system as someone who does have it. But I think it’s only fair that those pro bono cases should be my choice to take, not be imposed on my by clients who can pay but simply choose not to.

There is one woman I represented very early in my career. She still pays me $25.00 per month. That’s what she can afford to send, so that’s what I accept from her. I’m not an unreasonable ogre when it comes to collecting my fee, but if I’ve done the work I deserve to be paid.

The lows so outweigh the highs in this job. Sometimes I really wish I had become a librarian instead.

October 12, 2006 Posted by | Lawyer | Leave a comment