Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Tater Tufts

Went to a deposition last week in a very small southern town.  There was a 'square' in the middle of town, and the Plaintiff's attorney (let's call him Hava Smallpeter) had his office in a big old house just off 'the square'.  Never met him before.  He decided he would break the ice between us immediately with a story.  

Hava Smallpeter:  So, SBL, you ever heard of Debbie Defenselawyer?  (I had, as she is a very good lawyer who is at a firm very similar to mine.  She, as well, is blonde.  She is very bright. Attractive.  Mid-thirties.).  
SBL:  Yes, Hava, I sure have met DD, and hear she is a very capable lawyer.  
H Smallpeter:  That may be true, but she wasn't so bright when she deposed my client last year. 
SBL:  (mentally, I'm wondering why he cares about a deposition a year ago, and I am ready to get MY depo overwith so I can drive 2.5 hours back to my metropolis of a city)  Well, like I said, I've heard great things about her so...
H Smallpeter:  Good, I thought you'd be interested.  DD was takin this deposition of my client.  I had warned her that my client had a VERY southern accent, and that she may need me to interpret.  She was indignant to me, and told me that she would need no interpreter.  Well, the deposition continued, and she asked my client how he was injured.  He replied that he had an (inaudible) "torn tater tuft".  DD then replied to my client, 'excuse me, did you say 'torn tater tuft'?.  I laughed so hard. (chuckles annoyingly) He said 'torn rotator cuff', but she didn't understand.  How stupid is that?
SBL:  Well, I don't know, I wasn't there.  But, like I said, DD is very capable at what she does.  (Us SBL's have to stick together, you know... 'cause certainly no one sticks up FOR us.)

Smallpeter brings up the 'tater tuft' comment every chance he gets for the rest of the day -- as if 'tater tuft' is the THEME.  

So, I depose Smallpeter's client No. 1.  Takes me four freakin' hours.  I didn't eat lunch.  (I ALWAYS eat lunch...  I'm a skinny bee-otch, but you're NOT going to find me skipping ANY kind of meal if I can help it).  

Begin deposition of client No. 2.  

SBL:  So, do you have any relatives in Smallville County?  (this is a common question, so that we can keep all relatives off of the jury)
Client No.2:  yes, I have my mom, my dad, my great aunt, and some blacks scattered around...
SBL:  (Now, I realize Client No.2 is caucasian.  I also realize that I am somewhere VERY south, and VERY smalltown, and I am assuming that this fella has a relative that mated with an African-American somewhere down the line, and he doesn't even care to say these peoples' last names, 'cause he is acting so racist). 
SBL:  continue questioning, ignoring the situation...
SBL:  (begin to get angry that this fella has relatives in the county that only count as 'some blacks scattered around', and he doesn't even KNOW THEIR NAMES!!  They're his RELATIVES!  He should be ASHAMED)
SBL:  So, what are these relatives' last names?



Smallpeter:  (trying to stifle a laugh, and directing a comment to the court reporter)  Can we go off the record here, Sue?
SBL:  ??
Smallpeter:  Chuckle.  Chuckle.  Laugh out loud.  Did you just ask what their last names were?
SBL:  (I'm getting angrier now... why is the ATTORNEY making his client feel good about his own client's racism??)
SBL:  (it suddenly hits me... the guy's last name is 'black'.)  Crap.

Crap.  Crap.  Crap.  And it was ALL 'on the record'.

Smallpeter:  I mean, that was even better than "tater tufts".  

... and that, ladies and gentlemen, is how SBL became the NEW story for which Smallpeter 'breaks the ice'.  I called DD and told her what happened.  She did not appreciate Smallpeter one iota.  My story has to be worse than DD's, because Smallpeter can somehow make me look racist through it all, I'm sure.

I'm not the type to have many 'blonde moments'.  So, it kinda urks me that the court reporter tried to make me feel better by trying to tell me it was just a 'blonde moment'.  I am blaming it on my lack of lunch... 'cause I need some lunch ... 

Smallpeter will never let this one go.

Monday, February 25, 2008

A couple of crotch stories.

 I often go to  depositions in some random part of my southern state.  These depositions often consist of me asking  your typical Penny Painful-neck about a car accident she had with my client, Billy Bob.  

One time I was in some random town, and the Plaintiff's attorney insisted on sitting in 'his' chair.  This chair had armrests, and he needed armrests 'cause he had a "hurtin' back."  The deposition was in the afternoon, and Plaintiff Pat had been (allegedly) playing with his kids all morning.  Pat shows up in Patagonia jacket, and matching shorts.   (I'm wearing the requisite black suit with pearls and a pink button-down.)  Part-way through the deposition, Pat throws his leg over the armrests... and he BOUNCES his leg as I ask questions.  I don't know if he was wanting me to check out his junk or what... but I certainly never acknowledged that his leg was flailing over the armrest like a dying fish.  His client, who was sitting next to him, never knew it -- as he threw his leg over the armrest AWAY from her.  

Another random town, and another Plaintiff Pat -- I was last-minute reviewing documents in the waiting room of a rather nice office.  Wearing a skirt.  Deep in thought.  I suddenly felt something cold and wet in my crotchal area.  I jumped about four feet high to find a large german shepherd in front of me.  The dog had just been roaming around the office, and decided to greet me in the crotch.  

I'm just now figuring out that these nether-region situations aren't within the norm.  I haven't been practicing long.  Apparently I get treated differently than your average middle-aged attorney with hair growing out his ears.  Of course, I think the dog would've sniffed-out about anyone.  

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Asbestos Depos - the billable promised land

We've still got asbestos litigation going on down here in the south.  And it's BIG money, let me tell ya.  There are weeks on end of asbestos depositions.  These depositions are in small random towns, and require corporate attorneys representing all of corporate America to attend.  The experience of these depos are the same for the biggest of big-whig attorneys, and the smallest of minions like myself.  Undoubtedly, there is some important litigation that goes on in these matters, but, my place in said litigation goes something like this:
6am: leave house to drive three hours to arrive at Tinytown.  Tinytown is 250 miles away, and I get paid $.50 per mile, as well as my hourly rate, to drive there.  Mileage is my friend.
9am: arrive in Tinytown, and prep for deposition of Joe Bob by setting up my laptop, and stealing the two-week-old Newsweek out of the lobby of the hotel where the depos are taking place
9:30:  commence deposition.  
9:45:  pay 20% attention to the deposition as I finger through Newsweek, but remembering to keep my ear sharpened for the mention of ABC Corporation's name.  
10:25:  Drudge report says that blue is a bad color for Hillary.  I've already billed 4.5 hours today.  I think Hill looks fine in blue.
11:30:  Joe Bob mentioned ABC Corporation while I was trying to watch an episode of the Office on mute.  Get angry with Joe Bob to have the audacity to mention ABC Corp. while I'm trying to watch NBC's finest comedy.  Make a note of Joe Bob's reference on my "page of notes" on my computer... thank heavens I could find said notes underneath all the other open windows.   
12:45:  "the question" comes up.  Everyone looks around to feel each other out.  "The question" is the same question that enters these depositions every time... shall we break for lunch or push through the deposition?  This is a much larger question than one could imagine -- it's not just 'to eat or not to eat'.  If we DON'T eat, then the depo will indefinitely be finished faster, saving all our clients money.  If we DO eat, then we get to bill considerably more, as all people will have a full happy stomach for the afternoon, and will feel free to ask as many questions as they want without the fear of cannibalism of fellow attorneys.  'The question' has a huge impact on the economy.  If lunch is had, then the client pays for it... so everyone feels free to eat and tip as they please.  18+ attorneys in Tinytown Cracker Barrel is enough high rolling to give that Cracker Barrel's owner's child a good Christmas.  Also, we'll probably bill an addition 3.0 hours on average additional on the day, thanks to the lunch.  Assuming that each attorney bills $250, then that's $750 per person, times 18 attorneys.  That comes out to over $13k getting pumped out of corporate America... all because of 'the question'.  When 'the question' comes up, everyone looks around clueless, saying "I really don't care, what do you think" -- but really, deep down inside, everyone wants to take a lunch for the above-referenced reasons.   'The question' inevitably is answered by the most senior attorney in the room... all other attorneys know who that person is.  It changes every day.  He or she (who are we kidding... it's always a 'he') gets to make the call.  
1-2p:  lunch at Cracker Barrel.  I hope Sue Barrel enjoys her new Christmas hula hoop.
2p:  We are now at the 4th of 17 attorneys to ask question (the plaintiff's attorney doesn't need to ask his own client questions).  I'm sitting at about the 15th space.  (I sit at the end of the semi-circle on purpose... most of the good questions have already been asked by then, so all I have to do is follow up.)
3:16:   My turn.  Look up from soduku, and open notes: "Joe Bob, have you ever heard of ABC Corp?"  Yeah.  "What is ABC Corp?"  I don't know, just heard of it, 'cause my cousin worked there.  "What is your cousin's name?"  Jizzy.  "What is his full name?"  I don't know we just call him Jizzy.  "You don't know your cousin's full name?"  No.  "Do you know ABC Corp in any other way other than its relationship with Jizzy?"  No.  "No more questions, I pass the witness."  I drove three hours, and sat here all day, and ate at Cracker Barrel, all so I could ask those six questions.
3:18p:  Continue sitting in deposition, but this time not even giving the 20% effort I did at 9:45.
4:00p:  Deposition concluded.  Run to the loo before the drive home, wondering what's going to be on NPR, and if my cell phone reception will be decent in the drive through nowheresville.
7:00p:  Arrive at home.  I just billed the laziest and easiest 13 hours known to man.   Thank you, corporate America, and God bless asbestos litigation. 

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Sink or Swim

My firm is heavy on the 'sink or swim'  credo -- in that, there's not a lot of training, but a liberal amount of "you really screwed that one" if, indeed, one does proverbially 'screw the pooch'.   I had been practicing law for a grand total of three (3) months when I was given my first jury trial.  The assignment went something like this:

A-hole partner:  SBL, here's a file.  Little 'ole parking lot motor vehicle accident case.  You need to try it.
SBL:  My first jury trial?  Wow!  Thanks for your trust, and willingness to...
AHP interrupts:  You better not screw it up.
SBL:  Of course not.  I'll put it on my very blank calendar, as I've only been practicing law for three months, when is it?
AHP:  eight in the morning.
SBL:  but it's three o'clock
AHP:  Plenty of time.  My first trial, I didn't get the file 'til two hours before voir dire... but I won it, as I am a litigating god...
SBL:  but it's three o'clock, and I've never seen this file before...
AHP:  well, if you don't think you can handle it, then I can always...
SBL:  of course I can handle it.  (winces, and immediately feels the need to run to the loo)
AHP:  here's the file.  don't ask me any questions about it, as I'll make you feel like an idiot for not knowing exactly what to do

NOW, this may seem like extreme hyperbole, but this is, in essence, how the convo went down that fall afternoon.  I really did try the case the next day, remembering the ole' hazing days of the sorority system in college as I trucked through preparations... 

Outcome from trial:  $1.60 over the settlement offer.  AHP's response "Well, you lost it by $1.60; I WON my first trial, you know."  

It, however, WAS a moral victory for SBL, as she could've screwed the pooch much worse.  PLUS, the Plaintiff's attorney felt pretty crappy when he found out he lost a bunch of money by going against a just-outta-the-package attorney who got the file hours before.  

Monday, January 21, 2008

Legally Blonde

A very popular movie and musical, Legally Blonde adds to the stereotypes of lawyers and law school. Here is a list of things that urk me every time it comes on TBS:
-- No one waits 'til graduation to apply for law school. You gotta do it in the fall semester of your senior year, or you're screwed.
-- 175 LSAT score is a FREAKISH score (1 point from perfect... I think... it's been a while) -- this score is so high that I don't know a soul who has done this well. When I was taking the LSAT, ignorant college friends assumed this was an AVERAGE score (due to the movie) and asked me if I made the necessary 175... uh, ... no.
-- Although law firms may hire law clerks after their first year, it is common knowledge that 1L's (what first year law students are called) make terrible clerks. 1L's have NO practical knowledge, and are only hired by firms because the firms are trying to Court said 1L's, and not because 1L's will actually be of any significant benefit to the firm. If the "blood in the water" professor actually hired law students for a big murder case, he would've hired 3L's, and not 1L's. Additionally, he would NEVER have allowed the 3L's to take over the ever-important cross-examination of the star witness. The 1L Elle cross-examination is preposterous.
-- Regarding above-referenced cross-examination: Elle would not be allowed to go on the record in Court pursuant to Court rules--because she's not a lawyer. Only LAWYERS can perform in Court. Again, sometimes 3L's are allowed to practice law pursuant to certain state rules that allow the students to do free work for the indigent, but I would hardly consider Missy Workout Sorority Sis indigent.
-- There is no such thing as "new" information coming out in a big case ... Rest assured, the testimony of every witness would have ALREADY been taken in the form of a deposition... so Elle and her co-counsel would have been well-versed with the "you don't wash your hair after a perm" point... Lawyers hardly ever come up with case-breaking information during the actual jury trial... it's all been considered, and artfully prepared for argument, ahead of time.

THINGS that are TRUE:
-- You really do have homework before the first class.
-- You can certainly put off studying during the first half of the semester and still do well, as there is only one test per class per semester (typically).
-- Only the top students get clerkships, and it is a very big deal to get a great clerkship with a great firm.
-- In my experience, persons in law school do have "roles". As in, in every class, there is the jock guy, and the lesbian girl, and the smart software dude, the girl who dresses way too well, and the guy who raises his hands way too much ('helium hands'). If you're considering going to law school, read Thurow's "One-L"... it's freakishly accurate.

I'll probably think of more as the day goes on, and I'm supposed to be billing by the mili-second...

Thursday, January 17, 2008

food for grisham...


dickie scruggs = patton french ("fictional" Grisham character). Even their offices and yacht look alike.

Writing Briefs...

Many people don't know that the "babies" of the firm do most of the work. Well, let me take that back... they DO know that the associates (are supposed to) work harder than the partners, but they don't know WHY this is the case.
The associate does all the S%^& (real southern women don't curse) work. Then, after drafting the 10 page motion, and 60 page brief in support, the associate hands it over to the partner. The partner signs his name, and it gets filed before the court and reviewed by the judge. NO CREDIT goes to the associate for the hours and hours of work. The associate is not even REFERENCED in the brief. This is perfectly legal and normal. Associate does the work. Partner takes the credit. It's just the way it works.
This partner-pandering system is quite hard on an associate attorney when wanting to change jobs. I have a Southern Blonde friend who lives in NYC. She hates her job, and wants to jump ship to greener grasses (I don't blame her... she does TAX LAW for heaven's sake). She was asked to submit a writing sample by a prospective employer. She didn't have a THING to give them!! All her writings (and she had done many) had been hijacked by one of the partners. So, she had no proof they were hers!
Also, for the record, there is no such thing as plagiarizing in the legal world. I know this is difficult to understand to you STUDENTS out there, or those of you who write for a living... but, when drafting a legal brief, you are considered DUMB if you don't gank the good stuff from someone else. This sounds like a horrible offense, but it's not. Attorneys don't care if their argument is 'stolen' by someone else... in fact, it's often considered flattering... as people only steal the good stuff. It's also the general practice of law. One is supposed to quote the high courts as much as possible when writing a brief... if you can argue a case just like the Supreme Court did, then you are GOLDEN. The more language you yank from the Supreme Court, the better the brief, and the more likely it'll win.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

What to wear...

Rules are very strict for females in Court... or, at least, they should be if you're trained well. If appearing in Court as an attorney (or, I suppose, if you're the Plaintiff or the Defendant), wear black or navy. Suit. No bows, no ruffles, no frills, no stripes, no fun colors. Nothing that you could buy at the Limited or the Gap. Nothing that looks remotely fun. Go to your Casual Corner or your Ann Taylor (NOT Loft), and get a wrinkle-free, super boring suit. Wear it with a button-down and pearls. Shoes should be closed-toe. If you're wearing a skirt, wear panty-hose. Hair back and out of your face. Take off your diamonds, and wear a wedding band (even if not married). The jury will REALLY take you apart, and you have to make it so that they concentrate on your case and not your outfit. Plus, you have to look like you blend in with all the old men, and that's the only way you'll do it.

If you're interviewing for a job, then you should dress the same way.

I always get twice the respect in the power suit.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Pleasing the partners.

I do civil defense.  Litigation.  I've tried half a dozen in my long career.  Won 80%.  Sent to a no-brain deposition last week.  Sit and take notes.  Two-day-er.  Important client.  Not joking -- after partner found out they were sending the 'young female' associate, he started raging that his client was going to be mad.  I guess not enough gravitas.  He literally yelped that his client doesn't like females.  (truly I am not the women's lib type... but what am I SUPPOSED to think when this is what's yelled at me?)  I guess co-defendants liked me (only estrogen in the room), because they settled the matter, and had my client pay $0.  I've never heard of a defense matter being settled for $0.  But I did it.  Did angry partner grovel?  Nope.  Got a "preciate ya".  Welcome to the south.