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. 


spdefngrs said...

What a great sense of humor!
I am a Southern Blonde Court Reporter and recently sat through
four days of asbestos depositions! 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. every day with a 1.5 hr lunch break. Gotta love it.

Love your stories!

p.s. sold a bunch of copies and already planning my summer vacation!

Texas Jaeger said...

I used to do asbestos depos in Texas. All too familiar! What state are you in?

Anonymous said...

This is the most honest and accurate account of this type of litigation I have ever heard! I have practiced on both sides of the asbestos fence, and I have never seen such easy billable time. As a plaintiffs' attorney in these depos, I once in a while called people out on the record for reading their newspaper during the depo when they started asking duplicate or triplicate questions at 3:00 in the afternoon after not paying attention all day. I'm so glad to see a defense lawyer be truthful about this subject! Now let's hope your clients aren't reading this!

Anonymous said...

Thank you, you brought a happy "oh my GOD! it's like this EVERYWHERE!" moment to the hearts of many plaintiffs' attorneys.

Though I am glad to see that you are not one of those defense attorneys who constantly asks for questions to be read back, or asks something that just got done ten minutes ago, because you were busy Twittering rather than paying even 20% attention.

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