Monday, June 27, 2011

My Top 6

Below is a list of the most humiliating, ridiculous, and/or evil things I ever witnessed or took part in when practicing law, from least to most egregious.

6.  Perry Mason and the Case of the Felonious Air Freshener.  While interning at a county prosecutor’s office as a 2L, I attended a suppression hearing at which my assigned prosecutor/mentor argued that racial profiling was perfectly Constitutional, so long as the officer had a separate, valid, objective reason for pulling over a defendant.  (Which is unfortunately true by the way.)  In this case, the defendant, a young black man, had an air freshener hanging from his rear-view mirror, which “tended to obstruct” his view of the road, and therefore violated a statute.  The prosecutor won the hearing.  I told him I understood why he won, but I still believed it was unjust that an officer could selectively enforce a statute that millions of drivers violate every day.  He argued that the officer was not necessarily engaging in racial profiling.  I rhetorically asked him how many soccer moms the officer pulled over that week for hanging air fresheners from their rear-view mirrors.  My “mentor” then refused to speak to me for the rest of my summer internship.  I should have known then that I was not cut out to participate in a system that routinely defends absurdities.

5.  One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  During my 2L and half of my 3L year, I clerked for a solo practitioner who was just about the moodiest, most inept attorney I had ever met.  He even warned me during the interview that he was moody.  Each morning I would greet him with a smile and a hello, but never once did he look at me or even grunt in my direction.  We communicated only in writing, though the office comprised only about 300 square feet.  Eventually, my pay checks started bouncing.  Then he asked me to lie to his wife about his whereabouts on a couple of occasions.  She could tell I was lying for him and he apparently caught hell for it.  He basically accused me of purposely lying badly in order to get him in trouble.  Then one day, he asked me to perform a google search for him on his computer, during which I inadvertently saw his search history.  Apparently he was into swingers clubs.  I pretended not to see anything since he was breathing down my neck the entire time. 

Eventually, I was able to put in my notice so I could relocate for the summer to complete a clerkship.  I tried not to think about what a nasty, weird person he was until I was forced to disclose on a job application that I had worked for him.  The prospective employer contacted him for a reference and he told them he would not hire me because—wait for it – I am “not a people person.”  I got the job anyway because I think the firm knew what a crazy kook that guy was.  As for his ineptness, apparently the local bar association caught on because a few months after starting my first job out of law school, he was publicly disciplined for lying to a judge during a sentencing hearing.  To top it all off, years later I received a friend request from him on facebook.  Ignore!

4.  Ebenezer Scrooge or Henry Potter?  My supervising attorney once asked me why everyone thought he “owed them a fuckin’ living.”  Apparently, his secretary had been fishing around for a bonus since she was coming up on her ten-year anniversary with the firm.  I told him perhaps she wanted to feel appreciated for being a loyal secretary.  He complained that she screwed things up a lot and she was not the one bringing in all the money.  He then turned to his computer to retrieve an electronic file and realized he had no idea where to find it because his secretary organized everything for him.  So he shouted for her to come in and find the file, all the while acting completely impatient about it.  After she left, I pointed out that he seems to need her help quite a bit.  He ignored me and asked me to sit in his chair and type an email he dictated because he was lousy at using Outlook.  He seemed to rely on his employees quite a bit, though in his mind he owed them nothing.

3.  Just Following Orders.  I once represented a client who had some developmental disabilities as well as a raging drug and alcohol habit.  His various ailments rendered him unable to recall events that occurred more than five minutes ago.  His neighbor was similarly disabled, and they hated each other. He had various cases pending, and he was really bothered by his neighbor, so my supervising attorney told me to get a restraining order against the neighbor.  I raised my concerns about the client’s memory problems and asked for any advice on how to handle direct examination.  “Wing it,” was the response I received.  I pressed the supervising attorney a little and asked if he had any other advice, and he responded, “I’m your boss.  Just do it.”  So I tried my best to prepare the client, although he could not actually recall any specific disputes with the neighbor.  A few days before the hearing, I became concerned about going through with the hearing since I did not believe I had a good faith basis for trying to get the restraining order.  (You know, pesky ethical rules we attorneys must consider from time to time).  I raised this concern with my supervising attorney and he spat, “I told you before, I’m your boss.  Just do it.”  So I did it.  Is it any wonder the judge declined to issue the order and instead told the two men to just stay away from each other?  My supervising attorney seemed happy with the hours I billed for undertaking this worthless endeavor, though, which is really all that matters.

2.  It Would Be So Much Easier to Catch Criminals If Only They Would Endanger More Lives.  During a drunk-driving negotiation with a prosecutor, I noted that my client’s driving was not that horrendous, in that he was only pulled over for speeding 5-10 miles per hour over the posted limit, a fairly common charge.  Normally, this would put a client in the “non-aggravated” category for drunk driving.  I argued that some drunk drivers actually swerve into the wrong lane or drive the wrong way down a one-way street, which is certainly more dangerous than minor speeding.  The prosecutor’s position: he would rather the client had swerved or driven in the wrong direction, because it’s much easier for the police to spot him as a drunk driver.  Oh-kaaayyyyyy...

1.  It’s a Good Thing He Didn’t Die or We Would’ve Had to Deal with a Damages Cap.  One of my firm’s civil clients was a boy who had been sexually assaulted.  My job was to perform research to determine the average settlement or jury award in similar cases.  One of the similar cases I found involved a teenage girl who was raped on a church camping trip.  My supervising attorney’s reaction?  “That’s just a teenage girl.  We could get a lot more money for this kid.” 

Does anyone else have horror stories they would like to share about the practice of law?

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