Genetic Risks of Lawyer-to-Lawyer Marriage Raise Concern

CHICAGO. It was, Alicia Fahrquahr now admits, a cringe-inducing moment. “I picked up a ‘Daddy’s Little Lawyer’ onesie for Mikey without even thinking about it,” she says with a look of embarrassment on her face as she cradles her six-month old son in her arms. “When I got to the checkout counter at Babies ‘n Things this Goth girl at the cash register said ‘You’re not really going to do that to the poor kid, are you?’”

Alicia and her husband Bob are members of perhaps the most despised class of young parents in the nation; both are lawyers, and both saw nothing wrong with buying lawyer-related baby gear for their first child until they noticed the looks of scorn on faces of friends and were subjected to withering comments such as the one described above. “We’ve dialed it back a bit,” she says, “but every once in a while I . . . I just can’t help myself and I buy a Little Litigator Brief Case or a Junior Notary Stamps & Seals Kit.”

Geneticists say inbreeding among members of the legal profession may result in a genetic abnormality known as “Cardozo Syndrome,” after the Supreme Court justice. “It’s characterized by an inability to laugh at lawyer jokes unless they are told by a member of the bar in good standing,” says Dr. Philip Wertz of the Illinois Institute of Technology. “Also a penchant for cutesy legal memorabilia in the home and office, and in extreme cases, law-related infant wear.”


    Victim of law-related child abuse.

Social workers say they are prepared to remove children who are subjected to “My daddy & mommy are lawyers!” wear and other psychic abuses from the homes of two-lawyer families and place them in foster homes where they will be free from legal shoptalk that can cause narcoplepsy and crying jags among infants.

“We’ve recognized the risks inherent in second-hand smoke,” says Wertz. “The next step is to get to two-lawyer couples before they make their kids wear baby wingtips.”

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Lawyers Are People Too–Sort Of.”

For One Business Black Friday is Grimmer Than Others

FRAMINGHAM, Mass.  This town of 68,000 in the suburbs west of Boston is home to Shopper’s World, the nation’s oldest shopping center.  Once Thanksgiving dishes are done and locals have woken from tryptophan-induced slumbers, it becomes ground zero for “Black Friday,” the busiest day of the year in retail establishments across the country.

“Our forefathers fought and died for the right to shop,” says local historian Armand LaLiberte, himself a descendant of yeoman farmers who tilled the soil to produce the first harvest of fresh, native New England rocks.  “Yes, they had to burn some witches in the process, but that’s a small price to pay for Wal-Mart’s One-Hour Guarantee on Top Items.”

An object of criticism in many quarters for its emphasis on acquisitiveness, “Black Friday” remains the turning point for many businesses, which literally began to operate “in the black” with the crush of year-end consumers that signals the beginning of the Christmas shopping season.  “I’m thinking next year of just laying people off until the day after Thanksgiving,” says Neil Clesko, owner of Clesko’s Ladies-Ready-to-Wear.  “Take your days off during the summer, when I have to play nothing but polkas on the piped-in music to keep the salesgirls awake.”

Image result for 50s ladies store

The lucre that comes with the lucrative day isn’t distributed evenly, however; many service businesses that can’t package their wares with Christmas wrapping paper and bows have been left out of the action, including the legal profession.  But that’s about to change as the law firm of Brenton, Kressler & Fishback LLP steps to the plate with its first-ever promotion in the Black Friday field.

“We’re retailers, too,” says Morton “Mort” Fishback, the firm’s managing partner.  “For too long we’ve sat on our fat duffs and watched people rushing by to buy fun stuff when they could have been spending money on depressing legal services.”

Fishback is a personal injury lawyer, and this Black Friday he’s offering an initial free consultation and a complimentary cup of coffee for all non-employment related dismemberment claims.  “People get excited when there’s an accidental death in the family because it means a big payday,” he says thoughtfully as he makes a little church-and-steeple with his hands.  “Dismemberment can be just as rewarding for me, if not for you.”


Buy now, and get 10% off on prosthetic limbs with our mail-in-rebate!

Not to be outdone, Fishback’s partner Bob Brenton, a suave rainmaker and business lawyer, says he’ll contribute to the day’s grim overtones with a special on Chapter 7 liquidations, the fatal counterpart to Chapter 11, which provides some hope for failing businesses.  “You wouldn’t buy a new suit for your 80-year-old father, would you?” he asks rhetorically.  “It’s the same with your crappy franchise–get out now before the roof caves in.”


“This appears to be a memo to me–FROM the file.”

 

Black Friday wouldn’t be truly black without a touch of death, of course, and estate planner Phillip Kressler offers what he calls the perfect stocking stuffer for kids just beginning to comprehend their mortality after the death of a favorite goldfish.  “We have the Pet Estate Plan for only $19.95, batteries not included,” he says as he arranges some gaily-wrapped boxes under the Christmas tree in the firm’s reception area.  “It features a will and a pour-over trust, so the little scuba diver and bubbling castle decoration can pass to another goldfish in the tank estate tax-free!”

My Desperate Last Stand Against Remote Notarization

A law passed recently in Virginia permits notarizations using video or audio conference technology.  An iPhone app has been developed to provide remote service by a 24-hour team of Virginia notaries.

                                     The Boston Globe

 

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It’s not easy being a notary public in Massachusetts these days, let me tell you.  Notary fees have been flat since God knows when, and they max out at two dollars.  Try putting food on the label for a growing family at two bucks a pop—you can’t do it.

So many of the guys I started out notarizing with—Tommy Bledsoe, Lenny Fucillo, Bud McMahon—have all left the business.  “Where you goin’?” I asked Tommy one Friday night as we were sittin’ in The Marliave, known far and wide as a notary bar because of its proximity to Boston’s rubber stamp district.

“I’m leaving this joint, and I’m leaving the business,” he said in disgust after a week in which he’d cleared only $6.25.  Two bucks for a deed, two bucks for a will, protest of a bill of exchange for non-acceptance where the amount thereof was more than $500, another buck.  For recording the same, fifty cents.  Then he got an odd job noting the non-payment of an IOU—seventy-five cents.  “Whoop-de-freaking-do,” he said as he jammed his hat on his head and threw a buck on the bar.  “See what the boys in the back room will have,” he said to Rocco, the bartender.

“There ain’t nobody back there but Tony Rotelli,” Rocco said, by way of warning.  It was Rotelli, the Assistant Secretary of State for Notaries Public and Justices of the Peace, who collected the $60 fee the state charges you for a seven-year term as a notary—a bargain it ain’t.

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“Oh,” Tommy said.  “In that case I’ll take it back.”

That’s how tough things had gotten.  “And they’re about to get a whole lot tougher,” Lenny Fucillo said after eavesdropping on my internal monologue.

“How so?” I asked.

“The Virginians are coming,” he said, echoing Paul Revere, who either did or didn’t say “The British are coming” on an April night almost two hundred and forty years before.

“Whadda you mean?” I persisted.

“Virginia just passed a law making remote notarization legal,” Lenny said.

“Pah,” Bud McMahon said.  “They’re thousands of miles away.”

“Closer than that,” I said, checking my iPhone.  “It’s actually only . . . six hundred twenty-nine and three-tenths miles.”

Lenny looked at us both and shook his head.  Without opening his mouth, he let loose with a mirthless little laugh.  “You guys are so far behind the times.”

“Are you kidding?” I said.  “Look at my cool iPhone 5, which my wife handed down to me after my kid handed it down to her.”

lawyer1

“I’m lookin’ at it,” Lenny said.  “And when I look, what I see is the seed of our destruction.”

Silence fell over the joint.  That happened a lot, because there was a short in the stereo wire over the bar.  Still, heads turned our way, looks of prescient horror described thereon.

“Are you suggesting . . .”  Bud began.

“I’m doing more than suggesting,” Lenny said, his eyes narrowing to dark little slits, like the coin slot in a piggy bank.  “I’m outright saying, alla youse guys”—and here he leaned back on his bar stool expansively, taking in the whole room with a wave of his arm—“are obsolete.  Extinct.  Rigor mortis.”

This sort of thing doesn’t go down well with notaries, a proud race of men who can trace their roots back to ancient Rome.

“You better be able to back that up,” a saturnine man with a physique like a Russian nesting doll said as he turned his chair the better to take in the conversation that had caught everyone’s ear.  “Cause anything that smacks of the end of the august profession of the notary public is fightin’ words around here.”

“Okay, Mr. Wisenheimer,” Lenny said.  “Take a look here at this ‘humorous’ little squib in The Boston Globe.”

“Why did you put the quotation marks of dubiety around ‘humorous’?” Rocco the bartender said.

“Because it ain’t funny—look.

Guys crowded around and looked over Lenny’s shoulders.  It was right there in black and white.  Well, not actual white, more the greyish-white color of newsprint.

“So Virginia notaries are trying to muscle in on our business, huh?” Bud said, a note of resigned disbelief in his voice.

“Yep.  And the worst part is, we won’t even be able to see ‘em comin’.  There’s a team of notaries working round the clock, twenty-four hours a day, stealin’ our business without ever leaving the Old Dominion.”

“The Old what?” the saturnine man said.

“Old Dominion.  It’s the state nickname of Virginia, like we’re the Bay State,” Rocco said.

lawyer2

As the gravity of the situation began to sink into the thick skulls that surrounded me, I wondered what manner of men we were, we latter-day descendants of the patriots who—to take just one example—dressed in offensive garb in imitation of an oppressed minority and dumped somebody else’s groceries into the Atlantic Ocean, then made light of the whole affair by calling it The Boston Tea Party.  Would the evening end with us sunk in a funk, the way we were the two times we lost a Super Bowl to the New York Giants on incredible circus catches?  Or would we rise up as one—maybe two at the most—and assert our God-given right to control the destiny of documents signed within our borders?

I really wasn’t certain.  The men who dumped the British East India Company’s tea into Boston Harbor that cold December night imbibed beforehand at the Green Dragon Tavern, but it was only six o’clock, Eastern Standard Time, at The Marliave.  Some of these guys had only been drinking for half an hour.  I didn’t know if they had it in them.

But there’s something about the cold New England winters that makes for a hardy breed of men.  Men who won’t back down, guys who’ll size up the threat of foreign competition and technological innovation and actually do something about it, dammit!

“I ain’t standin’ for this, no way,” Lenny said.

“Me neither,” Bud chimed in.

There followed a chorus of exhortations and exclamations that signaled our willingness to fight.  It sounded like “Arrgh!” or maybe “Gluz!”—it was hard to make out—but I was pretty sure it meant we were going to hang together, so that we wouldn’t all hang separately as Virginia notaries swiped the scraps from our table.

“So what are we gonna do?” the saturnine man asked.

“We’re gonna go where the documents are,” I said.

“To the Registry of Deeds!” Lenny answered.

“To the Registry!” our corps of bondsmen replied with a shout.

It was down the steps, out the door and up to Tremont Street, then a bee-line to The Old Courthouse in Pemberton Square.  It’s actually the Older Courthouse because the New Courthouse was built in 1937, so its pretty old, and there’s a newer courthouse across the street, but that one’s called the Edward W. Brooke Courthouse, so things are a little confused.  They shoulda called it the Newer Courthouse.

The Registry of Deeds is in The Old Courthouse, and every document that passes through its doors has to be notarized somewhere.  We took up positions out in the marble halls, our little band of irregulars, as we reconnoitered, a word that means “to make a military observation of.”  My eighth grade English teacher Mrs. Waite said it would come in handy one day, and boy was she right.

“We all look innocent enough, since we’re notaries,” I said, “so let’s infiltrate enemy lines.”

“What are we lookin’ for?” the saturnine man asked.

“People lookin’ at their phones, trying to authenticate documents remotely,” I said.

“Got it,” the saturnine man said.  “One more thing . . .”

“What?” Lenny said, a bit impatiently.

“Can I stop being ‘the saturnine man’—I don’t like the sound of it.”

The rest of us looked at each other; there were a few nods of apparent assent, and some guys screwed their lower lips up into that expression that means “Okay by me.”

“I think that’s probably all right,” I said.  “What your real name?”

“Alphonse.  Alphonse Squillante.”

“Guys,” I said.  “We live in a democracy, so let’s vote on it.  All in favor of not calling Alphonse ‘the saturnine man’ anymore say ‘Aye.’”

“Aye,” everyone whispered, trying to remain inconspicuous.

“Anyone opposed?  Hearing none, the ayes have it.”

The guys congratulated Alphonse.  It was a big deal for him, he’d been in a lot of pieces before, mostly comic sketches and peer-reviewed academic articles, but nobody’d ever called him by his real name.

“Doesn’t somebody need to tell the narrator?” Lenny asked.

“I don’t think so,” I said.  “I’m pretty sure he’s omniscient.  Okay—everybody ready?”

“Ready!” came the cry from one and all.

“Then let’s roll.  In a dignified way—without unseemly haste.”

“No unseemly haste!” they whispered vigorously.

The guys all filtered into the Registry, which is staffed by a checkered combination of seasoned professionals and patronage hacks.  There are rows of tables where lawyers, paralegals and title examiners make notes and sometimes—for convenience—hold actual closings.  You get the Party of the First Part to sign a deed, the Party of the Second Part signs a mortgage, then you walk up to the counter.  No muss, no fuss—except, the clerks don’t have to take nothin’ you hand ‘em unless it’s notarized.

“Take a look at that guy over there,” Lenny said to me, nodding his head towards a small-time practitioner who’d brought his blowsy secretary along.  There were three other people at the table: a man and a woman—probably husband and wife unless I missed my guess–and another man, a real estate speculator who’d probably bought the place a week before and was now going to flip it for fun and profit.

“I think we got our man,” I said.

“If you’ll just sign right here,” the lawyer said, as he took out his phone and held it up in an innocent manner, as if he was just looking at cute pictures of his kids or checking the weather for the walk back to his office.

“Seen enough?” Lenny said to me.

“Let ‘er rip!”

“Hold it right there,” Lenny said as he tried to pull his notary card from his wallet.  His move wasn’t as slick as he’d hoped; first thing he produced was a buy-nine-smoothies-get-the-tenth-one-free card, next came an expired half-off-lower-priced entree coupon from Bennigan’s, the Irish pub-themed casual dining chain where they make you feel at home by calling your name over the p.a. system when your table’s ready.

“What’s this?” the real estate speculator said.

“We’re busting this closing wide open,” I said.

“Can he do that?” the secretary asked.

“Now see here,” the lawyer said.  “What I’m doing is perfectly legal . . .”

“In Virginia,” Lenny sneered.  “Not in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”

Our little contretemps had attracted the attention of the Second Assistant Registrar of Deeds, who’d been patrolling the counter like a North Korean border guard, on high alert for any bogusly—if that’s even a word—notarized document.

“What seems to be the problem?” he asked as he approached.  Probably wanted to get any controversies cleared up before lunch and his post-prandial nap.

“This guy here’s trying to pass off a phony Virginia remote notarization as the real, genuine, God-fearing, witch-burning Massachusetts article.”

“Oh, so a ‘remotary public,’” the patronage hack said.  “I been readin’ about youse guys.”

“You won’t report me to the Secretary of State, will you?” the lawyer pleaded, now that he saw his life’s work and profession swirling around the sink drain of disbarment.

“I dunno,” the Second Assistant Registrar said.  “How much were you gonna pay that guy in Virginia?”

“Twenty-five bucks.”

“And how much would you have to pay these tax-payin’ Massachusetts notaries here?”

“Two dollars per signature.”

“How many signatures you got?”

“Three—one on the deed, two on the mortgage.”

The eyes of the registrar monkey rolled back into his head, as if he were some kind of snake-handling evangelist, as he figured out the toll he’d charge to allow the documents to pass over his counter and into the land records of Massachusetts.  “Lemme see,” he said after a moment’s thought, or lack thereof.  “Twenty five plus two plus another two plus another.  Okay, it’s gonna cost you thirty dollars, the same as you’d be payin’ if I didn’t give you a break.”

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Lawyers Are People Too–Sort Of.”

Myrna Flick, Esq.–Chief Law Firm Sustainability Officer

As I turned on the Energy Star-qualified fluorescent lights in my office and  looked at my desk, I had a momentary moment of self-doubt.  Another day, another  skirmish in the ongoing war to implement sustainable business practices at  Sherman, Frost & Whittle, LLP.  Yes, our offices have been certified by the  U.S. Green Building Council as a Leader in Energy and Environmental Design.   Yes, we were the first law firm in Boston to appoint a Chief Sustainability  Officer (me!) whose mandate was not simply to bill more hours, but to  develop—and implement—environmentally-friendly policies for our lawyers and  clients.  Yes, I had successfully led the charge to include “Please consider the  environment before printing out this email” on all of our electronic  communications.


“Hey–turn  out the lights!”

Yes, yes, and yes.  And yet I knew, in the innermost chamber of  my heart, which beat rapidly from my 19-story climb up the fire stairs in order  to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, that the battle was far from over.   Every day it began anew, as older partners, unused to technology, and  corner-cutting associates, eager to get to the singles bars at the end of the  workday, printed out copies of 60-page indentures instead of staying in the  office and reading them on their computer screens.

It was the people who were the biggest obstacles to change, damn  it!  Why couldn’t the other lawyers realize that if we didn’t take  steps—today—to implement sustainability into everything we do, in say ten or  fifteen years—maybe sooner—we might not be able to spend eighteen hours a day  poring over boring legal documents as we do now.  No—the temperature of the  earth will have risen to a point where we’ll be only be able to stand sixteen or  seventeen hours a day in the office, unless we don’t have central air  conditioning at home, in which case we may just stay here and abandon our  children, who may have to resort to cannibalism because the price of gas will be  so high we won’t be able to drive to the grocery store anymore.

But I can’t let myself be distracted by daydreams of a dismal  future.  I’ve got to “keep on keeping on”, as we used to say in the ‘60’s, in  order to prevent the future from happening.

I pick up my Sierra Cub mug and head down to the kitchen for some  chamomile tea.  As I turn the corner, I see Evan Winslow, a young partner in the  real estate department, pouring coffee into paper cups for himself and a  client.

“My best guess is it will take a minimum of 90 days,” Winslow is  saying to a beefy-looking man in a starched, open-collared shirt and loud sports  jacket—probably a developer of hideous suburban mansions that contribute to  “sprawl”.

I clear my throat.  “Ah-hem.”

“Oh, excuse me, Myrna, I didn’t hear you come in.”  Winslow steps  aside, giving me a clear path to the coffee machine if I want it.

“Ahem!” I repeat.

“You got a cold?” the client asks.

“No,” I reply, as diplomatically as I can.  I nod at his paper  cup.

“You want my coffee?”

“No,” I say in a tone that I hope he will perceive as stern.   “Evan should have offered you one of our reusable cups for your coffee, rather  than adding to the waste stream.”

The client looks at Evan as if I’m the crackpot.  Evan  shrugs his shoulders and the men pour their coffee into two ceramic “SF&W”  mugs I hold out to them.  I hand them their mugs, give them a look intended to  say in a non-verbal way “Don’t do that again”, then turn on my heel and  proceed down the hall with my tea.

I pass by a conference room where a closing is in progress—what a  gory spectacle!  Multiple copies of documents stacked on top of each other like  animals at a slaughterhouse!  I sidle in and hover behind Wells McCardle, a  young associate who’s guiding an executive through the signing process.

“Hello, Wells,” I say with an air that I hope will remind him of  a high school teacher about to send him to detention.

“Oh, hi Myrna.  Let me introduce you to Jack van Arsdale, CEO of  Phlegmatic Tools.  Jack, this is Myrna Flick, our CLFSO.”

“Your what?”

“Chief Law Firm Sustainability Officer.”

“Oh–nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you,” I say and extend my hand.  “Wells, how many  copies of that document did you make?”

“Twelve.  One for the client’s files, one for our files, one for  the bank, one for their lawyer, eight credenza binders for all the people who  worked on the deal . . .”

“You didn’t make any for their pets, or their elected  representatives at the local, state and federal levels of government?”  I give  him a wink as the client goes back to scribbling.

“Uh, I guess I may have overdone it.”

“You guessed right,” I snap at the young lawyer.  “Mr. van  Arsdale,” I say to the CEO in my most sonorous, client-friendly voice.

“Yes?”

“I think you’ve signed enough copies.”

“Really?”

“Yes.”

“But Wells here said . . .”

“Never mind what Wells said.  Sometimes lawyers have a fetish  about copies.”

“My hand was getting tired . . .”

“We can scan one original into a DVD that we will distribute to  ‘all hands’.”

“Gee, that’s great.  Thanks—thanks a lot Ms. . . .”

“Flick.”

“I’ll remember that name,” he says with a beaming smile as he  replaces the cap on his gold-trimmed pen.

“I’m sure you will,” I say as I give the young lawyer a look that  lets him know he could learn a thing or two from me about what it takes to make  clients happy!

I head down the hall, “keeping things sustainable by walking  around” I like to call it when I give my annual lecture each fall to incoming  associates.  A lot of them smirk when I tell them that two-sided copying is  mandatory—not optional—if they want to save the earth and all of its creatures.   Then I show them a slide of a clear-cut forest in Maine, an environmental  tragedy of which we—the supposedly well-intentioned members of the  Boston bar—are the playwrights.  There’s usually an audible little gasp when the  legal tyros see helpless rabbits, minks and weasels scurrying away from the  flames, although that could just be belches caused by all the Diet Coke the  female lawyers drink.

I look out at them and think of myself so long ago; a green young  lawyer, fresh from capping off my law school career as Editor-in-Chief of  The Journal of Solid Waste, one of the first law reviews devoted  entirely to environmental issues.  When I arrived for my first day as a summer  clerk wearing a peasant blouse and Earth Shoes, the ingenious footwear that made  it seem you were walking uphill all day long, a bit sweaty from my ride in from  Cambridge and the effort required to lug my bike up to the library in the  elevator, the older generation of the firm—Messrs. Sherman, Frost &  Whittle—had all looked somewhat askance at me.  When I started to get off at the  main reception floor, they demurred.

“Bike messengers report to the sixth floor, please,” said Mr.  Frost.

“I’m one of your new lawyers!” I said cheerfully.

“You look like one of the people who want to save the gay baby  whales!” Mr. Whittle cried out in surprise.

“You mean Greenpeace?” I asked.

“That’s them!  I throw them off my property.  I got a restraining  order against one particularly persistent young chap,” Mr. Whittle said.

“I’m a card-carrying member!” I said.

“Oh dear,” Mr. Sherman said softly.

“Well, I suppose if someone hired you,” Mr. Frost said, “we’re  honor-bound to keep you until August when we send you a letter of regret telling  you that you don’t fit in, and we wish you the best of luck in your future  career.”

The three walked off together, shaking their heads and muttering  among themselves, but I proved them wrong.  My 60-page brief on the application  of the exclusionary rule to a seizure of short lobsters at a clam bake that Mr.  Sherman foolishly decided to hold within plain view of a Department of  Environmental Protection patrol boat saved his sorry butt from a hefty fine and  possible jail time.  I came to be valued for myself, despite my politics and  what Mr. Whittle once referred to as the “underbrush” growing in my armpits.

But the long slog to achieve a totally “green” law firm  environment was beginning to get me down.  As I turned the corner I looked into  a large conference room where hectic activity was underway, perhaps the  continuation of an all-night session from the day before.

“Call the SEC,” a senior partner named Dan Craven shouted at an  associate as he crumpled up a page of a prospectus that had done something to  infuriate him and tossed it across the room.  “We’ll have to put a sticker on  the prospectus to correct your stupid mistake!”

I entered as quietly as I could and surveyed the scene.  I did  not like what I saw.

“Mr. Craven,” I began softly but firmly.

“What?” he replied, almost distraught.

“I think you’re forgetting something . . .”

“You mean there’s something else wrong with the  disclosures?”

I cast my eyes towards the wastebasket, where the offending page  rested atop a greasy pizza plate.

“Myrna, please,” he groaned, “I don’t have time to play games.   Does the prospectus contain an untrue statement of a material fact or omit to  state facts that cause it to be materially misleading?”

“No,” I say calmly, as I watch the beads of sweat that had formed  on his brow trickle slowly down his face.  “Paper goes in the recycling bin,  not in the wastebasket!”

I nod my head at the blue plastic container in the corner.   “Let’s recycle that sheet of paper you so carelessly tossed aside so that the  rain forest will be around for our children when we die.”

Craven exhales with a sense of blessed relief, and for the first  time all morning I feel just a teensy bit fulfilled.  “No need to thank me, Mr.  Craven,” I say with the crisp professionalism I’m capable of when I see my hard  work produce even the slightest bit of progress.  “All in day’s work—for a Chief  Law Firm Sustainability Officer.”

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection  “Lawyers Are People Too–Sort Of.”

Zombie & Zombie, Attorneys at Law

 

“Are there really, truly zombies in Haiti?”

“Bien sur,” Delzor said. He had even seen them: affectless men and women with a deathlike pallor, high nasal voices, and the characteristic drooping at the chin.

Into the Zombie Underworld, Mischa Berlinski, Men’s Journal

It was getting late, and my eyes were tired. I leaned back in my executive swivel chair and wheeled it around to look out the window. I saw what I always see—other people driving home, or walking the streets of Boston on their way to have fun, while I stayed in the office poring over boring legal documents. With every set of by-laws I drafted, with every trust indenture I read, I died a little.

Into the reflection on my window moved the grey figure of Alison McDaniels, employment lawyer. I turned around to greet her.

“Hi Alison—how are you?”

“fine i guess,” she said in her emotionless monotone that seemed somehow more monotonous than usual.

“You guess? Well if you don’t know, who do I ask?” I said, trying to cheer her up a bit.

“i don’t know,” she said, with a distracted look in her eye as she stared out my window over my shoulder. “don’t ask my husband we never see each other.”

Can’t say that’s a bad thing, I thought to myself. What could possibly be worse than a two-lawyer couple? Maybe being dead in a ditch, but if that’s your situation at least you’re out in the fresh air. Here—or at her husband’s firm—you spent the better part of your life under fluorescent lights, never seeing the sun.

“You taking any time off this summer?” I asked, lamely, hoping to get her mind off of whatever was troubling her.

“no can’t. life-destroying case just came in the door. i’ll be busy ‘til the end of the year with this one.”

Nobody ever accused Allison of not carrying her weight around the firm. She usually billed more hours than just about anyone else, which accounted for her deathlike pallor.

“Well, maybe just a day trip to the beach some weekend . . .”

“don’t think so. i have very sensitive skin.”

Excuse me for trying to cheer you up, I thought to myself. I gave her a little nod to show that I understood her predicament. Go ahead and be miserable if you want.

As I sat there like a bobble-head doll who should appear at my door but Norm Sternklein, tax lawyer extraordinary. Norm was one of these lawyers who they’d have to carry out feet first; he wasn’t going to retire unless the executive committee made him.

“Hey, Norm,” I said, glad to have someone to divert my attention from the Gloomy Gertie sitting in front of me.

“hi how are you,” he said in the high nasal voice that always seemed so . . . strange coming out of the mouth of the 250-pound, round-shouldered dean of the Boston tax bar.

“Staying late tonight?” I asked.

“no later than usual,” he replied. “like to stay abreast of recent developments. I’ve been buried alive just reading the new changes to the tax code.” Yeah, right. Translation: “I have no life.”

“You guys want to order some food?” I suggested. Maybe they had low blood sugar and needed a pick-me-up. “Pizza? Chinese?”

“there’s a little haitian place down by quincy market,” Alison said.

“yes they have good flesh—i mean fresh food,” Norm added.

“Okay, looks like we have a consensus,” I said as I turned my phone towards Alison. “Give them a call.”

I was hoping they would just order salads. They were both starting to get that drooping chin so many middle-aged lawyers get from lack of exercise. You get in the car in the morning, sit at your desk all day, talking on the phone or tapping on your keyboard. It’s no wonder so many members of the profession keeled over in their fifties and sixties, right on the verge of retirement, so they never really got a chance to live.

Alison dialed the number and we heard the number ringing over my speaker phone.

“Voodoo Kitchen,” a voice said when the call went through.

“i’d like to place a take-out order,” Alison said in her affectless tone of voice. “are you ready?”

“Just a second,” the man at the other end said. “Okay—go.”

“i’ll have the creole basket,” she said.

“That comes with a choice of two sides—slaw, baked beans and fries.”

“just a diet coke and extra hot sauce on the creole, whoever he may be.”

“Okay—next?”

“i’ll have the bucket o’ chicken entrails,” Norm said. He seemed to have perked up a bit—the prospect of food was all it took sometimes.

“Anything to drink?”

“no,” Norm said. “but could you leave the heads on the chickens?”

“Sure,” the man said. “One bucket o’ entrails, heads on. Anything else?”

I looked at my two partners, and they stared back at me. I took the menu from Alison—Haitian wasn’t my cup of tea, but I wanted to be collegial.

“Let’s see—the Toad and Mixed Green Salad. Does that have any nuts in it, because I’m allergic to them.”

“No nuts, sir. It’s made from free-range females,” came the reply.

“Sounds good. And a root beer if you have it.”

“Okay–that’ll be $27.50, not including tip.”

I reached for my wallet and realized I had no cash. “Say, could one of you loan me a ten?” I asked.

“sure, you’ll pay me back with interest, right?” Norm asked. It sounded like a joke, but he wasn’t smiling.

“Oh, so you’ve got to get your pound of flesh, huh?” I replied with a nervous laugh.

“sure,” Norm said, without expression. “if that’s what you’d prefer.”

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Lawyers Are People Too–Sort Of.”

As Shortage Looms, Bar Tries to Attract More Young Lawyers

CHICAGO, Ill.  Ted Scroniger is President of the Cook County Bar Association through June of this year, but as the end of his term approaches he’s disturbed by a troubling trend in the law.  “Enrollment is down at law schools across the nation,” he says, a function of high tuition, poor job prospects and the growing consensus that the third year of study is a waste of time.  “We need kids in the pipeline,” he says, shaking his head and jingling change in his pocket as he looks out at Lake Michigan.  “In a few years we could run out of young people to boss around and make money off of.”


“How could anyone not find this fascinating?”

And so Scroniger and some of his friends at other law firms have decided to “give back” as they near retirement age in an effort to convey to young men and women the excitement they first felt as legal tyros, and how they’ve maintained it over the course of long and successful careers.

“The thing is, you’ve got to get kids hooked early,” Mal Waldrip, an estate planner, says as several teens filter into a conference room at his firm, Delbart Whinney LLP on Wacker Drive.  He extends a hand to a young man named Bart Othmer, a high school sophomore whose grades have fallen off in the past year as he’s discovered girls, and how to unfasten a bra with one hand.


“If you kids behave, I’ll let you make some photocopies.”

“Hi there, young fella!” Waldrip says as he extends a hand.  “There’s some sandwiches over here, and everybody’s entitled to take home one (1) pourover trust agreement from the credenza over there.”

“Thanks,” the young man replies.  “I’m only here because my mom made me come, I’m not really . . .”

“Sure you are,” Waldrip says.  “You like vampire movies, don’t you?”

“Sort of.”

“Well, I deal with dead people every day–it’s fun!”

A few more high school students, some with a more studious air than others, filter into the room and Scroniger clears his throat to begin the day’s program.

“Kids, I know you’ve probably heard bad things about the legal profession, or met some old boring fart like me who’s a lawyer,” Scroniger says.  He waits for laughter that doesn’t come, then continues.

“But I’ve brought together a number of very talented and interesting people today to talk to you about how fun and exciting a career in the law can be,” he says with an ingratiating smile.  “And now, without further ado, let me introduce my colleague Myrna Flick, who’s not just a corporate lawyer, she’s Chief Sustainability Officer here.”


Myrna, in the bloom of youth.

Scroniger claps lightly, as do the other lawyers in the room, while the kids exchange furtive glances that reveal a thwarted desire to escape.

“Thank you, Ted,” Flick says.  “The title of my presentation today,” she begins stiffly, “is ‘The Poetry of By-Laws.'”  She coughs lightly, then begins.  “By-laws are not what you may think of as laws, because they’re not;  they’re by-laws, meaning rules and regulations adopted by a corporation so as to govern . . .” she says in a droning voice that causes even her colleague and peers in the room to stifle little yawns after a while.  “Still, to an attentive reader, there is much poetry to be discovered in interesting sections such as ‘Vacancies in Office’ and ‘Miscellaneous,'” she says, warming to her subject.

Alicia Kenard, a sophomore at New Trier South High School whose mother sent her to the confab in order to make her aware there’s more to life than cheerleading, drains her Diet Coke and tosses the can in a wastebasket, causing Flick to stiffen.

“Ah-hem,” she intones with an ominous demeanor.  When the young woman doesn’t respond, a staring match ensues until Flick speaks.  “You are going to put that in one of our highly-conspicuous recycling bins–aren’t you?”

“Don’t you have like, janitors to do that?” Kenard asks.

“I’m trying to make the world a better place for young people like you, Missy,” Flick nearly spits out.  A tense moment passes, then Kenard gets up and replaces the can from trash to the recyclables receptable.  “You don’t have to get all bent outta shape about it,” she mutters.

“Perhaps we should move along to our next speaker,” Scroniger says.  “I’ve known Mike Cladisaw ever since we were in law school and he’s a real card, let me tell you, so I know you’re going to get a kick out of what Mike has to say.”


Mr. Excitement

Cladisaw is a beefy litigator who specializes in insurance defense cases, and he works to draw out the introverted Othmer like the seasoned cross-examiner he is.  “What’s your name?” he asks in a voice trained to project across a crowded courtroom.

“Bart,” the boys says softly.

“You got a last name, ‘Bart’?”

The boy sheepishly and reluctantly adds “Othmer.”

“Okay, great.  Now we’re getting somewhere.  Tell me Bart–how’s your love life?”

The boy’s face reddens while the other teens do their best to suppress laughs.

“I do okay,” Othmer says.

“Anybody special?” Cladisaw continues.

The boy is beginning to crawl out of his shell, and replies “I like to, you know, play the field.”

“So what are you–leg or breast man?” Cladisaw asks.

Beyond embarrassment now, Othmer sneaks a look at Kenard, who averts her eyes so that there’s no possibility of connection.  “I, uh, guess I like breasts.”

“Well you’re in luck, my friend,” Cladislaw says.  “Because I’m a specialist in breast implant litigation, so every day I get to handle the good stuff.”

“You get paid to feel women up?”

“No,” Cladisaw says ruefully, as if he is about to relate one of his life’s great disappointments.  “But I get the next best thing.”

“What’s that?” the boy asks.

“Look at this,” the trial lawyer says as he draws a gob of goo encased in plastic from his briefcase.

“What is it?” Othmer asks.  “A jellyfish?”

“Naw–it’s a silicone implant!”

Art Van Stiffel, Deciduous Tree Lawyer

A Columbus, Ohio lawyer specializes in tree disputes.  The Wall Street Journal

As I looked out the window of my office at the package liquor store across the street, I was thinking it was ironic that I, Art Van Stiffel, one of the top two tree lawyers in Columbus, Ohio, couldn’t even afford an office with a view of where my clients came from–trees.


“Here’s my card.”

Instead, all I could see was the bus station, the aforementioned (sorry–I am a lawyer) liquor store, and the Joy-Dot Tailor Shop.  The last-named (I’m trying, but I can’t stop!) used to be a “Shoppe,” but they had to drop the Olde English affectation when they were sued for false advertising.  Seems everybody’s suing these days–everybody but people walking in my door, that is.

It’s partly my fault.  I was partners with Marty Hagan, one-half of Hagan & Van Stiffel, but we kept getting in each other’s way.  You see, if you put the two top tree lawyers in a town the size of Columbus under one roof, you’re inevitably gonna get into conflicts of interest.  I’d get a call from somebody whose porch just got totalled by a falling elm, and on the other line Marty’s talking to the owner of said elm.  We couldn’t be on both sides, so we broke up.

I learned the business of tree law from Marty, and I depended on him for a lot of my work, so it was tough, believe me.  “You can copy any of my forms you want,” he said to me on my last day.  “My Motion to Attach Encroaching Maple, Writ of Process Upon Overhanging Limb, Birch-Sycamore Cross-Indemnity Agreement–anything.”

“Thanks, Marty, thanks,” I said, fighting down a lump in my throat.  “You’ve been great to me, you really have.  I couldn’t ask you to do that.  Those forms–they’re your competitive edge in the gypsy moth-eat elm world of tree lawyering.”


“You’re right–bag worms can be a real problem.”


“Thanks, Art, thanks,” he said as he clapped me on the back.  Little did he know–because I wasn’t gonna tell him–that I’d been sneaking his forms out one by one in my briefcase every night for the past six months while I plotted my move.

I made a big splash at first: Mouse pads, coffee mugs, key chains, bumper stickers:  “Tree fall on your car?  Call the tree law star!”  I hired a local “branding” consultant and boy did I get branded; a thousand bucks for “Artie Van’s Your Man!  For tree surgeon malpractice and all your tree-legal-needs!”  Yes you remember it, but it’s also stupid.

Everybody’s talking about climate change–believe you me, I could use a little of that around here.  It’s climate change that keeps me in business, falling trees smashing cars and that sort of thing.  You wanna know how long it’s been since a category three storm hit this little burg and its sub-burgs?  So damn long, I have to pay the landlord in cash is how long.

I was stewing in this disconsolate state of mind when I heard a throat clear, and I noticed it wasn’t mine.  I took my feet off my desk and swung around in my swivel chair and saw a woman, and I liked what I saw.


“I’d go out on a limb for you, baby.”

She had on one of those “fascinator” hats that female members of the British royal family like to wear at weddings, and lipstick a shade of red that would have made a fire engine blush.  She was stacked like a concrete grain silo, without the dust and the pickup trucks parked outside and the risk of fatal explosion.  I sensed that there would be an element of danger involved in taking her on as a client, but the guys at Kinkos won’t take my checks anymore.

“Excuse me–are you Attorney Van Stiffel,” she said, stiffly but seductively.

“That I am, that I am,” I said as cordially as I could.

“My name is Myrna Belle Isle.  I understand that you specialize in tree law.”

“You and your neighbor have a Chinese elm tiffle?  The guy you should call is Art Van Stiffel!” I said, cracking a little wise, I know, but in order to represent someone effectively, you’ve got to loosen them up and get them to spill the beans–I mean divulge all relevant facts.

“Then perhaps you can help me,” she said.

“Please have a seat,” I said, as if I had more than two.  She took the one I hadn’t been sitting in–good choice–and we began our initial consultation, which is always free at Art Van Stiffel, P.C.

“I’m having problems with trees,” she began meekly.

“Deciduous or conifer?”

“I . . . I don’t know what those terms mean,” she said, almost apologetically.  Fine with me–I like it when the layperson requires a brief summary of the massive amount of higher learning a tree lawyer needs to keep up on.

“There’s two kinds of trees,” I began.  “Gymnosperms–meaning ‘naked seeds’”–I stopped right there because she was blushing.  “Sorry, I’ll keep it clean from now on.  The other kind is angiosperms.”

She blushed again.  “I wasn’t blushing about the ‘naked’ part back there, it was the–”

She didn’t need to explain.  We’re all so sophisticated these days, what with our 8th grade health class and our 9th grade biology.  “Sorry,” I said, and I noticed that tears were welling up in her eyes.  “In more polite terms, you’ve got needle-leaved trees, and broad-leaved.”

“And you rake up the leaves of the latter kind–correct?”

“Those are the ones.”

She stood up and moved towards me.  “And then,” she said, “you jump in the piles–right?”

The bogus modesty of just a moment before had disappeared like a scalded cat.  In its place was a look that bespoke a yearning for home base in hide and go seek; a need to clutch the trunk of a tree between your legs and climb; a desire to go out on a limb for once in your miserable little life.

“You’ve got to help me!” she said as she threw her arms around me.

“What?”

“The tree next door–it’s . . . deciduous I guess.  It’s leaning–precipitously.”

“Like the sword of Damocles?” I asked.

“Whodocles?”

“Damocles–the guy who had to sit under a dangling sword at a banquet.”

“He should have volunteered to be on the fund-raising committee,” she said.  ”He would have gotten a better table.”

“Back to your story about the sense of terror that pervades every second of your waking life . . . “

” . . . and some of my sleeping.  I can’t live any longer with the fear that tree will topple over on me, but my neighbor won’t cut it down!”

“I’m sure he will,” I said cynically–”for a price.”

She folded her arms in front of her face, like a boxer trying to block a punch.  ”I hate this world!” she said as her face melted into a mess of mascara, eyeliner and cheek blusher.  ”Why can’t we all just . . . get along?”

“That’s what Rodney King said as the City of Los Angeles burned down around him,” I said.  ”You may want to play nice, but that doesn’t mean anybody else has to.”

I reached into the pocket of my jacket and took out a handkerchief.  Unlike the slobs who make up the majority of the Tree, Hardy Shrub and Perennial Flower Bar Association, I haven’t forgotten how a gentleman is supposed to dress.


Portable germ carrier

“Has your neighbor . . . what’s his name?”

“Clyde.  Clyde Fuchs.”

“Has he got a lawyer?”

“Yes . . . here’s his card.”

I knew without looking whose name would be on it.  ”Don’t tell me, let me guess,” I said.  ”Marty Hagan, Esq.?”

“How did you know?”

“He and I go way back.”

“Way back where?”

“I mean I started out with him.”

“So . . . you think you can get him to talk some sense into Mr. Fuchs?”

“Maybe,” I said.  ”We tree lawyers have a saying.  It’d be a great business if it weren’t for the clients.”

“Oh my goodness,” she said, all flustered again.  ”I hope I haven’t been a problem for you.”

“Not at all, sweetheart,” I said, as I let my eyes wander over her limbs.  ”Not at all.”

………………………….

I was on the phone first thing the next morning, eyes bright and coat shiny, ringing up my one-time mentor.

“Marty Hagan, tree lawyer extraordinaire speaking.”

“It’s your old apprentice, Marty.”

“Well whadda ya know.”

“Not much–say, you represent a guy named Fuchs?”

“Yes, but it’s pronounced ‘fooks,’ not you-know-what.”

“Oh, okay.  Anyway, has he spoken to you about his abutter?”

“A Ms. Myrna Belle Isle?”

“Right.  I represent her.”

“She’s trouble Art–stay away from her.”

“She seems very reasonable.”

“If you’re thinking with your trouser mouse and not your brain.  Fuchs has got a little sapling–it’s not going anywhere.  Tell her to blow it out her panty hose.”

Marty could be a tough guy, but I hadn’t expected that freezer locker blast of cold air.

“So what are you offering?” I asked hopefully.

“I’m offering to counterclaim against her for abuse of process and slander of title if you so much as send me a nasty letter.”

“C’mon Marty, play fair.  You’ve gotta let me send you a nasty letter–out of professional courtesy.”

I heard a slight “harumph” sound at the end of the line.  ”Tell her–as politely as you can–to go pound sand.”

“Marty . . .”

“Figuratively.  That’s my final offer.”

He left me hanging, expecting more, but nothing came.

“Okay, Marty.  I guess we’ll see you in Middlesex County District Court, View Easement and Encroaching Limb Division.”

“Talk to her Art.  The more you learn, the less you’ll like.”

And with that, he hung up.

…………………………………

I made an appointment to see Myrna that night, but first I had an in camera–that means “behind closed doors”–session with Judge J.T.S. Brown, the only member of the judiciary that comes in a pint bottle.

I was drinking it straight in a tumbler when I heard a rap on the frosted pane of glass in my office door.

“Art?” I heard her say.

“The lawyer is in,” I said, screwing the top back on the bottle of bourbon and turning to face her.

“I . . . you wanted to see me?”

“I did, I did.  Sit down.”

She straightened out her dress, and the sheen from the hose on her milky white legs made them sparkle like the driven snow.  ”I . . . spoke to the guy who represents Fooks.”

“I thought it was ‘Fucks,’” she said innocently enough, but the batting of her eyelashes sent a cool breeze across the room that ruffled my slicked-down hair.  I didn’t know what her game was, so I kept talking.  ”He says you have no case, that’s it’s just a little sapling.”

“Did he tell you that it dented the screens in my breezeway?  That a branch fell and nearly killed my pet salamander, Tabitha?”

“He didn’t.”

“You’re not much of a lawyer if you couldn’t even get that out of him.”

I bristled at that suggestion.  ”Look, sweetheart, I’m doing the best I can.  You walk in here without a shred of evidence, nothing but self-serving facts that a good lawyer could drive a voir dire through.”

“What’s a voir dire?”

“It’s a French car–sort of a cross between a Peugeot and a Renault.  Anyway, I’m not gonna risk my reputation and go out on a limb . . .”

Before I could finish, she’d fallen on me like a top-heavy elm in a tornado.  Her breasts were soft beneath her knit sweater, and her nipples were standing at attention like Boy Scouts at taps.  If they gave a merit badge for female anatomy, I would have aced it.

“I want you . . .” she said.

“And I want you too,” I began, but she cut me off.

“No–I want you to go out on a limb for me and saw off just one branch, the one that’s making my life a living hell.”

“But if the tree’s so young, it’s not gonna fall on you.”

She started to sob, and I held her close.  ”All right–I admit it.  The only reason I want that limb gone is because it blocks my view.”

So that was her game.  Hire a lawyer, but get him to do something illegal, something that’s strictly forbidden by Canon 3:16 of the Tree Lawyers Code of Ethics; Thou shalt not use self-help remedies to settle a tree dispute.


The old-fashioned, fun, dangerous way to get rid of leaves!

I looked at her and started to count up the costs.  I could lose my license, I could go to jail for trespassing, I could watch everything I’d worked so hard for go up in smoke, like autumn leaves burning in the gutter in the old days, before nanny-state environmentalists made it illegal to light fires on public ways.

“Well?” she asked.

It took me the better part of a nanosecond to make up my mind.  ”For you, sugar–anything.”

…………………………………..

It was a clear moonless light as we scaled the fence into Mr. Fuchs yard, and as I took in the object of Myrna’s complaint, a mirthless little laugh escaped from my lips.  ”This is it?”

“Remember–you promised.”  She started batting her eyelashes again, and the dry leaves of late autumn began to swirl in Fuchs’ yard.

“Cut it out,” I said, barely able to resist falling down with her, right there, for a roll in a leaf pile.

“The sooner you finish your chores,” she purred, “the sooner you can have your treat.”

I smiled the smile of a tomcat who smells a queen in heat.  ”Okay, sugar.”


It’ll have to do . . . until the real thing comes along.

Lovers lose their reason, this I knew, but what I didn’t know was that they also lose their memory; I forgot that I’d never been good at climbing trees, and willingly accepted the fireman-style boost she gave me to get going.

“Be careful,” she said, and I gave her one last leer before beginning my ascent.

It was tough going–not as tough as the rope climb in gym, but harder than the monkey bars on a grade school playground.

“Which one is it?” I asked.

“That one over there.”

“This one?”

“No, further up . . . the one with the little sucker shoots springing . . .”

Those were the last words I remember.  I woke up with my arm in a sling, a process server handing me a summons, and Myrna, scribbling on my cast.

“What happened?”

“Artie fall down go boom!” she said.  Apparently, she couldn’t turn off the bubble machine, not even in a double hospital room with a cranky guy scheduled for a vasectomy sitting in the next bed.

“What are you writing?” I said, unable to make out her scribbling through the painkillers.

“Yours ’til Niagara–or Artie–Falls.”

Available in print and Kindle formats on amazon.com as part of the collections “Everyday Noir” and “Lawyers Are People Too–Sort Of.”

Betrayed, for Thirty Pieces of Copper

A class action settlement would give a credit of $3.25 to consumers who were overcharged 30¢ for 99¢ iTunes.  Lawyers would receive $2,117,500.

Legal notice

It comes to this; I who had
been deliriously happy to find
Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s
“I Don’t Want to Be President”

and Walter “Wolfman” Washington’s
“You Can Stay But That Noise Has Got to Go”
now find that I was betrayed,
like a small-time Christ,

for thirty pieces of copper.
Well—time to lawyer up,
even though I would have gladly paid
more than a measly $1.29

for those deathless chansons
and the Fantastic Johnny C’s
“Boogaloo Down Broadway.”
Freddie Hughes’ off-key

version of “What About My Love?”
is another matter entirely, however.
it is nowhere near as lovely as the
Johnny Taylor version, which

I used to croon in Chicago, and which
is unavailable on iTunes.
For that, you should be mulcted in
damages and made to pay through the ear;

“It’s not the money,” I say through tears
as I hold up my check for three twenty-five.
Less forty-four cents postage, I clear a cool
$2.81–that’ll teach you greedy bastards!

“The law does not bother with trifles”
was once the rule;
the lawyers will bother with trifles for a couple
million and change—they’re no fools.

For Some Poets, Path to Poverty Goes Through Law School

BOSTON.  Amy Linehan thinks the legal profession is boring, and doesn’t want to be a lawyer.  So what’s she doing in the library at Bay State School of Law, studying for mid-term exams?

“I want to be a poet, and Wallace Stevens was a poet and a lawyer, so there must be some connection,” she says before turning her attention back to Calamari on Contracts, a standard “horn book” law students use to bone up on particular legal topics.  “If I fail in the miserably unremunerative field of poetry, I can always fall back on a boring but highly-paid job as a legal drone.”


Stevens:  “I can write you a sonnet, but it’s gonna cost you two hundred bucks an hour.”

Stevens, one of the most highly-regarded American poets of the 20th century, was indeed a lawyer, and he practiced in one of the drier areas of commercial law, suretyship.  “The bar sets the bar very high in terms of boredom,” says Ted Fonsworth, who teaches at Bay State Law.  “Suretyship law flies over that bar with inches to spare.”


“Breathes there a man with soul so dead,
who never to himself hath said–
“I’m tired, I’m going to go to bed,
I’ve stuffed enuff law inside my head.”

And Fonsworth, who teaches suretyship law, finds his students include a high concentration of would-be poets, who spend their time in his classrooms not texting each other or checking their fantasy football league standings, but scribbling sonnets and sestinas in their notebooks.


Shaw:  “Did I say that?”

“I guess I shouldn’t complain,” he says.  “A kid last year wore a t-shirt to class with a picture of George Bernard Shaw with the quote ‘Those who can–do; those who can’t–teach.'”

A typical day in Fonsworth’s class involves a principle taken from the Restatement of Suretyship, which students are then asked to explicate.  Today’s lesson is taken from Chapter 3, section 32, and Fonsworth recites the rule as illustrated in the text:

“S borrows $1,000 from C, to be repaid February 1st.  P assumes S’s obligation to repay C, and S sends C a letter to that effect.  C throws the letter out along with solicitations from his college alumni association and Publisher’s Clearing House.  P asks C for an extension until March 1st.  Can S raise suretyship defenses in an action by C?”

Amy has been scribbling out a villanelle, and is caught by surprise when Fonsworth calls on her.

“I’m . . . uh . . . not prepared today, Professor,” she says with chagrin.

“Well, this isn’t a class where you can take a day off,” he says.  “As a lawyer, you have to learn to think on your feet.  Take a stab at it.”

Amy swallows a lump in her throat, looks down at the problem in her book, collects herself, then begins:

What is it with S, always borrowing money?
Doesn’t he know that C won’t think it funny
When the time comes to pay
and he’s heard to say–
“Hey, don’t look at me, go after P!”

She pauses and looks up at Fonsworth.  “Good start on the facts,” he says, “but you need to include a statement of the rule.”  Amy nods, says “Okay,” then begins again:

If C was so stupid to throw out the letter,
Suretyship law says he shoulda known better.
It’s not an excuse when to sue S you go–
He gets off scot-free, and keeps all your dough.

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection poetry is kind of important.

One Law Firm Takes “Work Hard, Play Hard” a Step Further

BOSTON.  Adams & Peabody is an old-line law firm whose roots extend back to the civil war, a distinction that has faded over time as successive waves of technological innovation have swept over the New England region.


The founders

“It’s not enough that your founders look like the guys on the Smith Brothers Cough Drop box,” says Mary Ellen Maistrano, an outside legal recruiter or “headhunter.”  “You have to pay people competitive salaries, and that firm doesn’t.  Kids can’t eat prestige.”

That was something Adams & Peabody refused to do as a penny-pinching approach had always stood the firm in good stead, even if it earned a reputation as a place “where the partners throw nickels around like they’re manhole covers,” in the words of Mike McCauley, a forty-something litigator who left the firm a decade ago.


Fun on non-casual Friday

And so the firm dwindled in size until the recession hit, at which point it found itself suddenly inundated with resumes from unemployed young lawyers willing to take any job to survive, and at lower compensation than their previous positions.  “We are gratified that we’ve come back into fashion,” says Charles Adams IV, a great-grandson of one of the original partners, “but applicants should understand that we adhere to long-standing firm policies that other firms may have abandoned during the ‘go-go’ years since the adding machine was invented.”


“A poplin suit after Labor Day?  You’re fired!”

Adams is referring to the firm’s dress policy, which was never relaxed to permit casual dress on Fridays or even weekends, when associates are expected to work until noontime on Saturdays.  “At my old firm the motto was ‘Work hard, play hard,'” says a third-year female associate who declined to be identified for fear of retribution.  “Here it seems to be ‘Work hard, dress hard.'”


Loosening up in the library.

The firm’s dress code was summarized as “tie shoes for men, hats for ladies and clean linen daily,” in the firm’s early days, but this presumed accepted standards of dress that were abandoned long ago.  “We codified the code–I suppose that’s the only thing you could do with a code–around the turn of the century,” says Reynolds Peabody, neglecting to specify which century.


“I lost it in the copier feed.”

Those rules, still in place, required male associates to wear suit coats even while in their office chairs until the late 1990’s.  “We made an exception for photocopying after a young associate lost his arm when his sleeve got caught in the automatic feed,” says current Managing Parter Grabill Norton.  “We did right by the fellow.  Gave him workman’s comp and a new suit with one arm shorter than the other.”

As new associates finish their second week of work since starting right after Labor Day, however, some are beginning to find that the constant surveillance of Donald Cooper, the firm’s Deportment Head (referred to as the “Fashion Cop” behind his back), is beginning to wear as thin as his worsted wool trousers.  “If you are going to wear those god-awful imitation WASP Ralph Lauren socks,” he tells Max Crowley, “please make sure that the polo ponies face outward, not inward.”

  
Ralph Lauren: It costs a lot to look like you come from old money.

Cooper eyeballs the young man towards the men’s room to change, then gives out a snort of satisfaction that is audible to this reporter.  “I guess you could say we’re proud to be pricks,” he says.  “You could say it–I would never stoop to such vulgarity.”


Right                               Wrong

Cooper pivots when he notices a pair of square-toed shoes of the sort made popular by the show “Mad Men.”  “Hey–I want to see you in cap toes or wing-tips by tomorrow young man!” he snaps.  “That show’s about the 60’s,” Cooper confides to this reporter.  “That’s when everything started to go down hill.”