Doing battle with law firm forms and procedures

Speed is life.

A board game I played in high school stated this matter-of-factly. Star Fleet Battles, the classic game of starship combat (based on the even more classic show Star Trek), could have been describing the law. Though, perhaps it would be more appropriate to say “inertia is life.” It doesn’t usually matter so much that you go really fast as it does that you keep moving.

The law is like a chess game — it’s important to keep moving or the game stagnates. Too much time between moves and you forget where the pieces are: you have to reacquaint yourself with the board. That takes more time and prevents further moves.

This is why the hardest file in the office to work on is the one that is just a little outside of our comfort zone. It might be that collections case a family law attorney randomly picked up or the contract case a personal injury lawyer is working on for a friend. It’s difficult sometimes to get over the fear or uncertainty of “Exactly what is it that I’m supposed to do?”

This can even apply to files of the same ilk as the majority of your cases. If you are too busy, a new file might come in and lay around for a few days. Then you get even busier and it gets shoved to the bottom of the pile or lost in a heap of “to-dos.”

This is why it is important to have forms and procedures for every typical step in the life of a case. Something comes in and the next steps can be assigned without much thought.

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Legal new year’s resolutions

new year's resolutionSo a new year is upon us once again. Hopefully you’ve made your charity payments, paid any debts that need paying and had some time to relax with friends and family.

Now back to work.

One important piece of work is, of course, self-evaluation. Whether you are a small business owner or feel like a “cog-in-the-machinery” associate at a big firm, the new year is customarily a time to evaluate where you’ve been and where you’d like to go. It can feel a little melancholy sometimes — the song that seems to sum it up for me is John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)”:

So this is Christmas

And what have you done

Another year over

And a new one just begun.

It reminds me a little that every year is, in some ways, a failure. The end of each year is filled with doubts — did I work as hard as I should have? Did I accomplish what I needed to accomplish? Did I make a difference in some way?

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Geeking out for ‘Star Trek’ (again)

If you’re looking for law, you’ve come to the wrong place. Today I use the bully pulpit to discuss the next “Star Trek” movie.

Sure, I could couch this post in terms of “work-life balance,” as if there was such a thing:

Remember, young lawyers, it is important to take some time to spend in pursuit of enjoyable activities, away from the harsh mistress of the law and even away from family and children. This will give you a chance to recharge your batteries so that you can get back to work with a light heart and the drive to tackle lawyerly activities.

I could tell you that, probably like most parents, my wife and I have had few date nights over the past three years. I could also tell you that my wife attended a friend’s birthday party last week and she graciously offered to repay me with my own night out. All of that is simply background, and inconsequential to the final point:

On Friday, I’m going to see “The Hobbit.”

No, not because I’m some Middle-Earth fanatic (I love Tolkien as much as the next nerd, and his scholarship on Beowulf was the source of much fascination in college). No, I’m going to see The Hobbit at an IMAX theater because they will preview the first nine minutes of the new “Star Trek” movie (trailer available now!).

The last time I was at the movies was for the last “Star Trek” movie in 2009. I’ve watched the new trailer (Star Trek:  Into Darkness) about thirty times (computer, phone, iPad, whatever). Dissecting it for all the facts I can glean, yet scrupulously avoiding non-Paramount-authorized spoilers.  Some questions which may or may not be answered:

– Is the villain, played by Benedict Cumberbatch (of “Sherlock” fame), a Vulcan? Or does he just have uncharacteristically pointy ears? What about all of those Khan rumors?

– Why does that medical officer/scientist’s scream look so fake? Is it that thing she’s doing with her eyes?

– What will the movie’s abbreviation be? They all have one, so this is likely “ST: ID.”

– Can I suspend disbelief at the Enterprise crashing into an ocean, then flying out of the ocean?

– Can I really avoid all spoilers until the trailer and, the film’s release in May?

I understand, these are not important questions for most people who aren’t me. So, take a peek at this post, shake your head at the nerd and move along.

All’s well that ends well on National Adoption Day

national adoption dayEarlier this month my wife and I appeared for what is probably the happiest of all court proceedings: the adoption hearing.

We began as foster parents through the Baltimore Department of Social Services almost four years ago and our home has seen two short-term placements and two long-term placements. Almost three years to the day Baby T. (now Toddler T.) came into our lives, we were privileged to stand before judges, friends, family, strangers and media to welcome her as an official and permanent addition to our family.

Whatever fantasies we harbored about the logistics of the proceeding were quickly dashed. We were ordered to arrive at 9:15 a.m. but paranoia made us leave the house at 8:15 a.m., which got us into the courtroom at a very healthy 8:35 a.m. Normally, when I get to court early, I work on my laptop, review files, or return phone calls. With two children under age 3 in tow, the name of the game was entertainment and crowd control while we waited in the hallways with approximately fifty other lucky families until the courtroom opened up.

When the hearing started (a little late, but impressively close to on time), we had already used up our arsenal of coloring books, fruit snacks, sippy cup drinks, apple slices and stickers. Toddler T. had completely exhausted the disposable camera given to us (she was impressed by the mechanical nature of the device, compared to the digital cameras she was used to). And of course, within sixty seconds of the judges’ arrival on the bench, that familiar smell began emanating from the diaper of our other child.

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Don’t take that case, or The promise of a phone call

Shortly after I became a law clerk, the senior partner had most new case calls routed directly to my office. We didn’t have a specific intake form at the time, but I quickly created one to help me remember to ask questions about liability, causation and damages.

As a newbie, it was easy to get sucked into the excitement of a “slam-dunk” liability case, and to forget to ask questions about the extent of the injury. I was taught that the perfect case is rare and that knowing which cases to take is an art.

I began to think of it as a sliding scale — good liability with lower damages might be worth it, harder liability with higher damages might be worth it, bad liability and lower damages is almost never worth it and (of course) good liability with higher damages is always worth it.

My boss at the time explained his approach to the business of law: every day and every phone call brings with it the promise of new client. This might be a worthy case, or an exciting new type of litigation. Along the way, I learned some of the rules for initial case intake and investigation. There are a few factors that must be included in the sliding scale determination.

Here are my rules:

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‘The Franken-Apoclypto-Nino-Storm-Ageddon,’ or ‘Everything I need to know about emergency preparedness I learned in Boy Scouts’

The bread aisle at the Target in Timonium before the storm. (Photo courtesy of Austin Kirk)

As a transplanted Coloradan who moved here in 2002, I have come to consider myself a Marylander. I now eat crabs, say “soda” instead of “pop” and pay attention when people talk about what high school they went to. But I must part company with my adopted state in one respect.

Weather.

It’s crazy out here. The slightest precipitation — nay, the threat of precipitation — and people start driving at half the speed limit with their hazard lights on; they lock themselves indoors and refuse to go outside; they scream in frustration when schools and businesses are open for business. In Maryland, we name our storms. In Colorado, we call them “Monday.”

My recollection about my youth is that I never had a snow day from school. In high school (Ponderosa, for those of you who inexplicably care about my high school), our superintendent was reported to be from Alaska. So we braved the snow every winter.  Trick-or-Treating involved a costume and a winter coat that covered up the bulk of the costume. Weather was not an excuse.

In Boy Scouts, we earned our Emergency Preparedness badge by having backup plans for everything. My backup plan for the Frankenstorm has been to buy a bag of ice, fully charge my laptop and cell phone and wonder what my kids did with the flashlight. Oh, and we cooked the chicken last night, just in case.

Fortunately, my job is flexible. If I have electricity, I’ll work the whole day. If I don’t have electricity, I’ll work until I run out, and then I’ll go find electricity to charge the phone, the laptop and the MiFi. Or, I’ll do any number of things that don’t require electricity (my filing is a little backed-up). If the roads are crazy, I’ll just stay home with the kids.

Please be safe and smart out there.