The New Hell

Horrible things happen in our country. Our history tells us this. Our current events reinforce the same. Finally, something terrible has hit me where I live, and it has a profound impact on those closest to me.

Opening my refrigerator this morning, I discovered this where my glorious, creamy, whole-milk goodness once resided. Those who are responsible will be brought to justice, so help me god.

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Because Black’s Law Dictionary Needs My Help

Prior to the internet, definitions in Black’s Law Dictionary remained pretty constant. There were legalese terms. There were terms of art. There were terms based on good caselaw. There were concrete terms that have been used for centuries. For the most part, the writers only needed to focus on incremental changes from year-to-year.

Not now. Now, the internet created a host of new, super-awesome legal terms. I suspect Black’s now employs 10x as many definers, and half wear sneakers to work.

Because I like to help, I’ve done some work for them. The following are submitted for both love and consideration. Some are new. Others are just updates. All are important.

(Updated Dec. 28 to include Paradigm Shift)

Experience (n), a term that only old, stupid lawyers think is important.

Usage: That old David Boies has experience, but since graduating law school last summer, I have pure awesomeness on my side. I’ll kick that guy’s ass in the courtroom.

Brand (n), your reputation, particularly online. Can be manipulated with lies, deceit, and general fuckery. Sometimes characterized by large groups of equally desperate people who believe that a “brand” will result in oodles of income.

Usage: Hey, Chuck, I could be working hard for this one pathetic client, but screw him, I gotta work on my brand.

Paradigm Shift (n), a term used by marketers and attention-seeking lawyers to cloak inane babble in the appearance of learned theory. Currently, two definitions compete for legal superiority and acceptance (similar to BluRay vs. HD DVD).

1. A blustery showing of false intellect. The term does, however, stun marketing conference attendees for approximately 20-30 seconds, giving the speaker a chance to re-compose themselves. Mostly spewed by those who do not understand what (or where to find) a paradigm nor how to detect a shift in the same. All fail to realize that zeitgeist is far more apropos for non-science disciplines.

2. A sexual position requiring 2 legal pads (8.5″ x 14″), a gavel, and 3 carefully-selected legal clerks. Robe and powdered barrister wig are optional, but often encouraged. Illegal in Canada.

Legal Evangelist (n), (This is actually my term based on my opinions. Use it as freely as you want). Similar to televangelists and tent-revival hucksters. An individual who tries to sell you on their amazing and awesome knowledge of law practice, but, really, they have as much or less experience than you do. Typically, their firsthand experience in creating a law practice is limited to their “consulting” business.

Note: Legal Evangelists are often noted for preaching the legal prosperity gospel, where anybody truly dedicated to awesomeness has millions awaiting them in the practice of law.

Usage: So, this legal evangelist offered me several different package deals. They’re all so tempting, I don’t know which one to choose. I just know they’ll help me to be awesome.

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(for more information about these plans, see the Philly Law Blog, image (screen capture) placed here for archive and informational purposes only)

Online Legal Marketer (n), someone who charges you for information you could find for yourself after a minute or two of Google searches.

Usage: My online legal marketer charged me how to use Twitter. Now, I can say stuff in 140 characters or less and publish it for the world by clicking this little button. What would I do without him?

Coaching (v), once a term to describe assisting someone to succeed in sports as a means of building resilience, teamwork, and mental toughness. It is now a verb used to describe the assisting of younger and/or desperate lawyers to achieve success by cutting corners, utilizing social media, and repeating meaningless mantras. Some will even purport to coach on financial success within mere months of personally declaring bankruptcy.

Usage: I was coached to feel that my law practice will always be awesome and to remember the valuable lessons learned from paying $10,000 to walk over hot coals. Good times.

Entry-Level Associate, Public Defender, Junior Prosecutor, Staff Attorney, Legal Aid Attorney, Clerk,  JAG (n), attorney positions far below the level of awesomeness displayed by today’s new lawyers.

Usage: I was thinking about applying for an entry-level associate position with a firm, but I’m too awesome for that.

As Featured In/On… (n), a title coveted by young lawyers seeking to show that CNN, Forbes, MSNBC, ABC, FOX News, all appreciate their awesomeness (see definition of awesome below). They are never “featured” there because of a hard-fought victory or scrappy representation. They are there because they availed themselves as a talking-head and media darling.

Usage: I was featured in the New Yorker for my piece about how a potted plant and motivational picture in your law office can increase legal productivity by 3%.

Virtual Law Office (n), name given to a business model that touts all positives and no negatives. Typically lauded as easy, turnkey, and game-changing. Usually rife with ethical problems, shady business practices, and lack of promised income.

Usage: Ed has a virtual law office in the basement of his parent’s house where he focuses on shaved gerbil social media law.

Constant Affirmation (n), without it, you’ll die.

Twitter, Facebook, and Linked-In (n), once merely services for teenagers to share innocent rainbow party stories, these are now everything to a law practice. Without them, doom. With them, millions and millions and millions of dollars.

Usage: My law office is running at full-steam. I just finished bloating my profiles on Linked-In and Facebook, and I Tweeted the whole thing!

Courtroom (n), an antiquated place where old, crusty lawyers hang-out.

Usage: What is a courtroom? I haven’t left my couch in a month, and I have 50 Snapple bottles full of urine and a heaped bedpan to prove it. Mom! I’m out of Cheetos!

Exaggeration (n), necessary in describing yourself online.

See also: fabrication.

Awesome (adj), term used to describe younger lawyers (and a few older ones) who haven’t done shit, but want recognition and positive affirmation. The same term and logic is often used by televangelists. Note: Awesome lawyers are often interchangeable with game changers.

Note: All variants of awesome fall-under this definition, including (and especially) awesomeness.

Usage: That lawyer who just graduated law school is awesome, particularly on his website where he talks about awesome game-changing stuff. I had no idea I needed a lawyer who specializes in tampon disposal law, but I do!

The Exclamation Point (!), (punctuation), once only necessary when quoting an excited utterance or similar exclamatory statement in legal briefs. Now, they are TOTALLY! FUCKING! NECESSARY! in all correspondence! More exclamation points = more awesome.

See also: RANDOM USE of capitalization.

Game Changer (n), a lawyer who is unable to grasp the lawyerly concepts perfected by more established and dedicated attorneys in the profession. As a result, the young lawyer is forced to invent new (half-baked) legal markets to equalize their standing with the older, wiser folks.

Usage: Agnes is such a game changer! Did you know she is a pioneer in the area of fraternity scrotum art law?

Verdict (n), something awesome game-changers have never seen. Lawyers who have actually seen one of these from in front of a bar know that the practice of law is rewarding, dirty, hard, tiring, amazing, ugly, complex, catering-to-wisdom, and learned.

A Most Wonderful Time For Me

Mall of America

Ah, the Mall of America. Just sitting there, chocked-full of stuff. All for me. (Photo credit: Matti Mattila)

Thank goodness for the holiday season.

For the rest of the year, I’m constantly badgered by potential clients and family members wanting me to help someone (or themselves). Sure, I charge for my services, but I also realize that I give far more than I receive. If I truly charged for all of my time and efforts, I’d earn 3-4 times what I earn now. Call it bad business. Call it careless accounting. Either way, I spend the majority of the year giving and attempting to care for others–often more than they care for themselves.

Then, things slow during the holiday season. The attentions of others are diverted to their family and friends, and they forget about me for a few weeks.

Finally, a chance to focus on myself and those close to me. During this small window of time, I need to act quickly and decisively. Thankfully, commercialism helps me to make split-second decisions to benefit myself and those who I’d rescue from a fire before you.

Flip on the TV and bam, in 15 minutes I receive a short synopsis of everything I could possibly want, need, or give during this festive time of year. The internet is even better, with ads on all my favorite websites leading me to lush depictions of everything I could ever dream of owning or gifting. Thanks to big, corporate America, I’m able to give and get more than just corduroy pants.

They also throw a couple of well-timed distractions to cause others to focus less on legal issues and more on spending those potential retainers on exciting and thoughtful do-dads.

So, thank you commercialism. Thank you corporations. Thank you government subsidies in support of the aforementioned two. Because of you, I can make the most of giving to #1 this yuletide season. Otherwise, I’d be forced to spend another couple of weeks helping others and not thinking solely of myself.

Nobody wants that. After all, it sounds like something Christ would do.

Happy Holidays to me. Indeed.

Glorious Pro Bono Profits

So, this very official envelope arrives at my extremely modest office the other day. I figured I was in trouble. After all, why would someone pay a buck seventy to send me something unless they expected to reap something from the investment?


Once opened, it contained a very pretty, 8.5” x 11”, full-color, glossy brochure. The subject: all the wonderful pro bono activities of their illustrious, 162-attorney firm.

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I perused it whilst visiting the fortress of solitude and discovered that they received awards. Lotsa awards. They cherish their Distinguished Service to the Arts Award. They relish the sight of their Volunteer Service Award. They bask in the glow of their Award for Excellence. It featured pictures of happy partners and associates, thrilled with their ascent to the pinnacle of charitable excellence.

Being the practical sort, though, I want numbers. Something concrete. Something tangible.

They didn’t disappoint.

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What does this mean? Let me break it down and hope my meager math skills don’t fail me.

First, that $3,220,764 figure is impressive. If I continue working at my current pace, I’ll need to live to 128 in order to have earned that in my lifetime. Please send vitamins.

They value their average hour of work at $423.

Assuming they are not including the hours of paralegals and support staff, each attorney works 47 hours per year on pro bono matters. I realize that my assumption in this matter is significant. No, huge. No, astronomical.

Knowing that the average member of a large firm spends 60+ hours at work each week, this means less than 1 average work week.

Assuming that each lawyer bills 2200 hours in the average year, those 47 hours account for 2% of their yearly efforts.

Now, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask a few questions.

1. Are they including time spent creating and mailing their fine brochure?

2. Why am I receiving this? After all, I’m so low on the lawyer totem pole that I’m subterranean. Am I really worth $1.70?

3. At what point did someone discover the magnitude of the firm’s aggregate pro bono activities and decide to tell the legal world about such charitable awesomeness? Or, did they keep track of it from the beginning, knowing that they’d want the whole world to smell their rose-scented farts at the end of a bountiful pro bono year?

4. Suppose one of their associates helps an elderly woman to cross a busy street. Is this same associate then encouraged to publish his good deed to anyone within earshot? “Hey, everyone, did you see what I just did?! I helped this little old lady across the street! I’m awesome, especially since I work at…” Does he get a special gold star on the in/out board at the office? Does his time used to assist the elderly woman count toward the firm’s charitable total? If it weren’t for the promise of recognition and self-promotion, would he even give a damn about the old lady?

Now, I’m not going to leave these guys on a bad note. After all, it is the holiday season. You know, a season where I open my shut-up heart to the world.

So, to my big, charitable, bragging friends, I give the following advice and counsel:

1. Consider doing some work for someone in need. Do so without tracking your time. Do it because there are people who just need help and lack means. Don’t put it in a ledger. Don’t look for ways to use it to publicize your awesomeness to the world. See how good you’ll feel, just knowing that you helped someone without promise of reward or recognition.

2. That $1.70 you spent on postage and professional printing? Send it to a charity, a really good charity. Do so anonymously. Again, see how good it makes you feel. I believe I speak for everyone else who received your mailing on this one, we’d rather you put that extra scratch in a place where it really helps.

3. While I do not advocate any particular religion or faith, do us all a favor an read Beatitudes. The Sermon on the Mount is a reminder all of us need. Regularly.

With that said, I feel like I’ve done something charitable this holiday season. I’ll chalk this up as another .4 hours of pro bono service.

Now the whole world will know how awesome I am. A very Happy Holidays to me.

Press Release: “Legal Letter to Santa” a True Game-Changer

In a chat with my paralegal, we discussed the recent uptick of people calling with cases that are procedurally or substantively worthless. This is not to say that the potential clients are wrong. On the contrary, they are sometimes very, very right. However, their cases are often dead procedurally or lack the necessary evidence to facilitate a fighting chance. While the truth may be on their side, evidence to support the same is often missing.

English: Santa Claus with a little girl Espera...

“So I goes to this kid who owes me money, and I gives him a little reminder to his kneecap to pay me back. Now he turns snitch. Hows about a little juvenile defense for Xmas, big guy?” (Photo credit: Wikipedia. With apologies to whomever these people really are.)

Then, she had a “eureka” moment.

“Why don’t we offer to write letters to Santa for them?” she exclaimed gleefully.

“Huh?” I replied.

“You know, they have no shot with a board, or in court, so writing a letter to Santa for them has just as much of a chance of succeeding.”

At that point, it dawned on me that she was onto something.

So, without further hesitation, we are proud to offer our Legal Letter to Santa service.

Recognizing that SantaLaw is woefully underrepresented in the legal market, we emerged as industry leaders and are widely known as the go-to law firm for all SantaLaw cases.

From a recent press release that we might send to FORBES, CNN, MSNBC, FOX NEWS, and the NEW YORK TIMES:

Most people with seemingly-hopeless legal cases fail to recognize that, if it is close to December, they can seek relief by writing a letter to Santa using existing SantaLaw precedent. Sadly, many people are unsure where to start or lack the skills to write a good, legal letter to Santa. Some lack access to applicable SantaLaw regulations. That’s why we’re here. We bring proven industry success to the table. As past-believers of Santa who, as children, occasionally saw success in receiving the things we wished-for, we have the inside track with his offices and can negotiate a favorable outcome. It may just be some warm wishes or festive platitudes, but try to get those same things from a Federal District Court Judge. Something is always better than nothing, and we are here to try to get our clients more than nothing.

What do you get with this service? I’m glad you asked.

  • Passionate, aggressive yuletide-specific representation.
  • A one page, grammatically correct letter to the big guy at the North Pole. (More pages are available for an additional charge per page plus hourly fees.)
  • Postage is included! (Delivery confirmation or signature service for an additional fee)
  • Certified SantaLaw Specialists.
  • Correct and up-to-date legal citations.
  • Ample justification to get you past the naughty vs. nice procedural hump.
  • We utilize our knowledge of Santa’s agency to penetrate layer upon layer of elf bureaucracy standing between you and the fat man.
  • As former believers in Santa, we have first-hand knowledge of the process and personnel in his agency. In short, we have the inside track.
  • Reasonable fees (relative to the price you just paid for that Coby Tablet Computer for your soon-to-be-disappointed teenager).
  • As recognized Santa thought-leaders, you know you are getting the very best from proven industry game-changers. We put some Awesome into Advent.
  • We GUARANTEE that you will have the same chance of receiving relief from Santa as you would in Federal District, State District, government administrative board, or appellate court, or your money back.

Have a very Merry Legal Xmas.

Please note: We will not provide the same service at Easter regarding the Easter Bunny. That would be silly. It’s a fucking rabbit. We’re not shysters, you know.


Cleansing the Palate

I need to clear my thoughts. Today is one of those marathon writing days where a few cases require long, uninterrupted writing binges. It happens.

But, before I delve into the world of professional writing where I am encouraged to not start sentences with “but,” I need to clear my thoughts.

So, I give you an anecdote that reminds us that the purpose of today is to provide us with an opportunity to reflect on how much of an idiot we were yesterday.

The year was 1993-ish. The scene was the mess hall (military cafeteria) at West Point. I was 19 and a sophomore. I knew just enough about the world to say stupid shit to anyone willing to listen.

Unfortunately, some things never change.

Anywho, breakfast and lunch meals were served family style, with 10 cadets per table. There was, of course, a pecking order, and I was seated just beyond the lowly freshmen, but decidedly below the juniors and seniors. Most meals were overwhelmingly mundane, with the usual classes and activities before and after.

This day was different. Special guests were being honored by West Point. Prior to the ceremony and official recognition, the guests ate lunch with cadets. This day, the two guests would be seated randomly with the Corps.

The guests were writer and Vietnam-era reporter Joe Galloway and his good friend Lieutenant General (Retired) Hal Moore. They gained notoriety for actions in the Ia Drang valley where Moore’s battalion overcame extreme odds, and Galloway wrote about it from his perspective as an embedded UPI reporter. They collaborated on a book, We Were Soldiers Once… And Young. Many Army officers/cadets read this book by choice. The rest are forced. Either way, we all read it, and these two individuals are big stars in military literature and history.

Cover of "We were Soldiers Once...And You...

I still cringe when I see it.

As luck would have it, my table (out of 420) was selected to host one of these giants–Mr. Galloway. Nearby tables were abuzz with excitement and envy as we prepared for his arrival. Soon, an older gentleman arrived at our table escorted by a couple of officers. He quietly introduced himself, shaking the hands of the upperclassmen. At that point, we sat and began the meal ritual.

For most of the meal, our guest’s attention was monopolized by the officers and upperclass cadets. They asked sugary questions about his career and how it felt to earn the Bronze Star (for Valor)(he assisted in evacuating injured soldiers from the battlefield (clearly not up to New York Post standards)).

Near the end, he turned to the low end of the table and asked us how we were and if we had any questions.

My peers remained relatively quiet, but not me. Oh no, I couldn’t keep my goddamned mouth shut.

In the months prior to this lunch, US forces entered Somalia, and much was made about how members of the press were present at the beach to greet them, despite the supposedly secret mission. Their aggressive coverage of US military activities was a point of lively discussion in military communities.

I thought “I’m going to ask him a question about the press in Somalia.” Upon thinking this, I opened my mouth.

I honestly don’t know the exact wording of my question. However, with each passing year, my memory of it becomes more and more negative. You know how some thoughts become better and softer with time? Not this. It becomes worse.

Here’s what I remember:

I asked a question that was prefaced with a comment.

I mentioned the Somalia thing.

It focused on the role of press on the battlefield.

And, I think I somehow strongly implied that the press were worthless meatbags taking up space on a battlefield and contributing to the eventual downfall of democracy. I’m sure that, in some languages, my comment might be translated as “Torture and kill all members of the press, the ruddy jackasses.”

My peers looked at me as to say “Dude, WTF?”

Upperclass cadets stared at me with drooped jaws.

The officer escorting our guest gazed at me with “you little, fucking shit” eyes.

Mr. Galloway answered my question curtly, but very diplomatically, through gritted teeth. Then, he looked at his plate for a moment, still gritting, and excused himself. He never returned.

The question gained a bit of buzz among the surrounding tables, but it eventually dissipated as we returned to business as usual. The older I get, though, the more horrified I am at my past ignorance and misdirected boldness.

Thankfully, I was not court-martialed for my oral stupidity.

So, with that, I’d like to say, for the first time, “Mr. Galloway, I’m really sorry for being an idiot.”

I hope he doesn’t remember.

Criminalizing Failure

Most current and past members of the Armed Forces have heard the rumors of soldiers being punished for having a sunburn that prevents the proper wear of the uniform and performance of duty.

Most of us also understand the need to deter self-injury as a means of avoiding or shirking duty.

But, how about the rash of attempted and successful suicides in the military? Where do those fall?

Here, the Marine Corps shows that they have no tolerance for failure.

The court was hearing the appeal of Marine Pvt. Lazzaric Caldwell, who was convicted of “self-injury” after he slit his wrist in a barracks in Okinawa in 2010.

He was convicted under the Uniform Code of Military Justice’s Article 134, known as the General Article, because the judge found his self-injury was prejudicial to good order and discipline and brought discredit upon the service.

At least one judge on the military’s high court agreed with that argument. “You don’t think that the public will think less of the military if people are killing themselves? …There’s literature out there that these things come in waves,” said Judge Margaret Ryan.

Underpinning the case is the question of why the military criminalizes attempted suicide when it does not treat successful suicide as a crime.

“If [Caldwell] had succeeded, like 3,000 service members have in the past decade, he would have been treated like his service was honorable, his family would have received a letter of condolence from the president and his death would have been considered in the line of duty. Because he failed, he was prosecuted,” noted Navy Lt. Michael Hanzel, the military lawyer representing Caldwell.

Thanks again to JMo for this heads-up.

Beard 1; Judge 0

I know Judge Gregory Gross. With my cases, he was always even-handed and amazingly calm. However, none of my clients had an issue with facial hair. Apparently, that’s the breaking point, and the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF) did not mince words, and their vote was unanimous.

In short, they issued the following ruling:

Appellant’s writ-appeal petitions for mandamus andprohibition are hereby granted. In light of the above, the military judge is ordered removed. The appropriate authority shall detail a new military judge in this case. Further, the contempt convictions against Appellant, as well as the military judge’s order to forcibly shave Appellant, are hereby vacated.

In a bit more detail, here is some of their analysis:

As an initial matter, the command, and not the military judge, has the primary responsibility for the enforcement of grooming standards. See AR Reg. 600-20; Dep’t of Defense Instr. 1300.17, Accommodation of Religious Practices Within the Military Services (Feb. 10, 2009). The maintenance of discipline, unit cohesion and unit morale are command responsibilities and functions. A military judge’s contempt authority is directed toward control of the courtroom. Although the military judge here stated that Appellant’s beard was a “disruption,” there was insufficient evidence on this record to demonstrate that Appellant’s beard materially interfered with the proceedings. See R.C.M. 804 Discussion (“In order to justify removal from the proceedings, the accused’s behavior should be of such a nature as to materially interfere with the conduct of the proceedings.”). Thus, taken together, the decision to remove Appellant from the courtroom, the contempt citations, and the decision to order Appellant’s forcible shaving in the absence of any command action to do the same, could lead an objective observer to conclude that the military judge was not impartial towards Appellant.

In light of these rulings, and the military judge’s accusations regarding the latrine, it could reasonably appear to an objective observer that the military judge had allowed the proceedings to become a duel of wills between himself and Appellant rather than an adjudication of the serious offenses with which Appellant is charged.

For those of you frustrated with the already-long wait, the train has gone back to the station. Now, every decision made by Judge Gross will be reevaluated, especially in light of the heightened appellate scrutiny that accompanies any military death penalty case.

They’ll try to get it right, but that may no longer be possible. Hand it to defense counsel. They acted quickly, wisely, and decisively. They’re getting exactly what they want in a military death penalty case–a big mess.

H/T to JMo for alerting me to the news.

As an aside, this was also in the decision:

Continue reading

Maybe Not Updating the Library

Working as a labor attorney for the Army in my initial JAG assignment, I took for granted the library provided for me (at taxpayer expense). I never looked at prices. I ordered what I needed. Questions were never asked.

Today, I thought I’d shop for the latest copy of a favorite federal labor treatise.

I said to myself, “Self, it will probably only be $50 to $70.”

Self was wrong.

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