Thursday, October 22, 2009

It's Time To Revist How Lawyers Treat Each Other

This week I had the occasion to be sick. A mild case of the flu.

The doctor told me to stay home for 5 days, take prescribed medication, and get a lot of rest.

I laughed. My wife didn’t.

For the most part, I stayed home.

Today’s lawyer doesn’t disconnect much though. Emails are read and responded to from bed, documents are faxed to the house, calls are transferred.

And lawyers are still lawyers.

I began my career as a criminal defense lawyer. The practice is courtroom intensive and everyone gets to know everyone. Your word is your bond. Go back on your word, and every judge, prosecutor, defense lawyer, bailiff, clerk and janitor knows about it before lunch.

The civil litigation world is different.

I’ll never forget the first time I spoke to a civil lawyer. At the end of the conversation he said: “so just send me a confirmatory letter.”

A confirmatory letter? Stating what? Reaffirming what I just told you?

I remember asking another civil lawyer: “you guys send letters to memorialize conversations?” He laughed. I didn’t.

The mistrust amongst civil lawyers in my opinion has its base in the fact that civil disputes are mostly about money. People, yes, including lawyers, lie, cheat, manipulate and do whatever it takes when they’re trying to win money I guess, and they do it chronically.

This week, while sneezing, coughing, sleeping, and basically trying to get better, the following two things happened in two separate cases:

[1] A lawyer set a hearing without consulting with me. I asked why, and he said: “its been my experience lately that attorneys in South Florida unilaterally set hearings and depositions and no longer provide any common courtesy.”

[2] I realized I would not be able to respond to a letter from a lawyer, as the file was in the office. I found the lawyer’s e-mail address on the Bar website and sent an email advising that I was sick, did not have the file, and would like to arrange for a new date to respond in mid-November when I return.

The response was to set a new date for me to respond November 2, and “I would appreciate it if you would refrain from further e-mail communication. I prefer that communications be made in a more formal manner.”

Let’s see, I’m home, in bed, what would you like? I assume this means a phone call would have received the same reaction – not formal enough?

Does this mean when you’re at some airport stranded and call me I should say “I need a letter?” Or when your kid is sick or you have a flat tire or, I don’t know, life happens, I should express to you my preferred form of communication?

What happened, someone screwed you over with some e-mail communication?

When did it get like this? When did lawyers have so much mistrust of each other that the most simple form of courtesy became the exception?

This is the shame of the Bar – that we criticize legislatures for making bad law from one case, but we treat all lawyers as if they were the asshole we just dealt with.

Countless times I have had lawyers tell me negative things about certain lawyers. But when I have dealt with that lawyer, there has been no problem. How simplistic are we lawyers that we cannot attempt to have a cordial relationship with a lawyer because we fear they will screw us?

This is not the practice I want to have. All you lawyers that treat every single lawyer as if they are going to screw you next, are part of the problem.

It has to stop somewhere.

Tonight a prosecutor called me with a plea offer. He said “do you want me to tell you the offer or send it to you in writing?

“Tell me.”

Located in Miami, Florida, Brian Tannebaum practices Bar Admission and Discipline and Criminal Defense. Read his free ebook The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer. Please visit www.tannebaumweiss.com

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6 comments:

Thorne said...

RE: Today’s lawyer doesn’t disconnect much though. Emails are read and responded to from bed, documents are faxed to the house, calls are transferred.

Strange how lawyers keep using fax machines. Odd it is how much they still rely on those gizmos.

Jeff Gamso said...

My home fax doesn't work - I haven't been able to figure out how to set it up, and I keep not getting around to having the tech guy come over and make it work.

Hooray for me.

On a more serious note, I've been saying for years that, with some notable exceptions, the criminal bar - on both sides of the aisle - is far more civil than the civil bar. It's one reason, although a minor one, why I prefer not to do civil work.

David Sugerman said...

I'm an Oregon plaintiffs' lawyer. We're still generally high road and civil. There are a few exceptions, but we all know who the assholes are and who can't be trusted.

The one thing I will tell you is that we still send or ask the other side to send a letter or email to confirm. I do it more because cases go long and you get busy and forget where you were. It also provides a reference. But we're still a place where your word is your entire reputation. I wonder if part of the problem is the size of the Fla bar?

Josh King said...

Brian, some lawyers are just helpless tools.

BTW, I get a lot of "formal" letters from lawyers, including a lot of certified letters. They all get responses by email.

Anonymous said...

If I could survive doing only criminal defense (VA), I would do it in a heartbeat. Too many civil lawyers act like junior high students whose teacher has left the classroom. Criminal cases require much more actual courtroom time, and this childishness is not welcomed by Judges.

Anonymous said...

If I could survive doing only criminal defense (VA), I would do it in a heartbeat. Too many civil lawyers act like junior high students whose teacher has left the classroom. Criminal cases require much more actual courtroom time, and this childishness is not welcomed by Judges.