My Lawyer Days


There are many things about being a lawyer that are rewarding. For example, the liberating feeling of abandoning the dreadful profession for another is almost indescribable. However, as joyous as being a lawyer is, there are some downsides. One is that your clients are invariably in a bad mood. They are either angry enough to sue someone, or being sued themselves. They may be getting evicted. Someone may be trying to turn off their life-support. Maybe they were hit with a bobsled. Maybe they were hit by a series of bob sleds. Whatever; the point is, clients can be difficult.

Because clients are at their most vulnerable, they often view me–not only as their lawyer–but also as their psychotherapist, their priest, their pastry chef, their moil, their cartographer, their erotic sex kitten, etc. Filling all of these rolls could tax even the most Clarence Thomas-like giant of the legal profession. It certainly leads to interesting conversations.

Below are some of my more interesting recent conversations with clients. Now due to attorney/client privilege, I can’t reveal what they said to me. I can only show my end of the conversation. What the client said will be represented by ………… However, I hope these examples can still be instructive.

Some conversations are surprisingly short:

Hi, nice to meet you…….Thank you……..What?……You forgot what?……… You forgot your checkbook???…….. Oh Geez, ya know what, I forgot, my parrot’s on fire, I’ve just got to run.

Some clients get right to the point:

Good Morning……huh……..Well, yes, that is my real hair. What can I do for you?………..Really?…….How old was she?…Wow. But you’re pretty sure her grandmother was over 18?……..I didn’t say positive, I said pretty sure………….Did you remember your checkbook?…….I think I can help you.

Others have a more convoluted story:

It’s very nice to meet you…………Who dresses me isn’t important. How can I help?……………………………………………………………………………………….. So who owned the stock?………………..But then whose donkey was it?…………….And is that when you put on the leiderhosen? …………………Dick Cheney did that??…………………………………You do have to report that to the FEC, except for the part about the “Dirty Sanchez.”

Sometimes I make a mistake, and I have to fess up to the client:

Well, you’re probably wondering how your lawsuit is progressing………. Well, actually, I showered just today. But I do want to tell you that I didn’t quite get the final papers filed yet…………No, not the preliminary papers yet either……………Well yes, of course I’ve opened a file………Well, no, not in your particular case, but………………….Look, there’s no need to use profanity………Hey, I’ve heard all these filthy words before……..Wow, I actually haven’t heard that one………….Uh, I could try, but I don’t even think that’s anatomically possible.

It’s rare, but every once in a while a client is actually grateful:

………You’re welcome…………….And you’re very welcome………..Oh, that’s sweet, but there’s no need to hug me…………OK, come on, stop sobbing, I was just doing my job………………OK, I’m not even sure I’d be comfortable with you naming your children after me………………Look, get off the floor and stop kissing my feet, all I did was not take your case and refer you to another attorney. What?………….No, that is my real wife. The picture did not come with the frame.

But many clients are just difficult:

…………..I’m sorry, did you say “write you?”………………Oh! Bite! I get it.

I suppose if every client was happy-go-lucky and normal, there would be no need for lawyers. Then maybe I would be freed up to follow my true calling: the one thing I am great at and was destined to do. Which is…well…I’m actually not exactly sure. But I know it must involve watching a lot of Bikini Car Wash movies.

Howdy!

As I write this (in the courtroom during a trial. Gee, I hope nothing bad happens to my client!) the hunt for Osama bin Laden seems to be going well. The Taliban has collapsed, and Osama has been reduced to posing as a spelunker named “Hank” from Eugene Oregon as US Marines comb through his caves. It seems likely he will soon die with some profound Islamic prayer on his lips, like “Holy Shit, that’s a big machine gu…” That ending is just fine with me.

However, as the judge asks me if I have anything I’d like to say in my client’s behalf (Huh?…What?…Uh, no thanks your honor.), I ponder what happens if he is caught alive. What do we do with him? Do we jail him? Do we give him a business loan? Do we torture him to death? Do we let him play Vegas? All strong choices. My gut tells me that most will be demanding the death penalty. My gut also tells me that raw clams are best eaten fresh, if anyone’s interested.

Since the clamor to off Osama will be overwhelming, I find myself once again compelled to take the unpopular position (like when I came out strongly pro grave desecration). I say: “No death penalty for Osama!” And I mean it sincerely. This is not just another attempt to keep the hate mail and death threats coming.

I have always opposed the death penalty, and not just because there is a good chance I’ll get it someday. I am troubled by the inevitability of innocent people being executed. Our government is simply not infallible, as evidenced by the fact that the Social Security Administration still sends me mail addressed to “Klondike Peach.” Then there are the cases where the condemned is a 6 foot black man, even though the only witness originally described the killer as “Robert Blake. Not like Robert Blake. It was actually Robert Blake!”

Even if the guy is actually guilty, I still think there are some moral absolutes, my fondness for “Prison Chicks” movies notwithstanding. If there are to be such absolutes, not killing people in cold blood should be one of them. “No silent consonants” should be another. That’s it, just those two. No killing in cold blood, and no silent consonants.

In my profession, they say “Hard cases make bad law.” They say other stuff too, but I don’t really know what it is. Although, judging by the look on my client’s face, he sure wishes I did. Certainly, bin Laden is a hard case. Conjuring any sympathy for him is an uphill battle. But that’s not what I’m trying to do. I can’t even conjure sympathy for the client sitting next to me, and he didn’t murder 5000 people. I’m not sure what he did do (he told me, but I’ve got my own problems), but I doubt it was that bad.

I don’t oppose executing bin Laden because of what it does to him, but what it does to us. It makes us all complicit in a cold blooded killing. I for one want no part of that. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got enough on my head…what with all the stuff I’m hiding from the IRS, the CIA, and the Girl Scouts of America. I have 12 aliases, and that’s just with Columbia House Record Club. My mother thinks I’m a Turkey farmer in Luxembourg, and I hide under my bed whenever the lawn care truck drives by (no reason!). The last thing I need is to get involved in a killing.

Think of the message we send to the world about our respect for human rights if we respect the rights of even a vermin like bin Laden. It’s like letting Lee Majors act to show how far we take freedom of expression. Also, consider the possibility–admittedly remote–that bin Laden is theologically correct. The minute we kill him we are sending him to paradise where 72 virgins await him (or 71 virgins and one girl who went horseback riding a lot). Isn’t it better to at least send him to his eternal virgins with a little experience at the hands of a cellmate named “Meat” who thinks Osama is a “Hottie?”

As the Sheriff leads my client away in handcuffs (apparently the first time that’s happened in a zoning case!), I think of bin Laden, in a prison crewcut, all cuddled up with Meat, while watching “Baywatch” reruns. This image is far more appealing to me than giving the government the power to kill people in anything other than self defense.

Tomorrow: Since bin Laden has 4 wives, does he get 4 times as many conjugal visits? I say yes!

My friend Amy’s daughter Athena said that her friend Lola would think I’m “the coolest guy in the world” if I mentioned her in the Vent. Assuming that is still a compliment in the ever-changing world of teenage lingo, it is an offer I can’t resist. So before I get to the substance of this Vent, let me say a few words to Lola.

I’ve never met you Lola, (unless I have, in which case OH YES!! I REMEMBER NOW!!!) but I’m sure you are a great person. In fact, I’m sure you are the best person on the planet, even better than Daryl Strawberry or Condeleeza Rice. I don’t know if they do “reverse Siamese twin attachment” surgery. There are the obvious ethical, insurance coverage, and in your case, parental consent issues to deal with. But putting those aside, there is no other person who I would rather be permanently stapled to, at the shoulder or the cranium, than you…Lola.

A few Vents ago I said I would shortly be moving my office to Bala Cynwyd after having an “Allentown Moment” (you don’t want to live there Lola). Well, I had another one this week, and I wanted to share it with you. See, I got a new case, a case that exudes Allentown the way that George Will exudes “Sexy” (hey, you have your taste, I have mine).

My client (who we’ll call “Bob”) went fishing in Fogelsville, a suburb of Schnecksville. After a couple of hours lazily casting his line and thinking “Man, that W is a sharp cookie,” he felt a big tug. On the end of his line he had the largest Trout ever caught in Pennsylvania (16 lbs 4 oz). Bob knew how fortunate he was. He thought, “good thing I caught him! He could be happily swimming somewhere else by now.”

Soon, his picture was on the front page of the local paper, just above the results of the Presidential election, and just below the big story of the day “DUTCH MILLER’S FRIDGE GOES ON THE FRITZ.” It’s big news in Allentown whenever something goes “On the Fritz.” The next day another local guy called the Allentown Police saying that Bob hadn’t caught the record trout in Fogelsville after all. Instead, this guy alleged that Bob caught the trout on his own private pond. Now, you might not know that a state record Fish can’t be caught in a private pond (if you’ve been living under a rock). However, even the dimmest among us (and you know who you are!) knows that you can’t actually steal a trout. Why, that’s “Trout Stealing” for God’s sake. And thus a scandal was born.

Now, hold up 4 fingers. Now count them. That’s how many Allentown cops became involved in the investigation. I’m guessing the conversation in the squad room went something like this:

SARGE
OK men. Time to get your assignments. We’ve got
a full plate today. First, we’ve got a murder.

COP #1
Murder, Schmurder.

SARGE
OK, well, we’ve got a rape.

COP #1
Rape, schmape.

SARGE
Well, lets see. We’ve got a “Filing a False Report
on an Official Fish and Wildlife Form.”

COP #1
Filing a False Report on an Official Fish and Wildlife
form…Schmiling a False Report on…a..Schmofficial…uh
….OK, I’ll take that one.

COP #2
Can I help him?

SARGE
Depends, are you sober today?

COP #2
No.

SARGE
OK then, your’e on the case. Hey, Cop #3, why are
you crying?

COP #3
Sorry, Sarge. It’s just that my father once had a Filing a
False Report on an Official Fish and Wildlife Report case.
He never caught that guy. He couldn’t let it go. He started
drinking, mostly Fresca, but still, it wore on him. Then he
quit caring about anything. He quit his job, he started going
to a different hooker every night, finally he blew his brains out.

SARGE
I’m so sorry, Cop #3.

COP #3
I just don’t want that to happen to me, except for the part
about the hookers.

SARGE
Of course not. We’re gonna catch that Filing a
False report on Fish and…well, you get the idea!

COP #4
Let’s get him boys!

All cheer and run out of room, but come back when they realize they forgot their pants–then run out again, still as enthusiastic as ever.

So I am going to trial on this case (eat your heart out David Boies). I do so wistfully, knowing that it may well be the last trout-related case I ever try. Although, you never know where life will take you: I may wind up loving this case so much that I develop an exclusively trout-based practice (like Clarence Thomas used to have). If you have any Trout related problems, or any problems at all relating to controversial Fish and Wildlife Commission filings, you know who to call. Half-price for you Lola.

I have always been a giving person. I give and I give and I give and I…you get the idea. Of course, what I give is limited by what I have. That’s why I’ve never donated my eggs. However, one thing I do have is vast knowledge, and I’ve never been reluctant to share it. For example, as a kid, when I set some other kid’s pants on fire, I was more than happy to say, “Hey, your pants are on fire.”

As an adult, this has translated into me conducting numerous seminars on topics of interest. As a lawyer, I started out doing legal seminars about the areas I knew best. I did one called “Facing Disbarment with Dignity.” Another popular one was “‘Oops, I lost your file:’ Thoughts on Trial Preparation.” I got the idea for my most popular seminar when I went to a seminar myself entitled “Allegations of Impotence in Annulment Cases.” I just expanded the topic in my seminar to “Allegations of Impotence in Commercial Transaction Cases.”

Eventually, my seminars became so popular, that I branched out into areas other than law, although admittedly sometimes I didn’t actually know much about the topic. I conducted a very successful accounting seminar entitled “‘Me no habla englais’ and Other Things to Say in an Audit.” However, both my math seminar (“How High Can you Count?”) and my physics seminar (“Lordy, dem planets is big!!”) were less well received.

All this is to say that I feel compelled to offer you, right here and now, my “on-line” seminar on “How to be a Good Witness.” I’ve recently had an unusually high number of trials, and before each one, I instruct each witness on the basic rules of witnesshood. But no one seems to listen. Below, are the rules to follow if you ever take the stand to testify, say in a traffic case, or maybe psychic malpractice litigation. Under each rule are shockingly accurate variations on ways my witnesses have violated these rules.

HOW TO BE A GOOD WITNESS

Rule # 1: Be specific in your answers. Frequently witnesses feel they should
“explain” their answer. This is a disaster. For example, in a criminal trial, do not do this:

Me
Sir, are you involved in any money
laundering?

Defendant
No.

Me
Thank you.

Defendant
I mean, sure I bounce a few checks now
and then.

Me
Uh…that will be all your hon…

Defendant
…and sometimes, I may stick my hand
into the mailbox and grab a little mail.

Me
I believe you’ve answered the question. That
will be all I…

Defendant
…once I stole a sweater, but that was years
ago. And once I stole a cop car. That was this
morning.

Me
…your honor, we would rest, and offer no further…

Defendant
…I like to set fires. Big ones, mostly in strip
malls. And I’ve certainly unzipped my share of
flies at my share of Junior High Schools. Oh,
and I shot a couple guys. But money laundering,
NEVER!!

Rule # 2: Keep your answers as short as possible. Not every question is an invitation to tell your life story. Here is an example of what I mean from a recent Zoning hearing.

Me
Please tell the judge your address.

Witness
I live on Birdsong Lane. Just by the river.
I used to live in Flatbush, but who the hell
wants to spend their life in a place named
Flatbush? Plus, it was like…a total dump.
I had a neighbor there, Rita, who used to raise
chickens. All day long, Cluck Cluck Cluck, do
you know how stressful that is? I was so stressed
that my infections flared up all the time. Did I
mention I had chronic yeast infections? So anyway,
my boyfriend at the time, Leo, was just getting
over his prostate troubles, and he never wanted
to…

Judge
Shut up.

Witness
…go out. So he’d stay in all day and watch
for girl scouts walking by on the street. And
when he’d see one, he’d take out his…

Judge
…I want to kill you.

Rule # 3: Don’t Guess! “I don’t know” is a perfectly acceptable answer. Don’t do this:

Me
So Mr. Marshmallow, you are charged with
burglary. Did you break into Mr. Barker’s house?

Mr. Marshmallow
No.

Me
So you have no idea who stole Mr. Barker’s
golf clubs.

Mr. Marshmallow
Well, I suppose it’s someone who likes Golf.
Boy I love Golf. And I guess the guy would have
to be about my height to fit into the window. He’d
likely be someone who didn’t work on Tuesdays,
like me. And finally, his name would probably be
Marshmallow.

Me
And why is that?

Mr. Marshmallow
I don’t know, just seems logical.

Rule # 4: Don’t get mad. Opposing counsel is just doing his job. He would be representing you now if you paid him first. So don’t do this:

Me
Why don’t you tell the jury your name sir?

Defendant
Why don’t you just kiss my Lithuanian
butt you yellow-bellied, underdressed hack?

Judge
Sir, Mr. Leach is your lawyer.

Defendant
Oh, I know.

I hope this has been helpful to you, whether you face impeachment proceedings or a simple, run-of-the-mill, routine demand for a paternity test from the baby-sitter. Please join me tomorrow for my next seminar “How Even Total Losers can have High Self-Esteem.”

To be a good lawyer you need to develop a number of skills. The ability to research is one, the ability to say “pay me you parasite!” is another. But mostly, a lawyer needs to know how to think on his feet, or his back if he’s feigning injury in a close friend’s (with lots of insurance) house.

The reason this latter skill is important is because you never know what question is about to be asked or when the Judge will say “Wake up Mr. Leach, and put that sandwich away.” The point is, no matter how bad your case is, you always have to have something to say. I’ve tried blurting out “Jeez, your honor, my opponent appears to be right. I hadn’t thought of that before. I guess taking my client’s house and, as learned opposing counsel suggests, ‘throwing his ass in the pokey’ is a good idea after all,” but it hasn’t gotten me a lot of repeat business.

Today my ability to think fast was put to the test. I had a preliminary hearing for a client accused of shooting off a neighbor’s hand with a shotgun. We’ll call my client Ralph (although his real name was Todd!). I knew this would be a difficult case when I met Ralph.

Ralph
Ya know what I am?

Me
A misunderstood innocent guy?

Ralph
No, no. The other one…

Me
A Homicidal Maniac?

Ralph
Yeah! That’s the one.

This was compounded by the fact that Ralph looked like Charles Manson, only angry. His long, greasy hair and menacing eyes were helpful only in that they distracted from the “I SHOT MY NEIGHBOR IN THE HAND” tattoo across his chin. But I still had the presumption of innocence on my side. That, and the possibility that the judge could theoretically be on heroin and not thinking clearly. Before the hearing started, I demanded to know what evidence the district attorney had. Much to my horror and chagrin, she had some.

Me
Judge, I make a motion to dismiss.

JUDGE
But we haven’t started yet.

Me
So, I understand it’s granted then.
(to courtroom) OK, we’re out of here! Chalupas for everyone!

JUDGE
Sit down, Mr. Leach.

Me
Judge, I am entitled to know the evidence the state
intends to introduce.

JUDGE
And what citation are you offering for that?

Me
Uh…The…Uh…The Book of Laws.

Notice how I whip out the cites like pop tarts at a firehouse!

JUDGE
Will the DA please humor Mr. Leach and describe
the evidence you intend to present.

DA
Surely, your honor. First we have the testimony of the
victim.

Me
Objection! Speculative!

Compared to me, Clarence Darrow was a moron.

JUDGE
How is it speculative? The victim was there. He’s got
the missing fingers.

Me
Says who??

JUDGE
Says him! That’s the point!!!

Me
Well…then I’d like to object on the grounds that it’s
irrelevant, immaterial, and immoral. Further, it is
hearsay, double jeopardy, res ipsa loquitur, and violates
the doctrine of Escheat!!

JUDGE
Do you even know what any of those words mean?

Me
Couple of ’em.

JUDGE
Will that be all the evidence we can expect today?

DA
‘Fraid not. We also have the testimony of the 36
eyewitnesses from the “Her Mother of Immaculate
Conception” convent across the street.

Me
Ha! Nuns?? They wouldn’t know the truth if
it bit them on the ass!

Notice how I never give an inch! I make Johnnie Cochran look like a barn owl at a fish fry. (I have no idea what that means. It’s sort of a tribute to Ross Perot.)

DA
Further, we have testimony that it was the
defendant’s gun that fired the shot.

Me
Coincidence.

DA
We have the defendant’s fingerprints on the gun.

Me
Happenstance.

DA
And we have powder burns from the gun on the
defendant’s hand.

Me
(yawn) Will someone wake me up when she
presents some real evidence?

A clever diversion. Everyone’s head is reeling now.

DA
We also have videos, from three different directions,
of the defendant shooting the victim.

Me
Three ya say?

DA
Three.

Me
I’ll be damned.

A brief lapse. But I recover quickly:

Me
DUCK!!! PIGEONS!!!!!!!

DA
What?

JUDGE
Just continue, he does this all the time.

DA
Finally, we have the written and verbal statements of
the defendant.

Me
A person’s words can be twisted.

DA
Not here. First we have a booklet written by the
defendant and published under his own name on
the Internet. It’s called: “How I Plan to Shoot My
Neighbor.” It’s got maps, diagrams, and several
photographs of the victim with bullseye on them
and the words “Na Na Na Na Na, Your gonna get
sho-ott” written underneath.

Me
Maybe he changed his mind!

Man, I’m like a Gatling Gun.

DA
Unlikely, as the defendant himself writes in his
second book–“Why I Will Never Change My Mind
About Shooting My Neighbor”–which he published
both on the Internet, and in paperback throughout
Europe. Also, it was an Oprah book.

Me
But does he ever say he went through with it?

DA
Yes, he said so many times in his verbal confession.
In fact, I should say confessions, plural. When he was
arrested, he confessed so often that the officer finally
had to tell him to “Knock it off” and “Stop confessing
already.”

Me
Is that it? Is that all you have?

Never act impressed!

DA
Not quite!

Ralph
SWEET JESUS. I SHOT MY NEIGHBOR!!!!

DA
There is the fact that the defendant blurts that
out every ten minutes or so.

ME
Well that’s not gonna help.

JUDGE
Well, not you at least.

Me
Your honor, this is a travesty!!

Judge
No it’s not.

Me
Uh…. did I mention the pigeons?

The case was bound over for trial. But by now I’m guessing the prosecution is so intimidated that I can make a sweet deal for Ralph. Life in a nest of angry hornets maybe, something like that. I’m just happy to show the younguns coming up how it’s done.

Tomorrow: A preview of Ralph’s new book “I’m Not Gonna Pay My Lawyer.”