AVVO – The Computer Lawyer Rating System

I am presently rated 8.9 out of 10.0 on AVVO, a lawyer rating system.

I had been rated 9.1 out of 10.0, when a peer endorsement from a lawyer I had never heard of before in a far off state endorsed me. I deleted the endorsement because there is no way this man could know what to say about me.

And so I have a 8.9 rating. I am proud of it.

And I still wonder how the machine measure my experience, ethics and knowledge of the law.

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All Things Being Equal

I saw this bumper sticker in Seattle yesterday.

equality

I am a student of how far that love goes. I mean, should we put weights on the flamenco dancer so I can keep up with her? flamenco guitar and dancer

Or take hiring a lawyer for example. Do you really want him to be an equal? I seriously doubt this, but I have to say, there are multiple occasions where I have been asked to buy into my clients emotional state as the place from which decisions are taken, rather than remaining the objective advocate I think the client wants.

Sometimes I have a guy come in and tell me he “has a great case” and goes on to demonstrate with remarkable detail why we are not equals and the law school education and 30 years of experience really does mean something.

Note I do not say lawyers are better than their clients, but they rarely think like a lawyer and if they could they probably wouldn’t be in my office.

If I could write down how to think like a lawyer I would but here is the best I can do:

What a lawyer has to do is sort out the wheat from the chaff.
wheat thresher
I am not sure that would fit on a bumper sticker, and our task cannot be diluted into a catchy, likable sound byte but here are the facts:

When the client arrives with the plan for what the lawyer, like a chess piece, is to do it is the job of the lawyer to decide what to do, and disregard the directions from the less experienced client, as all things are not equal, unfortunately.

Dying Declarations Are For Slayers Only

After the funeral people come to see me about probating the Last Will and Testament the family member left behind. The interview sometimes begins like this:
“Dad wanted me to have the farm. He told me so on his death-bed. He said, ‘I want you to have the farm’.”
family farm

I ask for the will and can find no reference to this bequest. Instead the client and all her siblings are listed share and share alike which means they all get an equal portion ownership.

“I am afraid you have a hearsay problem”, I tell the shocked client.

eager person
This “dying declaration” always seems to benefit the client immensely.

There is some room for dying declarations to be admitted in court.

First, the person has to understand they are about to die when the statement is made.

Second, it is only admissible to prove the client is guilty of murder of the decedent.

Third, if proven, the client is not going to inherit in any case because of the rule that says slayers do not inherit. axe murderer

Fourth, I refer this person out to a firm that handles criminal law.

A good example of what might be admitted against the client was John Lennon’s exclamation “I’m Shot!” if offered in the prosecution of Mark Chapman. john lennon

Faced with this and other evidence, Chapman plead guilty to 2nd Degree Murder and is still in prison.

So friends and neighbors let’s go with what is on paper and not a dying declaration. If admitted at all, it might mean you are going to jail.

There is no Substitute for Experienced Advocacy

1. We Are Created Equal. Among the Jeffersonian myths that have survived is the idea that all men are created equal. Perhaps that is true, but after birth their experience differs widely. They may not be that educated gentleman farmer Thomas Jefferson saw us as becoming these generations later. In fact, most are not. Thomas Jefferson

In the last several years the bench and bar have had a buzz word gone into policy called “Access to Justice”. I like to call it “Access to Firearms” but it has nothing to do with the Second Amendment.

2. Access to Justice. The basic idea is that with some forms and instructions on where to file them and how to confirm a hearing anybody can achieve “access to justice” and state their case like Jefferson’s farmer. So the court system wrote some forms and gave instructions on where to file them.

Unfortunately, as it is often said, Thomas Jefferson was the last man who had a grasp of the entire body of knowledge as it existed at the time. What this means to the pro se litigant he cannot possibly grasp what he is getting himself into.

Well, yes, you can get yourself in front of a judge. You can get yourself behind the stick of an aircraft too after reading the instructions on the internet on how to fly, but it is not a good idea. airplane crash

3. The Results. Often this does work out. Some questions are fairly straight forward. Divorce might be simple, then it might not.

There are a lot of “what if’s”. A child support issue between two Boeing employees can be done pro se as well.They each get issued a W-2 every year from which one can calculate monthly income and feed that data into a child support software to produce a result. Done deal right?

What if one of them doesn’t work for Boeing? What if he is self employed? Things get complex. I can say for sure the pro se litigant will not be able to fashion the court order that will equitably divide the Boeing pension in a way the company will recognize and follow it.

4. Too Close to the Problem. The other thing a lawyer does for a litigant that he cannot do himself is achieve some degree of objectivity about his or her case. Is it really a good idea to rush into court guns blazing? Are you sure the judge is going see things the way you do? courtroom antics

Maybe you can have a lawyer look at what you’re doing and see if it is alright. But then what if you botch the hearing by saying something that erodes the presumption that everyone comes to court in good faith and a bona fide dispute that requires a consumption of that most precious of commodities, judicial time?

How often have I seen the pro se litigant in court with a ton of paper in front of him, obviously served on the other party and the bench earlier, with this idea that his pleadings represent some manifesto that will change the course of human events? courtroom drama

The reality is he comes off instead just as an unhappy man wasting everyone’s time and his relief is denied. There is no substitute for experienced advocacy. courtroom

5. The Outer Limits. I cannot write down here what I have learned from 30 years of practice. It is part of the secret knowledge of lawyers, but even if I had to “tell all” I couldn’t transpose into words for you Jeffersonian gentlemen farmers how to conduct your case. It is in part and art, and otherwise just the nature of experienced advocacy.

There is No Trap Door in Superior Court

There is no trap door in Superior Court. trap door

This is not vaudeville, “Laugh In” or some totalitarian state.
HitlerAccused 1944

When someone lies in court, the opponent has to be prepared to confront them with a prior inconsistent statement made under oath somewhere during cross examination. That is not the same as arguing with them.

argument
Don’t expect the Judge to somehow magically know when a person is lying. Clairvoyance is not a requirement to take on the robes.
clairvoyant

Every month it seems someone appears in my office with a document someone has signed under oath, or declaration swearing the contents to be the truth “on pain of perjury” and declaring they have lied!

Truth is hard to find. One mans black is another mans white.

Star trek black and white

My Dad used to say that the reason we lawyers have jobs is one guy cannot see the other guys point of view. And that is why there are no trap doors or sudden death in civil or criminal law.

Modern fact finding is an advanced, yet frustrating concept. It takes time, and eventually there is some result. Better this way than by popular sentiment, strong man leadership or mob rule. French sloganguitene

The Power of Myth at Death

Neptune
What ends up happening with a mans estate is often just a question of how strongly a myth about “what ought to be” is held by those who survive him, rather than what it says in black and white in the will.

This goes far beyond the “what Dad really wanted” comment I hear, literally, every day in my office and am powerless to use as evidence.

images rolling rock

Instead I refer to the mythical powers people assume they have upon the death of another. Conduct they would never dream of adopting when the man was alive suddenly becomes the standard for these new demi-gods.

centaur

First it is the personal property that disappears. The thought process must be “He doesn’t need this any more” or the more morally justified “I better take this for safekeeping”.

What disappears? Guns of course, jewelry ( often a ring ), watches and other valuables but even step stools and kitchen knives. I am not making this up. The Ring

Next comes the money. Often people claim to have been told by the decedent the life insurance is “for” someone else than is named in the policy. This may be true but it is a myth that the benefactor will do the right thing every time without a trust actually being drafted.
Frodo

Worse is the personal representative ( or executor ) who, upon gaining access to the funds of the departed become a Gollum-like creature, cursed with the evil ring that bends the mind to the dark side and a bright side; a schizophrenic.
gollum

On the surface Gollum is a fiduciary taking great care of the estate. But alone, the personal representative assumes special powers which, after making certain incantations, can rationalize use of the funds of the estate for personal purposes while the rest of the heirs sleep through the process.
wizard
Often myth infects those waiting for the money. Memories of how the personal representative behaved on any given occasion in the near or distant past which might imply a likely failure to act with strict adherence to the terms of the will and duties imposed by law somehow become fact, and extrapolated into current, on going theft of the estate.

Gollum 5

But this is not without some basis, even if it is not theft that occurs. For example other myth frequently encountered is that a “good person” who is named as personal representative is not necessarily up to the task of managing not only the assets of the estate timely, but also managing the other myths the heirs named in the will have preloaded into their minds which activate as the news of the death spreads.
Frodo 2

Objectivity is often the first casualty in probate. If you happened to be named personal representative of an estate in a will, take a deep breath and consider the evidence before you, not the bias of your mind. Also consider declining the appointment. Stay in the Shire, away from the ring.

Dont Take The Hearsay Rule Personally

I have clients that do this.

They come into the office, relate a story and declare a conclusion. I lean back in my chair, review my notes and I tell them about 2/3rds of it is inadmissible as evidence. This is not well taken, like I am telling them they are unable to relate what they heard accurately. Well I’m not, but the hearsay rule is.

The rule reads something like this:

No statement, made out of court, shall be admitted into evidence for the truth of the matter asserted.

What?

Lets break it down: HEAR. You hear someone something,  assume it is true, then turn and then SAY it to someone else like a Judge and ask him to assume it is true too.

Example: “John told me the light was green when I went through the intersection”. Using this statement to prove the color of the light is hearsay. My clients will then  come to Johns defense, as if he is being accused of lying, which really confuses the issue.

It’s so much better if you actually saw the light. “I saw the light was green when I went through the intersection”. Not hearsay.

It’s just remarkable how often I interview a witness or a client and find most of what they have to say is based not on their own first hand knowledge, what they actually saw but instead a mass of hearsay, peppered with preexisting judgments about the actors involved and a personal agenda.

Hearsay. It’s an old rule, but a good rule. Please, don’t take it personally.