September 15, 2010
A fundamental difference between a small town and a small city is that small towns, regardless of their population, still have courthouses whereas small cities, in their hurry to morph into bedroom communities for some urbane metropolis, have justice centers.
Justice centers are grand buildings, integrating glass, steel and stone into a monument to bureaucratic judicial efficiency providing one stop shopping for all things legal from the sheriff to the recorder and from the courtroom to the jail cell. These are places designed for those who assume that the efficiencies of consolidation & modernization make up for chronic underfunding. Here there is a cold sterility to the environment that seems to make courtesy appear artificial and channels the mass of humanity that enters its walls into tired, well-worn roles.
Courthouses, on the other hand, are quiet buildings sitting in silent dignity on the edge of the town square; more cathedral than monument. Newer buildings housing the sheriff, the recorder and the jail sit, like handmaidens, behind and to the side. Courthouses were built out of pride and are maintained out of tradition. There is a warmth within those weathered walls and worn and paneled walls that encourages courtesy – more as an act of devotion than a gentile gesture – and welcomes those who enter.
Recently I’ve had similar matters in both a small city justice center and a small town courthouse. In the former, the matter was concluded in a matter 10 tense minutes – a business transaction handled in the crisp efficiency only a streamlined & work-flowed process can provide. In the later, the matter took about twice as long, but along the way, I got caught up on what’s new in town, the weather, and the health of a friend’s dog. Both matters were billed as fixed fees, only one made me glad to have put on my lawyer suit that day.
September 8, 2010
A well-informed mind is the best security against the contagion of folly and of vice. The vacant mind is ever on the watch for relief, and ready to plunge into error, to escape from the languor of idleness. - Ann Radcliffe
At a recent “new lawyer” seminar the speaker, in response to a question from the audience, spent quite some time dispensing tips and procedures for avoiding “bad” clients and provided a cautionary tales about how they handled their “worst” clients. While the tips were the usual dull platitudes, I was struck by the automatic assumption that there are “good” and “bad” clients – seems a fairly silly base level assumption to make if one is in what is essentially a customer service business.
As I see it, clients come to a lawyer during times of stress. They come to us in a frame of mind that prevents them from operating as their highest, most rational self, and they come to us more through the actions of the imp of the perverse than through their own volition. So, is it any wonder that, at these times, they may require some hand-holding as they venture onto this new and unknown path. Or that, to a stranger, they may appear to be difficult or unpleasant. There is no good or bad here, there are just people who are reacting rather than consciously acting.
Implicit in our role as advocate, is the assumption that our clients lack the standing, skill, knowledge, ability, and perhaps even the emotional capacity to speak for themselves. It follows then, that as an advocate, it is part of our function to inform our clients, to clarify expectations, to educate and inform, to stave off that “plunge into error”. When we take on the mantle of advocate, the base level assumption becomes one that allows clients to be somewhat less than themselves; allows for less than stellar behavior.
There are no good or bad clients, there are client’s whose “shadow-self” (to borrow a phrase from Pauline Tesler) is one I am not prepared for, but that is my failing, not the client’s. My job is to learn and do better the next time. Hey, perhaps I did take something away from that CLE after all.
September 3, 2010
Posted by Bruce under Practice Tools
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Humanity is acquiring all the right technology for all the wrong reasons. R. Buckminster Fuller
Technology is slowly making inroads out here in the hinterlands. GPS, GIS, and laptops are transforming how fields are managed, crops are planted, and even who (to be more accurate, that should read “what”) is steering the equipment. Combine this new technology with the farmer’s existing knowledge about the raw inputs and the result is more efficient farming as crops are planted at optimal spacings by equipment moving at optimal speeds and engines turning at optimal rates.
The interesting thing is that the requirements of the raw inputs are driving the technological improvements. It seems that the successful advances either reduce operator workload or provide better management of the raw materials. All the rest seems to lie on the shelf neatly polished under a light film of dust.
Technology is rapidly making inroads in the legal profession. From smart-phones to SaaS, VoIP to VLOs, and e-fax & e-mail to social networking, there appears to be a high tech solution to each and every problem you can think of and some you’ve not even thought of yet. But I am left wondering if we, as a profession, are building the right machinery or if, in our headlong rush into the 23rd century we are building a highly polished, intricately complex, highly efficient machine best suited to gathering dust.