Help A Drowning Man


I am awash in a sea of bad information. How did this happen? I’ve spent too much time in the ocean of social media where information is plentiful, but accuracy is sacrificed for speed and volume. How does this happen? The easy answer, of course, is that people are idiots. This knee jerk response is just as flawed as the flotsam vomited out on social media even as you read this. People love outrage. More precisely, they love to be outraged. This is especially true when politics and religion are involved. This causes otherwise intelligent and thoughtful folks to randomly post thoughts, memes and links which are related to reality only by the thin thread of having originated from someone’s mind.

Another answer might be that I spend too much time on social media and should do something else like a read book.  No thank you, Egg Head.  That ain’t happening.  We need to work together.

Phil Robertson is now the millstone around my neck.  If you don’t know who Phil is, then good for you.  You aren’t into social media and perhaps spend your time writing poetry.  If so, you’re probably not reading this anyway. Phil is a “reality TV” star.  His show, Duck Dynasty, is entertaining.  It certainly seems scripted to me, but what do I know?  Perhaps Phil and his family became multi-millionaires while bumbling about like…well…reality TV stars.

I won’t rehash what Phil did.  There’s no point in doing so.  He said things that pissed people off or made people happy.  Outrage ensued.  Many folks–again, otherwise intelligent–have risen to his defense by citing his right to “free speech.”  One poster on Facebook said “What the hell happened to free speech in this country?” The answer is nothing, because Phil’s opinions have nothing to do with free speech.  “But, but, but…he got FIRED!!”  You are correct.  He did get fired.  Free speech, unfortunately, doesn’t prevent that.  “YES, IT DOES!” you screamLet’s read the First Amendment of the United States Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

[Note how I helpfully highlighted the part about “Congress.”]   Congress has made no law regarding speech which affects Phil at all.  In fact, no government official has done anything to Phil.  Maybe you love what he said about gay people and African-Americans.  If so, you have found some common ground with radical Islam.  Maybe you’re a Libertarian sort who supports everyone’s right to speak his or her mind. I really don’t care.   But, let’s all agree to never invoke the First Amendment again on this issue.  We’ll all feel better.  I know I do.  Thanks.

It’s not only the plain language of our Constitution which cause confusion.  Easily verified claims also drive us to hysteria.  Here’s a favorite example. Occasionally, a meme makes the rounds about Presidential and Congressional pensions. It reads:


Salary of retired US Presidents……………………….$450,000 FOR LIFE

Salary of House/Senate members……………………$174,000 FOR LIFE

Salary of Speaker of the House……………………….$223,500 FOR LIFE

Salary of Majority/Minority Leaders………………….$194,400 FOR LIFE

Average salary of a soldier DEPLOYED IN AFGHANISTAN ……$38,000

Average income for Seniors on Social Security …………………$12,000

I think we found where the cuts should be made! If you agree, pass it on!

Aren’t you outraged?  This is patently insane.  Why would these people get paid for life!?!?!  What kind of country do we live in?  That’s a valid question but not because of this.  The above information–while outrageous–is incorrect in almost every way. None of these people–not even the President–gets full salary for life. It simply is not true. Does this stop folks from being outraged about it? Of course not. Variations of this meme have been posted many times on social media.  The comments are fairly frothing with their condemnation.   Here’s my suggestion:  When you see something that is so inane as to make you want to immediately post it on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, stop and think.  Since you’re probably on the Internet at the time, do a simple search.  Check the facts.  You’ll be amazed how easy it is to confirm or counter such things.  Again, we’ll all be better for it, and you won’t look like an uninformed ass.

Then there are the half-truths, those items of interest based in reality but twisted into something sort of whole truth.  Here’s a meme making the rounds:


The House of Representatives passed a budget bill cutting pensions for veterans.  (Not “Veteran’s”).   That much is true.  The reduction is actually a reduction of the cost of living increase for certain pensions.  It’s what I call a “Government Cut.”  A “private cut” is where you make less money next year than you made this year.  It only applies to certain veterans–ones deemed young enough to re-enter the work force.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  This seems like a bad idea.  We’ve worn out our military with endless wars.  The least we could do is leave their pensions alone.  On the other hand, don’t worry about veterans actually getting a cut in their pensions.  The private sector, where there are no pensions anymore, is the only place that happens.

This is a prime example of excellent propaganda. Take a grain of truth, twist into something outrageous and scare everyone. Remember that Hitler got elected by scaring the hell out of people. There’s a reason he had a Ministry of Propaganda.  It works.

Finally, there are those debates that rage over opinions.  Most of these involve politics or religion–two topics which civilized people never discuss.  Bear this in mind:  There are two sides or more to each such debate:

  • Obamacare:  POINT–The program is already failing and far too expensive for the country to afford.  Socialized medicine will lead to reduced services for everyone.  COUNTERPOINT–It’s the law.  Give it time, and the kinks will get worked out.  If socialized medicine is so horrible, why do we provide it to our military veterans.  Wouldn’t they be better off buying their healthcare in the market?
  • Phil Robertson:  POINT–He’s free to speak his mind and express his faith.  Leave him alone.  COUNTERPOINT–People are also free to be offended by his comments.  We don’t have to leave him alone.
  • NSA: POINT–The Government is only gathering data. They have no way to do anything with it. COUNTERPOINT: Yet. There is nothing more un-American than spying on your citizenry.
  • TAXES: POINT–Let’s raise taxes on the highest earners. This would quickly fix all our fiscal problems. COUNTERPOINT–Our government has a history of spending every penny it brings in–and more. Until we fix that, more revenue won’t help.

These few examples show how it works. There are two sides to all theses issues. It just depends on your political prism.

Of course, acknowledging differing opinions isn’t our way. God forbid that we be asked to actually respect another’s views.  We prefer to be right.  In fact, we demand it, even when we are wrong.  I am fortunate to have friends from all walks of life.  Their politics range from Left-leaning Communists to budding Neo-Nazis.  The Right’s take on current events is a combination of moral outrage, moral superiority (always Christian), the U.S. Constitution  (if you don’t like something, it’s unconstitutional) and some nostalgia (such things as whipping children are fondly recalled).  The support Republicans and like all Ayn Rand quotes.  The Left approaches these issues from a different angle, of course.  They are intellectual titans ready to make fun of religion (always Christianity.  They don’t say anything about Islam, Judaism, et al.), cite obscure authors, and engage in relentless name-calling often involving obscene language.  They support Democrats and love to quote Barack Obama, Mahatma Ghandi and hate all Ayn Rand quotes, even though most of them are atheists like Rand.

Here is a typical social media exchange regarding Mr. Robertson, who has eclipsed war, world hunger and random violence as the issue of the day:

  • Original Post:  I stand with Phil!  The Bible says that we will be persecuted for Him! Christians have freedom of speech, too!  Our country is being destroyed!  I will never watch TV again!

[See how our friend has concisely encompassed the significant elements of right-wing rage.  The Bible, persecution, morality, patriotism and broad and incorrect legal principles.]

A response from the Left naturally flows:

  • Comment:  You can stand with that bigoted, homophobic, racist if you like.  I have never seen his show.  In fact, I do not own a television having traded mine for a Navajo Dream Catcher.  Freedom of speech is not an issue here–offensive, racist, homophobic rhetoric is.  The Bible supports all manner of prejudice.  I suggest you read the collected works of Bertrand Russell instead.

[Our Leftist chum has countered with his own salvo.  He engages in name calling that far exceeds anything Mr. Robinson has done but does so from a perch of intellectual superiority. He is above mere TV watching.  He concludes his concise commentary by inferring that atheist mathematician/philosopher Bertrand Russell is a better source for moral guidance than the Holy Bible. Well done.]

This exchange will continue with many additional posts by these and other commentators.  The Right will contend they are right because, well, they are right…or Right.  The Left will froth and name-call, even resorting to the use of vulgarities to make their points.  Ultimately, no one makes any sense and everyone is angry.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I have engaged in this foolishness on occasion, especially when legal principles are misstated.  I forget my advantages in this regard:  1) I have actually read the Constitution; and 2) I graduated from law school.  I, too, have been called names.  One Lefty even called me a racist for correctly noting that the ubiquitous George Zimmerman is Hispanic.  I countered with own my stream of obscenities.  It’s easy to fall into this trap.  I do not judge.

Let’s all commit to work as one to make all this easier for me.  After all, wouldn’t the world be a better place if things suited me?  Don’t be a racist, homophobic, liberal, conservative, Communistic Neo-Nazi, Bible-thumping Atheist.

© 2013

A Lawyer’s Guide to Turning Down Work

I’m a lawyer.  I really am.  I have been for 26 plus years.  I’ve always been able to attract clients and must have done a competent job for most of them since I’ve had a lot of repeat business.  This doesn’t make me an expert on business development, as we call it.  Honestly, I’m not sure how best to go about that.  Moreover, the legal world is chock full of advice on building your practice, marketing and generating new business.  It’s doubtful that I have much to add to that vast sea of information, or misinformation, as the case may be.

I once worked in a law firm that was concerned to the point of obsession about generating new business.  “Origination” was the term they used.  If one “originated” enough business, he or she became a “rainmaker,” the most valuable of all lawyers, regardless of legal acumen or lack thereof.  The rules regarding origination credit were Byzantine and ever-changing.  For example, you might think you deserved credit for a new client, only to find out that aged partner had represented an employee of the company on a DUI many years ago.  Thus, he was entitled to the credit.  After all, he had planted the seed decades ago.  As one of my partners once noted:  “The Origination rules aren’t written down.  That’s understandable since they change every day.”

Although I have created my share of personal marketing plans, I claim no expertise.  I’ve thought both outside and inside the box.  I’ve been proactive.  I’ve networked.  I’ve schmoozed and small-talked.  I’ve even found time to practice quite a bit of law.  None of this sets me apart from other lawyers.

The one area where I believe I have something to contribute is in turning down business or knowing when existing business is turning sour.  For a long time, I wasn’t good at this, much to my chagrin.  Now, though, I know the red flags that warn me to stay far away from a potential client or to at least understand my situation.  I’ll share a few of those with you.


At least that’s what it says somewhere in the Bible. It doesn’t really apply here, but I like saying it. Any the who, it goes without saying that we don’t want to represent folks who will refuse to pay us.  Now, this is different from a client who suddenly can’t pay.  I’ve represent several clients–individuals and companies–who sunk into dire finances during my representation of them.  This is a professional risk.  It’s happened to some of my favorite clients.

The ones I’m talking about are the ones who won’t pay.  Here’s a bad sign:  You are the third lawyer they’ve hired on a particular matter.  This is a person who doesn’t play well with others.  Just as important, this person has had bad relationships with other lawyers.  Why?  It probably has something to do with money.  Ask this potential client if he owes the other lawyers money.  If the answer is “yes,” run!  A client that will stiff one lawyer will do it to you.  At least ask for an upfront deposit against your fees.  If they aren’t willing to invest in their case, you shouldn’t either.

Related to this is the client who doesn’t want to discuss your bills.  Oh, he or she paid you regularly for a while, then slowed a bit and finally stopped paying.  You ask about it and are told that the client will be caught up soon.  Don’t worry.  When you hear that, worry. A lot.

Lawyers are an odd breed.  We don’t like to push our clients about bills.  Perhaps we are embarrassed by the amounts we bill.  Maybe it’s just an uncomfortable topic.  Regardless, when you don’t confront, it gets worse.  It’s Business 101 that the older a bill gets, the less likely it is to ever get paid.

The question, of course, is: When is enough enough?  There’s no way to state of rule of thumb here.  Large law firms are able to carry large receivables for a long time.  Small firms like mine can’t.  Here is an exchange which should end your representation immediately (I’ve had some variation of this multiple times):

Lawyer:  Carl, we need to talk about your bills.  We haven’t been paid in six months, and we need to get this caught up.

Client:  I know.  I know.  We have cash flow problems, but we’re working on it.  I don’t know when we’ll be able to get caught up, but we’re good for it.

Lawyer:  I appreciate that, but we can’t commit substantial time and expense without some assurance of getting paid. 

Client:  What do you mean?  Are just going to quit on me?

Lawyer:  I don’t want to do that, but I’ll have to if we can’t get paid.

Client:  You’ve insulted me.  If you don’t want to work on the case, that’s fine…..

See what we have here?  You–a business person–have addressed the most basic need of your business–income.  Your client is insulted by the prospect of having to pay you.  You must run from this client with all haste.  If you don’t, don’t expect to ever get paid again.


Of course, it’s well-known that there are no cat herds.  Cats don’t do that.  They just scatter about.  Some of your clients are like that.  They aren’t dogs.  They don’t have a leader.  They are cats, scurrying about with no one in charge.  These are not good clients.

The Cat Client comes in various forms–corporations, families, virtually any collective of people.  No one is in charge.  The point person, your “client contact,” as we call it, seems to be the boss until real decisions have to be made.  Then, no one is in charge.  In a corporation, you may hear from the President, the CFO, the in-house attorney or the janitor.  They all have differing views on the goals to be achieved.  If you need a question answered quickly, good luck.

I’ve represented several churches in my career.  Each was a fine organization headed by fine people, but no one was in charge.  The minister works for the church at the pleasure of the Elders or whatever group is supposed to be in charge.  That group has no leader.  They make decisions as a collective.  Getting direction is almost impossible.  You’ll end up frustrated, and so will they.

Families are even more difficult.  Most families are like mine and have no structure whatsoever.  No one is in charge, and they like it like that.

Here’s what you do.  At the first sign of cat-like behavior, set some ground rules.   A contact person is a good start.  Get a list of folks who need to be updated on your case.  You might have to paper or email them into submission, but it’s worth it.  Better to keep too many in the loop than not enough.


This isn’t about the money. It’s the principle.” These words send a chill up the spine of all experienced attorneys. It is, after all, about the money–at least most of the time.  The sooner your client comes to that realization, the better off you both will be.

Unless it’s a criminal case or, possibly, a divorce, it’s all about the money. If you sue someone, you want money. If you’ve been sued, you don’t want to pay money. In fact, you may not even want to pay your own lawyer.

Let’s say your client is in a $500 dispute. A good lawyer (or even a bad one who wants to get paid) explains that the client will pay the lawyer far more than $500. If the client responds that he or she would rather pay the lawyer, you must pause, tamp down your greed and repeat your cautionary warning. Slowly and clearly.

If your client persists, go forward but be realistic. At some point, your client will realize that it is, in fact, about the money after all.  When they owe you more than they do the adversary or more than they can possibly recover, they’ll know it’s about the money.  At that point, you may well be the adversary.


Given the general public’s disdain for the legal profession, it isn’t surprising that a lot of people–maybe most–don’t want to hire a lawyer.  This is especially true of trial lawyers.  There is a subtle but important difference between needing one and wanting one.

Good clients want to hire you.  They want your advice and expertise.  Some folks–thankfully a small percentage–hire you only because they must.  They do not recognize you as having any specialized knowledge or skill.  Indeed, these clients are prevented from doing your job only because of their dearth of education and lack of professional credentials.  Nevertheless, they know how to do your job better than you do.

They’ll plot strategy for you.  They know the best witnesses.  They even know the questions you should ask during depositions and trials.  During trial, they will hand you helpful notes such as “Ask him if he’s lying!” They will disagree with you about the law.  You will calmly explain a basic concept such as the abolition of Debtor’s Prison, and they will contend that it is unfair.  You will explain that a certain position is not legally sound, and your client will disagree based upon nothing more than his or her idea of what the law should be.

This client will not be pleased with your work.  Monday Morning Quarterbacks rarely are.  If you are prepared for this, by all means go forth.  Such clients are best represented once.  The good news is that their displeasure with you likely means that they will move on to new lawyer anyway (See Item No. 1 above).

I suppose other professions deal with similar issues.  Perhaps cancer patients demand that their oncologists provide certain medications or ask to assist in surgery.  In that case, I’m sure the doctor will continue to prescribe what is best.  Lawyers must do the same.  Keep advising even if your advice is ignored.  Besides, isn’t it just a wee bit satisfying to get to say “I told you so!”?


Criminals are entitled to lawyers just like everyone else.  That’s one of the great things about America.  Even if you are guilty, the government still has to prove its case against you.

Where a lawyer gets off base is when he or she becomes the criminal.  Hey, if your client breaks the law, it’s your job to help.  By that, I mean help defend your client, not help your client break the law.  It’s real simple:  If your client is doing something illegal, strongly advise against it, and don’t participate in it.

It’s bad when your client goes to prison.  It’s worse when you go, too.


Sometimes, people aren’t looking for a lawyer.  They want a “bulldog” or “pit bull.”  Someone once told me that he was looking for “Someone who will get down in the gutter and fight to the death.  Win at all costs!”  Beware of folks like this.  Why?

First, if your self-image is that of an animal or you imagine yourself wallowing in the gutter, you may need therapy.  Second, this type of talk is often code for:  “I want an unethical and, if necessary, dishonest lawyer.”  Third, they want you to engage in all manner of harassing shenanigans that will likely make their fees grow exponentially.  Then, you run into Item Nos. 1 and 3 above.

The best lawyers I’ve known are polite and professional. They zealously represent their client like human beings, not animals.  They don’t harangue their opponents or needlessly fight about every detail.

If you need a lawyer, I’m your man.  If you need a dog, go to the Humane Society.


I can’t emphasize this enough.  It is, after all, the most important point of all.  Nuts need and want lawyers just like regular people.  In fact, many nuts require legal representation far more than normal people.  This is because they are frequently embroiled in controversies in which only nutty people are involved.  Identifying nuts, however, is most difficult.

Here’s one sign:  There’s a conspiracy.  A large group of people (often the Government) have conspired against your client.  These conspiracies can involve the judiciary and all other levels of government.  Remember:  If there really is a conspiracy–which does happen sometimes, it will usually be pretty easy to crack.  If it is hidden under layers of impenetrable silence, consider this very real possibility:  It isn’t true.

Another sign:  Vast amounts of paper.  I have had cases involving hundreds of thousands of documents.  Believe it or not, that’s not uncommon.  What is uncommon is a client who presents you with piles of irrelevant paper.  Often, these papers are carried around in their pockets or cars.  You don’t know what they mean.  Neither does your client. But they are important.

A final sign:  The case no one will take.  This is a potential client who describes to you an impossibly lucrative case which no lawyer will take.  These cases involve millions of dollars.  There’s usually a conspiracy and a mountain of irrelevant paperwork associated with the case.  Here are few real life examples that I’ve either heard about or experienced myself:

  • The DeGroot Patents:  These are a series of 19th Century land patents from the Commonwealth of Kentucky under which someone claims vast mineral resources.  You are likely to find that they are junior patents, inferior to the entire rest of the world’s claims.
  • Forced Homosexuality:  This was a guy who sued Eastern Airlines (and many others) for being involved in a nationwide conspiracy to force him into homosexuality.
  • Nigerians:  These folks really need lawyers, usually to help transfer funds stolen from some government enterprise.  If you fall for this one, you deserve it.

Often, you won’t know your client is a nut until deep into the representation.  Be patient.  They will rarely see things your way.  Remember that if they ever come back around.

I guess you noticed that I didn’t really say you should turn down all of this type of work.  Times are tough in the legal profession, and none of us are as choosy as we’d like to be.  That said, if you do turn down this type of work, you won’t be sorry.  After all, sometimes, it really is the principle of the thing.

© 2013