Around the Blawgosphere: Shall You Use Another Word?; Bloggers Reflect on Debt, Small-Firm Ownership
Skip the Word, or You Shall Misuse It
As one study questions U.S. Supreme Court justices’ increasing reliance on dictionaries, Lawyerist contributor Andy Mergendahl blogged Black’s Law Dictionary this week, pointing out its definition of shall (omitting examples):
“Shall (vb). 1. Has a duty to; more broadly, is required to…2. Should (as often interpreted by courts)…3. May…4. Will (as a future tense verb)… 5. Is entitled to…Only sense 1 is acceptable under strict standards of drafting.”
But in spite of this, many lawyers use shall to mean should, may, will, or is entitled to, Mergendahl wrote. “Shall, due to its multiple meanings, creates ambiguity that greatly increases the likelihood of disputes about what a sentence means. That is exactly what we are paid to avoid.”
Student Loan Debt Reflections
Kelly Phillips Erb starts off a Taxgirl post on the past, present and future of student loan interest by noting a personal milestone: She has just paid off her undergraduate student loans. But “hold the champagne: I now get to plug away at graduate loans, which are much bigger,” she wrote. “U.S. News and World Report estimates the current cost of attending a private college at around $35,000 per year. That works out to $140,000 for a bachelor’s degree. I have a bachelor’s degree plus two law degrees so, well, you do the math.”
Elie Mystal also wrote at Above the Law last week, Monday and Wednesday about how he defaulted on his student loans (excluding his federal loans) and why he left a BigLaw job to work at Above the Law in spite of the cut in pay. “You people who have actually been in one of these BigLaw jobs will understand what I’m talking: by the end, there was no amount of money my law firm could have paid me to stay. America could have been taken over by a fascist government and I could have been ordered to work at the firm, and I would have Von Trapp-ed my family over the Catskills into Canada.” So he has accepted the trade-off and lives with a low credit score and all that goes along with it.
Six years ago, anonymous law blogger “Ken” from Popehat started a law firm with a fellow refugee from BigLaw. To mark the occasion, he listed thoughts for those who might take the path he did. A main point: Invest in those you hire. Vet them closely before you hire them (and don’t be hung up on where they went to law school), know that the hours you spend training them are a valuable investment, and treat them well to engender loyalty and reduce turnover—because it is unlikely you can compete with BigLaw on salary. Ken’s final thought: “If you can’t have drinks in the conference room at 4:30, or close the office and take everyone bowling, or take a pro bono case just because you want to, why did you start your own shop in the first place?”
How a Trial Lawyer Takes Vacation
Seattle lawyer Karen Koehler wrote a 10-step checklist on her blog, The Velvet Hammer, about the the scheduling, delegating and other strategizing that a trial lawyer has to do in order to to plan a vacation—and stick to that plan. Some of the steps:
“Step 2. Look at office calendar. At least 5 to 6 months in advance. Block off the dates. The better practice is to block off the calendar at least one year in advance. Otherwise, court dates and deadlines will fill it up. Courts won’t move dates unless you already have tickets or reservations. And even then, have ended up losing / truncating a vacation due to trial, which is a real bummer.
“Step 6. Disregard the suggestion that working during a vacation isn’t a good thing. Figure out how or if you will be able to be online. Do whatever it takes. If yes, then breathe. If no, then mentally have a conniption fit because there’s nothing else you can do. Am not kidding about this—not working on vacation is traumatic.
“Step 8. Don’t send a ‘notice of unavailability” to the lawyers and judges in all of your cases. Whoever invented that? If you’re out of town and someone schedules something and won’t take no for an answer when your staff or the voice mail says ‘AM NOT HERE,’ then what’s the worst that can happen? Will a court get mad at you for not responding to a motion that you didn’t get because you were out of town? Actually had best friend file a notice of unavailability when she was on pregnancy leave, and the other attorney still hauled her into court. A jerk will be a jerk. Paper or no paper.”
Updated June 22 to clarify the Popehat post’s authorship.