One of my first tasks as a chemical engineer at the Procter & Gamble Company was to design a tank to hold a chemical called Toluene.  I had to calculate the parameters, like pressure, volume, and flammable temperature.  I was lucky to stumble upon an unused tank on the property that would work and save the company some money.

If someone asked me at a cocktail party what I did for a living, and I said I was a chemical engineer, they would inevitably ask, “What’s a chemical engineer?”

I explained it like this.  When a chemist makes an aspirin tablet in his laboratory, he mixes some chemicals in a beaker, heats it over a Bunsen burner, and dries it in a centrifuge.   If a company wants to manufacture 10.000 aspirin, they hire a chemical engineer to scale up the beaker to a tank, the Bunsen burner to an industrial heater, the centrifuge to a bigger centrifuge.  He will also spec some conveyor belts to move the chemicals through the equipment.

This all changed when I became a divorce lawyer. Now if I’m at a party and mention that I’m a divorce lawyer, I soon have 20 people around me saying, “Let me tell you about my divorce.”

I never been able to reconcile my engineering degree with my law practice, although I feel there is a connection.  But yesterday, on the news, some pundant referred to lawyers as legal engineers.  Yes, that’s it.  When someone comes to me with a divorce, I calculate the parameters, and design a solution that works. I am a legal engineer.

When my kids were growing up, we had an inside joke.  Whenever I corrected their grammar or slang, I told them to speak the King’s English.

In today’s news, I hear of Trump’s lawyer profanely chewing out a reporter, Samantha Bee apologizing for calling the President’s daughter a profane name, and Roseanne Barr sending a racist tweet.

It  recalls to me one of J.W. McElhaney’s columns on trial practice.  When opposing counsel insults you in the courtroom, an inner voice rises inside you.  He called the inner voice Mongo.  It said, “Mongo kill!”

McElhaney would reply back to his inner voice, “Down, Mongo.”   Then he would calmly present his argument to the judge, in the King’s English, of course.

Eighty-five percent of workers worldwide, in an anonymous Gallup poll , said they hated their jobs.

I was talking to opposing counsel last week who told me that after 30 plus years of practicing divorce law, she was going to try something else.  She said that the parties were more unreasonable, lawyers were meaner and courts were harsher than when she started and she had reached the end of her patience.  She asked me if I was burned out too.

I told her that I wasn’t.  I see my work as much more than the tasks required in any particular case.  My purpose in life, the reason I am here on earth, is to help people untangle the difficulties they have gotten themselves into, solve problems and sort everything out into good order.

This works for other jobs as well.  My wife supervises the front office of a plastic surgery center.  I told her that her purpose in life was to help people look their best, add beauty to the world and make people happier.  Try reframing your job in the comments below.

Law & Politics names James J. Gross and Michael F. Callahan among Maryland & DC Super Lawyers for 2018.  Super Lawyers is a rating service of outstanding lawyers from more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high-degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. This selection process includes independent research, peer nominations and peer evaluations. 

The tall beauty strode into my shabby downtown office like she owned the place.  I wasn’t complaining.  She had booked a half hour consult and my rent was due.

Her voice was sultry with a foreign accent.  “My husband is behaving strangely.  We never talk anymore.  He is always tweeting on his cell phone or watching Fox News.  We lead separate lives.  It’s like we are roommates.  What do you think it could be?”

Divorce lawyers are the repository of cynicism in the world.  I broke it to her gently.  “The French have an idiom.  Cherchez la femme.  It means, ‘Look for the woman’.”

Her eyes started to tear up as I handed her the box of tissues.  A gesture I had repeated hundreds of times in this office.

I read that 42% of Republicans believe President Trump has been faithful to his wife.  I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that none of them were divorce lawyers.

I could see this case calling for stormy weather and a big retainer.

 

 

“It’s a term of honor, above a gentleman, below a knight.”

Roman J. Israel, Esq. played by Denzel Washington.

Most mornings before the courthouse opened, all the lawyers and judges could be found at the Silver Spoon Diner.  Although they would soon be battling it out, there was a convivial atmosphere in the diner, among the clink of dishes and the babble of discourse.

Judge Cullen sat across the booth from attorney Clark.  Clark took some papers out of his briefcase.  “What would you do in this case?” Clark asked the judge.  “I’ve got paystubs that say the husband pays $300 a month for health insurance and a year end statement that says he paid $5,000.  Which one should I use for the child support guidelines?  Should I just use the one most favorable to my client?  Or prepare two guidelines and let the court decide?”

Judge Cullen blew on his coffee to cool it, then opined “Get the facts first.”

“What do you mean?” asked Clark, taking a bite out of his blueberry muffin.

“Does the husband have an attorney?” Judge Cullen inquired.

“Yes,” answered Clark.

“Then call the attorney and ask why there is a discrepancy in the health insurance premiums on the pay statements.”

Clark reached for his cell phone inside his suit jacket which was on a hook attached to the booth.  He dialed the number and had a brief convesation over the din of the diner.

“Well?” said the judge.

“He says the husband took her off his health insurance after the first few months of the year so the premiums went down.”

“Mystery solved,” said the judge, handing the bill for his coffee to Clark.

 

 

 

“Being a surgeon is stressful, for instance — but not in the same way. It would be like having another surgeon across the table from you trying to undo your operation.” — Wil Milner

Michael F. Callahan and James J. Gross have been selected to the list of 2017 Maryland Super Lawyers.  Super Lawyers recognizes attorneys who have distinguished themselves in their legal practice.  This honor is limited to no more than five percent of the attorneys within the state.

by James J. Gross

Yesterday I saw an article by @oldladylawyer.  It was about how email and texting are stripping away civility and good manners in communications.  As a writer and a lawyer, wordsmithing is a interest of mine.  I particularly like the well tuned, old-time, polite phrases of my profession, like “May it please the court” or “Further affiant sayeth not”.

  1. Don’t start your letter by insulting me or my client. One letter started, “I’m always amazed by a lawyer whose zeal exceeds his grasp of the facts.”  I rarely read such letters past the first sentence and usually give the shortest response possible like, “We disagree” or “My perception is different than yours.”
  1. Leave the blame out of your letters. Letters are for solving problems.  Don’t respond to blaming in letters your receive.  Say “responding only to the portions of yours which move the case forward…”
  1. Start by saying something nice, for example, “It was a pleasure speaking with you.”
  1. This beginning will focus your thoughts on your reason for sending the letter, keep you from straying off the subject, and help you decide what you want the reader to do: “The purpose of this letter is to…”
  1. Another good beginning is “For the sake of good order, this letter will commemorate in writing our discussions on…”
  1. Always substitute “mistaken” for “liar”. Instead of saying, “You client is a liar,” say “Your client is mistaken.”
  1. End your letter with “Thanking you for your time, attention and courtesy, I remain, Sincerely yours”.