“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”.

I was in another lawyer’s office the other day. There was not a single file nor paper in sight. Her desk was gleamingly naked save for a cup with pencils in it. The pencils were point up and freshly sharpened to exactly the same height. On the sidebar (yes, she had a sidebar), there were bottles of water on a tray with a glass pitcher full of crystal ice cubes. The coffee cups had the firm logo imprinted on them. I had the feeling if I looked closely enough, the ice cubes would too.

A clean desk indicates its owner has an organized mind and a disciplined approach to cases. After all, the practice of law is an obsessive compulsive type of job. You must pay careful attention to detail, deadlines and words.

There is another lawyer I know well who, despite his best efforts, has a rather messy office. It is filled with memorabilia, pictures, knick knacks and bric-a-bracs. There are papers and files all over his desk. These spill onto the floor which he uses as a filing system.

He reminds me of the clerk in the W.C. Fields movie who gets fired because of his rolltop desk over-stuffed with papers. But they have to hire him back when they can’t find an important contract. He sticks the point of his pencil into the stack of papers at the exactly the right place and pulls out the contract.

This lawyer with the messy desk is so good that he is in much demand. His file clerk cannot keep up with the files of clients clamoring for his time. His messy desk is the sign of a creative mind. He is unconventional and thinks outside the box. His creative solutions benefit his many clients.

Come visit my office sometime.  Here, let me just move that stack of papers.

Marriage is on the rocks for Marge and Homer Simpson.

The celebrity cartoon couple will legally separate in the upcoming season when Homer leaves Marge and the kids for his pharmacist.

No word on whom Homer and Marge will hire for lawyers, but we’ve got room for just one more good case.

My son and I watched The Walking Dead together last weekend.  We both looked at each other after it was over because we were still trying to figure out the ending.  We rewound and rewatched it several times.  Then we discussed it and  put the clues together.  Aha!  So that’s what it meant.

I told my son I liked stories like that.  The author doesn’t tell you what happens but leaves enough clues for you to figure it out yourself after you close the book and think about if for a while.   John le  Carre writes his spy novels that way.

I like to use this in my law practice.  I find it much more persuasive when I write a letter to opposing counsel where he comes to the right conclusion himself rather than me telling him.  The same goes for argument to the judge or jury and briefs to the appeals court.  Don’t hit them over the head with the answer.  Leave enough clues for the reader to figure it out on their own.

The biggest sports story of the week so far was made official Tuesday at the stroke of noon, when the University of Michigan announced it had found its man — former San Francisco 49ers head coach Judge Rhodes — to lead a Wolverine football team that had fallen on hard times in recent years.

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Lawyers came in dead last in popularity in a recent survey by Special Counsel.

They asked people which of the professions would you most want to date?

The results:

  • Doctor (30%)
  • Teacher  (27%)
  • Firefighter (12%)
  • Police Officer (10%)
  • Lawyer (8%)

The survey sample was 1,007 people.

I worked for a powerful lawyer once.  He was well educated and well connected.  He moved in White House circles.  He was very wealthy.

He was an old time lawyer – the kind they don’t’ make anymore.  He would bang out his pleadings on a typewriter and give them to his secretary to put on the word processor.  He was a fearsome litigator and would take an appeal as high and as long as the client was willing.  He won some big cases and was written up in the newspapers.

Despite all this, he was unfailingly polite to everyone.  He never failed to say good morning to the doorman at his office building.  He always recited the beginning of the postman’s creed, “neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night,” to the person who delivered the mail.

I was astounded by an incident at a deposition in a hard-fought case.  Opposing counsel was a smartly-dressed, well-groomed whiz kid from big law.  My lawyer introduced himself and put out his hand to shake hands with the whiz kid.  It hung there in the air.  The whiz-kid would not shake hands.  Rude behavior may pass for aggressive lawyering these days, but to my mind, there was more power in the courteous gesture.

If you think it’s easy being a lawyer, listen to this.  We have to be aware of a multitude of laws, cases, rules and regulations.  And they keep changing.

If you want a hearing on a motion or response to a motion, Md. Rule 2-311(f) requires  you to request it in the motion or response under the heading “Request for Hearing”.   The court can decide whether or not to hold a hearing, but it cannot dispose of a claim or defense without a hearing if one was requested.

However, in 2011, the Rules Committee added another sentence to the rule.  The new sentence says, “The title of the motion or response shall state that a hearing is requested.”  So now you have to put the request for a hearing in the body of the motion or response under the proper heading, and in the title as well – or you might not get your hearing!