Thursday, June 30, 2005

Balancing interesting and not-so-interesting work

One of the tough things about being a lawyer is some of the work is, well, boring. Or at least not terribly interesting.

I get a lot of speeding ticket cases. I feel good about the work I do for people, helping them get better deals and saving them time in handling things for them. But it's not fascinating work. It's mostly paperwork, or a trip to a local court where you shoot the breeze with fellow lawyers for an hour or so until you get to talk to the cop or prosecutor and get things resolved. It's not bad, but not exciting either.

I do personal injury cases as well. Those can be a little more interesting, and certainly you can make good money on them, but fundamentally they're not as exciting for me as they used to be. Trials are usually fun, but most cases get settled before then. Also, in many of these cases you do learn something about some relatively obscure legal issue. For example, I have an airline case. My client fell in the aisle. I started the case claiming the airline was negligent (for creating the slippery condition, failing to clean it up, and failing to warn my client). Turns out that negligence is not an issue. Under treaties, the airline is strictly liable for accidents, but there is a cap on damages of $75,000. This case pretty clearly qualifies as an accident under recent 2nd Circuit caselaw, so we're looking good. That was a bit of learning.

But every once in a while I get something that's really interesting. For some reason I really like criminal defense. I particularly like defending drug cases, as I have long felt the drug war is a disaster. But I occasionally get cases where my client is pretty clearly not guilty, and something smells about the way my client was charged. I had one a couple years ago and I have one now. Gets me going.

Also, not too long ago I had a different kind of case. Client was working in an area hospital, and was cut with an instrument that had been exposed to a patient's blood. Patient was unable to consent to a test for bloodborne disease, essentially unconscious, and dying. Family was agreeable, but did not have the paperwork to back up their authority. I got the job done and am quite pleased with myself. I really made a difference for this client, who no longer has to take a cocktail of preventive drugs that cause severe side effects. In the process I confronted some bureaucracy and succeeded by using my experience to choose a judge with common sense. And all of this was done with the proper anonymity to protect everyone involved (hence, the details here are deliberately vague and some details may have been changed). Not only was this interesting, but it was emotionally rewarding because I really feel I did good work for my client, and made a difference in their life.

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