Thursday, August 24, 2006


Supercop is a police officer I see on a regular basis. For starters I should mention that he's a good guy and is reasonably pleasant, to me at least.

He writes a lot of speeding tickets and takes this more seriously than any other cop I have met. I've been told he has a nickname among his fellow officers due to his overenthusiasm (combined with a bit of a slight) but I won't mention it because that might identify him too easily. Apparently he's particularly eager with high speeds (over 90) and with motorcycles.

Some of the police we see are generally willing to give good deals on speeding ticket cases. As attorneys, we're always hoping to get our clients a parking ticket. Supercop will rarely agree to this, even when the speed is fairly low. There are a few others like him so he's not alone in this.

Recently I had a case with Supercop and he did something I'd never seen before. I show up to Court with my client's DMV record. A lot of cops will also show up with the DMV record. Supercop goes further. Apparently there's a database out there that shows not only the DMV record, but also what tickets the person had and what reduction they got. The DMV record only shows the convictions, and parking tickets don't show up. My client in this particular case had a speed reduced to a parking ticket, and Supercop knew about it -- I didn't. In this particular case it didn't affect the deal, but it was still a surprise.

I'm a little concerned about the existence of this database. Is this a secret database? Who has access to it? Can someone submit a FOIL request to find out what information the government has on them? Where would we submit the request to?

Getting back to Supercop, as with many other officers, I suspect they're somewhat hypocritical. I have the strong sense that many cops drive at high speed whenever they want, while talking on their cell phone (no hands-free set) and not wearing a seatbelt. A few weeks ago I was driving to a Court and a cop passed me going at least 80, talking on his cell. I'm pretty sure Supercop has passed me a couple of times going 80 mph or faster. The size and shape of his head and body are somewhat distinctive and he can be recognized from behind because of this. Plus I see him at the Court when I get there.

This doesn't make him a bad guy, but it always bothers me a little that they'll write tickets to people and then do the same thing themselves. Then again, the more speeding tickets they write, the more clients we get at our law firm.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Dell let-down

I've been seeing commercials for Dell Computer where they show the computer being assembled as the person is ordering it on the phone. I know it's an exaggeration, but at the moment I'm pretty pissed.

I ordered a computer, printer, and extra toner over the weekend for our new associate. The toner arrived a couple days ago. I went on the Dell site today to check on the status of the order. Neither the computer nor the printer has shipped yet. They estimate the computer will ship tomorrow. I did not expect it to go out instantly, but the next day would have been reasonable in light of the commercial. I don't believe there was any unusual customization of this computer.

Worse, the printer I ordered is estimated to ship over a week from now.

I discussed this in advance with the associate and he preferred a PC, but was willing to work on a Mac. I should have ordered a Mac.

At the moment I'm quite disappointed in Dell. I've ordered from them in the past and have been reasonably satisfied. This is probably my last order.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Lawyers and that personal touch

Had an interesting experience this morning. A couple years ago I represented a client in a traffic matter arising out of a car accident. She was recently served with papers for a personal injury lawsuit from an occupant of the other vehicle.

The plaintiff in the new case is represented by one of those firms we see advertising somewhat heavily on TV. I called the firm today to confirm that my client received the papers. That's where we get into the quality of experience one gets with different law firms.

First, the phone was answered with the same voice one hears on their TV commercials. He instructs that if you're calling with a new case, press 1. If you're calling on an existing case, please hold and someone will be with you shortly.

I held on and after a fairly short wait, someone did pick up the phone. It was a woman who not only knew nothing about the case, she didn't even understand the basics of lawsuits. I explained that I represented a defendant and told her the name of their client. I then told her my client's name and that confused her. I had to explain the concept of plaintiff and defendant, but I got the strong impression she didn't care. After a couple minutes of this I asked if I could speak with someone who might know something about the case. She responded that it was her role to take a message.

I'm sure that if I pressed 1 (for a new case), I would have gotten someone who knows what's going on. This, by the way, is the same kind of trick employed by AOL and other high-volume consumer advertising businesses. Get the customers in with good service at the beginning, and then throw them to the dogs. I recently got a new client from this firm after they ignored her requests for advice on a problem with the No-Fault aspect of her case. Their retainer specifically says they do not prosecute No-Fault cases - it doesn't say they will ignore your requests for advice.

When you call the Redlich Law Firm, a person answers the phone, not a recording. That's 24/7/365. My answering service does not know that much about how my business works (though I'm hoping to work with them on that this fall), but they do forward the calls to me when I'm available (which is most of the time), and send text messages to my cell phone otherwise. And this is true not only for new clients but also for existing clients, opposing attorneys, judges, etc.

My answering service does cost a lot, but it's still only about 1/4 of what I'd pay for a full-time receptionist, who would only cover 9-5, Monday-Friday. They also speak Spanish, which doesn't matter much in Albany, but it doesn't hurt.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

No good lawyer goes unpunished

I came out of the shower this morning to find two messages from my answering service. Both were from the same person, in a distant county, indicating that it was a criminal matter and it was urgent.

I returned the call. In the process I endured one of those annoying messages people leave on their machine/voice-mail (too long and rude - "if I think your message is important, I might call you back"), and left a message. The person called me back when I was in the bathroom, and left two more messages with my answering service. Then he called my cell and I picked up.

At first he would not answer simple questions, but eventually it became clear this was not a criminal matter and was not urgent (it concerned something that occurred more than a month ago and nothing had happened since). It was a DSS matter resolved quickly in favor of the caller, who wanted to see if he could get access to the complaint that had started the matter. He was told it's confidential, and I informed him that I believe that's correct, and that it would cost a lot of money for me to try to get it and we would probably lose.

The caller was not satisfied with these responses and started making comments I didn't appreciate (not directed at me, but not my business either). I tried to end the call politely, but before I did the caller started telling me how I didn't have to be so rude. So here I am, having spent about 10 minutes of my time because of the caller's deceptive messages, and I'm the rude one. The minute I was called rude, I hung up.

My usual technique with such calls is to say at a certain point: "I'd be happy to discuss this with you further, but I charge $100 for a half-hour session," at which point I hear a click. I should have done that after about 5 minutes of the call.

Someday I'll get into the stereotyping effect such calls can have on a lawyer, when the caller is from a particular part of the state, with a name and accent that suggests a certain ethnic background. I like to think I'm above that, but it's starting to play on my mind at the moment. On the bright side, I've had many dealings with all sorts of people from all over the world and from all sorts of ethnic backgrounds, and I know there are good people within every group. Sometimes it seems like I get calls from the bad ones.

And one last thing - I have to emphasize my extreme dislike for long annoying voicemail intros (the message the caller has to listen to before leaving a message). A couple days ago I got a call and called the person back. The voicemail picked up and I was subjected to 30-45 seconds of what is presumably the person's favorite song. It was not my favorite song, and it wouldn't matter if it was. Your message should be short and to the point. "Hi, this is Joe, please leave a message." Just one lawyer's opinion.

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Fixer

While I will maintain anonymity as best I can on this profile, this person's nickname is for real and is known by many in the legal community. If I know it a lot of people must. I'm not worried about it because this will be a flattering profile.

The Fixer is a successful criminal defense lawyer. He is not a high-profile guy. You don't see him in the papers or on TV much. I've known him for some time now and can't think of a bad thing to say about him. I do have a lot of good things to say.

He's friendly and he can be a bit of a mentor to less experienced lawyers (like me). I'm not saying he lectures at seminars, but if you see him in a Court (he's in a lot of courts), you can ask him a question and he'll give helpful advice -- usually short and to the point.

He seems to work an awful lot. I go to a lot of local courts for traffic tickets and more serious criminal cases. I remember one day I went to four different courts and saw him at each one. I make it to a lot of courts as well, but he's been doing it a lot longer and I suspect he goes to more courts.

His most notable trait is where his nickname comes from. He's The Fixer. He gets deals for his clients that most other lawyers would be unable to get. I'm not referring only to plea bargains, but also to various stages of the criminal process (like bail) where he manages to get better treatment for his clients.

Now some lawyers get deals for their clients by aggressive defense work, finding any kind of hole in the prosecution's case and then using that as a reason for a better deal. The Fixer's method is a bit of a mystery. Does he know the right people? Does he use political connections? Is he just so smooth that prosecutors want to give him deals? Maybe it's all of the above, or something entirely different. He's playing that part of a game at a much higher level than the rest of us.

I don't know how he does it. But he does. I've seen the results. In one case he handled bail was set at one-tenth of what I expected. That can make a big difference to the client - it's the difference between being in jail while your case is pending and being on the outside. When you're in, you'll take any kind of deal you can get. When you're out you're not looking for a deal, so the offers tend to get better. If I was charged with a crime and I wanted the best deal I could get, he's the first person I would go to.

I'm not sure he's the lawyer I'd want if I were innocent. I don't know about that aspect of his skills, but if I woke up from a coma, was told I had been charged with a crime, and that The Fixer was my lawyer, I'd be comfortable.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Profile: The Bully

In the past 10 years I've handled cases in something like 20 counties, in traffic court, lower level criminal courts, higher level criminal courts, Family Court, Supreme Court (New York's main civil trial court, at least in the Albany area), the Appellate Division (Third Department), as well as federal courts in Manhattan, Albany and Syracuse.

I've practiced in front of quite a few judges -- well over 100, maybe as many as 500. Not all of them are pleasant, but The Bully may be the most unpleasant I've met.

Now to be clear, I'm not saying The Bully is without good qualities. For one thing, he is an excellent speaker. Like few others, he has a remarkable voice. If you are anywhere inside his courtroom, you will hear everything he says and you will be unable to claim you did not understand something he said. I'm not saying he yells. Not at all. Just a powerful, commanding, and well-controlled voice.

He also is intelligent, and knows the law rather well. Perhaps not as well as he thinks he does, but certainly better than the average judge. And at times he seems to have a heart.

But for his most distinguishing trait, we turn to the most important characteristic of a judge -- temperament. We spend much of our time in front of judges. With the pleasant ones, we enjoy being in their courtrooms. They are cordial, they respect the lawyers and allow us to do our jobs, stepping in only to resolve disputes. The best judges do not create additional disputes, nor do they abuse the lawyers.

The Bully demonstrates an utter lack of respect for the attorneys who appear before him. It's as if he's urinating on the courtroom floor to show it's his turf. This is particularly noticeable with attorneys who are unfamiliar with his court, or who are not within his circle. The Bully berates lawyers who make arguments he doesn't like. His manner turns from appropriate criticism of the arguments themselves to personal attacks on the attorney's character.

Now you have to understand something about being a lawyer. When there are two sides arguing, in the end, one of us has to be wrong. While there are many cases where it's a close call and both sides make a credible argument, there are also times where circumstances force us to argue a position that is very difficult to argue (i.e. even we think we're wrong). We do our best, but this is a very difficult position to be in. A simple example is when a client instructs us to take a position despite our firm advice against it. Good judges understand these situations, and do not abuse the lawyers who are stuck in them. The Bully takes these opportunities to belittle the lawyer.

There are certainly situations where a lawyer is unprepared, or simply clueless. Most judges let it pass. Some might even ask the offending lawyer into chambers to discuss the problem, educate the lawyer, or perhaps yell at him, but in the privacy of chambers. Abusing that lawyer in open court accomplishes little, but The Bully revels in the opportunity. It's like Mike Tyson beating up a third-grader.

The Bully also demonstrates his lack of respect for the lawyers in another way. He wastes our time. While many judges understand the demands on an attorney's time (and the fact that our clients are paying for it), The Bully conducts his courtroom in a manner which wastes attorney time. Thoughtful judges schedule appearances, so one group of lawyers might show up at 9 am, another group at 9:30, etc. The Bully has everyone show up at the same time. The insiders often (but not always) get their cases heard first, and they get out quick. But for the rest of us, what should take 15-30 minutes ends up taking 2-3 hours.

It should not surprise readers to hear that The Bully is not well liked. Even the insiders dislike him, as he will sometimes turn on them. We'll see if this matters when he comes up for reelection.

More profiles to come. A brief preview: The Fixer, The Meal Ticket, Snidely, The Slob .... Stay tuned. :-)

A new kick for the Albany Lawyer blog

I had an idea in the last couple days. To make this blog more interesting, I'm going to start doing some profiles of lawyers and others from the Albany area (and by that I mean the greater Capital Region). The profiles will not identify the person, and along the way I may create some entirely fictional profiles. Some profiles may be blends. Some profiles will be flattering. Others will be less than flattering. I will consistently make an effort to obscure the actual identity of the person profiled, though those who know that person might figure it out -- but then it will not be new information to them.

First up .... The Bully.