Making and keeping a record

The shovel has to meet certain requirements. A pointed blade. A short handle, to make it maneuverable in a confined space. He finds what he needs in the gardening section of a vast department store. He stows the shovel in his cart and moves unhurriedly through the wide aisles, gathering a few more items: D-cell batteries, a bag of potting soil, a can of weed-killer. Leather work gloves, two pairs. – Harry Dolan, Bad Things Happen.

As the terrific, literary-quality mystery/thriller writer Harry Dolan advises on a somewhat different matter, we need some tools for this stage of a lawsuit:


Get hold of (1) two file folders, (2) one permanent marker, (3) a hi-lighter, (4) a clip-it gadget that zips around newspaper articles, or a scissors; and (5) weedkiller (no, no — I’m kidding about the weedkiller.)

Using the permanent market, print on each folder one of the following titles:


Now instead of just thumbing through your daily newspaper(s), you’re actively researching certain areas of specific interest:


  • News that rouses your sense of justice and anger at injustice, especially if you’re wealthy, retired or inordinately courageous and contemplating a heroic future as a major litigant.
  • Stories about lawsuits, whether they seem righteous (a man falsely arrested and imprisoned for complicity in the World Trade Center disaster who sued the F.B.I.) or absurd (a man suing his dry cleaners for $multi-millions$ because they lost a pair of his pants). You’ll find yourself thinking about that lawsuit, getting hooked into it, taking sides. Then when you read further articles about that suit (the false arrest one, not the missing pants one), you’ll be following along, asking yourself questions.
  • In noticing who sues and why, you’re getting sensitized to the world of litigation. Trial stories are especially important since you can follow the day-to-day trial events. Reading newspapers and/or watching TV news about major trials, as I learned when I worked on a gigantically over-publicized criminal case, won’t necessarily give you the facts about the trial. (Did I really say that? I amend: it’s unlikely you’ll get the facts about the trial.) But even if you’re misled about a trial by reading a newspaper account, you’ll still be picking up some useful impressions about lawsuits.
  • Names of lawyers who are representing plaintiffs in lawsuits that sound righteous to you.
  • Via Adam Liptak in the NYT, what’s going on in the Supreme Court. Although nowadays I often tear my hair out, I like reading Supreme Court decisions, since theoretically they present contemporary legal logic and interpretation of the Constitution. But mostly I love translating into English the written expressions of people who are hailed as “brilliant legal minds.” If you have the patience for it, reading Supreme Court opinions can diminish your inbred awe of some judges, enhance your awe of others, and elevate your self-esteem. Yes, you are as smart as some of those guys.
  • Columnists and reporters who cover areas of moral and legal interest.


  • Clip anything that sounds intriguing. If there’s an excellent decision on behalf of a plaintiff to whom you are sympathetic, make sure you read enough of the article to find the name of the lawyer representing that plaintiff. Highlight that lawyer’s name.
  • Drop the article into your LAWSUIT/LAWYERS file folder. You’ve now started your own attorney reference list.

In the sexual harassment and wrongful firing lawsuit Anucha Browne Sanders, a woman sports executive, brought against the New York Knicks, I had so admired the plaintiff’s character, intelligence and poise (it takes guts for an individual woman to go up against a powerful sports organization and its gorgeous, charming erstwhile coach Isiah Thomas, an ex-athlete created by the sports gods to sit on a witness stand).

I also noticed her lawyer’s name, a name I’d never heard of until this trial, which Browne Sanders won. If I had an employment lawsuit, I would contact Anne Vladeck in a flash.

  • As for reporters? I was once involved in a case which should have been of media interest but hadn’t been noticed or brought to the attention of any newspaper, until John Marzulli, a meticulous reporter who covered the New York courts for the Daily News, noticed the case listed on a court docket sheet.

Marzulli showed up at the next court date and was the first to print an article about the case.

So when you read your newspapers, tear out the names of columnists or reporters who do a job of covering what I’d call the Injustice Beat, or lawsuits that intrigue you. Stick those names in your REPORTER file.

  • If you don’t have a file cabinet, shove the folders onto a shelf within your easy reach. Or under your couch, alongside your wine “cellar.” (What? Where do you keep your wine?)

Now we’re ready for the next stage in a lawsuit: Uh-Oh.

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