Communicating with lawyers: in court

… On such an afternoon, the various solicitors….ought to be…ranged in a line, in a long matted well…between the registrar’s red table and the silk gowns, with bills, cross-bills, answers, rejoinders, injunctions, affidavits, issues, references to masters, masters’ reports, mountains of costly nonsense, piled before them — Charles Dickens, Bleak House

If you’ve never been in a contemporary civil courtroom during a day and time when status conferences (a/k/a compliance conferences) are scheduled, read that Dickens quote above. Minus silk, high colors, other 19th century appurtenances and English haberdashery, it’s precisely the same ambiance and throb.

So if you don’t know what your lawyer looks like — and as I said the other day, I didn’t — you become, as I did, part of the judicial throng, peering intently into faces, raising eyebrows, calling out, “Are you from Foot Lawyers, PC?”

I found Nick on my second try. He looked like a “Nick.” At first, he thought I was opposing counsel. Only after a few minutes did we get it straightened out that I was his actual client.

Then we caught up on a lot of things: Rupert Murdoch, the proposed secession of southern California from California — and the erstwhile secession of New York City from New York State during which, a number of years ago when the hope once again swelled in our downstate bosoms, and Staten Island decided it didn’t want to join the other four boroughs, most of us thought about that for about two seconds and said, “Who cares?” and a wit remarked, “Staten Island announcing it wants to leave NYC is like Gummo announcing he’s going to leave the Marx Brothers.”

Oh, yeah, we did cover matters concerning my case. I learned that:

  • The City (because of the landmarked status of the offending sidewalk the negligent management of which broke my metatarsal) is still in the case. And when I told Nick I wasn’t too pleased about my City being involved since I really didn’t think it was liable, he told me not to talk about this out loud. (Is writing this “out loud?” Gee.)
  • The various complaints have been consolidated into one.
  • All documents are in hand, although a few might have to be delivered to one of the two defendants’ law firms (one of which is the City’s law firm, known as Corporation Counsel), who claim not to have them. Although they probably do. (You don’t bother arguing over these stupid little things; you just give them the documents again.)
  • By the next scheduled Court date, September 22, everyone should be ready to hunker down and launch into settlement negotiations.
  • Or before: according to Nick, the Foot Lawyer partner, whom I talked to last January, is a settlement maven, likes to get down to it as quickly as possible, so may open discussions even before the next court conference.

Well, we had a lot of time to spend waiting for our case to be called (my name was pronounced incorrectly, as usual), so I asked Nick why lawyers communicate poorly with clients, why a law firm doesn’t have a written set of rules for checking in with clients for more purposes other than needing a signature.

All I got straight was: Nick probably wasn’t going to be seeing my case through to the end; his law firm did not have any such process; that plaintiffs can certainly be pains in the ass (and ask really ignorant questions which lawyers can’t really answer) and are evaded far more regularly than they are contacted …

So now I’m thinking that my upcoming book, also called Sidebar for Plaintiffs, should have a version for lawyers.

Going to court was useful. It always is.

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