Lightning Round: Ten Things Lawyers Hate About You

Unwonk - Episode 17: Ten Things Lawyers Hate About You (Lightning Round)

We reached far and wide to ask attorneys to send us the questions from non-lawyers that bug them. Consider this Volume One.

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Episode Transcript

UNWONK PODCAST - EPISODE 17: TEN THINGS LAWYERS HATE ABOUT YOU

Hi, friend. This is a rough transcript of this episode of Unwonk. What's that mean? It means that we're just pasting the original script for the show plus unvetted transcripts of any interviews. So, you're likely to see content that maybe didn't make the final cut, maybe not see some content that was in the episode but not the original script, and run across a few typos. 

As with everything on Unwonk, the transcript below is for general informational purposes only - this is not legal advice - if you need to have a legal question answered, please seek legit legal representation. 

On this special lightning round episode of Unwonk, we learn ten things that lawyers hate about you.

This is Unwonk. We respond to your legal questions with relevant and useful information. If you would like to submit a question, please visit our site at Unwonk.com.

When you’re there, you can also find where to follow us on twitter, facebook, and whatever social things are plausibly cool this week. And make sure to tell your friends about us. Seriously, that’s really important. Unless, of course, you’re ashamed of how you feel about us.

You can also check out our ask a lawyer column in deadspin by clicking on the banner at our site or just poking around at deadspin.com. Did you read the one last week with our interview with Ralph Nader? Of course you did.

Even though the  general information on this podcast is provided by actual attorneys, you’d be an idiot to think it is actual legal advice, and you’d also be the type of person who asks one of the questions we talk about on this special lightning round episode. 

A couple weeks ago, we did a lightning round edition of our Deadspin column, addressing a bunch of questions with quick answers. It was pretty popular, so I thought we’d try it with the show. 

However, we wanted to make it interesting in a different way. Now, usually, the format of the podcast is to answer one to three legal questions from listeners. Pretty straightforward for a show ostensibly about legal questions.

But take that concept and apply it to non-legal situations, and you would get what every lawyer gets every day outside the office - a barrage of unsolicited questions at parties, home, from old friends through social media - and from relatives on every single branch on the family tree. 

And, look, most attorneys are happy to help out a friend or answer questions - I’d estimate that I spend a total of 2 or more hours a week helping friends or pro bono clients. But - like anything else - sometimes things get a old. So, unless you want to hand out a FAQ every time - or F-A-Q if you’re pedantic - if you’re a lawyer, you’ll have to deal with the questions. And, I get it, every profession has a problem to this degree. Think of all the doctors out there. And the accountants. And the bikini waxers, or maybe I’m just the one asking all bikini waxers all the questions.

We put a call out on social media and through our professional networks for questions or comments from non-lawyers that drive lawyers crazy, and the response was amazing.  And these were responses from all types of attorneys: crimal defense attorneys, prosecutors, attorneys who practice solo, attorneys who work at giant megafirms, nonprofit attorneys, policy attorneys, patent attorneys, business attorneys. The whole spectrum. 

Just to preface: I’m not asking you to feel sorry for lawyers - your perceptions are going to be your perceptions. But just imagine having deal deal with this on a Groundhog day basis. 

And also - from the outside - the world of law can be confusing, alien, scary, and intimidating. So hold onto that, and then imagine being inside that world. Chilling, right? 

Now, today’s lightning round theme: Ten Reasons Why Lawyers Hate You. (Sidenote - because I know a few very literal people who listen - lawyers don’t really hate you - at least, for these reasons)

Reason Number 1: We got a lot of sample questions on this one - here are just two, and I’m going to read them in a dialog format. And for this one, our producer Cara will be stepping in to play the non-lawyer.

Q: "what do you do?" 
A: "I'm a lawyer." 
Q: "what kind?" 
A: "civil litigation, mostly for institutional investors, hedge funds, private equity firms..." 
Q: [pause] "I have a [buddy/cousin] in [insert jurisdiction as far away from your as possible] who got [ripped off/injured in car accident/arrested/ticketed/called for jury duty]. Can you call [him/her] and help them? You only have to talk to them for like 5 minutes...." 
A: "but I don't practice [that kind of law/in that state]." 
Q: "Didn't you say you were a lawyer though?"  

This is by far the most common kind of question I get, and I’m sure most other attorneys get. 

We can begin to address it with this passage from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is.  I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space.”

Now, replace the word space there with the word law. There are just as many fields and niches of law as there are things in the universe. There are people who eke out a living because they specialize solely in an area of law that focuses on a single sentence of a state statute. 

There are some “general practitioners” out there - people who go out and do what’s called hang a shingle and take whatever comes their way. If anyone out there knows what hanging a shingle actually means, I will send you a cookie if you tell me. It’s one of those things that’s always bothered me but I’ve been to lazy to google it. Even now, I’m talking about it to a substantial audience of people when I could have just stopped recording. But I know I won’t, because it’s stuck in my google gap.

Anyway, in my experience, the majority of attorneys out there do some kind of specialization. Not all litigators are going to take all types of litigation. Not all business attorneys are going to take all types of business matters. So, in this case, when we’re talking about a litigation that works in finance, you’re not going to get very helpful advice about your speeding ticket. 

Here’s a similar one sent in by another attorney that I’ll lump under Reason Number 1 - in this question, Cara will be the mom, and I will be the lawyer:

Mom: "What kind of law do you practice again?" 
Me: "I actually work on homeland security policy."
Mom: "Oh, so can you help me set up a will?"
Me: "Whaaaaaa!?"

If you’re an attorney, you can count on getting a will question with at least every season change. Trusts and estates is a combination of old timey law - people have been dying, it turns out, for years, and the constantly moving tax code. Do you really want someone who doesn’t specalize in that to do it for you? And if you’re going to say, I just want a simple will - well, it’s not that simple. Frankly, a good T&E attorney - as they’re called - will have reasonable price for an estate package. 

Reason Number 2:

"Since you're a lawyer and all, do you mind if I have a friend that you've never met call you for free advice you know nothing about? What time do you have dinner/put your kids to bed/ fall asleep, because my friend would like to call at one of those times. Also, my friend will argue with you and ignore everything you say. Is that cool?"

This is a corollary to the last one. When you’re getting free legal guidance. Be nice and courteous. And if you don’t like it, go pay for an attorney to deal with your shit. 

Reason Number 3: 

This question, after spending a social evening out with a friend: “Hey, you’re not going to bill me for the time we spend having dinner are you? Hahahahah.” 

Oh, man. This is old. We get it. You’ve dealt with getting legal bills before. Look, attorneys don’t like billing. Nothing is worse than keeping track of time. Most attorneys I know would, in fact, prefer to charge a flat fee. The problem is, the more complex a case or transaction, the more moving parts there are, and the more unpredictable things can get. Also, a single decision by a client - especially against an attorney’s advice - can cause the hours to pile up. 

Anyway, if you’re out being social with a friend who’s in law. The billing jokes are lame. And kinda hacky, anyway. Everyone knows a good dick joke always lands better.

Reason Number 4: 

"I always argued a lot so everyone in my family said I should go to law school. Instead, I went to grad school for X and am now doing Y.”

I don’t know why people are compelled to declare that they didn’t go to law school. 

Anyway, as you’ll hear from a real live attorney on the show shortly, attorneys don’t really argue that much. Most highly successful litigators I know are, in fact, quiet and humble people. 

What your family was trying to say is not that you would have been a good lawyer. No, they were trying to say that you’re an asshole but didn’t have the right words that wouldn’t have crushed you. Sure, law does have some assholes. But most industries do. I can think of a few industries with much higher asshole proportions than law. Even looking at other graduate programs, do you really think MBAs are less likely to be assholes? No. And they’re already required to be probable sociopaths at most top programs.

Know what makes a good law student and lawyer, being smart, articulate, and not an asshole. Shocking combination.

For the next few questions we’ll be joining by Darwin, an attorney in New York.  He had three items that were relevant to today’s show and their dialogue formats.  He’d agree to come on to play the role of himself.  Darwin are you ready?

Darwin:    Hi I am ready as I’ll ever be.

Unwonk:        Alright I’ll play the questioner and you play the role of yourself.  Alright here we go.  Hey how much do you charge?

Darwin:    Well the firm bills me out at $700 an hour.

Unwonk:        Wow drinks were on you am I right?

Darwin:    You realize I don’t make $700 an hour right?

Unwonk:        What do you think is going through this person’s head?

Darwin:    People think that there’s a direct co-relation between how much the firm bills you out at how much you make.  And although there’s a loose correlation, it’s nowhere near you know, you’re not pulling the percentage as you know, you’re not pulling the percentage of the hours you bill.  That be nice though if they gave me like 50% that be fantastic.

Unwonk:        For the record you’d be happy to pay for rounds of drinks just because you’re a nice guy.

Darwin:    No, no I don’t pay for rounds of drinks.

Unwonk:        Damn it.

Darwin:    As far as you know.

Unwonk:        Here’s the next one, okay let’s start with me.  Do you think you’re right about current argument because you’re a lawyer right?

Darwin:    No.  I think I’m right because what you’re saying is stupid.  I get this one a lot right, because I’m one of those people who’s on Facebook seriously typing when I find something wrong on the internet.  And it invariably devolves into a conversation about how I must think I know more about whatever topic we’re talking about because I’m an attorney when really I’m more focused on the idiotic argument that I’m trying to address.  I don’t know if you come across this but it’s pretty common.

Unwonk:        You’re right.  There’s… if you’re looking at someone who’s wrong they’re just wrong as nothing to do with the fact that you’re a lawyer.  And people think lawyers argue for a living.  You’re a corporate finance lawyer right?  

Darwin:    Right.  And I don’t spend a lot of time arguing, I spends a lot of time negotiating that sometimes it can break down into arguments between attorneys but you know the goal is for everybody to you know, achieve one goal. So it’s not… it’s not as conscientious as most people think.

Unwonk:        The last one I’ll start this one… hey so what type of law do you practice?

Darwin:    I do corporate finance.

Unwonk:        Oh so do you like going to court for that? 

Darwin:    No I don’t really go to court.  I represent financial institutions like banks in negotiations of financial transactions, so I do deal.

Unwonk:        Oh so that’s… that’s like arbitration instead?  Or is that like the banks does not go to court?  Or maybe they just… do they go to Supreme Court then?

Darwin:    No courts, no courts.  

Unwonk:        Yeah this has always bug me as well cause you know, I don’t do litigation but in fact the first six years the only time I’d been in court was being sworn in and in New York the first thing you do when you sworn in you have to sit there for an hour and some guy lectures you on not abusing cocaine and alcohol.  And you get an hour… you get an hour credit and that’s in the actual appeals court like on 28th street in Manhattan.  But that’s it, that’s the only time I’ve gone to court so there’s this presumption that I think when you get a law degree you get a seersucker suit like on Matlock, right?

Darwin:    Right.  And if you know the sticking point people’s mind is if you say you do court law they imagine that you work at corporation and represent them in court.  Right so and it’s nobody’s fault really because if you are an attorney you don’t know the different types of practice areas you know.  If you know what you’d be on TV and you know, even before I went to law school I only thought up law or before I became paralegal I only thought of law you know, litigation so it’s a common… a common, conversation.

Unwonk:        But seriously how often do you go to court?

Darwin:    So you realize that you were part of the problem, right?

Unwonk:        How am I part of the problem?

Darwin:    You’re part of the problem because there are two types of things that perpetuate this idea that every lawyer knows everything.  One our TV show’s like LA Law, The Practice and Suits where the attorney do skip from doing patent defense to murders and acquisitions to criminal defense, right?  So everybody think that’s what lawyers do.  And then there are other things like column where lawyer answers any type of question that anybody can possibly think of that has to do with the law.  That only reinforces the belief that lawyers practice in every single practice area.

Unwonk:        We actually had two writers from Suits on the show for couple of months ago.  It’s all one Gordian knot cabal design to piss you off.  Well Darwin thank you very much for joining us.

Darwin:    No, no problem, thank you.

 

Reason Number 8:

That Goddamn McDonald’s Hot Coffee Case

Enough with the goddamn McDonald’s hot coffee case. This is not an example of how tort reform is a legit issue. Did you know the woman in that case received third degree burns and was hospitalized for over a week for skin grafts from McDonald’s coffee. And she was looking to settle with McDonalds for $20,000 to cover her medical expenses? And McDonalds basically told her to fuck off by offering her $800? The resulting jokefest that became this case appears to partially be a result of McDonald’s strong PR efforts. We’ve talked about this case on our show before. If you really think it’s funny, check out pictures of the woman’s injuries, read the wikipedia entry, and watch the documentary Hot Coffee - you can learn more about it at hotcoffeethemovie.com.

The thing is, there are a million of actual silly frivolous lawsuits you could mention to a lawyer, but you have to put at least one good google search into it.

Whenever I hear about the coffee case, though, I’m reminded of a time when I worked at a law firm in New York. It was October. I had come into work late because the dry cleaner hadn’t opened - the owner was sick - so I had to search around for a wearable pair of pants - they were all at the cleaners. I found one pair - kinda baggy, but they’d do. A Russian partner I was working with asked if I wanted to go to lunch. Sure, I said. We ended up at a sushi place in midtown. Because the weather was nice and cold, I thought I’d start with a hot bowl of miso. The partner got some dumplings. As I picked the bowl up with both my hands, something went horribly wrong and the bowl tipped, turned upside down and fell face down - scalding broth and all - directly into the crotch of my pants.

Two things about this. I don’t know if it was a Saturnine Russian thing, the fact that the partner was wildly unobservant, or a combination of both, but he didn’t seem to even notice that less than two feet away directly in front of him, another human being had dropped a bowl of very hot steaming soup from his face direclty into his pants. Or maybe he was experiencing some really killer gyoza.

Second, rather than drowning in a soup world of pain, after a couple seconds I noticed that I coudn’t feel anything. This was not because my nerve endings had been burned to nubs. It’s because the extra baggy pants I was wearing had created a bunched up fabric bowl to hold all hte soup, with a safe air pocket underneath, keeping it away from my skin. I slilently thanked my dry cleaner for having the flu.

We I quietly poured the soup back into the bowl from my crotch and put it on the table. We finished lunch and walked back to teh office, the partner not noticing my newfound incontince. I went home and work no pants around the apartment for the rest of the day.

Reason Number 9: 

Hey, you wanna hear a lawyer joke? 

No. Nobody does. And this has nothing to do with being an attorney. any joke that starts out with “Hey, you wanna hear a joke” is not going to be funny. You’ve already demonstrated a complete lack of storytelling skills and confidence. Work on your act.

Reason Number 10: 

Reason Number 10 was sent to us by Rachel in Virginia. And she's here to help read it on the show. And since it’s in dialog format, I’ve invited her to help read it on the show. Rachel, how about I read the part of the non-attorney and you read the part of yourself?

Non-Attorney: How do you sleep at night? 
Attorney: On my left side, with my head on a pillow?

Yes!

Thanks for listening to this episode of Unwonk. 

And thanks to all of the attorneys who submitted questions. 

And don’t forget check out our deadspin column, updating every couple-ish weeks. 

On the next episode, we learn:

  • How the third postmaster general under the continental congress - ebenezer hazard - pioneered selling used panties through the mail, more than 2 centuries before ebay even existed,
  • The legal case that resulted in the ban of the letter q in waco texas in the 1940’s, and 
  • That little tire in your trunk is actually fully functional to replace a flat tire and not just a gestating baby tire that you’re supposed to leave alone until it’s done.