Sunday, December 30, 2007

Emilie Employed

In July I posted about my daughter Emilie.

At that time we were proud that she had graduated from high school and was approved for supported employment. This meant her assigned agency would help her find a job, make the necessary arrangements with the employer, and provide support. This is not "busy work" or a "job program". There are many companies who are willing to hire people with some level of disability. The fact is, companies know that for some jobs, and for many reasons, people in supported employment make great employees. They tend to have great attendance, take pride in their work, do not bring personal "drama" to the job, and often have longevity in their employment.

In September I noticed that a Trader Joes was under construction about four blocks from my office. Trader Joes is a supermarket featuring healthy foods at great prices. They are also known for their helpful, friendly, energetic employees. It certainly seemed worth a try. We asked the agency to see whether Trader Joes would work with supported employment. They called us back and said they were sorry, but they inquired and Trader Joes said all the employees had to be cross-trained on the cash register, and that was not something Em could do. They promised to look for something else for her.

Every day I passed Trader Joes and watched it being built. One day I saw a sign saying "Trader Joes Employment, Now Interviewing". I walked over with Emilie and asked the interviewers if she could apply for a job. I was very clear that she had some disablilities and this would be supported employment. I also told them we had looked at the list of things a Trader Joes crewmember had to do, and we were sure Emilie could do 16 of the 20 items VERY well. She was given a job application and a pen.

Emilie filled out the application by herself. There was a math test at the end....addition, subtraction, mutiplication, division, and fractions. I did not help her, she is pretty good at those. The last question was some kind of word/math problem, one of those "the shelves are 1/4 full and a delivery is brought to the floor with 7/8 of the amount needed.....etc". She brought it over to me and said "This part is hard." I could have tried to help her, but instead I said "You're right, it IS hard.....Hand in what you did." One of the supervisors took her application and then said to us "I will interview her now." I got a little protective and asked if I could stay nearby in case I was needed, and the interviewer said OK, but he wanted to see how she did with her own answers. I then witnessed one of the best job interviews ever.....

Trader Joes interviewer: "Why would you like to work at Trader Joes?"

Emilie thought this over and said: "I like healthy foods......It's a new store, a new store is good......It's near my house."

The next day Emilie received a message at home to call for a second interview. We called the supported employment agency and told them we had gotten Emilie to the second interview stage, and we hoped they could get involved. They asked if we made it clear to Trader Joes this was going to be supported employment. I said "I swear, I told them."

They sent a guy named Pete, who coached Emilie for her interview, and accompanied her there. He also explained to the Trader Joes people about the services that would be offered to Emilie, and about the benefits to the employer in supported employment. He also told me that one of the biggest challenges for their agency is getting good leads with open minded employers, and that we had really helped THEM by opening this door.

I waited outside the unopened Trader Joes while Emilie and Pete were at the interview. When they came out Pete had a big smile on his face, and after looking back to see nobody was looking, he gave me a big high-five and said "She's hired......20 hours per week, a month of training starting next week!!!" I said to Emilie "This is great, I'm so proud of you." To which she replied "I can take the Q-11 bus to work." And then...I laughed till I cried.

When training started, Emilie was assigned a job coach, Ben. He went to all the training sessions with her. He also stayed on the job with her for the first month. Next time I'm feeling cynical about people, I will think of Ben, and Pete, and all the people like them, and know there ARE good people in this world doing good things.

I should also say that Ben has been doing this work for many years. He told me that of all the jobs and employers he has ever been around, he has NEVER seen a company treat their new employees better than Trader Joes. I have to agree with this. Emilie is doing very well at her job, and when Felicia or I come in to shop (and to see how things are going), the managers tell us they WANT Emilie to succeed there, and she is one of their hardest workers. Whenever we tell one of the cashiers or other crew members who we are, they all know Emilie and tell us how much they like working with her. This attitude comes from the top, both in the types of people they are hiring and in the example being set.

We are big Trader Joes fans. We do most of our food shopping there. I'd urge anyone who has never been there to check it out. The Queens store has a big parking lot. It's on Metropolitan Avenue near Woodhaven Blvd....near Home Depot.

Here are some Trader Joes links:


Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Over the Barrel - - Time for RESULTS

Sometimes inspiration comes from strange places. I've been real sick the last few days. I'd call it "flu-like" symptoms. The next time a pro athlete sits out with "flu-like" symptoms, I will not question it. I watched a lot of TV at all hours of the day and night. Thankfully, the Christmas season inspires some networks to show "Goodfellas", #11 on my all time list
There is a part where Henry Hill has hit bottom, and he knows he's going to get whacked, and the ONLY thing he can do is make a deal with the Feds and go in the witness protection program. As abhorrent as this was on every level (giving up the life AND being a rat), he makes the deal and lives up to it's onerous terms. The result is all his cronies are convicted and he gets to survive.

I started thinking about how when you have someone over the barrel, THAT is the time to make a good deal. In my previous post I proposed that baseball do this in the steroids situation. Then I caught some inspiration. There is another situation where making a deal when people are over a barrel could and should be used.....and I've blogged about this before.....IMMIGRATION.

Here are some similarities between steroids in baseball and immigration:

1. The conduct in question was technically illegal, but most people do not view the participants as "criminals".

2. The participants did what they did for the economic benefits to themselves and their families.

3. Congress is "interested" in the problem, and did some talking, but has taken no real action.

4. The participants want to keep participating, and they want to participate "legally".

5. Some participants may not be able to participate "legally", and most people would agree this is just too bad (This one is more obscure, so in baseball if you can't compete without the juice, go sell cars, and in immigration if you are a felon, sorry but we have enough of our own)

6. SOMETHING needs to be done.

I'm not sure if the ballplayers are Henry Hill status yet, but if the beat goes on they may get there. Immigration was way closer to ripeness for a strong deal. (for best effect, read the posts bottom up). The proposal which the Republicans killed earlier this year was a VERY strong bill, which no Democrats would have actually voted for, had the Republicans been astute enough to bring it to a vote. This issue will not go away, but it will not be addressed by Congress again until 2009, in a new administration. If Congress and the next President put partisanship aside, and actually look out for the Country as a whole, they'll cut a strong deal. It will have conditional amnesty, strong conditions and teeth.

Now go home and get your shinebox.

Bonus link scene where Joe Pesci shoots Spider (played by Michael Imperioli from the Sopranos)

Friday, December 21, 2007

Baseball and Steroids - - My Solution

There is plenty of blame to go around. We can probably all agree on a few basic facts, and then I will propose a comprehensive solution to the steroids issue. Here's what we can agree to:

1. In the "steroids era", many many players used performance enhancing substances. This includes steroids and human growth hormone (an important distinction, steroids are detectable while HGH is not).

2. The players named in the Mitchell report are only a fraction of the users. We know this from looking at the number of players on all teams who jumped up in size and performance. We know this because the Mitchell report was based primarily on two sources, one from the Mets and one from the Yankees. If you had similar sources on the other clubs, you'd have that many more on the list. If you had the Cubs trainer talking, is there any way Sammy Sosa wasn't using? Wanna see something cool? Here are Shawn Green's lifetime stats ......a massive increase in production in the "steroids era" and a huge fall-off when testing started. I guess he "hit his stride" as a hitter, or something.

3. The team owners profited mightily during this era, and have only addressed the problem because they were called on the carpet. They were willing to look the other way, and were complicit in the growth of the abuse.

4. The players union has always done what a union should do. They represent the interests of the players. they are a very strong union. They have served the players well, gaining them a strong collective bargaining agreement, and an unsurpassed salary and free agency structure. Somehow the game has prospered with this.

5. The game of baseball is still great. It also has a rich history and tradition, which are worth preserving.

Those things being said, here is my proposal:

1. I would give the players a conditional amnesty for any and all performance enhancing drug use during the steroids era. The amnesty would mean no suspensions, no fines, no notations regarding any records, a sealing of any club memos or records on the subject, a destruction of any retained urine or blood samples, and an arrangement for immunity from any criminal prosecution arising out of this. The players would not be required to talk about past use, and would have the support of the clubs in refusing to talk to the press about it.

2. The CONDITIONS: All the players sign an agreement not to use ANY performance enhancing substances of any kind, EVER. The players must agree to submit to random urine and blood testing, and for the untested samples to be preserved. At the time when a reliable test for HGH becomes available, the retained samples will be tested, and/or HGH testing will immediately start. Any confirmed users will be suspended for two years on a first offense, and banned for life and barred from the Hall of Fame on the second.

That's the out the details.
Baseball is still fun, even with a level playing field.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Lawyers as Clients

I've been a client a few times.
I think I was a good client.
I tried to observe a golden rule.
I treated the lawyers as I'd like to be treated.
I think they appreciated it.

I've represented lawyers a few times.
It was always an honor when they called me.
Usually they observed the golden rule.
I appreciated it.
When they didn't I didn't like it.
There would not be a second time for them.

I've had personal legal matters that I could handle myself.
If there was not an emotional aspect to it, I did it myself.
This seemed to work out fine.
If a personal legal matter had an emotional aspect, I hired a lawyer.
This usually worked well.

I hired a lawyer to represent me when some other lawyers did not pay me a fee they rightfully owed me.
I was emotional about it. My first lawyer did a poor job.
I had made a poor choice.
I fired him and hired another lawyer.
I enjoyed working on the case with him.
He made the bad lawyers work, and pay their lawyer, and then they had to pay me.

In my estates practice I often work with lawyers from other States.
Many things differ from State to State.
Lot's of things are the same.
Be clear about what you can and can't do.
Be clear and vigilant about fees.
Work with integrity and even the toughest situation will resolve.

I try not to generalize about groups.
It's tempting to do this about clients from different professions.
I won't generalize from some experiences which surprised me.
I will say though, that when I started in practice I revered certain occupations.
When I represented teachers who were stupid, or cops who cared not about the law, I was shocked. I admit it.
But I still won't make firm generalizations.
Are "pre-conceived notions" any different?
They are a start, and then I will either be right....or wrong.

Next post: my proposal regarding baseball and performance enhancing drugs

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Legal Malpractice Cases

As long as I'm not the defendant, legal malpractice cases are very interesting. Here are some things worth noting:

1. It's similar to any other negligence or malpractice need liability, damages, and collectability to have a case which an attorney will accept on a contingency. Legal mal cases have the added fun of the "case within the case". That is, when you are proving that the lawyer commited some act of negligence/malpractice, you also have to prove that the underlying case was win-able.....on liability, damages, and (arguably) collectability. This creates a fascinating litigation where you are essentially litigating the issues in two cases.

2. Have attorneys ever been sued for malpractising a legal malpractice case? Yes.

3. Sometimes an attorney is contacted by a client about a potential malpractice case. What if there was malpractice, but the client still had some rights in the underlying case, and the new lawyer pursued the legal malpractice claim and ignored other rights the client may have had. Here's an example: Client was a passenger in a bus which was in an accident with a car. The accident happened in an intersection and is a "question of lights" case. The first lawyer misses the year and 90 day statute of limitations on a City bus case. Plain and simple. The second lawyer gets the case and sues the lawyer. However, the three year statute of limitations on suing the car was viable when the second lawyer took the case, but runs out during the legal mal litigation. Can the second lawyer be third partied into the case by the first lawyers lawyers? Answer: Yes. Don't ask me how I know this!

4. Lawyers are not required to have malpractice insurance. The majority of small firms and solos have it, but not all. It seems crazy not to, yet many go without.

5. Legal malpractice insurance has some quirky rules. One nasty one is the requirement to report a "potential" claim when you become aware of it. If you don't report when you could have, you may face a disclaimer when a claim arises. What are the effects of being careful and reporting a potential claim? I don't claim to know the answer to this. What I can say is, it places a lawyer in a real dilemma. I'm not embarrassed to say I've reported a few potential claims that never became claims. I hated the feeling that the carrier "opened a file", I hated the detailed report they required, and I was uncomfortable with a lawyer for the carrier suggesting things I must do to minimize THEIR exposure. On the other hand, once I reported and complied, I felt relieved that they "had my back" if the client sued. The carrier did not "drop me" and as far as I could tell, they did not surcharge me.

6. Another quirky rule is that if you drop your coverage, you lose the coverage for the times you paid for. If I had insurance in 2005, dropped it in 2006, and in 2007 I am sued for something I malpracticed in 2005, I'm not covered. If you are retiring or changing careers, and you don't need coverage for new cases, you have to buy a "tail" policy to cover your past coverage. I guess they call it a tail because it's attached near the rear end.

7. There are lawyers who specialize in these cases, both plaintiffs and defendants. Like many specialists, they generally enjoy their practices and are enthusiastic.

8. I once defended an uninsured attorney in a legal malpractice case. It arose out of a real estate deal gone bad, resulting in a forfeited downpayment. As we did discovery in the case, I saw that the plaintiff, my clients former client, must have been a difficult client (actually, that is a gross understatement). Admittedly, my client was not an experienced real estate attorney, and the case was not handled well. Nevertheless, both the client and the new attorney were very hasty to blame the debacle on my client. It appeared that both client and lawyer forfeited the downpayment rather than fight for it, and immediately sued my client. I must say, I came to dislike the plaintiff and his attorney. I realized during the trial that for me, the plaintiff symbolized every whacked out loony client I had ever had. I ripped the plaintiff up pretty good during cross-examination, and kept going till the Judge told me it was enough and I should sit down. That was a nice case to win.

9. Here's a link to a blog about legal malpractice cases.

Next post......lawyers as clients.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Pro-se Adversaries

In the per-diem practice I regularly encounter pro-se adversaries (people representing themselves). Here's a Wikipedia link with more info about pro-se than we could possibly need

In New York City Civil Court (jurisdiction up to $25,000), people often represent themselves. Many of these are debt collection cases, but I have been involved in all kinds of civil litigation where one side (the other side from my side) was pro-se. One might assume that those representing themselves have fools for clients. Indeed, sometimes they are fools, but if you assume it, you will prove another axiom, where assume makes an ass of u and me.

A few observations:

1. When you conference a case with a pro-se and a Judge, or a pro-se and a Judge's clerk, you will often find the pro-se suddenly has a lawyer......the Judge!! This is not supposed to happen, but it happens. Your job is to not let it happen that way. Here's a helpful tip....conference the case with the pro-se before you conference with the Court. I always tell them that we are allowed to do it, though they don't have to, and that in any event, after we talk we will have a conference with the court. I try to find out what the issues are, and I keep it non-confrontational. When we conference with the Court, I will often say, right in front of the pro-se, "We have been discussing the issues, and if it will be helpful, I'd like to summarize what we talked about" then I look right at the pro-se and say "If I don't say it right, or if I leave anything out, please stop me, I want the Court to have a clear understanding of what this is about". I then tell it as straight as I can, and if they want to jump in, I let them. I find this approach limits "court advocacy" and encourages the pro-se litigant to explore settlement.

2. Sometimes pro-se adversaries study up and they want to follow every rule, and call you on every technicality, and play lawyer with you. They have a right to do this, and they assume that this is what lawyers do. Of course, most lawyers, especially in Civil Court, don't do this. We usually try to figure out what the case is REALLY about, and find a fair way to resolve it. I laugh to myself sometimes when the pro-se defendant makes some brilliantly technical legal argument to the Judge, and the Judge says "Yeah, but do you owe the money or not?"

3. Sometimes you have to go to trial against a pro-se. This is usually after you have made exhaustive efforts to settle the case. When this happens you need to carry this case around with you: Roundtree v Singh 143 AD2d 995. Essentially, this case says that a pro-se doesn't gain any greater rights by being pro-se and unfamiliar with law and legal procedure. If they don't know how to make out a prima facie case, or if they don't know how to get their evidence in, too bad. The Court can't help them, and if this happens you must object based on Roundtree v Singh. Sometimes when you really make them follow procedure and they realize they could lose....they settle.

4. Along these same lines, sometimes if I know from the prior conferences that the pro-se is really wacky, I don't object on technicalities. I let them go on, and on, until I am sure the Judge realizes we are dealing with a nut. Then I reel the situation in. What often saves everyone in these nut-ball situations is that at the conclusion the Judge says "Decision reserved". No fireworks, most Judges will do the job, and the decision will come later.

Quik story.....I once tried a credit card debt case where the debtor owed about $10,000 and at every conference he insisted that "you cannot PROVE it was me". He was especially emboldened when he saw that I did not have a witness for trial. All of the charges on the credit card seemed to relate to restaurant supplies for a shish-kebob restaurant. However, in all our conferences I did not let on that I knew that, nor did I ever show him the bills and ask him about it. When we got sent upstairs for trial, the Judge told me to call my first witness, and of course I said "I call the defendant." He said "He can't do that!", to which the Judge replied "Yes, he can....take the stand." I then asked him questions about where he lived, what he did for a living, and the like. Most of it was not useful, but I did get him to confirm his address (at the time of the bills I had). He also confirmed that in all the time he lived there he never had a problem receiving mail. I really nailed these two items home....correct address and mail being received. I then asked him if he had ever received a bill from my client, and he denied it. I then asked him if he had ever owned a shish-kebob restaurant, and he denied it. I asked him if he had ever helped open a shish-kebob restaurant, and to my surprise he said "Yes, I have worked in these restaurants all my adult life, and I once helped my friend open one." I asked "Where was it?" Turns out it was about two blocks from his address. I then took out my $10,000 worth of shish-kebob supply charges, and questioned him about it. He denied having anything to do with it, but the big red "L" was lit up on his forehead.

When I summed up I had a grand old time. I'll spare you the details.
His summation was "He didn't prove nuthin".
The Judge said "Decision reserved"


Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Thinking About Google Searches

In prior posts I have talked about the importance of showing up on page one of relevant Google searches. The idea is to determine how your prospective clients will search, and having your site be google-friendly to that search.

I suspect that when most people do a google search, they realize it's all about hitting the right key words. If you do a lot of google searches yourself, you know that if your search is too broad you get too many irrelevant sites. Conversely, if it's too specific, you may get nothing. When you are the search-ee, you want to be found by as many search parameters as possible.

Some search terms are very broad, but you still need them. For example, the term "lawyer" by itself is way too broad by itself. For fun, I googled "lawyer", here's the result
Look over page one, it's interesting.

You probably won't be found with that search, although the presence of and on that first page, may get some clients your way, if the client enters those sites and you are listed.

A search term that narrows a search, which a lot of people use, is geography. Here's the google result for "lawyers new york"
Also interesting. I note that Andrew Bluestone's blog about attorney malpractice cases made it on page 1. is on this first page, is not.

Let's narrow the geography further with "lawyers queens new york"
Hey, I know some of these guys!! I'm not showing on this page, but I'm OK with that, I've been narrowing my practice areas. I notice Gross & Levin are on page 1....I know them and like them and respect their work. Looking at their site, I see it's a Findlaw site, and showing on page one of a google search like this, I'd say they got good value.

A little more narrow, on topic and geography, I'll google "queens new york probate lawyer"
Uh-huh, there's my Findlaw dollars in action.

A few related points.

I am not a computer expert, and you don't have to be an expert to be effective at internet marketing. The main thing to do is THINK about what kind of clients you want and how they would seach the internet for an attorney. You can then do those searches and see who is coming up and what they are doing. Search a lot, play around with it, you'll be surprised who you see and what you'll learn.

It's true that and, who market pretty aggressively to lawyers, cost some money. Used effectively, they can really pay dividends. If you do something that is not the usual, you can make your own site pretty easily and its a narrow enough area, you'll show up high on google searches.....and it costs zero. I did a home-made website for my court appearance business (OK - Felicia did it). It gives basic information about what we do, how we charge, etc. Here's what a search for "Queens per diem court appearances" gets...
Not only is my showing first on page one, my blog stuff about per diem is showing too. I don't pay extra to have it show that just does.

I am fascinated by internet marketing for lawyers. If any of my readers wants to discuss a lawyer internet marketing question with me, please email me.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Googling for Lawyers

Some lawyers have websites. The ones who don't are thinking about it. Sometimes what they are thinking is "If I have a website, how will anyone find it?".

It's important to realize that most people will find your site through a search engine. Google is the biggest of these, though people also use Yahoo, MSM and others. The idea is the same....a person is interested in something, they type in a search, and the search engine posts links to thousands of websites. If you have a website, you want it to be found by the search engines, and more importantly, you want your site to come up on the first page of a relevant search.

What do you like to do most? What kinds of new cases do you want? What would be the best of the best? Can you describe it? If someone (a new client) was doing a google search for it, WHAT WOULD THEY TYPE IN?

There might be some combinations of words, so here's an earth-shattering suggestion......Write down all the searches you can think of for YOUR perfect new cases, and google them....ALL of them. After all, it's free. You will see some VERY interesting things when you do this. You will see many other lawyer websites showing up on page 1 of the google search. Look at their sites!!! Doesn't cost nuthin'. Notice also the "sponsored links" on Google. These are sites that are paying extra to be on page 1. You don't have to pay, but it's worth knowing about. Notice also that many of the page 1 listings are attorney listings of

Here's another lawyer/googling thing worth knowing. The two big players in the lawyer/internet/advertising game are (owned by Martindale-Hubbell) and Findlaw (owned by Westlaw). Many of us have been approached by these two, offering various paid packages. There is some value there, but in my view the main value they offer is your listing (within their site) showing up on page 1 of the google search.

If you are thinking of listing with one of them, THIS is the main value you get. I suppose there are potential clients who go into and start looking around and will find you. However, more often they will do a Google search and find your listing. Oh, and you WILL get calls and email inquiries from it. When you do, you will want more, and you will try to enhance the way you are found.

Can you think like a potential client? The one who is going to find YOU? For the cases you really want? (Oh yeah, it's VERY important to think about what you really want)

Tomorrow, we run some sample searches......

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Google Me This

Whoever said "the best things in life are free" may have been talking about Google. You have to respect a company whose name is now commonly used as a verb. I "google" things every day. I try to pay attention to questions great and trivial, and if I have any interest in knowing more, I google.

Yesterday the Steve Miller song "The Joker" was playing. For the 1000th time I wondered what the "Pompatus of Love" I googled it. Here is one of the answers

You want song lyrics? Here's The Turtles "Happy Together"

Want to know how to get gum out of hair?

I keep track of questions that arise during the day, so I can google them later.

Why am I blogging about this? Two reasons:

1. It's fun. If you don't already do this, try it and see what I mean.
2. If you ever thought about marketing in your business or profession, (and I think about this a lot in the lawyering biz) must think about how people will use Google to find you. I am particularly interested in how people use google to find lawyers.

More on this tomorrow....

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Credit Cards in the Per Diem Biz

Accepting credit cards is very helpful in the per diem business. It is very easy to set up. You do not need a card swiping machine, you only need an internet connection. I do it through Quickbooks, but any bank can set this up for you. I like it for two main situations:

1. You can smoke out the really bad apples. Anyone who does per diem work knows that sometimes you get shaky payers. It's the exception, but it happens. The way I use credit cards is, after someone is 60-90 days behind, I call and ask if there's a problem. I always ask first if there was a problem with our work, because I want to know if that's the reason for the non-payment. If there seems to be some financial issue, I will offer the option of making a credit card payment for all or part of the balance. Sometimes they are pleasantly surprised and they pay in full. Sometimes they make a partial payment and agree to allow a monthly credit card payment. Sometimes they don't accept any aspect of credit card paying, and then they have been smoked out. Here's my reasoning.....I don't believe there is any lawyer who doesn't have a credit card. If the lawyer doesn't "trust me" to handle the transaction honestly, then why should I trust the lawyer by extending credit? If the lawyer doesn't want to "pay interest" on his credit card debt, why should I be giving an interest free loan? The credit card offer is a really effective way for me to cut my losses on bad payers. You might say "But you might lose the client", to which I say "Let someone else make the interest free loans".

2. Depositions: I generally make a small profit on depositions. I subcontract them out, and I disclose that I am doing this. If I charge $250 for a job, I pay $175 and make $75. I consider this fair for handling the transaction. Unfortunately, attorneys tend to pay slowly on depositions, placing me in the position of paying my subcontractor and chasing the money for my small profit. This was happening so often that it made depositions a money LOSER. My new policy is depositions are taken on credit card guarantee only (except for a few "A" rated clients). Guess what? My volume of depositions is WAY down. However, due to 100% collectability, profits are up. Credit cards transformed this from the most dreaded appearance into one of the most desireable. I actually am inclined to make my deposition fees the most competitive possible, because I have taken the collectability risk out of the equation. This is well worth the 3% or so that the credit cards charge.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thankful for Thanksgiving

I know my faithful blog readers are expecting a "Top 10 Things I Am Thankful For" list, or poignant reminiscenses of Thanksgivings past (as an aside, I realize it is presumptuous to assume I can achieve "poignancy on demand"). I'll do my best.......after a brief comment about why I am thankful for Thanksgiving.

It's because it encourages everybody to be mindful of thankfulness. The thought is "what am I thankful for?". It points us in the right direction. It tells us where to look. Even if the first thought is "I'm thankful I'm not........dead? in Afghanistan? Bill Buckner?", you know that you can think again. You can think about what you are thankful FOR. What other day, what other time, are we universally encouraged to be thankful? On a Thursday?

I never call it Turkey Day. If we had blackened redfish and spaghetti, and great desserts and coffee, (and had company, were mindful of thankfulness, and enjoyed some laughs) it would be just as good. So it's not turkey day, it's THANKSGIVING.....

Here's my top 10 things I am thankful for:

10. Trader Joe's in Forest Hills
9. Dovie
8. Living in NYC
7. Angioplasty with a stent
6. Relaxing times
5. Written expression
4. Forgiveness
3. Memories
2. Right here, right now
1. Rebecca, Emilie, Felicia

A brief reminiscense of Thanksgiving past.....We lived in an attached house with a narrow street in front. You could play touch football there, two on two or three on three....."five steps and cut behind the red car"...."fake square out bomb"...."three straight completions is a first down".... On Thanksgiving it was cold out, good for football in sweatshirts. Red in the face, blowing some smoke like the Green Bay Packers. Working up an appetite, no school tomorrow and tomorrow is only Friday. Five touchdowns wins. Somebody wins, it doesn't take that long, it doesn't matter who won. It doesn't seem cold out at all, it's just right. Back in the house EVERYBODY is there. It is so WARM.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Per Diem Agencies

There are a few per diem "agencies" in New York. They offer court coverage in all the courts. By necessity they sub-contract out all the work. I've got nothing against them, some of them sub-contract their Queens work to me. I give them a discount in exchange for volume. They know I won't solicit their clients (One exception....if one of my clients uses an agency and I end up covering, I will call and point out that if they call me directly it's cheaper). I don't view my per diem practice as an agency. There are a few major differences:

1. We cover only one County, so we get some "expertise" in that County.
2. I am in the Jamaica Courthouse personally, so even though I am not on every appearance, I am there if a problem arises. I will also handle certain things personally, on request for most clients.
3. I have associates and steady per diem attorneys, and it never gets further removed than that. I may have a "per diem to the per diem", but when I get agency work, we often get a "per diem to the per diem to the per diem". I can't imagine this is what the client had in mind when they called. Incidentally, the record for degrees of removal on an appearance is FIVE.
4. An agency HAS to be more expensive. They are subbing it out and have to make a profit too.
5. We can trouble shoot the work when it comes in......and we often do. If someone faxes me an unreasonable request, and I know it's unreasonable because I am in Jamaica every day, I call the attorney and try to make a better plan. Agencies can't do that, and often end up with their per diems walking into the doo doo (I can't believe I called it that).

So, if agencies offer lower quality work and are more expensive, WHY are attorneys calling these agencies? There can be only one reason.....for the simple convenience of having the calendar clerk make only one call. Instead of calling the best per diem office in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Suffolk, they make one call to the agency. This may be more convenient for the calendar clerk, but I submit it is a poor practice. Any office with a volume of appearances should NOT be using agencies, and I suspect that after trying it, they often leave. Spare yourself, call the best per diems in each County.

People have asked me why I don't expand to other Counties, and essentially become an agency. Simple....I don't believe in the business concept. If someone calls me for a non-Queens appearance, I will give them someone in another County who does what I do. I don't share in the fees on those, cuz if I did, those firms would have to charge what the agencies charge. What I try to do though, is encourage the people who use my business model in the other counties, to refer me, as I refer them, and SHUN the agencies. This is a networking technique that has worked well.

So, to sum up....per diem agencies bad....per diem specialists by County....GOOD

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Per Diem Biz Relationships

In the per diem biz you want to be want to have a lot of cases to cover. Ideally you want all the apperances in the same place at the same time. Of course, it never happens this way. I have ongoing business relationships with many other per diem attorneys. I don't view my "crew" as static. It's always changing, mostly growing, though occasionally people leave the fold.

Here are a few tips for potential crew members:

1. Saying "yes" to assignments is very good. When I am looking for help with coverage, I want to make one call and have the person say yes. I know that's not always possible, but if a person is consistently unavailable (after telling me to call them for work), I stop calling.

2. Be accessable. In this biz, not answering your cell phone, or not calling back within five minutes, is like saying NO. If you want work, be accessable.

3. Don't overprice yourself. Here's a surprise for some people. This is a competitive business, and it runs by the same rules as other businesses. If you price yourself too high, you will not get calls. If you can offer better terms, you get more work.

4. Don't overbook yourself. I can't stop a sub-contracted per diem from taking other work, but if you can't cover my stuff effectively, I can't use you. One way to not have this happen is to have per diem biz relationships. I always suggest to my crew that they can have their appearances covered within my crew, if this will help. This works only if the person respects and follows the next rule.

5. No client stealing. EVER. This means you do not solicit per diem business from other peoples clients. In fact, you DECLINE it if offered. I have done this many times. When appearances are being sub-contracted I always ask how the per diem wants the "contact question" handled. You have to know what to do if you must make a call from court. There are ways of handling this, but you have to be clear. This client stealing is a funny thing. I know some of my competitors solicit my accounts. It's not illegal. I just won't have a business relationship with those people. Here's how I know which competitors would solicit my accounts....If you are pretty busy in the Queens courthouses and you have never sought me or my crew out to help with coverage, I think it's because you think I will solicit your accounts. People who work with me, and have their own accounts, know I would NEVER do it. However, the fact that you worry about such a thing makes me KNOW that you would do it to me. You know who you are, so keep running your business your way. I'll stick with mine.

Something I noticed about these per diem biz relationship tips. While I wrote them for per-diem to per-diem deals, they are actually the backbone of the per-diem relationship with their lawyer/customer:

1. Say yes to the jobs.
2. Be accessable.
3. Price it right.
4. Don't overbook, be able to cover it well.
5. Work with integrity.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Being the Interviewer

In 25 years in practice I've had 168 different people (yes, I counted) work for me in various capacities. This includes associates (full and part-time), secretaries, paralegals, law students, college students, high school interns, and per diem attorneys. I interviewed all of them, even the high school interns, and surely have interviewed 500 other people where the fit was not right. One way I know interviewing is a real skill is that I keep learning how to do it better. I learned strictly through experience, as will you, but here are a few tips I wish I'd had:

1. Don't talk so much. If you liked someone's resume enough to interview them, you may be pre-disposed to hiring them and are already giving them a job description and talking about your practice. The candidate will not interrupt you when you go on and on, though they may think you are a windbag who doesn't know how to interview. Stop yourself if you are talking too much. If you have described some aspect of your practice, a simple thing to do is stop, and say "What do you think about that?"

2. Listen to the candidates questions. I will come out and tell someone that I really evaluate a persons potential by the quantity and quality of the questions they ask. I am comfortable saying this because it's true. I may make a statement or describe something that's going on and ask the candidate to ask some questions about it. I try not to accept "I don't have any questions", and the fact is, if someone sticks to that answer, it is highly unlikely I'd hire them. I want a good dialogue in an interview, and I will want a good dialogue when the person is working. Remember, once a clam always a clam.

3. I did not get this one from a book, but I really like "What do you see yourself doing, career wise, in five years?". What I am looking to uncover is what I call "employee mentality". This is a person who treats the job like a job, does the minimum and will let you down in the clutch. I value longevity and commitment, and despite the number of employees I've had, I've had many long-term devoted people. I tell the candidate I won't hold them to their answer, and I won't hold an answer against them if they think they will not be with me in five years. I tell them I prefer being around people with lofty ambitions.

4. Don't be afraid to probe the resume, especially if there was something on it that impressed you. I like open ended questions like "Tell me about some of the contracts you drafted at Smucker & Jelly?"

5. If there are specific things you might need, don't hesitate to ask. Sometimes I absolutely needed someone with a car, and you don't know if you don't ask.

6. I would never explicitly ask about family life, intention to have children, lifestyle, or anything else that would offend the person or cause them to give me a legal problem. Naturally though, as an employer you have a vested interest in knowing these things. That's why you shut up and listen, and draw correct conclusions from the discussion. People will often list hobbies and interests on their resume, and you can sometimes get an impression from this, but you can tell even more about the person when they talk about it.

7. I don't think it violates any law, so I ask people if they smoke. I've hired a few, and let's just say I ask the question and weigh the answer carefully.

8. When I first started I did not call references, but now I do. I will especially call a prior job where I know the past employer or someone at the firm.

9. Trust your gut. I once interviewed someone who was working someplace else. It happens. I didn't have a great feeling, but I needed to hire someone and my "friend" had recommended her, so I offered her the job, and said that I assumed she would need to give at least 2 weeks notice. The next day she called and said she was ready to start immediately. This was a very bad sign, and she turned out to be the worst person I ever hired....and yes....I eventually fired her.

Next blog.....hiring and business relationships in the per diem world.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Hiring 101

One of the hardest things about solo practice is hiring and keeping good employees. Like many aspects of real life practice, this is not taught in school. At some point you will need one or all of the following: associate, paralegal, secretary, law clerk. Part of the problem is your practice may not justify a full timer for any of those roles. What you really need is a part-timer who can fill ALL those jobs. It's never a perfect can only do your best, keep business growing at a healthy rate, and expand staff accordingly.

Here are some tips on hiring people (Note: if you are a human resources person in the corporate world, these tips are really elementary. Please realize that for us lawyers in solo practice, we ARE the human resources department, and the accounts payable, accounts receivable, mailroom, word-processing, proofreading, marketing department, janitorial crew......and practicing lawyers. Not only do we not have a human resources department, the main way we learn these things is through experience.) Sorry for ranting, here are the tips:

1. WRITE A JOB DESCRIPTION. I cannot emphasize this enough. Take your time, and write down everything you need someone else to do. Don't hold back. Look the list over carefully, and see if there are things that naturally group together. I like to go one step further and start seeing how the tasks fit on specific cases RIGHT NOW. For example, if I wrote down "draft bills of particulars", do I have one case or do I have 20 cases where this is needed? Would I let someone else do the BP on the Wilson case? No? The Wamsteker case? No? Hmmmm.

Oh, here's a related one: Write YOUR job description. By knowing what you want to do, what you expect you, the owner, should be doing with your time, you can help focus on what your "staff" should be doing.......the stuff that needs to be done that you should not be doing.

2. Write an ad for EXACTLY what you want. This is related to the job description, but here you have to condense it down to ad size. Every word is valuable, make them count.

3. If you place a classified ad, use a box # or freshly created anonymous e-mail. If you place an ad in the law journal, or the newspaper, or at a law school, you WILL get a large response.

4. When the resumes and letter come in, spend some time reviewing and thinking. I have a "3 stack system" for my first impressions. Stack 1 is for apparent possibilities. Stack 2 is for possibles. Stack 3 is no way. I sometimes make a 4th stack for funny, but then I put them with stack 3. Of course, you have to read between the lines, but don't forget to read what's there. People will tell you what they are looking for, and if it's clearly not you, don't waste your time.

5. I look at cover letters carefully. Frankly, the best resume cannot overcome a crappy cover letter. Remember, if you hire someone, the next cover letter they do will have your name on it.

6. Location counts. Sometimes it's disappointing that the best candidate would have a long commute. Experience teaches that this is a big problem. It will be tempting to rationalize this, or allow the candidate to rationalize it, but long commutes lead to big problems. I actually give extra points for proximity. The one opening I would give would be for a student or recent grad, where they might be moving from the stated address. It's worth asking.

Are we ready to interview some people?

More on this tomorrow

Thursday, November 8, 2007


It's a real "step up to the plate" situation. You may be asked, you may think you should, you may see that nobody else is going to and (heaven forbid) the clergy person is going to do it based on his ten minute family interview.

I have heard it said there are people who would rather be in the casket than delivering the eulogy, so bad is their "stage fright". I tend to challenge such self-judgmental and limiting statements, but assuming you could POSSIBLY do it, and are considering whether you should, you can do it, you should do it, you MUST do it. If you had a close relationship with the deceased, it will be one of the greatest gifts to them, but more than that, it's a gift to yourself.

Look at it this way.....when you do it, you will never forget that you did it. In fact, you will be proud, especially when you really nail it. I won't say I nailed it every time, but I've done seven eulogies, for my Mom, my father-in law, his father in-law, my aunt Anna, Felicia's Aunt Tybie, and twice for clients who had no family and I had arranged the funeral (and was asked "to say a few words"). They are not so hard to write.....once you get started. Most of your "audience" knows the person you are talking about, or knows something about them, or at the very least are there out of respect to someone, and they want to know more. I don't know about you, but when I go to a funeral for a person I did not know (out of respect and caring for a person I DO know), I want to hear a eulogy that tells it right.

Here are a few tips (these may really help you some day):

1. Spend some time thinking and writing. Grief will hit you during the process, but you will gain strength from the effort.

2. Read it out loud, or at least read it to yourself. You will know where the emotional parts are, and you will be ready. You can stop if you need to, and you will know it's fine to do that.

3. At my Mom's funeral I gave an extra copy to the Cantor who was officiating, and told him if I couldn't do it, he should read it. He said OK, but he knew it would not be necessary.

4. If you have people close to you, tell them you are writing it, and ask them for some thoughts.

5. When you read it, you don't have to say how hard it is...everyone knows. If you delay in starting due to emotion, this makes the eulogy better.

6. Print a few extras, make sure to save it on the computer.

I previously posted my Mom's eulogy

Here is the one I read at my Aunt Anna's funeral.......

Eulogy for Anna Sender

A eulogy can only be words, and it is a challenge to find words sufficient for the task. But I have a great helper. And that is the knowledge that I have something in common with everyone here. We all experienced this phenomenal, unique, and unforgettable person. I always felt there was something extra and special about Anna, a certain spirit and magnetism. And is it possible that it grew over time? Yes, I believe it did.

Even though most people here know Anna’s family background, I want to talk a little about it because it illustrates something about growth and change. Anna is a product of a different time, you could even say a different part of history. Yet, have you ever encountered a more modern person? We all have encountered people who seemed to be rooted in another time, or stuck in a different era. But through her life, Anna drew from all of her experiences, triumphant and tragic, and kept moving forward, kept living life. Going back to the beginning, Anna’s parents came to this country from Russia around the turn of the century. Her father died when she was about 8 years old. Her mother lived in this country for many years, and spoke only Yiddish (This did not hinder Anna’s English conversational skills). Anna was the sixth of seven children. The oldest child was a daughter, Fannie, who died at the age of 17, while serving as a nurse in WW I. Next there were two sons, Philip and Arthur, and then three daughters, Rose, Betty, and then Anna, and then Manny. Anna was born around the end of World War I, and grew up during the 20's and the depression of the 30's. She did not have much formal education, but it is fair to say she made the most of the schooling she had.

She worked hard in various types of work, including many years in a hat factory.

Then her life took a change when she met and married Red. I’m not the most worldly person, but in my life I’ve never encountered a couple like this. They had a certain chemistry, maybe explosive chemistry, but a formula that worked. And whatever else one might say or think about it, it sure seemed right. It was many years before they had Michael, and growing up he was surely among the most wanted and cherished children ever. It remains difficult to talk about, but Michael was an extraordinary person, and Anna was extraordinarily proud of him, and proud of her little family.

Michael was 24 when he died in 1982 (he’d have been 44 now), and at that time Red had already started a horrible decline from Alzheimer’s. How many people would have been beaten, right then and there? Or shuffled through the rest of their life? Or complained about their pain? For the rest of HER life, Anna showed a resiliency that we all marveled at. And we all learned from her. You could not leave a conversation with Anna and not feel better. You had to be inspired, you had to think about your own problems (whatever they might be), and know that you could move forward. Anna did not teach you these things by preaching, or telling, but by living. And not just living, but living with energy, excitement and enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is contagious you know, and spreading it is a good thing.

Anna was a great talker, and a great story-teller, but she also had one of most important attributes of a conversationalist, she was a great listener. And she cared about what you said, and absorbed it. When you were having a conversation with her, it was the most important conversation on Earth. And it didn’t matter that five minutes later she was going to have the most important conversation on Earth with someone else. It did not diminish yours.

A number of years ago Anna moved to Florida. During that time she not only made many friends, was involved in many activities, but also took classes and college courses, and traveled extensively. All these things were done at full speed and with total involvement. When she got sick and declined so rapidly, it was like she lived 83 years at100 miles per hour and then ran out of gas. Many of us saw her just a few weeks ago, and she was dancing and laughing and talking as always. We can have that memory, and years of other memories to hold on to. I can only say to my father and to Joan, who were with Anna in her final days, that the power of Anna’s life (and the happy times you spent with her) will last beyond the painful times. Her spirit touched us all and enriched every one of us.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Impertinent Questions

Here are some questions which are interesting to answer, and even more interesting to ask. I've asked some of these for years, some people get into the spirit and discuss them, some people think the questions are stupid (what a shock). I'll throw in a few of my "answers". Hmmm, maybe I like these questions because I like giving my answers. You can decide.....

1. Do you share a birthday with anyone famous? I thought everyone had a ready answer for this one. I've known I shared mine with Richard Nixon for a long time. However, my recent informal poll revealed that most people do not have a ready answer for this one. Here's a link that will help. I was so pleased when I asked my 14 year old Rebecca, and without hesitation she said "Barry Bonds."

2. Who is the first President you remember? Not who was President when you were born, it's what you remember. For me it's JFK. Rebecca said Bill Clinton. A lawyer in Court recently said "Nixon", a younger one said "Reagan". I asked an older lawyer who I know served in WW II, and he said "Hoover". The best answer I ever got was from my wife's Grandfather, who was born in Russia in 1900 and came here when he was 10. He thought about it for awhile and said "Vilson". A few years from now, people will answer "George W. Bush". Oy.

3. How many times, if ever, have you dialed 911? If you're ever stuck for a conversation starter, this might elicit a good story. Or, it might be a long boring story about a fender bender car accident. As best as I can recall, I've dialed it five times. Sometimes I knew other people must have called (like a car on the side of the highway with huge flames coming out of it....pretty scary to drive past), but I thought, "what if everyone assumed someone else had called?". Of course, when I called and started describing the situation, the operator said a lot of people were calling. Kind of nice to know.

4. How many times, if ever, have you caught a foul ball at a baseball game? Something about this is very exciting. I have a lifetime total of two. I know that the first one was hit by Len Gabrielson of the Giants, at Shea, probably in 1967. The second was also at Shea, Tom Seaver was pitching for the Reds, and Doug Flynn of the Mets hit it. But who can remember such things?

5. Have you ever been on a jury and deliberated to verdict? This is one I have never done, but I am always interested to talk to people who have. Incidentally, I have been asked many times by friends and family "I got a jury notice, what should I do?" I always say the same thing...."If you had a case and someone else got a jury notice, what would you want THEM to do?"

6. Have you ever shot a handgun? I have not, but I have to admit, I'd like to.

7. How many times, if ever, have you had a car stolen? Is there any stranger feeling than going to where your car was parked, seeing a different car there, and realizing your car has been stolen? For a time during the Dinkins administration, car theft was so rampant in Queens that I had a car stolen, then had a crappy little rental car for a few days, and the rental car was stolen!

Last question for today.....have you ever delivered a eulogy at a funeral? I like this question so much, tomorrow I will blog about it.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Per Diem Skills

As Napoleon Dynamite said, you need "skills". Like Napoleon, I don't have nunchuck skills or bowhunting skills or computer hacking skills. What I do have.....are "per diem skills".

These proved really helpful at high school parent teacher conferences. At the evening conferences we had eight teachers to see. It was a mob scene of nervous, high strung parents, trying to figure out how to get their 3 minutes of face time with their child's teachers. The teachers are spread throughout the building. They are guarded by volunteer students who keep a sign-in sheet and regulate the flow of meetings. The "rules", such as they are, are not posted anywhere. You want to get it done effectively and efficiently and get out of there.

When Felicia and I got to the school and saw the situation, I said "This is exactly like doing Queens per diem appearances. What we need to do is know the rules for each part, see where the Judges are located within the building, try to figure out the verbosity tendencies of each Judge (do they conference everything or take a lot of submissions?). Most important, what happens if you miss 'first call'?"

Her look said "You really are a sick person", but of course she actually said "So what should we do?". We had a list of eight teachers on five different floors. We agreed we wanted to see the teachers together and not split up for the actual meetings.

When I have multiple Queens per diem appearances, I make a game plan. Everyone who does per diem work does this. You try to prioritize, figure out where to go first, how much time you might need, and you also need flexibility for the unexpected.

My parent teacher game plan went like this....

"First of all, we will see the gym teacher last, because its isolated on the first floor while the others are on 3, 4, 5 & 6. Also, if we miss that one it's not so bad. I would check in on 5 & 6, she would check in on 3 & 4. We would then use cell phones to see where we were on each teachers list. I then thought about it and decided not to sign in until we checked with each other, because if we were the same distance away on all the lists, we'd end up missing some and going to the bottom of those lists, a very bad result because it was getting busier as the night went on. We also agreed that from what we had heard about the social studies teacher, he would talk a lot and his conferences would run long. We agreed to factor this into our thinking. Before we split up I said what I like to say to my per diem attorneys as we set out. I said....."Hey, let's be careful out there."

The plan worked pretty well. Not perfect....we got caught with Spanish and Bio getting called at the same time. It caused us to go to the bottom of the list for the Bio teacher, but second call on Bio didn't take too long. We nailed Social Studies, arriving just as our name was called. (In the per diem world we call this "hitting your marks"). Fairly late in the evening, I realized we were allowed to use the elevator, so when we were three away on English, I took the elevator downstairs and checked in on gym. Next semester we will hit our marks better, but overall it the appearances were covered well.

In the per diem world we usually don't talk about the results of the appearances, unless we missed one. This was different of course, it was like covering one of my own cases. When I got home, of course Rebecca wanted to know how it went. So I said "Well, we had a good game plan, and got them all covered pretty well....we did have to go back and get Bio on the rebound...." She was rolling her eyes, so I told her the truth, she is doing very well and has some energetic and interesting teachers.

And I have some useful "skills".

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Mets Post-Mortem

The sting of the Mets late season debacle has been softened by the immediate post-season. The Phillies got swept by the Rockies juggernaut, a fate the Amazin's would have endured had they won one more game and shlumped into the playoffs. Then things got even better.....the Yankees went out meekly against Cleveland. Now we are all enduring the big Joe Torre story, a big old "what....ever".

Enduring the the Mets demise was painful. It was a monumental and extended team slump. We still have a nucleus of young, talented and exciting players. So, doctor, what went wrong? What can we learn? What should we do next year?

I didn't think I would be able to talk about it so soon, but the Phillies and Yankees exit, and all the sickening Yankee talk, has me ready to say my piece. Here is my Met post-mortem, and some suggestions:

1. Baseball is not only about statistics, you have to watch the games too. The last six weeks Jose Reyes was worse than his poor statistics. He was physically and mentally exhausted. I thought he looked thin too. Once his swing went a little bad (as happens to all players during the season), he could not get it back. For this team to win, they need him playing well.

Next year: more days off, less stolen bases, strict attention to hitting fundamentals (ie: If he is hitting a lot of fly balls, this MUST be addressed.)

2. As horrendous as the middle relief was, they were only the symptom of the real problem....starters who go 5 innings and stress the pen. The entire pen was shot, and they are not such a bad bunch...OK, some were horrendous, but they won't be back. I think we found a good 7th or 8th inning guy in Jorge Sosa. I thought Schoenweiss was the only reliever who pitched well at the end, and he should get his knee fixed and try again. Wagner may not be the best closer, and he has some "Benitez" days, but he is OUR closer, and we can win with him. My big pen move will be.....get Heilman out of there and make him a starter!!!

3. Speaking of watching the games, when your team is in a deep malaise, and you have Shawn Green in right field and Lastings Milledge on the bench, what game was Willie watching? I think Willie gave Lastings a bum deal most of the season. Granted, he is immature and ticks off the other team sometimes, but this guy can flat out play, and will only get better. I'm sure Shawn Green won't be back, and I'd give the starting rightfield job to Lastings. I saw enough of Carlos Gomez to say he has some ability too, but I'm not convinced he's a major leaguer.

4. I wish we had Moises Alou a few years ago, in lieu of Cliff Floyd. Moises was outstanding this year, and I'd try another year with him, realizing he gets hurt and will call your fourth outfielder into service.

5. I'm fine with Paul LoDuca leaving. I know a lot of people like him, but I find that rah-rah macho stuff annoying. Watching the games, he was worn out and useless by season's end, primarily because his machismo tells him to tell Willie he has to play every day. It should not be that way. Twenty less games from Paulie, played by Castro or DeFelice, and we'd have won it.

6. Bye bye Tom Glavine.....I'd say it was fun, but it wasn't. He always needed the umps to give him those borderline pitches, and when they don't he is awful. When he got slightly off his game due to age, he was not able to get it done. Ron Darling made a great point in the last game...."When you are hitting your spots and making your pitches, and they are still hitting you, that's a problem".

7. I love El Duque, but we can't rely on him. Thank you and good bye.

8. Gotta keep Marlon Anderson though. Would you like to have a few of those early season Julio Franco at-bats back, and have Marlon up there instead?

9. I thought John Maine and Oliver Perez showed a lot this season, and I like them with Pedro as a strong 1-2-3. I'd go Heilman 4, and let all the young pitchers (Pelfry, Humber and anyone else they can try) compete for #5. In hindsight, they should have tried the young guys all those times they went with borderline veterans. I hated when they did that.

10. We should watch Carlos Delgado carefully. If he wasn't hurt, he seems to be declining. There were also times he didn't run balls out. Willie should never tolerate this, and it would have made sense to sit Delgado when this happened. In fact, from the first day of camp, Willie should make this team don't run out a ground ball, or pop-up, or drive to the outfield that you assume is a home run but isn't, YOU ARE OUT OF THE GAME.

It wasn't Willie's fault, and I'm glad they didn't scapegoat him.

Bottom line.....we have a strong nucleus. We can recover and be right in it next season.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

New Family Tradition.....USHPIZIN

It's nice to have family traditions. I value the traditional traditions.....Thanksgiving, Passover, July 4th, and Opening Day. I especially like a few family traditions we have adopted:

Day after Thanksgiving leftover feast with friends.

New Years Eve at home with family, in "costumes".

Stony Brook Homecoming.

Watching the movie Groundhog Day on February 2nd, as previously blogged

I made a new rule: If we do something three years in a row, it is now a "Family Tradition". Adding a new family tradition is momentous. It will continue. It is unimaginable to not do it. And so, every year, around Sukkot (for the uninitiated, or the interested we watch the Israeli movie Ushpizin, with family and friends.

If you have never seen this movie, here's the deal....

It's a 2004 Israeli movie, in Hebrew with English subtitles. It was written by a Hasidic actor (Shuli Rand), who also stars. The writer's actual wife was enlisted to play the movie wife (ostensibly because he could not have acted in this role with an "actress"). Michal Bat-Sheva Rand is the compelling force in this inspiring story.

Moshe and Malli live in a small apartment in a Hasidic section of Jerusalem. They are so poor they barely have food, let alone money for a Sukkah for the holiday. They are also childless. You see clearly that they have nothing, yet they have FAITH. Throughout this film, their faith is repeatedly tested, rewarded, pumished and retested. A series of circumstances allows them to obtain a Sukkah, and some money, and even some guests (Ushpizin). Ah, but such guests!! Some weekend furloughed prisoners who have skipped out, people from Moshe's past. What to do with a blessing of such guests? Rude, ungrateful, irreligious, disrespectful users. If you are sent such guests, is it a test?

Besides the characters and the story, I also enjoyed seeing people from a different culture (and trust me on this, Hasidic Jewish culture is a DIFFERENT culture than American, virtually non-practising, ethnic Jewish culture) having the same problems we all have. Financial issues, family crises, pressure on the holidays. This movie is a rare and fascinating look at a Hasidic couple as two people.

Does the movie eventually show the value in prayer and faith? Yes, and is there anything wrong with that? What does Moshe want more than anything else? To know the way. To know what is expected of him. To know that you can succeed, and fail, and be tested......and move forward.

You can probably rent this DVD at your local video store. It is surely a worthwhile Netflix pick. Or, if you want to wait till next Fall, you can watch it with us. It's a family tradition.

Monday, October 8, 2007


I've been in a blogging slump. I could blame that on my associate leaving, and replacing her work with my own, causing me to be too tired to write. Instead, I will blame it on my new addiction......crossword puzzles.

I used to try the Sunday Times and give up. Sometimes I'd work on a weekday puzzle, IF I was stuck in court, and IF I found a paper. A few months ago I worked through a Sunday puzzle in earnest, breezed through a Monday, and found myself unable to stop. I had (have) to do one every day....sometimes more than one.

Here are a few things worth knowing about crossword puzzles:

1. The NY Times is very easy on Monday (trust me on this), and gets progressively harder each day of the week. The Sunday Times is at about a Thursday level. At the moment I am good through Wednesday and sometimes Thursday. I generally can't do much with the Friday or Saturday. However, I have noticed that doing them regularly leads to discernable improvement, which already makes it a better hobby than golf.

2. Since I can't touch the Friday Times puzzle, I do the Friday Wall Street Journal puzzle. They only have that one puzzle per week. It's a good one....quirky, challenging and fun. Like the Times, it usually has a "theme", and sometimes it's offbeat, and very satisfying once you "get it".

3. Puzzles are fun to do with other people. One weekend I was away with a group of friends, and five of us did the Sunday puzzle together. One person had the pen and would call out clues "6 letters for 'does just all right....ends in y", and someone would yell out "gets by" and the others would say "WOW, put that in". It's interesting to see people's strengths and weaknesses in play. I am useful for anything related to baseball, but useless on most contemporary culture.

4. One weekend, I went online to try to find one last answer (hey, there's no law against it!) and I discovered a great website, called "Rex Parker Does the New York Times Crossword Puzzle" He does the puzzle every day and offers hilarious and insightful commentary. I try to check him out after I have gone as far as I can. Rex has really improved my game.

5. I want to also recommend a documentary about crossword puzzles, called "Wordplay". It features NY Times puzzle editor Will Shortz, and many celebrities, including Bill Clinton. It is very well done, worth a netflix or video store visit. I was pleasantly surprised to find the DVD at my local video store.

Happy cruciverbalizing everyone!!

Tomorrow, a movie review.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Mortgage "Crisis"

There are things now accepted in residential real estate which were unheard of in the past. Here are a few:

1. Transactions with 100% financing, with little or minimal downpayment. Not only that, the banks know about it!! I say this because, let's say, in the past, I had "heard about" transactions where the banks did not know what was going on. These transactions later became known as the "savings and loan crisis". OK, back in the 80's the banks shouldn't have let themselves be hoodwinked. Nowadays, the lenders are in on their own hoodwinking....or perhaps they have hoodwinked the investors in their "product". Here's the way 100% financing the closing the buyer gets a regular mortgage for 80% of the purchase price. He also gets an equity line for the equivalent of the balance of the purchase price, which he accesses in full at the closing, and there you have 100% financing. On top of this, the contract often provides for a "sellers concession", which is a price reduction for the equivalent of the buyer's closing costs. When I represented sellers who gave this "concession" of approx $16,000, they never complained. They were thrilled to be selling their crappy house for $500K, and couldn't wait for the closing to happen. I'm not sure, but I think I saw some sellers RUN to their cars after the closing, lest someone realize what had happened.

2. Along those lines, sometimes the prices just seemed ridiculous. I know the lenders still do appraisals, but a night at Yonkers Raceway seems like a more legit proposition than some of these appraisals. I have no problem with prices rising, and neighborhoods becoming "hot". However, in the sub-prime mortgage market, it should be obvious there is a limit on the upside, and a lot of room on the downside. When you lend at "100% of appraised value", you are living on the edge.

3. People buying with no spare cash to do ANYTHING with the house. Not only was there no downpayment, the buyer had no money to fix, or re-do, or re-model, or upgrade....all the things that buyers usually do. I have seen this quite a few times, and knew it did not bode well. OK, it boded well for the sellers running to the car, and the real estate brokers, and the mortgage brokers.

It did not bode well for the mortgages.

It seems like a lot of smart people have lost a lot of money on these mortgages.

May I use a few cliches from the archives to sum up how I see the investors losses?.......

"Looks like dog s***, smells like dog S***, sure glad I didn't step in it"

"You pays your money and you takes your chances"

"What goes up must come down"

"Eyes Wide Shut"

One last thing......the housing market is not going to collapse from this, nor is the economy going to be wrecked. Those houses are still worth some good money, just not as much as the banks put in. There will be opportunities aplenty from this mess. It's already happening.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Mortgage Crisis From the Trenches

Is anybody surprised there is a mortgage "crisis"?

As I understand it, a high percentage of mortgages in the "sub-prime" market are in default. This would be bad enough, but the problem is compounded by these mortgages having been grouped together into some kind of investment instrument, which a lot of banks, brokerage houses and financial institutions have invested in. I guess they did this because the securities offered a "good return" at a "low risk". After all, they were secured by real estate. When a much higher than expected percentage of these loans went into default, the value of the investment instruments backed by these mortgages went down, and a lot of big players lost their money. THAT is the crisis we keep reading about. I realize the way I just explained it is an over-simplification, but when we talk about the government coming in and helping with this crisis, let's be honest about what really happened.

Here are a few facts from the trenches, from personal observation:

1. If someone puts virtually no money into a real estate purchase, and two banks financed the 100% of the purchase, and the purchaser either lived there without paying for a year, OR walked away from the property when the value went down, is that person a "victim"? Are the banks who put up the money, made their fees, and then sold the loan into the market...."victims"? Are the investors who bought these mortgages, foolishly relying on the real estate market to continue soaring...."victims"?

What I have seen are insane prices, with 100% financing obtained by mortgage brokers who would do ANYTHING to get the loans approved. If you took this transaction to 1000 intelligent financial people and said "give me odds on the ultimate success of this transaction", with success being defined as the borrower does not end up in default, 90% of objective observers would say the odds of success are 10% or less. Yet I saw many transactions like this sail through, as if this were normal business, and I know, there were THOUSANDS of transactions just like this. And yet, big players invested in this.

If you are not familiar with some of the fine points of a "sub-prime" transaction, fasten your seatbelts, you are not gonna believe this....

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Tower of Babble

I've asked the questions at many depositions. I try to approach it with purpose, you are trying to obtain information, clarify the facts, find out what happened and what did not happen. It's a challenge, bordering on fun. However, taking a deposition through an interpreter is not fun.

I have asked questions through interpreters in Spanish, French, Italian, Russian, Greek, Polish, Chinese (Mandarin, Cantonese, Fukanese, Taiwanese), Japanese, Portugese, Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Arabic, Hebrew, Creole, Tagalog (a Filipino dialect), and ASL (American Sign Language). I never had German, either because German's all speak English or they don't have too many car accidents. I never took a deposition with a Yiddish interpreter, but I did see one used in court (Brooklyn, of course). Depositions with interpreters share common problems. Here are a few:

1. Some questions do not interpret well. In a car accident case, a lot of lawyers like to start with this question "Did there come a time when the vehicle you were driving came into contact with another vehicle". It's not a great question, it's compound and it can be confusing. Lawyers like it because it establishes certain things.....there WAS an accident, with CONTACT, this witness was there, and there was another vehicle involved. I asked five different Spanish interpreters to translate this question, so I could listen to it with my high school Spanish background. They interpreted the question five different ways. One thing about this question IS consistent. When you ask a Spanish speaking witness, through an interpreter, the question "Did there come a time when the vehicle you were driving came into contact with another vehicle", the answer is always the same....."QUE???"
So you have the interpreter ask the question again, and the witness says "The accident happened at 7 o'clock." or "You mean was I in an accident?" or "QUE??????"

2. Sometimes witnesses want an interpreter, but they speak English pretty well. If they understand your question they answer in English. If they don't understand the question, or, if they don't like the question, they wait for the interpreter. I don't let witnesses do this. It's all or nothing. Either no interpreter, or I want the interpreter to do a literal translation of every question and answer.

3. A related problem is when you ask a detailed question, the interpreter interprets it, the witness gives a long response in Urdu, and the interpreter translates it as "Yes". Sitting there, you know the interpreter and the witness have had a dialogue about the question, and the interpreter has taken it upon himself to "paraphrase" an answer. If this happens, I state on the record what has just occurred, then ask the reporter to read back my question and ask the interpreter to do a literal interpretation of the question and answer. If they don't do it, I advise opposing counsel that if this is not corrected I am busting the deposition. I have done that a few times, and I know other attorneys who have too.

4. Sometimes the interpreter is just not great at the particular language. They may have the credentials to do both Mandarin and Cantonese, but they are native to Mandarin and have learned Cantonese. What do you do when they just don't know the word? You see them struggling and they don't know how to say "windshield wiper" in Cantonese. So they try some combination of words like "car glass cleaner" and the witness says the Cantonese equivalent of "Que?", so the interpreter tries the Mandarin word for windshield wiper, and now the witness is mad at the interpreter and says nothing. Finally, the interpreter translates your question in Cantonese, but when he comes to "windshield wiper" he says "windshield wiper", and the witness says "Ohhhh, windshield wiper"....and answers the question.

5. I have been told there is no word in Spanish for "curb". Using that handicap, try asking questions about a trip and fall on a broken curb.

6. Sometimes, when questioning an English speaking witness, you want to call in an interpreter who speaks "Stupidese", but that is a topic for another day.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Little League World Series

I just finished watching the final game of the Little League World Series. The final game was a dramatic win by Georgia over Japan, 3-2 in eight innings, with the game ending on a "walk-off" home run. I watched quite a few games in the tournament. I find the LLWS one of the best sports events of the year. Truly enjoyable, for a lot of reasons. Here are a few:

1. The kids (11 and 12 year olds) play great. The pitchers are excellent, but not so overpowering that there is no hitting. In fact, there are plenty of hits, and home runs, but most impressively, the fielding is outstanding. Check out this one....

2. The sportsmanship, by both kids and parents, is always on a high level. I know this is not always the case with Little League baseball, and I've personally observed some atrocious behavior at Little League games. However, the teams that make it to the TV level show only the best things about organized kids baseball.

3. The managers are wired for sound, so you can hear them talking to the players. When a manager visits a pitcher on the mound, or when he talks to a hitter before an at bat, you are right there. Most of the time, they say exactly the right thing.

4. The teams are from actual towns. The team from Georgia was not an all-star team from the State of Georgia. They were the best players from the Warner Robins (a town in Georgia) Little League. ALL the teams are like that. All the players know each other well, they go to school together, and live near each other.

5. They use top announcers and have top technical coverage. The final game today had Brent Mussberger, Orel Hershiser and Dusty Baker as announcers. They analyzed the game like it was a real game, because it WAS a real game. The instant replays and features are top notch too. It's even OK when they show the Mom's and Dad's being nervous in the stands.

6. When the players come up, not only do they show their stats, they tell you who their favorite major leaguer is, or their favorite TV show, or their favorite food. They should do that with the major leaguers.

7. When they change pitchers, they don't call in someone from the bullpen. They call in the left fielder or the second baseman, and the departing pitcher goes and plays a position.

Here are highlights from the championship game

8. OK, it's kinda sad when the losing team is crying. When you watch the games, you know that both teams are trying so hard, that the losing team HAS to cry. Note to anyone who is bothered by this.....they'll get over it. They may not know it at that moment, but they are all winners.

Welcome to Weasel-Dom

Dear faithful blog readers - Entering Weasel-Dom has caused the longest hiatus of my blogging career. Sorry for the delay...... here is what happens in Weasel-dom.....

A few years ago, the lower courts were flooded with these cases. Many cases engender motion practice. In Queens, for example, the motion calendar has approximately 150 motions every day!! There are so many motions that a separate part was created just for the motions. This is the real weasel-dom habitat. These motions are usually about some technical detail.....for the claimants trying to win the case on a technicality (if they had to win on the merits they'd not start a lot of these cases). Defense motions are also trying to knock the plaintiff case out on some technical grounds, so they don't have to spend more money defending.

Wht kinds of technicalities? Here are a few.....

Was the denial notice timely served? How do you serve it? Who can you serve it on? What must it say? What can it not say?

What if the claimant is a medical corporation, but the doctor files the claim? What if the doctor is under indictment? What if the papers assigning the claim from the patient to the doctor were in the name of the medical corporation?

Does the doctor have to attend a deposition if the insurance company wants it? What if they want it on EVERY case, large and small? What if the doctor sends a billing clerk to the deposition? What if the plaintiff wants to depose the claims examiner?

Can a plaintiff combine all his claims with many patients arising out of the same accident, and make one larger case against the same insurance company?

For awhile, the courts were so inundated with motions that they were giving one year adjournment on any motion where one side requested time to respond. I observed that this did not slow the onslaught of motions at all.

The "trial" side of the calendar is also backing up the lower courts. In some ways, this part of the system works, as many of the cases do settle. Still the calendar is huge, and one sometimes wonders why they cannot be settled pre-court. Of course, it is possible that many cases ARE settled pre-court, and we are only seeing the leftovers in court.

The most interesting no-fault cases are the ones with a "fraud" defense. In these cases, the insurance company smells a rat (or a weasel) and investigates a group of claims. I am aware of a case where the "patient" had been in 8 accidents in a 6 month period, and was treated at several different facilities. Not only that, but when the insurance companies investigated further, they found ten other people in the same apartment building with a similar history. I guess they all had bad luck.

Anyway, if anyone would like to come on a tour of Weasel-dom, just e-mail me and I will arrange it.

Now.....I can blog about some other things.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

New Weasel-dom

I know.....everyone has had their seatbelts fastened, waiting for the trip to New Weasel-dom. Sorry for the delay, but I actually spent a few mornings in New Weasel-dom this week, getting good and weaseled up. Unfortunately, it was not conducive to the writing process, so today I crawled out of the hole, and's off to New Weasel-dom

The New Weasel-dom is "no-fault" litigation. Let me start with a disclaimer and a WARNING: I am going to give the cynical (though all too real) version of what happens. I recognize that sometimes, people really ARE hurt, and are treated by REAL doctors, and represented by REAL lawyers, and those cases are really interesting. Most of the cases in the courthouse are related to accidents and injuries, and I would not call them Weasel-dom......a hyena and vulture convention maybe, but that's another blog entry. New Weasel-dom is that small section of the car accident cases, the "no-fault" medical bills aspect.

Let's look at the most common scenario, and talk about what happens, factually and legally:

1. There is a car accident.

2. It's POSSIBLE someone got hurt.

3. There are insurance companies for both cars.

4. There are "doctors", "lawyers", and accident participants who want to make money.

5. There are laws and rules regarding who is entitled to get paid, and how much, when there is a car accident.

6. If there are a lot of claims being made, at some point insurance companies start to try to draw the line and defend themselves.

OK, so there are laws covering this stuff, and they apply to the real cases too, but their application on the marginal cases creates no-fault Weasel-dom. There are thousands of these marginal weasel-y cases in the system. You may wonder, why are doctors and lawyers filing these thousands of marginal cases? For the same reason that dogs lick their balls.....
















..........BECAUSE THEY CAN!!!!!

I would try to spare you the legal technicalities, but bear with me, New Weasel-dom is more fun with a little legal knowlege.

I only know the basics anyway....if I claimed to be an expert, you'd have the right to call me a weasel. I only want to tell you about Weasel-dom, I don't want to actually join.

The law: when there is a car accident, there are certain things which are paid by the insurance for the vehicle the injured person is in. These things include reasonable medical expenses, medications, diagnostic tests, therapies, transportation to medical treatment, and the like. It includes chiropractic, accupuncture, and psychologists. It includes lots of tests (x-rays, MRI, CT scans, EMG). You don't have to wait for a case to be "decided" as far as who was at fault in the accident. These things are paid by the "host" vehicle, the car the injured person was in, regardless of whose fault the accident was. Hence the term "no-fault".

Like many things, there were good intentions behind the "no-fault" system. The idea was, people who are hurt should not have to hold off needed treatment, while a case is being decided. This apparently used to happen. Many states now have a no-fault system, and injured people can get treated quickly, and the insurance has to pay for it. At the same time no-fault systems came in, many States also adopted a serious injury "threshold", essentially limiting monetary recovery to the so-called serious cases. One paradox arising out of this, is that the way to establish a serious injury is with as many tests and as much treatment as you can get, and so to some extent, meeting the serious injury threshold is often driven by pounding on the no-fault system.

How much treatment can someone get? When can they get it? How long can it go on? The standard is "reasonably necessary". For many years the insurance companies could not even challenge the reasonable-ness for 90 days. If you were an unscrupulous canine testicle slurper, what would you do with a system like that? You'd open "medical centers" and take every minor fender bender you could bring in, and give each "patient" as much treatment as you could think of, over and over and over again. This would often include MRI's, physical therapy, exams with orthopaedists and neurologists, dentists (for "TMJ") and even psych evaluations. Ever wonder why your auto insurance costs so much? It was common practice for the medical providers to not even send in their bills until the 89th day. A few years ago, the 90 days was reduced by statute to 30 days, which helped a bit, but the beat still goes on. You can still treat after 30 days, but the insurance company can contest the reasonableness, and other aspects of the bills.

OK....we are not IN New Weasel-dom yet, but we are getting there. When the insurance companies start contesting, a whole bunch of laws and rules apply. A whole lot of money is at stake, not on each particular case, but collectively. The system of contesting this stuff, and the intricacies and nuances of the law, and the economics of it all, has spawned an entire industry. If you can bear it, in my next post I will tell all about it....

Thursday, July 26, 2007


A few years ago, I was covering cases in the UM/SUM part. These were cases involving "uninsured and underinsured motorist" insurance. I won't bore you with the technicalities, except to say there were a lot of technicalities. They were always talking about the size of the type on the cancellation notices, and how you had to mail the various notices (do you count the day of mailing? what about holidays? what if the address was wrong? what if you mailed it to the attorney?). It was the Seinfeld of courtrooms, a show about "nothing". It was here I heard one of my favorite phrases, when Allstate attorney Frank Sena referred to the part as "Weasel-dom". After he said that, I noticed how all the attorneys were hunched over, how their noses wriggled, and how they avoided sunlight. Sometimes in the UM/SUM part, there were three parties to the dispute, two insurance companies (each trying to get out of paying, though one of them had to) and the plaintiff. The plaintiff's attorney didn't really have to do anything, and when I would get calls for the UM/SUM part, I would ask, "Do I have to do anything, or am I a spectator?" I even made that a box on my intake sheet. Circle one: primary carrier? Uninsurance carrier? Spectator?
I never wanted to learn about point sizes and cancellation notices, so after awhile, I only took spectator cases in the UM/SUM part.

Eventually, the UM/SUM laws evolved, and the part became less weasel-y (Is that a word?) However, there is a new front in Weasel-dom, the so called "No-fault" cases. Fasten your seatbelts.....tomorrow we are going to the new Weaseldom.....

Monday, July 23, 2007

Emilie's Birthday

7/23/07 - My daughter Emilie Seidel is 21 years old today.

Some of my blog readers know her well, some know her a little, some not at all.

I'm fortunate, I know her a long time and I know her very well. I try to share stories and observations with my readers, hopefully they are thought-provoking or funny or motivational. Here then, is the Emilie update:

This June she graduated from Francis Lewis High School, a NYC public high school. She was in an "inclusion" program, which means she took mostly regular high school classes, and went from class to class on her own. She did several years of "work study", and has worked in Filene's, in an office, and in a school. She was in chorus for 3 years, and sang in performances. In her last year in high school she took the travel training course (an AMAZING program offered to special needs students in the NYC high schools). She did not pass the final exam (she talked to the fake stranger), but she re-took the class, passed it, and now travels on her own. The last few months of school she took the City bus to school and back. This trip included a bus transfer. I had more than one neighbor tell me they saw her on the bus and were choked up. I only followed her the first day, after that I just marveled at her accomplishment.

At the Francis Lewis High School graduation (950 students), she received three school-wide awards:

1. English Department award for most improvement in the English language.
2. Attorney General Andrew Cuomo award for Character, Courage and Commitment.
3. Phys. Ed. Department award for excellence in Yoga.

When we went to the ceremony, we knew she was winning an award, but we did not know for what. We did not know she was winning more than one. Each of these awards were right on the mark. There was a time when it would be fair to say Emilie would not have known this was a big deal. She knew.

Emilie actually went to two graduations. One for Francis Lewis High School, and the other for PS 811, the special ed high school. At the PS 811 graduation, she gave a speech.

At one time Emilie was so afraid of dogs, she would panic at the sight of one. She would scream and jump on a table to avoid one, or run dangerously in the street. We told her that she should try to not be afraid, because she might not be able to travel on her own. She took this VERY seriously, and began to try. It was not easy, as the fear was deep-seated, almost innate. One weekend though, we stayed with friends who have a calm dog. She sat with that dog the entire weekend, and then announced "I'm not afraid of dogs anymore." We then got Dov, and there is nothing better than watching him lick Emilie's face while she laughs.

Emilie is excellent at cooking. She regularly downloads recipes from the internet, makes a shopping list, cooks it, serves it, and cleans up.

Emilie is away at camp this summer, at the Northwood Center in upstate New York. It's a "life-skills" environment. The campers live in an "apartment", and learn about chores, budgets, shopping, cooking, repairs, and making social arrangements. This will be her last year at the camp. In September she will look for a job. She has been approved for supported employment, and should have a real paying job. She is happy about this, and ready.

Here are a few things we can all learn from no particular order:

Fears can be overcome.
Things that happen slowly are often worth waiting for.
Respect doctors and professionals, but don't follow blindly.
Trust your instincts.
If you are supposed to practice.....practice.
Family game night is important.
If somebody doesn't understand you, say it again, clearer.
It's good to remember people's names.
Being embarrassed doesn't help you break through.
It's important to eat healthy foods.
A person should take good care of themself.
If you are not distracted, you can get a lot done......I challenge anyone to do "paint by number" as well as Emilie. She does cool sculptures too.
Being 21 can go to a casino

A few more things....Emilie has taught me to be very careful about labels and generalizations. She may have some autistic aspects, but there are some things about her that are decidedly NOT autistic:
She is very intuitive about how people FEEL. She knows if I'm stressed or angry or sad, without a word being said. She is like this with everybody.
She likes routines, but at the same time, she is more flexible than most people. She doesn't mind if plans get changed, she just wants to know what the new plans ARE. Hey, I'm like that too.

Sometimes I want to tell people how blessed I feel for all my Emilie related experiences. Sometimes, another person captures just the right words or feelings for something you are trying to say. Many people are familiar with the "poem" Welcome to Holland. The first time I heard it, Emilie was pretty little, and was clearly a member of a club I wanted no part of. I remember thinking "This is a poem people use to rationalize their miserable situations."

I was so wrong.

Nobody on Earth is as joyful to be around as Emilie.