Monday, January 25, 2010

Terminal Self-Importance

Part of being an effective lawyer, and an effective client advocate, is understanding the forum where your case will be heard. The Court system is not just "the Judge" or "the jury", it is also law clerks, court attorneys, and other court personnel who are the gatekeepers for all the cases trying to be heard. If you can't get past the gatekeepers, you will not be heard.

To be an effective lawyer, and an effective client advocate, I have to ask my new clients lots of questions. I have to find out all the pertinent facts, and I have to figure out what is motivating the bad people to do the things they are doing. Yes, sometimes they are just bad and greedy, but even the bad and greedy have reasons (or at least, reasons they think they can get away with it), and I want to figure this out.

Sometimes I take a big risk and play "devils-advocate" with my new clients, and speculate on the opponents arguments (Warning to young lawyers - while this may make perfect sense from your perspective, it can be a very dangerous technique). When I speculate on the opponents arguments, I always use a big disclaimer, something like "THIS DOESN'T MEAN I AM AGAINST YOU". Most clients understand this, but some will respond with "Hey, whose side are you on?" These discussions ARE helpful in understanding your own clients, and how well they grasp the realities of the legal world.

Sometimes it seems that clients think what I do is.....I listen to their side of their claim......I become inspired by the righteousness of it.......I run over to the courthouse and tell "the Judge" about it......and the Judge stops all other business so he can extract the money being withheld from my clients by the wrong-doers........and for this little bit of "work" I want to be paid exorbitant fees.........(oh - and I do this every day, to insure my extravagant lifestyle).

I call this type of thought process "terminal self-importance". In the course of interviewing a client on a new matter, and in deciding whether I want to get involved in it, (note: if you don't realize that during the interview I am deciding whether I want to get involved, and it isn't only about probably have some TSI going on) I try to assess whether the client has a realistic understanding of what actually happens in Court. Things like:

- There are so many cases in most courts, that the Judge CANNOT recall the details of each case when it is before the Court. Usually, if I have a pre-trial conference, attended by my adversaries and the Judge, the first thing the Judge will say is "What's this about?"

- When a motion is made regarding some aspect of a case, there are generally MANY other motions being heard that day. The motion is usually conferenced with the Judge's Clerk, who puts a lot of pressure on the attorneys to resolve the issues without the Court having to do it. This doesn't mean the Judge or the clerks are lazy or indifferent (though some are), the reality is there are many cases with serious issues, and one (yours) may not particularly stand out.

- You usually cannot proceed in Court without all the interested parties being notified, and without the interested parties being heard. Most Courts and Judges go out of their way to adhere to this one, often to the frustration of the terminally self-important, who need to win NOW.

- As outrageous as the issues in your case may be, they are surely not the most outrageous thing the Court has heard......that week. As an attorney I know this, because they are also generally not the most outrageous thing I have heard (that week) either. This does not mean I don't care, or that I will not give my all towards solving the problem. By having perspective, and knowing the Court's perspective, I will know how to have the case heard (and resolved) in the best way possible.

Terminal self-importance can, and should, be addressed early in the attorney-client relationship. My advice to fellow attorneys is: If you see it and can't at least discuss it, BEWARE. And....make a clear fee agreement and stick to it, clients with TSI will make you earn it!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Trip to Vegas......Part 4

A few more highlights of the trip were:

- My niece Robin and her boyfriend Steve drove in from L.A., and we went out with them for dinner, and then breakfast the following morning.

- I used the GPS in my Blackberry with great success throughout the trip, except once when I put in an address for a breakfast place as "530 South Decatur" when it should have been "530 North Decatur", and we ended up in front of a shack in the desert.

- The weather was in the 40's and raining the whole time, but it did not matter.

- At one point I realized that Brian was really good at helping Manny get dressed, groomed and out the door because basically, this is what he has been doing with his horses for the last 30 years.

- I didn't play poker during the trip because it would have been too isolating. Watching basketball games and betting on horse racing with the boys was much more fun.

- One night at dinner, just after we had all played craps, Manny stated that he did not like the way one of the women threw the dice, because "when someone throws the dice too hard, high numbers come out". I pointed out that this was mathematically impossible, but he insisted it was so. I decided not to press the issue, remembering that earlier in the day I had told Brian "Don't hit the chips when you roll, whenever you do you'll roll a 7."

- One night we ate at an excellent seafood buffet. Brian and I loaded up our plates with all kinds of seafood, and a few minutes later Manny sat down with a piece of prime rib. I saw him cutting and cutting and nothing was happening. As Brian and I were about to get up for more food, Manny hadn't eaten bite one. He looked at us and said "I ordered the wrong thing." Brian and I said together "It's a fuckin' buffet!!!", and without a word we went up and loaded several plates of seafood, which we all then shared.

- In hindsight, I should have taken more pictures, but here are a couple:

Brian and Manny getting ready.

It's safe to say that gambling had either just happened, or was about to....or both.

At the end of the trip we all flew back to New York, and Manny stayed with me for a few days before flying back to Florida. The day after we got home he said to me, "You made us a great trip. I was thinking that if we had done this trip when I was 20 or 30 years younger, it would have been different, maybe wild and crazy. But I loved the trip the way it was, being with my boys."

I loved it too Dad.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Trip to Vegas.....Part 3

One of the unexpected highlights of our trip was a visit to Fremont Street. This is the downtown "Old Vegas" area, away from the strip. I had heard it was nice, so I looked up a restaurant in the area, and figured we'd eat and then check things out. What I did not know was that Fremont Street is like a domed stadium, with casinos and stores all along the walking area, and a roof where they have spectacular light shows. After a finger lickin' dinner of Tony Roma ribs, we saw the "American Pie" light show. Here is a youtube clip. What was especially enjoyable, was that the streets were crowded with enthusiastic people, all singing and dancing to American Pie.

Since we were there in early December, there was a big Christmas tree and a nice band.

Here we are.....Barry, Manny and Brian on Fremont Street.

Another sightseeing thing we did was check out "The Venetian" hotel. Like many of the Vegas hotels on the strip, it has a simulates Venice. As you walk around, there are canals, and gondoliers, and shops, and a "fake sky" over head. It's not Venice, it's not romantic, it's not "European", but its VERY cool.

At one point we passed what appeared to be a statue, but was actually a human being. I guess it's "art" or something. I went up and had my picture taken with her, and although she stayed in character, I asked her to flirt with my Dad, and she winked at me. When we all went up for a picture, she stayed frozen, but tickled Manny's palm.

While walking around the Venetian, Manny said "my feet hurt because my shoes are no good". These are the white shoes shown in the picture. I said, "What kind of shoes do you want?" He said, "Brown Rockports, with velcro instead of laces. I heard Rockports were comfortable." It surprised me that he actually had an opinion about this. About 5 minutes later, we turned a corner and there was a Rockport store. I ran in and said, "Do you have brown Rockports, with Velcro?" Pretty stupid question, I admit, and the guy replied "Yeah, it's a Rockport store." So, we three men shopped for shoes for Manny, with the whole transaction taking 5 minutes, including trying on and walking around. We were all proud of our accomplishment, and even more so when Manny's walking dramatically improved with his new shoes.

Next.....Trip to Vegas, part 4.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Trip to Vegas....Part 2

Prior to the trip I got tickets to two shows. On Friday night we saw Frank Caliendo, who was appearing at our hotel. Very convenient to walk from the crap table right into the theatre. If you are not familiar with Frank Caliendo, he is an excellent impersonator/comedian.

On Saturday night we saw Andrew Dice Clay at The Riviera. This is an old-style, seedy, run-down hotel on the strip. Kind of like The Shangri-La in the movie "The Cooler" Andrew Dice Clay was playing in a little nightclub style room, deep in the recesses of the shabby Riviera. While we were waiting to be seated, the hostess came over to Brian and I and asked if the man we were with was our Dad. When we said yeah, she said "It may be a wait until we start seating people, I'm gonna give you guys seats up front and seat you right away". This was very good, considering it took 45 minutes to seat everyone else.

So, we saw the politically incorrect Andrew Dice Clay. If you are not familiar with Dice, here's a short clip. The thing is, while his current act is as raunchy as ever, he has plenty of new material, and he IS a pro (which in comedy means he has great interactions with the audience). No lie, we were in stitches for over an hour. After the show, Manny did point out that "This guy didn't invent this kind of comedy, Redd Foxx used to do stuff like this".

For Sunday, we knew in advance it would be all about betting on pro football. I saw an ad for "1500 seat theatre for NFL games, 6 big screens, no smoking" at the Hilton. We agreed this was for us. The NFL games start at 10 AM in Vegas, so we decided to go for a breakfast buffet at the Hilton, and then go to the theatre for the games. The Hilton had a GREAT breakfast buffet, which was right next to an impressive sports book.

We didn't stay at the sportsbook, but it's a nice one. The big screen in the middle of the picture has the odds on all the games and all kinds of proposition bets. Besides football, they had basketball, horseracing, "future bets" for baseball, and betting on Nascar.

We walked over to the theatre, where there was no charge, but a small line to get in. Right outside the door were several betting windows, strictly for football. This is the way life is supposed to be!! While we were waiting to get in, one of the hostesses came over to Brian and said "Are you guys here with your Dad?" When he said yeah, she said "I'm watching you guys take care of him, and I take care of my Dad too, I'm gonna give you guys VIP seating, and wristbands for free food and drinks all day". Not too shabby, and we told Manny that we both agree he is very "useful".
In hindsight, I made some good picks, but bet poorly at football. I loved the Jets against Tampa Bay, but I only bet a little on them. I used the Jets in a lot of parlays, which means I needed the Jets AND other teams to win the bet. The Jets killed Tampa Bay, but most of my other teams were busts, and it cost me. Such is sports betting.

Next.....Part 3

Monday, January 11, 2010

Trip to Vegas....Part 1

When I started to actually plan the long discussed "Trip to Vegas With Manny and Brian", I thought that one fringe benefit would be writing about it. It had potential for great material, especially considering how much I enjoyed writing about my previous Florida visits with Manny. It is now a month since the trip (we were in Vegas 12/10 - 12/14), and I haven't blogged on it yet.

Here was a weekend of booze and broads, hot streaks at the tables, and some nights I can't even remember. Oh wait, that's the imaginary trip I took when I was single, Manny was magically the same age as me, and Brian attracted babes just by walking in the room.

I must report: that was NOT our trip.

OUR trip started with Brian and Manny flying into Vegas from Florida, and me flying in from New York. We landed at the same time (I know this because Brian called me on the cell phone at the precise moment and I actually saw their plane on the ground right next to mine). I went and got the rental car and came back to pick them up. This was a theme throughout the trip....we constantly coordinated all our movements to adjust to Manny's minor limitations. Brian and I made up systems for everything, so everything we did fit with what Manny was able to do.

We stayed at the Monte Carlo, a big hotel on the strip.

I like it because it is not "over the top" on glitz, it has a nice casino, plenty of restaurants, and is centrally located to many of the other hotels. We ate at a few of the restaurants there, and the buffet, and they were all fine.

I knew in advance that Brian enjoys sports betting, especially football, so I was glad to see the Monte Carlo had a small, comfortable sports book. It had betting on college and pro basketball, college and pro football, and of course, horse racing from all over the country. We played them all, in comfort and without regard for anything going on anywhere else in the world. A few times we bet on games that we knew were on TV, then went up to our room and watched them. I got a kick out of yelling and screaming for Kansas to cover a 22 point spread against some crappy small school.....and they did cover it!

The first thing some people asked me when we got back was...."how did you do with the gambling?" The casino at the Monte Carlo only had three craps tables, which were pretty busy, usually $5 minimums with triple odds, exactly how I like it. I played a lot of craps, and taught Brian to play. I even caught him playing without me once!!! I was probably up a bit at craps for the trip. I had a few sessions where I did well, and cashed out ahead. I had some sessions where I lost, but never a session where I got really hammered (which can happen at craps, but during the whole trip it never happened to me).

I did not do as well at sports betting or Caribbean Stud poker, which caused me to have a net gambling loss for the trip. However, considering the amount of play, and considering that the amount I lost was a fraction of what I was prepared to put in play, I rated my gambling for the trip as successful. I know that some of my readers gamble, while some don't, but I feel compelled to say something about gambling as an entertainment activity. In the long run, one cannot win at casino gambling. The math is against you, and the longer you play, the more the math must catch up and beat you. That being said, over the short term, players tend to have times when things go right and there are times when you win. It never happens that one loses every bet. That would be as unlikely as winning every bet, it just doesn't happen. I like to play craps with the intention of playing for a certain amount of time, say 45 minutes. If I catch a nice roll, and am ahead a few hundred bucks, I cash out and do something else. If I start out at a table and its cold, and I am down a few, I also cash out and walk.

Sometimes, you may bet at a certain level, catch a little streak and get ahead, and take a shot at playing at a higher level. If you catch another streak while doing this, you have some real excitement. This DOES actually happen sometimes, and it IS enticing. What you can't do, is try to force it, or chase it, or figure that the odds are its going to happen soon so you keep playing. I don't do that, Brian doesn't do that, and Manny doesn't do that (any more).

Next.....Trip to Vegas, Part 2......

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Back From Hell (10 Worst Things About a Dental Abscess)

I haven't blogged in over a month. I could attribute this to the Holiday Season, or to the long awaited "trip to Vegas with Manny and Brian", or being burnt-out, but the truth is I haven't felt like doing much of anything since my trip to HELL with a dental abscess.

The timing could hardly have been bottom right, back molar started hurting a few days before I was supposed to leave for Vegas. I begged my dentist to "do whatever is necessary to not ruin my trip", so I ended up going to Vegas on antibiotics, a commenced root canal, severe pain, a swollen jaw and some major league trismus (essentially.....lockjaw). I never appreciated being able to open my mouth until a month of not being able. I could open my mouth enough to slide in a teaspoon with something flattened onto it.

In an effort to experience all the major illness groups and report to my readership, let me tell abscess pain stands front and center with the best of them, and I am so far acquainted with heart attack, throat cancer and melanoma surgery. This pain laughed at high levels of Advil and Tylenol, and scoffed at Vicodin. If I had saved a morphine patch from my throat radiation days, I'd have slapped that baby right on.

I would be remiss if I did not recount the miracle of my hellular redemption. When I got back from Vegas, my dentist referred me to an oral surgeon, who was reluctant to extract the bad tooth in my "condition", and suggested it be done at the hospital under general anesthesia. I'd have followed this advice, but the surgeon at the hospital could not see me for two days more. The next morning I had some new clients at my office, and when I apologized to them for talking slow and slurred due to a dental problem, the man asked what the problem was. Bottom line.....he was an oral surgeon who was on vacation, his credentials were incredible, he saw my condition was serious, and offered to extract the tooth at his friends office immediately. We went straight there and he did the job.....starting me on the road back to blogging.

What were the chances of that?!?!

As a blogger I'm sometimes not so keen on my own privacy, but I will respect my savior's privacy and not mention his name. However, if anyone in my blogging world ever needs help in this area, e-mail me.

Here's a top 10 list (worst things about a dental abscess) to start the year:

10. If you research any medical topic on the internet, you become certain death is at hand.

9. Not only could I not sleep, when I drugged myself to sleep I kept dreaming that gremlins were planting exploding teeth in my gums.

8. If you take an antibiotic which can cause diarrhea, and then start on Vicodin which makes you constipated, you become certain that you will eventually become an exploding sack of s**t.

7. Eating in tiny bites makes every meal go really slowly. I need another 30 years or so until I can accept that.

6. When the bad tooth was finally going to be extracted, I could hardly wait for the Novocaine shot....just to make the pain stop.

5. When I was in Vegas, the only time I was not having dental pain was while playing craps.

4. I have given a lot of thought to how a dental abscess would have been handled in the 1800's. I have concluded it is too painful to think about.

3. One night I was up at 5 AM, and watched the movie "A Picture of Dorian Gray". It was pretty cool, so now I am reading the book. OK, so SOME good came of this.

2. I know there are worse things that can happen, and I don't usually express things like this, but.....I hope I never find out.

1. When something bad finally ends, it causes a wave appreciation for health and freedom from pain. I pray for the strength to always remember this.

I wish a happy and healthy 2010 to ALL.