The other day, I found myself in a quandary.
The law books that formerly occupied my shelves were strewn all over my desk, full of post-its marking the pages of relevant statues and commentary.
Legal pads, each once boasting 50 pristine yellow pages, were now eviscerated, their guts strewn about the room, scribbled upon in my barely legible chicken scratch – the southpaw’s curse.
I’d Googled. I’d Lexised. I’d Fastcased.
I’d read blawg after blawg. I tried blankly staring at a computer screen, hoping for some sort of divine inspiration from the internet gods.
Law school hadn’t prepared me for this. I needed the answer to an essental element in my client’s case. We were always supposed to be able to find the answer to a question. But I couldn’t find the answer.
“What kind of loser attorney am I? I can’t even figure out where to file this dammed complaint. Or petition. Or whatever it’s supposed to be. Why did I even take this case? Thank god I have malpractice insurance…”
After refreshing my cup of coffee, I sat and turned on some Immortal; nothing like a bit of frostbitten Norwegian black metal to clear the brain.
After a few minutes, feeling sufficiently grim, I decided to take a look at the latest relevant Pennsylvania Supreme Court case another time.
I typed the citation into Lexis InCite and skimmed the opinion. It originally caught my attention because the appellant’s case looked pretty similar to mine. I went back to the beginning of the case to see who represented the appellant. “Cynthia Jones, Esq.” proclaimed Lexis.
In a final Hail Mary, I typed her name into Google, scrolled my cursor over to “I’m feeling lucky“, and clicked.
A firm’s website popped up – “hey, it’s only half an hour outside the city”, I said to myself. I scrolled over to “Our Attorneys” and in the drop down box that appeared through some sort of coding wizardry, I saw her name. And I clicked.
Her firm bio page popped up. I skimmed it, looked at her photo to the right of the page.
She looked, well, normal. This put me at ease for a moment, then right below her photo I saw her phone number. “Well, I’ve nothing to lose”.
I picked up the receiver and dialed the 10 digits.
answered the receptionist in a hurried tone.
“Um, good afternoon. May I speak with Ms. Cynthia Jones, please?”
” Are you a client?”
“Er, well, no. I’m a young lawyer in Philadelphia, and I have a question for her about the Smithers matter.”
…to the tunes of smooth jazz.
A moment later –
“Cynthia Jones speaking”.
“Oh, hello Ms. Jones. My name is Leo Mulvihill, I’m a young attorney in Philadelphia and I have a question for you about the Smithers case…”
“Please, call me Cynthia. I don’t usually do this, but I’ve a few minutes to talk with you. How can I help?”
“Well, I’m stuck. I have a case that’s pretty similar to yours in Smithers. I’ve read over Smithers, and the Pennsylvanuia Statutes, and the rules of Court, but I can’t figure out what to do next”.
I quickly explained the Cliffnotes version of my case, ensuring not to divulge confidential client data.
“Ah, well, I think I can help you out; you see, what happens is…”
I listened intently as Cynthia explained her case and the legal issues that she faced – those I’d likewise face in my own case. She explained the nuances of the law, the procedural issues involved, and told me a few war stories about the mines she was able to dodge leading up to her oral argument before the Supreme Court.
Ten minutes later, we ended the call. “Thank you”, I said as I hung up the receiver. I was saved.
It turns out that my theory of the case, which I thought totally hopeless, was a lot closer to the right answer than I originally realized. I now knew how I needed to proceed to vindicate my client’s rights.
With renewed vigor, I organized my notes and started preparing my complaint.
Moral of the Story: Just Ask. More than likely, you’re not the first attorney who’s faced the legal issue that your client is facing. But sometimes you may have a question that, despite your best efforts, you simply cannot answer yourself – no matter whether you’re a master of Google-fu or a certified Wexis Researcher.
When in such a quandary, just summon your inner gumption, swallow your pride, pick up the phone, and call someone. I can see how it’s a scary proposition – you, some wet-behind-the-ears-newly-minted-baby-lawyer, cold-calling an experienced veteran advocate of our Courts, admitting that you don’t anything, and asking for their guidance. It may even hurt your pride a little bit.
My advice? To paraphrase Marsellus Wallace, when you call another attorney, you might feel a slight sting…
Hell, you might have to make a few calls before you find someone generous enough to give you a few minutes. But those few minutes can make the difference between a quick, efficient resolution for your client and weeks of frustration.
Get over your fear. Get over your pride. All the internet searching and treatise-reading is no replacement to talking to someone who’s done it before.
Call someone. It can make all the difference.