Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Through The Legal Looking Glass: An Introduction

Like Alice, our legal system tries to believe three impossible things before breakfast. But unlike Alice’s world, most of what goes on in the legal system happens behind closed doors or hidden away far from view. It is a riddle, wrapped in an enigma, hidden in a brown bag.

As lawyers, indeed lawyers with unusually broad experiences, LawhawkSF and I have peered into that strange world of mad hatters and clock-watching rabbits, and we have stood before more than our fair share of red queens.

Now we want to share our observations with you. Thus, starting today, we intend to introduce a new column, titled “Through the Legal Looking Glass”, where we will talk about every conceivable aspect of the legal system. We also will answer questions that you may have -- so write us!

But before we publish the first column, indulge us for a moment as we give you a quick thumbnail sketch of our experience, so that you can judge the value of our opinions for yourself:

While majoring in history and political science as an undergraduate and M.A. candidate at Berkeley, LawhawkSF became deeply involved in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, including voter registration drives in Mississippi and Alabama. After experiencing first hand the struggle for civil rights, he decided to go to law school to make sense of it all. And while his political affiliations would eventually evolve from radical left to conservative right, this experience taught him the need for equal justice under the law and continues to strongly guide his reasoning on issues of race and ethnicity as they relate to the law. Upon completing law school, his early practice in California focused primarily on criminal law and family law, where he learned to navigate the labyrinth of criminal procedures through an active appellate practice in five states and federal courts, including the United States Court of Claims in D.C. While practicing, LawhawkSF also served as a city and county planning commissioner, which gave him an insight into the internal workings of municipal government. He was soon appointed as a judge pro tempore (an annual position) and served on both the municipal and superior court benches, including one year as a member of a three-judge superior court appellate panel. Since leaving the bench and practice, LawhawkSF returned to the business that paid his way though law school, first as an executive and then as an outside business and labor relations consultant before entering into semi-retirement. Until recently, he has enjoyed occasional forays into teaching as an adjunct instructor of constitutional law and criminal procedure at several Bay Area and Los Angeles area law schools.

AndrewPrice did the Government thing, the big firm thing and the solo-practitioner thing. He has practiced in four states, before four Federal district courts (trial level), and before various miscellaneous Federal courts, agency boards, and the GAO. He also has appeared before two Federal circuit courts (appellate level) and repeatedly before one state supreme court. His career began in government contracts, first doing the bidding of the government and then selling his soul to large defense contractors, before shifting to the drafting of high-tech commercial license agreements for some of the nation’s best know companies and defending white collar criminals (‘alleged’. . . always ‘alleged’), before he chucked it all to enter the world of general practice, where he’s done just about everything. Andrew has extensive trial and appellate level experience, and has learned that giving clients a home number is a big, big mistake.

So sit back and enjoy the column. And send us your questions. . .

14 comments:

patti said...

how long does it take a student of law to learn the language of lawyer-speak? then once you learn it, how long before you whip it out in everyday situations? (like when at the park with your kiddo, or when at walmarts looking for the perfect gnome for the yard, or at mcdonalds and getting hot coffee)

i mean i use it all the time and i only pretend to know what i'm talking about. tort this, class action that...

AndrewPrice said...

Patti,

Law students start the lawyer-speak on day one. . . the more pompous the better. And I think it took about two days before the people I knew started using lawyer speak in every day life. Jerks.

It takes years to undo the damage. But with treatment, attorneys can start living normal lives again. :-)

Though law school will forever ruin any movie that touches upon the law. Hollywood's grasp of the law is so utterly ridiculous that if they made a movie about a burger jockey at McDonalds with the same level of reality that they use for legal movies, said burger jockey would solve crimes while hunting strange animals all over the planet with a laser because that's how they get burger meat.

JG said...

I am going to like this :) You're right about the movie thing. The whole "surprise witness/evidence" twist is ruined for me. Which is a shame. I would have wanted to use it at one point (in writing). Oh well.

patti said...

andrew: well, i hope you don't mind if hang on to useful lawyer-speak. husband never tires of me asking to see his briefs.

LawHawkSF said...

Patti: The first time I used the jargon was about my third day in law school. It was at the dinner table. My wife had casually mentioned some kind of situation (I don't even remember what it was), and I replied with "well, that sounds in tort." She got the giggles, and I never did it to her again. She was an experienced criminalist, and had been dealing with pretentious lawyers for years. She was not impressed.

The last time I did it was in my second or third year. One of my employees had a problem that needed to be answered by a boss, not by an attorney. So he prefaced his questions with "talk to me like a human being, not like a lawyer."

To this day though, when one of my kids has one those day-to-day experiences that touch on the law (like a traffic ticket, or a property line issue), they call me for suggestions. They always preface the question with "a simple answer, please." My younger daughter, soon to be starting law school, usually adds something like "just yes or no, I don't need to know about Hammurabi or Magna Carta."

patti said...

lawhawk: what?! no magna carta references? sheesh, youth...

the wife burn did make me giggle as well...

BevfromNYC said...

LOL! The "just yes or no, I don't need to know about Hammurabi or Magna Carta." issue...well, lets just say coffee and keyboards don't mix. What a mess. I'm gonna sue! Sorry, but it is so true with some lawyers (not all). My approach has always been "Please just a simple yes or no. I don't need to know what has happened since the dawn of time"

And as an experienced jury member
(2 criminal, 1 civil and 1 grand jury stint), I will be glad to shed some light on what happens in the jury room when you're not watching...demystifying the jury room.

Captain Soapbox said...

I'm not a lawyer, or play one on TV, but the jargon thing happens around my house all the time too. It's damn near impossible to watch a war movie with me I'm told since I tend to do a running commentary on what we're watching on the correctness, or more often, incorrectness of things.

So I personally have no problem with using the Magna Carta or Hammurabi's Code as a reference point, because I do the same thing only with Canae or the Siege of Vienna as reference points. So I know those looks you guys get, I get them too.

LawHawkSF said...

Captain: Cool. I was a history major (cum political science). Canae and The Siege of Vienna! We'll have to discuss them some day, and I promise I won't bring up Canon Law or Sharia. Just Hannibal, Paullus and Varro, Suleiman the Magnificent and those impenetrable Viennese walls. Not once do I remember any of our western icons tossing lawbooks at the enemy. Though maybe Paullus and Varro should have. Nothing else was working.

Captain Soapbox said...

Well at Vienna they tossed some cannon law back and forth that's for sure. ;-)

I'll be here all week, don't forget to try the veal.

Lawhawk, I had a double major and History was one of them. So yeah I'm more than willing to babble about history at any time.

LawHawkSF said...

Captain: "Cannon law." Perfect! lol

Captain Soapbox said...

I have my moments, not many of them, but I do have them now and then. Hehe.

AndrewPrice said...

Captain. . . thank you Han Solo.

Captain Soapbox said...

Yeah well I'm a Star Wars fan, so is my fiance, half the time when we say you know what to each other, the reply is,"I know."

LOL

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