You always hear about ethics issues in law school. Everyone sorta knows lawyers are ethically questionable, but I always assumed it was more associated with the concept that we choose to go into a profession that represented criminals and other assorted horrible people for money. It’s like a more erudite form of prostitution. We’ll do almost anything for money; no check that, after working here I know that lawyers will do anything for money.
I probably should have figured the ethics in the real workplace were going to be nasty. I made it thorough a retelling of merely one of these stories to a friend who is an associate elsewhere, they told me I was obliged to quit immediately. I explained to my friend I had this pesky addiction to food which I could only satisfy with those little green slips of paper the law firm gives me so long as I keep showing up.
So, what have I witnessed so far? I’ll start simple.
My boss’ desk is stacked with papers. Mostly because they tend to never be in their office. Which is part of the problem with the affidavit issue, if they are never there, they never end up signing those all important time sensitive documents. But don’t even suggest they appoint an authorized signor; this other arrangement is better. I watched a paralegal take an unsigned affidavit, sign it for an attorney then proceed to cut-and-paste the seal and signature of a notary onto the affidavit and submit it to the court. I know, you’re probably thinking this is maybe one bad actor… not really. I also saw another attorney who ‘could sign the absent attorney’s name better than the paralegal could’ sign an affidavit in front of the office notary, who then signed and notarized it. If you can think of any permutation of this arrangement with an office full of paralegals and attorneys, I watched it happen. The office notaries would notarize any document with any name on it, no questions. I think they just really liked to use stamp; I’m sorta surprised they didn’t just stamp random objects around the office with it.
Back to the avalanche of papers on my boss’ desk… I got a motion to compel (our) discovery through service. When I started looking, it seemed like we never sent the discovery out, and thus missed the deadline by a month or (much) more. I asked if anyone knew if it had gone out. A helpful paralegal said, of course it went out, I sent it out in the mail myself. I will admit, I thought that was odd considering we e-serve everything, but hey, who knows. I was relatively new, and this was an old file. It was possible they sent paper copies previously, recently… maybe? So I told opposing counsel it had been sent out, but I’d be happy to email over a copy if they couldn’t find it; I emailed it over and I put the issue out of my mind. Opposing counsel might have figured out something was wrong but my understanding was they ended up in rehab the day after I sent the email… so they had other things on their mind. Weird coincidences like this seem to happen way to often in the legal world, I chalk it up to the weird as fuck characters who populate this profession. I didn’t think much of this incident… until it happened again.
But this time, it was a little different. This time the firm definitely didn’t send it out. This was an issue because it was in at a highly litigious point in a high value case and opposing counsel seemed to have forgotten they requested the information; but if they figured it out, we would have had limitations placed on our objections blah blah blah (legal mumbo jumbo no one but lawyers care about so I won’t keep explaining). The paralegal again says, don’t worry, we have ways of fixing this. Then they open their desk and start rummaging through and pull out a handful of metered stamps with backdates on them, like many months backdated. They take the discovery, put it in an envelope to send out, and put a backdated stamp on it to make it fall within the discovery period. I brought up the issue with the senior litigator that technically we were late and out of time. The paralegal looked at the senior and said “don’t worry, we fixed it with a stamp.” The senior said, “oh, then no problems.”
Continuing on… How about something more malpracticey? The lit group sent off one of any number of continuing motions in one of the multitude of cases in our section, only to have it bounce back from opposing counsel with an email saying “this case was dismissed… why are you filing into it?” This was news to us, so we looked into it. The case had been dismissed when the opposing side had set a docket control hearing about 2 months prior and our firm was a no show. For those who don’t know, these things are usually a formality handled by a paralegal who just calls in to it. It might require an in-person hearing, but that’s rare and usually only for contested issues. Well, the group looked into it and here was what we found… the opposing counsel had the phone number, email, physical office address, and was actually personally acquainted with the senior litigator in our group from a previous job. The court for some reason did not have current contact information for the senior litigator; mind you, contact information is, at a minimum, listed at the end of the original complaint, and also on every motion filed into the court, and on all the discovery docs sent to opposing counsel. The court did however have the contact info of the Senior Litigator at a previous job, so they sent it there, and in the best fashion possible, messed up the address so it wasn’t even served properly on them. At the court hearing, opposing counsel did not attempt to contact the senior litigator or anyone else in the office, instead they just said “we have no idea what happened” and let the court dismiss for want of prosecution. The correct thing to do is to call on your cell and ask where counsel is, not to lie to the court and say they have no idea how to contact them or where they are. Things don’t (and aren’t intended) to work in that fashion.
We filed to reinstate the case and I was sent to the hearing. While preparing for it, I found a notice for the docketing hearing we had received a month before the docket control hearing. I brought it up to the paralegal (who was supposed to be responsible for scheduling it) and the senior litigator. They specifically said “we never received that” and proceeded to delete it from the network. Everyone involved had unclean hands. It is so god damned icky working around these people.
I was sent to the court to argue the very narrow statement “Senior litigator person had never gotten the hearing notice” (which they had). The judge was ticked and handed me a copy of the email they had sent us (you know, with the copy of the DCC that no longer existed on our computer network?) Anyway, I basically said the senior litigator had never gotten it personally (because they never actually check their own mail themselves, so technically true). The judge was really not happy, but then, opposing counsel jumped in and said they too had problems getting hold of senior litigator and it must be a problem with our phone / email systems. Opposing counsel was now lying to try to make themselves look better for intentionally not contacting my firm at all. The judge was now stuck with two lawyers effectively lying about the same thing… They were outnumbered and gave up, but basically said you only get one fuck-up in their courtroom and made sure I would pass along that statement to the senior litigator.
I could keep going, I think I will in later posts about the shady as fuck goings on, but for now these last few will have to suffice for a bit.