- New Web-Based Store Features Humorous, Customizable Printed Greeting Cards Especially for Lawyers and Other Legal Professionals
- Feature Article: Delivering Instructions Effectively Helps Reduce Stress by Improving Employee Performance and Productivity
- Cartoon: Stu's Views
- Humor: An 18th Century Education at 21st Century Prices
- Special Feature: Too Much To Do, Too Little Time? Why Your ‘Don’t Do’ List May Be More Important Than Your ‘To Do’ List
- Oddservations: Tickling the Tough Issues
- Did You Catch it? Advance Sheet Free Shipping Special Offer
- Cartoon: Juris Comic
- Book of the Month: Law School Confidential (Revised Edition): A Complete Guide to the Law School Experience: By Students, for Students
- Daily Legal Toon
- Humor: Rules of Evidence and Procedure for TV Cops and Lawyers:
a/k/a the Rules in Telly's Cases
We are thrilled to announce the launch of the world’s only online greeting card store featuring humorous and customizable printed greeting cards especially for legal professionals! The store uses print-on-demand technology that allows you to send highly personalized cards to your clients, colleagues, prospects and friends.
New Web-Based Store Features Humorous, Customizable Printed Greeting Cards Especially for Lawyer and Other Legal Professionals
Creating a customized card is easy. First, choose from more than 100 cover images appropriate for a variety of holidays and occasions, from Christmas to birthdays. The "especially for" categories help you to hone in on just the right card, whether the recipient is a lawyer, judge, paralegal, court reporter or court officer. The cards are also organized by practice area and topic.
Next is personalization. You can write a special message for the inside of the card, whether it’s a brief "Congratulations on making partner" or a Valentine’s Day love poem, to be printed in any of eight different fonts and 131 ink colors. You can also upload a signature or logo to appear underneath the message. To make the card even more personal, you may even upload a photograph, which will be printed on the card’s inside left panel. At each stage, you can preview the card on the screen before proceeding.
For added convenience, you can elect to have the cards shipped to you, or mailed directly to the recipients on the date of your choice. Your own return address appears on cards mailed directly to the recipient: in effect, you receive free envelope imprinting. Addresses can be uploaded from Microsoft Outlook as well as other CRM programs.
It’s no wonder the law-related cover cartoons are so insightful: the cards feature artwork by Stu Rees, who has been providing our popular Stu's Views feature for the past few months. Stu, an honors graduate of Harvard Law School, spends two-thirds of his time cartooning and devotes one-third to his law practice, in which he represents over 300 cartoonists.
In an increasingly 'niched' world, it's getting easier for people to find information and products that are relevant to their particular interests on the web. Where else can lawyers find Christmas cards, paralegals find Mother’s Day cards, and judges and court reporters find cards that speak directly to them? Of course, since not all clients will "get" the humor in all of our cards, we also carry a selection of greeting cards that are not law-related in the "For Clients" section of the card store. On the other hand, you don't have to be a lawyer to appreciate the humor in a greeting card showing a chalk outline and a police officer saying "Another murdered spammer . . . and another 150 million suspects," or another depicting a pair of fiery gates topped by a sign proclaiming "Welcome to Hell: Proud Sponsor of the Internal Revenue Code."
Lawyers and other legal professionals who are looking to make a truly lasting impression, whether during the holidays or as a part of year-round marketing, can really inject their own personality into these greeting cards. With the addition of our card store, our website now offers "one stop shopping" for law-related gifts and greeting cards.
Single cards are $2.99 each, and bulk discounts are available for purchases of 10 cards or more. Click here to go to the card store now.
Poor work performance by paralegals, legal secretaries and other law firm staff can be a huge source of attorney stress. Although sometimes the staff member's skills, personality or attitude can be the cause of the sub-par performance, poor staff performance can also be caused by unclear or incomplete expectations and instructions from the supervising attorney.
Delivering Instructions Effectively Helps Reduce Stress by Improving Employee Performance and Productivity|
by Cheryl Stephens
Years ago, I led a group of law office staff in discussing communications problems in the office. The participants were as eager to offer solutions as criticisms. Staff expressed concern about receiving inadequate instructions from the lawyers, and about the manner in which instructions are communicated.
Staff members speak
Here are some specific impressions of many of the communications problems that can arise in law offices:
"I find it very hard to get him to focus on one item and complete it. I work very well on my own and can progress to a certain stage in a project without his input, but when I need his assistance or knowledge that's another project within itself. I usually have to get him as he is coming or going out of his office and past my desk. When I do get his attention, he assists me to move me along, but then a phone call might come or another lawyer will walk by and he'll lose interest in what we are talking about... I do feel at times like a fisherman reeling in my lawyer so that I can get an answer, a signature, or some assistance."
"One of the main areas of difficulty I have within my office is the lack of proper direction from one of my employers. He seems to assume I know what he is thinking and therefore when assigning a project or work on a client file, his instructions are vague. Instead of starting at the beginning of the problem or instructions, he tends to let me in on what's happening half way through his train of thought."
"For whatever reason, be it ego, lack of enthusiasm, neglect or procrastination, most people do not take the time to inform one another of pertinent information or facts to help the company run as a whole; nor do they realize that by doing so, it would greatly enhance their own efficiency, effectiveness and value to the company."
"Lawyers often give instructions in a round-about manner—not taking into consideration that the instructions may not be clear to the listener."
The sage advice of one legal assistant: "If you are giving the instructions, think what you want to convey to this person, what you would like the outcome to be, and what would be the best way to present this in order to get your desired results. Then ask the other person to review or repeat back to you the instructions you have just given."
"Most communications problems in the office can be dealt with by being specific, and asking questions. It helps to be able to speak with your employer without being intimidated or worried what he may think."
Staff members discussed possible underlying problems that contributed to poor communications:
"I have come to the conclusion that one very common problem is a lawyer not taking an assistant's or secretary's work seriously. Accordingly, a secretary or assistant may not feel confident enough to assert themselves when requiring that person's time or assistance."
"I have always felt uncomfortable with senior members of the firm. Perhaps it was due to their abrupt manners."
Here are some ways to improve your clarity and effectiveness when assigning work to staff members:
A bigger problem
- Set aside adequate time and don't allow interruptions when delivering instructions
- Provide some context or background to the case, and identify the guiding purpose or overriding strategy underlying the specific directions
- Give a brief overview of the task at hand before detailing the exact instructions to be followed
- Ask the staff member to sum up what she understands to be the task and her specific directions
- Ask her to identify any areas in which she has discretion when selecting a method for accomplishing the purpose
- Clarify any discrepancies between what you meant to say and what was actually heard
- Suggest that she make a list of questions that arise so she can come back to you once, rather than interrupting you over and over again
And, last, there is the problem of the lawyer out of control. No amount of communications advice can help here:
"The main communication difficulty in my office is one of the partners. He never listens to you; he brings his problems from home. He is so up and down you never know what to expect. When you have to ask a question when he is acting crazy there is no chance to get an answer because he doesn't listen and no amount of trying seems to help."
Remember, good communications build rapport, confidence, and self-esteem in your staff and contribute to a more effective and efficient law practice. All of these contribute to a better environment for the effective delivery of instructions.
Cheryl Stephens, Mentor/Muse, is a retired lawyer who can't seem to stop teaching, writing, and bouncing around to speaking engagements. She can be reached at email@example.com.
©Stu Rees. All rights reserved.
Like this cartoon? Send it to friends, clients or colleagues on greeting cards. To order, visit The Billable Hour Card Store.
At a recent law school speaking engagement, I was struck by two things: (1) a young Republican who didn’t appreciate my "hunting with Cheney" jokes; and (2) the realization that law school really hasn’t changed much in the dozen years since I graduated. Sure, the technology has evolved. After all, when I was in law school, students actually took notes by hand and get this . . .we had books in our libraries. Yet, at its core, law school is the same as it ever was.
An 18th Century Education at 21st Century Prices|
by Sean Carter
For example, today’s law students study the same cases I studied in law school; and these weren’t "new" cases then. After all, most of these cases involve either a whaling ship or a train, neither of which was a very prevalent form of transportation during the 1990s. Perhaps, that explains why I never once came across a whaling or railroad issue in a decade of law practice.
The simple truth of the matter is that law school curriculums are as outdated as my father-in-law’s wardrobe. Take, for example, the most dreaded of all law school subjects—property law. Most of the cases in a "modern" property textbook date back hundreds of years ago to a time when most property was owned by just a handful of overweight and balding white men (well, I guess some things haven’t changed that much after all).
During that time, large rural estates were common and as a result, boundary disputes arose frequently. The laws that sprang from this environment made sense at that time, but they seem completely irrelevant to the issues facing most 21st century Americans; much like the legislation out of Congress.
A classic example of an outdated legal concept is adverse possession. Despite the confusing way in which this concept was described by our law professors, adverse possession is really quite simple. In essence, if you sneak onto your neighbor’s property and live there for 30-40 years, you own it. And possibly, this concept made sense when estates were large and trespassers might go unnoticed for long periods of time.
However, like many Americans, I live in a tract house. As a result, there isn’t much of a chance that someone will acquire my home by adverse possession. After all, if I return home to find a family camped out in my postage stamp-sized backyard, it won’t take me 30-40 years to call the police. It won’t even take me 30-40 seconds to go get my pistol, but that’s just me.
And property law isn’t the only course which centers on the highly unlikely and improbable. For instance, my criminal law textbook contained two cases involving defendants who had eaten their victims in an effort to ward off starvation. In each case, the defendant argued that his actions were in self-defense. Now, I can’t imagine that this was ever a pressing issue in America, but certainly now that 60% of all adult Americans are overweight, there can’t be too many modern-day defendants using this rather creative defense.
On the other hand, while my textbook was filled with cases of dubious modern relevance, there wasn’t a single case involving drug possession. This is despite the fact that this is one of the most common crimes tried in our courts. This seems backwards even by legal standards.
Now, I understand the importance of acquiring a historical context of the law. Yet, I wonder if the standard law school curriculum could be updated just a little bit. Certainly, something significant has occurred in the law since the days when large numbers of people owned mills, drove horse-drawn carriages and had babies past the age of 80 (remember all of the hoopla about that fertile octogenarian lady?).
After all, could you imagine if your family doctor was trained with a medical school curriculum that was similarly outdated? Would you want to visit a doctor who spent her medical school days learning proper leeching techniques? What about the anesthesiologist who learned how to administer a "whiskey drip" in medical school? Would you consider such a person to be a "learned" professional? Unless you happen to belong to my HMO, the answer is probably "no."
For years, the old saying has been, "Whatever does not change, dies . . . or teaches law school." I think it’s time to change this saying. After all, law schools seem to have little trouble updating their tuitions on an annual basis, so why not update the curriculum as well? If a law student is going to spend the next 100 years paying off her school loans, then she should be exposed to cases that might actually occur during this century.
Sean Carter, Humorist at Law, is a syndicated columnist and popular speaker who presents Comedic Legal Education programs for law firms, in-house legal departments and bar associations across the country. Sean is also the author of If It Does Not Fit, Must You Acquit? Your Humorous Guide to the Law.
Another day, another five million things on the ‘to do’ list. Most days, nothing even gets crossed off the list because too many other things come up—phone calls, unanticipated client problems, a last minute emergency that "must" be handled today. And at the end of the day has anything of value been accomplished?
Too Much To Do, Too Little Time? Why Your ‘Don’t Do’ List May Be More Important Than Your ‘To Do’ List|
by Allison Shields
You think you’re organized because you’ve got a ‘to do’ list—you’ve thought about what you want to get done, and you’ve got it all planned out. But somehow it just never works out. The problem may not be your ‘to do’ list—it may be that you need a ‘don’t do’ list.
What’s a ‘don’t do’ list? It’s a list of the things you shouldn’t be doing, the things that could be delegated to someone else or outsourced. The ‘don’t do’ list also includes all of the things you completely let go—things that can be eliminated entirely (or eliminated for a specified time period).
We’re so preoccupied with how much needs to get done, and we’re always on the go, rushing from one thing to the next, to the next. And while we’re busy doing the first thing on our list, ten other things crop up, or we’re thinking about what we need to do as soon as we’re done with what we’re working on. It’s frustrating, exhausting and ultimately, completely unproductive.
Law school education trains lawyers to spot issues, but this issue spotting behavior isn’t necessarily the most efficient way to run a law practice. In fact, it often leads to "analysis paralysis"—every issue must be at least considered, if not addressed, and this hampers lawyers by creating too many distractions. In effect, the ‘don’t do’ list narrows your options so that you’re not overwhelmed by so many choices every time something new arises.
Having a ‘don’t do’ list lets you identify from the outset the kinds of things you don’t want to do, or just shouldn’t be doing because they distract you and prevent you from accomplishing more important tasks. If it’s already on the ‘don’t do’ list, it’s easy to immediately recognize it and move on to more productive endeavors.
How do you decide what goes on the ‘don’t do’ list? Anything that distracts you from the main goals that you want to accomplish belongs on the list. The ‘don’t do’ list can come into play in a variety of areas in your practice—in the choice of day to day activities, your selection of clients or matters, or even what matters you should respond to first.
I had one client who was the managing partner of a four-attorney firm and felt it was her obligation to open the mail every day so she could be on top of what was going on at the firm. But the time it took for her to open and sort the mail was time away from her other, more valuable duties. When my client finally used her ‘don’t do’ list and gave the job of opening and sorting the mail to her receptionist, she reclaimed a lot of billable time. Now she can breeze through the already opened, date-stamped and sorted mail and still keep current.
Your ‘don’t do’ list may also include certain types of clients. A friend recently fired a client who was difficult from the moment my friend first met him, and she finally drew the line when he began treating her abusively. She’s added abusive clients to her ‘don’t do’ list. Now when she sees one coming, she’ll just say no. She won’t add to her stress level by dealing with clients that don’t respect her and don’t value her work. The money that client might bring in just isn’t worth it. She saved herself endless hours of worry and unproductive activity—because dealing with that abusive client was distracting, even when she was working with other clients.
Think about your strengths and weaknesses when making your ‘don’t do’ list. If you’re a great speaker but a poor writer, perhaps writing articles, motions, briefs, etc. should go on your ‘don’t do’ list. You can use a ghostwriter, hire a contract lawyer to do the writing for you, or give the task to someone else in the firm with excellent writing skills. Then you can focus your energies on trying cases, giving seminars or presentations, or other activities where you can showcase your speaking skills.
Some marketing activities may belong on your ‘don’t do’ list. One solo I know belongs to so many networking groups that he’s at a networking event every day, sometimes 2 or 3 times a day. That means he’s at his office late into the night, and every single weekend handling his regular work. As a long-term strategy, this might not be the best for him or his family. Marketing and practice building are very high value activities for a solo to perform. But they’re only valuable if they are strategic—if they’re putting you in front of potential clients or leads, or if the groups or events are ones which you’re passionate about.
Saying ‘no’ is an essential part of your ‘don’t do’ list. Being unable to say ‘no’ to a request when you’re already overburdened is a mistake. If you’re unable to devote the time and energy necessary to a project or group, your participation can end up working against you by creating a negative impression. Evaluate which groups or activities will be the most beneficial to you (or to the people or causes you’re supporting). Limit your participation to the most valuable events or organizations. You can get more value for less time, energy and stress. If the things already on the ‘to do’ list are more important or more valuable, these ‘invitations’ belong on the ‘don’t do’ list.
Although we need to be responsive and accessible to our clients, a good ‘don’t do’ list might include particular days or times when you’re ‘off limits.’ Allowing constant interruptions of family or leisure time not only robs you of much-needed recharging and rest, but is a disservice to clients who are only getting part of your attention. The same goes for interruptions of important business or client-related activities. It’s rare that clients have a real emergency that can’t wait an hour or two for you to finish preparing your motion in limine or complete a meal with your family.
Practice areas can also be items to add to your ‘don’t do’ list. If your practice focuses on family law and a client brings you a medical malpractice case, or if you’re a transactional lawyer who has never seen the inside of a courtroom and you’re asked to try a case, turning down the case may be the right decision. If you aren’t well-versed in the particular area of the law, don’t have the time or resources to learn or don’t have someone to help you, you may be asking for more trouble than taking the case on is worth. Having a ready network of attorneys to whom you can refer cases in other practice areas so you know these clients are well taken care of can assure that you’re meeting your clients’ needs while still remaining true to your own goals.
Identifying the ‘don’t dos’ can be an effective tool for managing your time and reducing your stress. Knowing in advance what things you won’t do lets you move on quickly, without wasting additional time analyzing everything that comes to your attention.
The ‘don’t do’ list also reminds you to ask for help in the areas that aren’t your strengths, so you can focus our efforts on what you do best and what brings the most value to your clients and to your life. It allows you to let go of the idea that you can do everything and be everything to everyone. It’s a shorthand way of cutting through all of the clutter of what needs to be done so you can get back to providing great service to your clients.
Allison C. Shields, President of Legal Ease Consulting, Inc. has been a practicing attorney for twelve years and is the former administrative partner of one of the largest law firms on Long Island. Currently, she helps small to mid sized law firms create and grow effective and enjoyable practices. You can learn more by visiting her blog at www.LegalEaseConsulting.com or her website at www.LawyerMeltdown.com. To schedule a consultation, contact Allison at Allison@LegalEaseConsulting.com or call 631-642-0221. This article first appeared in the July 2006 issue of Law Practice Today, published by the ABA's Law Practice Management section.
Ever get one of those moments of supreme clarity?
Oddservations: Tickling the Tough Issues|
by Bob Pladek
But our legislators get them all the time. For example, ask any assemblyperson or senator to list the top three issues facing the state (a rather cold way, I think, of saying "the people that live in the state") and they’ll rattle them off in a jiff: property tax relief, budget shortfalls and corruption. Depending on your level of cynicism, those latter two might just be one issue.
If you’d asked any assemblyperson or senator to do the same last year, the answer would have been property tax relief, budget shortfalls and corruption. Likewise in 2004. And probably 1804.
The New Jersey legislature considers a lot of . . . stuff . . . each session. In 2004-05, there were more than 16,000 bills, resolutions and joint resolutions introduced. In 160 sessions for both houses, that’s 100 per session. On average, that’s 133 for each of the 120 legislators. Put in familiar, 8-hour workday terms, that’s a bill-a-day for each legislator. Their own version of an apple-a-day.
In begrudging fairness, less than 5 percent actually become law. Now, a cynic might say "95 percent? 95 percent of what they do is pointless? I’d get fired if I was that ineffective!"
Reps themselves point to it as frugality. Or discernability. Or at least giving them the right to say, "Hey. It could have been worse. Twenty times worse."
Not all these bills are junk. And certainly—alright, probably—most of the laws are good things. But a random sample of how legislators spend a fair amount of their (our?) time and newsprint is illuminating. Some of their more recent work attempts to:
Then we have bills encouraging state purchase of "Jersey Fresh, Jersey Grown" products; bills requiring geologists to be licensed; bills authorizing DMV (isn’t it DMC?) to offer a red heart-shape symbol on personalized license plates. And my favorite: a joint resolution establishing the "New Jersey Fair and Clean Elections Pilot Project." I guess you’d want to pilot this one, not actually do it for real. Just in case it worked.
- Designate every October Italian-American History and Heritage Month
- Create the "Smart Freight Railroad Study Commission"
- Designate the third week of May "New Jersey Early Intervention Week"
- Commemorate the 350th anniversary of Jewish Immigration to America
- Permanently establish Sept. 4 as Richard Somers Day (Somers, in case you’re wondering, was a genuine New Jersey native and naval hero who unfortunately died when his ship, armed as a floating bomb, exploded before it hit its intended target. Oh well.)
- Designate every February "Children’s Dental Health Month."
- Designate Route 129 as the "Mercer County Veterans Memorial Highway."
- Declare 2004 as the "Centennial Year of Housing Code Enforcement in New Jersey."
- Designate Colonial Musketeers Junior Ancient Fife and Drum Corps and Colonial Musketeers Senior Ancient Fife and Drum Corps as non-exclusive official Junior and Senior Ancient Fife and Drum Corps of New Jersey
The point of this rather unfair exercise—that’s my way of saying don’t write a bunch of nasty letters about how I’m cherry-picking bills, I know it—is to show how the big issues (especially that rather omnipresent property tax one) don’t get addressed. An issue shouldn’t get too big for legislative britches: In the final analysis, and near-final sentence to my diatribe, that’s why we put these men and women in office. Sitting in the Capitol cafeteria, munching on Jersey eggplant, listening to patriotic music and musing over the state of code enforcement and its possible effects on gingivitis is, actually, something. It’s just not much of something.
Bob Pladek is Special Sections Editor for New Jersey Lawyer. This article is reprinted with their permission, which wasn’t overly begrudgingly given. Bob’s views, thankfully, are entirely his own. You can reach him at Robert.firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Did You Catch it? Advance Sheet Free Shipping Special Offer
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Book of the Month: Law School Confidential (Revised Edition): A Complete Guide to the Law School Experience: By Students, for Students
As 1Ls walk the hallowed law school halls for the first time, 2Ls say hello to old friends and 3Ls return to mark time until graduation, we thought it would be an appropriate time to feature Law School Confidential (Revised Edition): A Complete Guide to the Law School Experience: By Students, for Students as our Book of the Month. We found the most helpful review of the book over at the Princeton Review's website:
Law School Confidential (Revised Edition) delivers again! The much-anticipated revised Second Edition of the best selling law school preparatory book adds three new mentors, two new chapters, updated financial aid, recruiting and judicial clerkship advice, and much, much more. You'll find no fluff in the revised edition's hefty 393 pages. Just a whole lot of solid, tested advice, eloquently delivered with humor and style.
This book received an average rating of 4.5 out of five stars on Amazon.com, based on 128 reviews.
Author Robert H. Miller, a former federal judicial clerk, Law Review Editor, and graduate of UPenn Law School, covers every aspect of the law school experience in thoughtful detail. Whether you are a college student just starting to think about law school, a student in the midst of law school applications, someone who has already been admitted, or someone already in law school, Law School Confidential is a book you should not be without.
Miller and his team of twelve "mentors" from law schools around the country take you through every step of the law school experience, from how to determine whether law school is right for you, preparing for and taking the LSAT, applying, and deciding which school to attend, to the specific details of each of the three years of the law school experience—including preparing for your courses, examsmanship, finding and getting summer jobs, judicial clerkships and permanent employment, earning a seat on the Law Review, and more. An extensive new chapter is devoted to an exclusive one-on-one interview with Dean of Admissions Richard Geiger of the Cornell Law School, wherein closely-guarded secrets of the increasingly competitive admissions process are discussed openly for the first time anywhere. Another new chapter goes one-on-one with the hiring partners of two prestigious U.S. law firms about how to succeed in the hiring process, and what it takes to make it to partnership. Also featured is the chapter highlighting Miller's updated multi-variable "relevance calculus," which law school placement officers around the country have adopted and are actively using to help law students choose careers.
Perhaps the best thing about Law School Confidential, though, is that it is refreshingly honest about the law school experience. Written in an easy, conversational style, and candid, but not bitter, Confidential simply tells it like it is about law school, the competition, and what it all means to you. The team of mentors gives this book even more depth and breadth, making its advice broadly applicable to law students in just about any law school. We think Law School Confidential is a must-have book for prospective and current law students.
Check out more books; studies and reports; newspaper and magazine articles; blog entries; and podcasts discussing the billable hour and related subjects such as client service, value billing and work/life balance on our Billable Hour Resources Page.
Lawyers are often frustrated when they see television shows depicting courtroom scenes unrealistically. They want to jump up and yell "Objection!" when a television lawyer asks a leading, prejudicial, plot summarizing question with several facts not in evidence embedded in it, and the actor playing the opposing counsel sits smiling at the jury.
Rules of Evidence and Procedure for TV Cops and Lawyers:
a/k/a the Rules in Telly's Cases|
by James Rose
Real lawyers do not know that there is a different set of rules and procedure that apply to television drama which are contained in the FCCPLR, which stands for the Fictional Character's Code for Productions with Legal Rigmarole.
For example, anyone arrested has a right to a speedy trial, and usually goes to trial within a week or two of arrest, so as not to slow down the drama of the situation.
If a trial takes place in the beginning of any show in which the good guys are law enforcement officials, the charges must be dismissed for hypertechnical reasons leading to a clearly guilty person going free. If a trial takes place in the beginning of any show in which the good guys are defense counsel, an innocent man will be convicted.
When clearly guilty persons are permitted to go free because of court rulings, any act of vigilantism is thereafter permissible by law enforcement officials. Indeed, in any show where the good guys are law enforcement officials, burglary of the defendant's premises without a warrant is encouraged as a means of gathering evidence. This rule is known as "It's not on my Mapp."
Likewise, another rule requires that street punk informers be assaulted at will in order to obtain information. The only rights that they have is a right to have a right to the jaw. It's cheaper than bribing them and quicker than tedious police work.
Rogue cops on television may do as they please because they regularly resign from the force. Appeals by the prosecution from the suppression of evidence are not permitted. Rather the FCCPLR requires the resignation of police who disagree with pre-trial evidence suppression decisions. The FCCPLR (hereinafter "The Code") provides that once those cops are off "the force" (which is inappropriately named, since it seems the police department exists to inhibit the use of force on such TV shows), they may use whatever means of force they want, not because they are above the law, but because they are below it.
Most law and procedure exists to frustrate progress, the Code says. Any time a defendant is convicted after the actions of a rogue cop solve the case, the Code requires that the rogue cop be automatically reinstated no matter how egregious his actions were.
Police are encouraged (if not required) to entrap defendants. The more elaborate the scheme, the more it is encouraged. Drugs, money, contraband, henchmen and illegal items of all sorts should be provided to bad guys to assist them in breaking the law regardless of court decisions concerning entrapment. ("Entrapment" exists as a defense in TV land only in the beginning of a TV show to allow guilty persons to go free). Police acting undercover are encouraged to violate any and all laws in order to convince their criminal associates how "bad" they are.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys have no obligation to respect attorney-client privilege. They are encouraged to blab their clients’ innermost secrets to innocent third parties so as to put those parties in danger.
Good guys who are mystery novelists, crime fighting priests, stand up comedians or other civilians in professions not related to law enforcement must be given total access to ongoing police investigations, autopsy findings, ballistic reports etc. without regard for confidentiality if they are the heroes of their own series.
Any judge may impose an arbitrary burden upon a good guy (prosecutor or defense attorney) in the first half hour of any show, i.e., "If you don't have that witness here in ten minutes I'm going to dismiss this case!" The judge must be "shown up" by the end of the program.
Evidentiary rules are different as well. An exception to the hearsay rule is any question that speeds the plot along. This is known as the "Rule Against Perpetuities." Argumentative questions containing plot summations are permissible, and in the second half of any show are encouraged. Near the end of any show an attorney may sum up during the questioning of any witness without objection.
Anyone bursting into court through the double doors at the back is permitted (if not required) to interrupt direct or cross examination, summations or the jury charge.
On any show where the denouement will occur in court, no witness can be sequestered. Each must sit in court with all the others (regardless of who has or has not testified) awaiting the dramatic moment.
Questions concerning facts not in evidence are permitted at any time, and witnesses may be badgered in the interests of justice or expediency. Where the plot calls for it, the defendant goes first. Since no discovery is ever permitted (it would prevent the trials from being completed in an hour), trickery, deceit and surprise in court are encouraged.
Rules for sitcoms are somewhat different. All parties must represent themselves in court (i.e., must appear "amateur se"). No negligence doctrines apply, because in sitcoms there are no reasonable men. The rule is: if characters want to be prudent, then they should suggest themselves to an author of a serious drama.
In a comedy, police must chase someone. They are required to be out of control, use excessive speed, and ignore the safety of bystanders. In a chase in a comedy at least one of the following is required to occur (and often more than once):
Officers who engage in such behavior must be promoted and given new police cars to crash in following weeks.
- Crashing into painters or sign hangers on tall ladders,
- Crashing into sheets of plate glass;
- Running over wet cement, particularly if it can be done at the same location more than once in a movie or TV show;
- Going the wrong way on a one way street or crowded intersection, causing cars to crash into one another;
- Just missing utility workers emerging from manholes;
- getting some item such as a banner or paint to obscure the windshield of a vehicle in a chase (which vehicle must nevertheless continue the chase rather than pull over to remove the item); and
- Swerving in order to hit fruit stands. If a chase vehicle can hit either the business of a third generation WASP or a "foreign appearing" ethnic stereotype, the driver must crash into the business of the latter so that he or she will swear at the cops in his colorful native tongue.
No one may be hurt in such crashes, unless he can appear in a subsequent scene in cumbersome plaster casts that become the instrument of some other comic business.
Life Imitates Art, and Art’s pretty mad about it.
James M. Rose is an attorney and legal humorist in White Plains, New York. The Supreme Court Jester is a collection of Mr. Rose's articles in book form.
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