#10 – Reading e-Books

There are two things that most lawyers like: gadgets and books. Now there is a gadget for books.

It is an e-book reader using a special electronic display that is particularly easy on the eyes. Unlike most displays, it can be read easily in direct sunlight, and it can be read at virtually any angle. It is like reading a regular book.

There is more than one type of e-book reader using this electronic display, all made by E Ink. Amazon’s Kindle and Bookeen’s Cybook both have a six inch screen and four grey scales. The Kindle has the big advantage of offering a wide selection of books through the Amazon.com online store. That store uses a proprietary format (ASZ) that only the Kindle can read.

I bought the Kindle because it solved some problems I had with buying books in Japan. I didn’t have space for new books, and I disliked the long wait for shipping. Also, the books on the Kindle are cheaper than regular books.

amazon_kindle In addition to reading books in the ASZ format, the Kindle can handle files in the TXT format, and (if not protected by DRM) in the PRC/MOBI formats. In addition, Amazon will convert other formats into ASZ format. This means that you can take your own files or files from other places, and read them on your Kindle. Most of my reading now is of books that I download from Project Gutenberg and read on my Kindle.

Recently, at a local computer club in Nagoya, I had a chance to compare notes with someone having the Bookeen Cybook. While I still love my Kindle, I realize that the Cybook has a big advantage in being able to read many more formats. While it can’t read the ASZ format, it can easily read PDF and DOC formats. Therefore, it is better suited for when you want to take your work product with you.

One minor annoyance with the Kindle is that it needs to use a limited set of the US ASCII set, otherwise one gets strange looking characters where there should be accented vowels. Another annoyance is that it isn’t available outside the United States. Still, the Kindle is one of my favorite gadgets.

A Kindle is a thing to love.

Ernest Schaal is a retired patent lawyer, living in Gifu, Japan.



#9 WordPerfect 5.1

A couple of decades ago the Law Practice Management Section of the American Bar Association had computer user group meetings as part of its quarterly meetings. Most of those user groups had about three to seven members show up, but one group consistently had thirty or more members. That group was for users of WordPerfect, the then favorite word processing program of most lawyers who used computers in those days.

wordperfect The all-time favorite version of WordPerfect was probably version 5.1, which was released in 1989. That is the version that most old users most reminisce about. Two reasons for its popularity were that it had reveal codes and that it had a very robust macro language.

People made macros for everything: from rapid entry of words and boilerplate language, to automatic formatting, to help printing labels and envelopes. One attorney in San Francisco developed a macro for making pleading paper, and gave that macro away for free to anyone wanting it. He did that because the WordPerfect community shared with each other.

That was back in the days of the late 1980s and early 1990s, when most computer users didn’t have graphical user interfaces (or GUI) on their machines. Instead, they had operating systems that were character based. Apple had released the Mac in 1984, but few lawyers had Macs back then. Most lawyers used MS DOS, and WordPerfect ran on MS DOS.

Then something changed. Microsoft released a version of Windows that didn’t work so well, followed by a version that worked a tad better. They also released a Windows-based version of Microsoft Word, and the market share of Microsoft Word skyrocketed.

What happened next is a point of controversy. According to some WordPerfect fans, the Dark Side of the Force, i.e., Microsoft used unfair marketing tactics to rob WordPerfect of market share. According to others, WordPerfect floundered because of poor business practices, like being too slow to adapt its software to run on Windows and selling software that had stability problems. Whatever happened, Microsoft got bigger and bigger, and WordPerfect had a series of reversals and changes in ownership.

Now  Microsoft Word is the industry standard, and WordPerfect is an also-ran. A large segment WordPerfect users still claim WordPerfect is still best, but there is little hope that it will regain the glories of its past.

There is  a lingering nostalgia about the good old days of WordPerfect 5.1, sort  of like some remember the automobile of their youth, even though it might not have had air conditioning, or cruise control, or GPS. They sound like King Arthur in the musical Camelot, except instead of thinking of kingdoms past, they say “Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Word Perfect 5.1”

Ernest Schaal is a retired patent lawyer, living in Gifu, Japan.


#8 Helping Others

Interviewed by Katharine Mieszkowski in Salon.com, Stuff White People Like creator Christian Lander answered a few questions about the breed of white people who become lawyers:

But obviously, there are a lot of white lawyers.

Oh, yeah. Some of the white people, who are not quite advanced enough white people, have sold out.

What does going to law school represent?

It’s what you do when you finish with your liberal arts degree, and you start to panic about realizing that the careers available for someone who knows a lot about Proust are very limited, and you realize that you still want money. So you end up going to law school. There are people who enjoy law school, because then you can work for a nonprofit organization, and you can be very helpful.

Why is working for a nonprofit important?

White people have the constant and unabiding need to feel as though they’re helping, and because this gives them the ability to hold it over other people.

Hang around lawyers long enough, and their urge to help is overwhelming. While nurses may rank high on codependency scales, they can’t hold a candle to lawyers, particularly in the organized bar. Even if lawyers are barely scraping by, they’ll delude themselves with a need to perform pro bono. A generation ago, young lawyers interviewing at law firms would inquire about the opportunities for pro bono, not having the first clue that the entire point of hiring them was to make money for the law firm. Bar association no longer view themselves as trade associations, wrapping the organization up in God, the flag and apple pie, stressing the availability of public service opportunities for lawyers who’ll even travel great distances at their own expense to set up playground equipment just for the photo opportunity. Forget what you hear about “thirst for justice” the next time you talk to a lawyer. It’s all about being helpful.

If you’re a lawyer, here’s your opportunity to be helpful, without even lifting yourself up from your chair and leaving your computer. Buy Christian Lander’s book Stuff White People Like. Now. (We blatantly ripped off the concept from him, so this plug is the least we can do.)



#7 NPR and Arguing with Kindergartners, Among Other Things

Lawyers seem to like Nina Totenberg.  And NPR. But our heart really
belongs to Sylvia Paggioli because she gets to go to cool places and
say hard-to-pronounce names with a great accent.  For other lawyers,
their heart belongs to Ira Glass, but that’s because, well, he’s Ira

Lawyers like arguing for no good reason.  That’s why lawyers went to
law school.  We enjoy really winning arguments, even when our
opponents are our children.  And our children are in Kindergarten.

Lawyers like to rearrange the dishwasher when someone else has filled it.

Lawyers like to write, because they dream of the day when they can
write fiction full time.  This day will never happen, but it is still
one lawyers dream of  (or, of which they can dream).

Lawyers like to read. Even, when someone moved the ABA Journal off the
back of the toilet, the back of shampoo bottles.

Lawyers like to take tests, even those cheesy IQ tests on the
Internet, just to prove that they are smarter than the average bear.

Lawyers like to watch lawyer or cop shows and say — even shout — out
loud why a certain procedural move is wrong, or why a Subpoena Duces
Tecum or a Motion in Limine would be preferred in a given situation,
even though the only one in the room in the aforementioned

Lawyers like to say aforementioned.

Lawyers like to make lawyer jokes, but don’t like it when non-lawyers say them.


Guest blogger Glenn Goonis, a licensed Michigan attorney, went to law school in Detroit where he worked by day as a manager for a automotive industry learning and development consulting firm.  Now, he lives 30 feet from the Intercoastal Waterway in Pinellas County, FL and practices law part-time, focusing mainly on entrepreneurial business issues.  Additionally, he is a Development Projects Leader for a large life insurance company, and an avid listener of WUSF, Tampa’s NPR outlet. When he grows up, he hopes to devote more time to practicing law and less time to rearranging the dishwasher.


#6 Covering Their Backsides

Lawyers like to cover their backsides.  Sometimes, this makes it hard to give legal advice.  A while back, I had a client who was stuck in a lawsuit.  He was stuck by the time we connected, I was not his first attorney.  The case against him was a long shot.  The plaintiff’s lawyer had a very small chance of a decent pay out, but a much better chance of winning little or nothing.   Either way, the plaintiff did not have much work to do, the burden of turning his case from gold to lead was on me.  So the cost of defending was more than my client’s likely exposure.

My client was from another state, and he wished out loud more than once that he had just ignored the lawsuit.   Mostly, he wondered about that after getting one of my bills.  My answer was easy.  You’ve already appeared in the case and if you stop defending now, the judgment against you will be limited by the judge’s imagination.  But about the guy before me?

This was of those rare cases where the risk/reward might have justified throwing the original summons into the recycler.  Plaintiff’s counsel probably didn’t have the facts necessary to get that big judgment.  Personal jurisdiction was an issue and pursuing my client in his home state would take big investments of time and money.  As lawyers, we’re supposed to explain these kinds of things to our clients and let them decide what to do.  Sometimes, we’re asked to make a recommendation.   But we’re always thinking about managing risks, especially our own.

The lowest risk thing for the lawyer to say is: “you have to defend the lawsuit,” even though the client may prefer to take his chances.   Theoretically, a lawyer who explains the risk can’t get in trouble if the client makes an informed decision and things go south.   But lawyers know proving that theory in a malpractice case would cost ten times more than their advice.   Which is why they’ll say “defend the lawsuit” every time.


Guest blogger Lex Fortis is a Chicago-based attorney with a nationwide practice.  He focuses on business litigation, insurance coverage and counseling small companies.  You can read his blog at http://www.lexfortis.net where he comments on practicing law and rails against people who write like lawyers.  Lex is also lurking on Twitter and Plurk.


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#5 Federal Judges with a Sense of Humor

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Thanks go to Art Mouton of Lafayette, Louisiana, for sharing this decision. And to James S. Tyre, for providing the link.


#4 Wit

scalpel Humor. Lawyers don’t get it. And they never had it.

We all know the split. The determinists who believe that there is something in some of us that drives us to be lawyers. The behaviorists who believe that law school squeezes us into what we are.

But what we are is a profession without a funny bone. Watch a group of people whenever the senior partner starts: “You see. There were these three guys who went into a bar. A ….” By that point the flinch factor has the full group looking like Clinton supporters in Illinois.

We cannot tell jokes. And it is ironic. Here we are, the advocates for the oppressed, and we are less successful at telling a joke than the average 8-year old boy.

I can hear the loyal opposition now: “Hold on there, son. I make people laugh every day.”  And I will bet you do.

But I will also bet that what has your audience smiling is not humor. It is probably wit.

What God or law school (and academics easily confuse the two) gave most of us is the uncanny ability to 1) make an incisive observation, 2) reduce it to a comic phrase, and 3) deliver it with impeccable timing.

The result is seldom a belly laugh. Usually, a knowing chuckle or wry smirk. 

Wit. And we are experts at it. Like Potter Stewart, we know it when we see it.

Oscar Wilde complimented James Whistler on a quip: “I wish I’d said that.” Whistler fired back: “You will, Oscar, you will.”

Frasier: Niles, you’re a good brother and a credit to the psychiatric profession.
Niles: You’re a good brother, too.

Dorothy Parker reviewing Katharine Hepburn on Broadway: “She runs the gamut of emotions from A to B.”

Oh, yes. There is that aspect, too. Wit usually has a target that leaves the field at least bloodied — if not eviscerated.

The distinction between wit and humor is hardly original with me. One of my favorite writers, John Simon, pointed out in Paradigms Lost that humor and wit are nearly the exact opposites of one another. Humor is “basically good natured and often directed toward oneself.”  On the other hand, wit is “aggressive, often destructive (though one hopes, in a good cause), and almost always directed at others.”  Simon, of course, is a master of wit.

If you want to see the distinction in its full French glory, rent the film Ridicule. It is worth every sub-title.

So, here is my suggestion. Leave the jokes to the ex-accountants. We can go our merry way keeping alive the tradition of the Lady Astors and the Algonquin Round Table.

After all, at least one of the three guys who went into the bar is going to need a good lawyer some day.


Today’s guest blogger is Steve Cotton, who is Assistant Counsel for Legal Services at SAIF Corporation, a workers’ compensation carrier, in Salem, Oregon. He has written articles and CLE treatises on workers’ compensation and criminal law, and he is a regular speaker at CLEs and other training sessions, where his wit is welcome, and his humor is barred. He also publishes Same Life — New Location.


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