General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionMagazine
American Bar Association
General Practice, Solo, and Small Firm Division The Compleat Lawyer
Spring 1997 copyright American Bar Association. All rights reserved.
From the Editor
jennifer j. rose
The law's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it. As properly circumspect as lawyers pretend to be, we're not much different from fourth graders who make mud pies, enjoy puerile humor, and throw spitballs in class. We just do it more elegantly. Or that's what we keep telling ourselves. In juvenile court, the feeling often sweeps over me that the players are really overgrown school kids playing "court." The lawyers are the good students - the student council leaders, the hall monitors. The judge is the teacher's pet. Most of the litigants are the kids waiting outside the principal's office - the rascals and hellions, and the ones without good excuses for forgetting homework.
Dirt, filth, and dastardly deeds keep most of us employed. Without grime and sleaze, masses of lawyers would be clamoring for jobs at the Quick Shop, legislatures would crash to screaming halts, and entire judiciaries would be decimated. Moses would be sunning himself in Tel Aviv instead of chiseling those Ten Commandments. American children's math scores would skyrocket as civics was dropped from the curriculum. If dirt didn't exist, lawyers would've invented it.
Dirt's built many a legal career. Just ask any real estate lawyer carving away a tract out of the back forty. Probate's a matter of dealing with the bounty of those who are turning to dust. Without pollution and toxic waste, environmental lawyers would have no Superfund Cleanup, no limits on bacteria in drinking water to enforce. Pornography makes the First Amendment useful; it guarantees the right to talk dirty, doesn't it? Each time we promulgate a rule, we're circumscribing zones of conduct that we find too earthy or objectionable. We're drawing a "do not cross" line in the playground dirt.
Without sly, unscrupulous opposing counsel cooking up dirty tricks, our lives would be too easy. We owe those skunks and bottom feeders our undying gratitude for testing our patience, honing our trial practice skills, and making us look better than Mother Teresa. The jerks in the profession force us to adopt standards. Scientific studies have shown that exactly half of all litigants are completely wrong. Some have even been known to lie, cheat, steal, and commit other heinous acts. Those clients always hire our opponents. Saddled up outside our offices, our clients' white horses contribute valuable organic enhancements to the environment.
How Clever Can We Be?
How do we develop issue themes? At our quarterly meetings, The Compleat Lawyer's editorial board brainstorms. Someone advances a crackpot idea, claiming it's the most clever notion since the invention of language. Curbing the natural inclination to apply proper restraints, and heeding basic rules of politesse and democracy, the editorial board kneads and leavens a hair-brained concept until it's a theme both useful and interesting to our diverse readership.
DIRT evolved from a single topic: ground-water contamination. Believing an entire issue of The Compleat Lawyer about hazardous waste might lack broad appeal, the editorial board stretched the concept to real estate, finally leading to a play on the different connotations of dirt.
Cognizant of a typical lawyer's ploy to avoid work, we tap the editorial board member who professes to know the very least about the proposed topic to act as issue editor. Stan Cohn, who practices trial and admiralty law in New Orleans, was drafted. He issue-edited the issue without once mentioning the terms "alluvium" or "Longshoreman's Act."
Our readers are a mixed lot. You're not always an easy bunch to satisfy. Some of you practice alone, some specialize, some concentrate in two or three areas, and some of you know everything about everything.
We're already mulling over the Fall 1998 issue...that's how far in advance we plan. Obviously, the best-laid plans might be beset by legislation banning the practice of law by lawyers or something equally compelling. Don't change that channel: Our Summer 1997 issue on litigation will show you more about trying a case than you ever could've learned during all of the O. J. chronicles.