Law and Conversation

December 12, 2012

R.I.P. Mary Lee Leahy

Filed under: Law,lawyers,women — Helen Gunnarsson @ 10:08 pm

I am very sad to learn that Mary Lee Leahy, a lawyer in Springfield, Illinois, who had many cases before me when I was an administrative law judge at the Illinois Human Rights Commission, passed away today. She was not only a lovely person but a wonderful lawyer with a long and distinguished career. You can read transcripts of interviews in which she recounts some great stories from her practice online at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield. My deepest sympathy to her family.

December 9, 2012

“How to Feed a Lawyer,” by Evan Schaeffer


For an irreverent look at the world of practicing law from a lawyer who hasn’t lost his sense of perspective and humor, check out Evan Schaeffer’s “How to Feed a Lawyer.” Subtitled “And Other Irreverent Observations From The Legal Underground,” it would make a fun stocking stuffer for any lawyer on your holiday gift list.

Evan is a trial lawyer in the St. Louis area and one of the pioneers in the field of lawyer blogging, a/k/a “blawgging.” Back when I was freelancing for the Illinois Bar Journal, I first discovered his Illinois Trial Practice blog, now titled “Trial Practice Tips,” and then found that he also wrote a more freewheeling blog showing a range of eclectic interests, “Notes From The Legal Underground,” now titled “Beyond The Underground.” I interviewed Evan a few times for the IBJ, on blawgging, social media, and on trial lawyering, and he always took or returned my calls, was pleasant, and gave me good commentary. Evan (whom I’ve met in person only once, if memory serves) also sent me a supportive note when I took the blogging plunge myself and even wrote a blog post with kind words about my MentorCLE seminar on legal writing (which you can get Illinois professionalism (ethics) CLE credit for viewing).

Completely unexpectedly, and with no strings attached (i.e., for FTC purposes, as a gift and not in exchange for this review), Evan sent me a copy of his book, and I’ve been enjoying rereading some of the tongue-in-cheek essays that I remember enjoying several years ago on his blog. Seasoned lawyers and recent grads alike will – or should – chuckle when reading such gems as “The Legal Underground’s Tort Reform Glossary” (p. 113).

October 11, 2012

Speaking trip to University of Illinois College of Law!

I had a great time today speaking on lawyer ethics and social media to students at my legal alma mater, the University of Illinois College of Law, and the East Central Women Attorneys’ Association. I focused on three areas where lawyers occasionally get into ethical trouble on social media: client confidentiality, false or misleading statements or conduct, and using other people. The turnout was good and the students and fellow lawyers were a great audience. I got to recommend two good books to them: “I Know Who You Are And I Saw What You Did,” by Lori Andrews, and “The No Asshole Rule,” by Bob Sutton, which I wrote about here.  As a bonus, I got to catch up with my moot court partner from law school, who invited and introduced me! After my talk, she provided me with encouragement to reread the first volume of Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, which I read with another bookloving friend in the legal profession a few years ago and, sad to say, found a bit of a slog.

Time to think about #fridayreads on Twitter, which I like to, but don’t always, participate in. I currently have two books going as rereads: the beautifully and honestly written “Minor Characters,” by Joyce Johnson, a memoir focusing on her relationship with Jack Kerouac, which I’ve reread several times but not for quite some time, and a title published by Europa Editions, “Clash of Civilizations Over An Elevator in Piazza Vittorio,” by the Algerian-Italian writer Amara Lakhous. The latter left me lukewarm the first time around, but after reading others’ more enthusiastic reviews on The Europa Challenge Blog as well as Lakhous’s more recently published “Divorce, Islamic Style,” which I loved, I’m eager to give his first one another chance.

January 14, 2012

My BigLaw column: Five tips from the bench

Filed under: judiciary,Law,lawyers,Technology — Helen Gunnarsson @ 4:41 pm
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In December 2011 I wrote a column for TechnoLawyer’s BigLaw e-mail newsletter, “Goliath v. David: Five Tips From the Bench for Large Law Firms That Square Off Against Solos and Small Law Firms.” I based it on my experience as an administrative law judge for the Illinois Human Rights Commission for nearly a decade as well as on conversations I’ve had over the years with judges from a number of different tribunals. (It was a lot of fun to write.)

Now, TechnoLawyer is soliciting reader votes for the best BigLaw column of 2011. The winner gets (1) an ego boost and (2) a virtual TechnoLawyer badge to display on his or her blog, toward bragging. (See below for the badge I received in August.) Since I’d love to have both the ego boost and the virtual badge, I’m asking anyone and everyone as well as their spouses, kids, law partners, and friends, to please vote for my column. You just have to sign up for a TechnoLawyer account if you don’t already have one, which doesn’t cost anything, and then click to vote. Here’s the info on how to do it, copied and pasted from TechnoLawyer’s e-mail; MANY THANKS to all for clicking for me.


Goliath v. David: Five Tips From the Bench for Large Law
Firms That Square Off Against Solos and Small Law Firms

Vote for This BigLaw Column:

Read This BigLaw Column:

TechnoLawyer, incidentally, is well worth signing up for if you’re a lawyer. It provides useful articles for lawyers in all different practice settings, focused, of course, on how to use technology to help you practice law more efficiently. And it’s FREE (at least, the current e-mails are; if you want to read an archived article in the library, you’ll have to pay). I’ve had warm and fuzzy feelings for TechnoLawyer ever since August 2011, when the company picked my cover story for that month’s Illinois Bar Journal, “To Tweet Or Not To Tweet: Twitter For Lawyers,” as BlawgWorld’s Pick Of The Week!

July 15, 2011

A Day in the Life of an Ancient Roman Lawyer

Challenge Button

I’ve posted today over on The Europa Challenge Blog on Alberto Angela’s “A Day in the Life of Ancient Rome,” a fictional walk through the Eternal City on one day in the year 115 CE, during the reign of the Emperor Trajan. From dawn to dusk, Angela takes us around the city, showing us where the ancient Romans lived and did business with one another, from latrines to the law courts of the Basilica Julia, part of the complex of buildings that made up the Roman Forum. Hope you’ll click on over there to read my post!

Much as I enjoyed Angela’s description of life in ancient Rome, it left me wishing for even more details, particularly about lawyers and the practice of law. He writes of witnesses who traded testimony for money, which I’d definitely like to know more about. If that was a common practice in imperial Rome, how did the judges assess witnesses’ relative credibility and arrive at a good decision? Were some or even many of those witnesses well known to the judges as professional tale-tellers? Did all witnesses expect to be paid for telling the truth? Were the courts an unregulated marketplace where the most golden-tongued witnesses and lawyers were likely to win? Did they function as well as, better than, or not nearly as well as modern courts in dispensing justice? Were there systems for mediating cases outside of court, or for appeals?

Angela’s brief description of Roman lawyers and courts also made me wonder whether any ethical rules for attorneys existed in imperial Rome. He said clients would initially meet their lawyers in the piazza of the Forum and then make followup appointment at lawyers’ homes, but how did lawyers and clients arrive at agreements for representation? Today, at least in the US, ethical rules prohibit lawyers from soliciting business, based on the principle that lawyers shouldn’t go around stirring up disputes. On the other hand, there’s nothing prohibiting an unrepresented person from approaching and hiring a lawyer who happens to be in or outside the courtroom where he’s making his first appearance, as appeared to be happening in Angela’s scenario. Were there formal ethical rules in Ancient Rome? If so, were they similar to today’s rules of professional conduct? Was there a commission that enforced them? Were ancient Roman lawyers ever disciplined or disbarred?

I can imagine that lawyers in imperial Rome, as those today, generally had to focus their practices in certain areas of law instead of trying to handle all types of cases. Was there a distinction between criminal and civil law, or transactional law and litigation? Was there motion practice? What evidentiary rules existed, and what was the standard of proof? How did lawyers know what the law was? Did they have law libraries in their offices? Was there a central law library for lawyers in ancient Rome? Was there a law librarian who would help lawyers find what they needed? Was case law important, and were case files kept and archived? I’ve read that memory played a much more important role in learning in ancient times; how did that affect the practice of law in ancient Rome?

I wondered, too, about ancient Roman lawyers’ business practices. Did they have areas within their homes that were equivalent to today’s law offices, or did they rent space outside their homes to meet with clients and transact legal business? Did they form associations analogous to present-day law firms? Given Angela’s description of Roman homes as generally dark and not terribly pleasant places to spend time, I’m wondering whether Roman lawyers generally transacted their business with clients, witnesses, and opponents in public places, such as the basilica, piazzas, and restaurants. And were certain types of law practice more prestigious than others? Was there a 2nd century equivalent of, say, ERISA practice, or loan workouts, or white collar crime, or family law? To what extent did the concept that injured people should be made whole by those who injured them exist?

Most of all, I’d like to follow one of those lawyers around for a day—say, the attorney Angela describes whose unhappy clients were chasing him down for an explanation after losing their case. Was our man a struggling lawyer living in a dingy no-water walkup on the top floor of a Roman insula, or apartment building, with all sorts of building code violations? He probably wouldn’t have wanted his clients to come to his home, would he—and it probably wouldn’t have been feasible for him to entertain his clientele there, either, would it? So what did he do?

Maybe our lawyer lived in more congenial surroundings. Did he take potential clients out to dinner, or entertain them in his home, or take them to see the bloody spectacles at the Colosseum for fun? Did well-to-do individuals and businesses conduct “beauty contests” to choose their lawyers, as some businesses do today? If so, how did those competitions proceed, and did our man compete?

We’ve probably all learned in school that the public baths were important to ancient Roman society. I’d like more details about that, too. Did the public baths function as health clubs do today, and did they have membership fees for different levels of privileges at their facilities? Did women and girls go? How often? What about slaves—did they ever get to visit the baths? Were there separate days or hours or facilities within the baths for them? Did our lawyer make certain to show up at the baths at prime times and schmooze potential clients, judges, and other lawyers? Did he swim laps and exercise, or just lounge about? Did he engage in whatever was the competition of choice among professional men? Just what was the Roman equivalent of golf, tennis, or racquetball?

I’m also wondering about even more personal details of our lawyer’s life. Was he married? Did his in-laws like him? How did he and his wife happen to meet and marry? Was she the daughter of a lawyer, and did he take over her father’s practice? Did he discuss his cases with her, and did she help him with his strategy and arguments? Did they push their sons into legal careers, and arrange for their daughters to marry lawyers? How did they relate to their slaves? Did they ever think or talk about the morality of owning other human beings, or about tormenting and slaughtering animals and people for fun, or question other aspects of their daily lives?

Angela provides fascinating insights into all aspects of imperial Roman life, so that I can imagine possible answers to many of these questions. But his book is an overview of Roman life and culture, not the story of any individual Roman. In the absence of an imperial Roman Harvey Pekar, the Cleveland file clerk who achieved immortality in his graphic novels detailing his everyday life from the 1980s through the early 2000s, I’d be thrilled to see Angela or another historian-storyteller follow up “A Day in the Life of Ancient Rome” with a series that might begin with “A Day in the Life of an Ancient Roman Lawyer.”

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