Observant little ...

I don't understand the answer, but I may have some ideas on the question...

Competency and some of my worst moments as a lawyer

My date last night went well - we had a little confusion meeting up and then had dinner together. It was nice. I talk a lot more than he does though. Not sure if that's a problem. He didn't seem bored by my chatter, so I guess that's a good thing. But I do have quiet times sometimes and what will happen then?

Have been working for the last couple of days with a graduate engineer who is trying to write a statement of reasons. Oh boy. Trying to explain to someone about how to do something that I do instinctively, that is, writing a document so that it is clear and unambiguous as to the facts (findings), evidence and reasons. Not easy. In many ways, I'd rather just write it for him, but I don't know enough about the file or subject matter to have any idea how to do that. Bugger huh? I have finally managed to get him out of saying that a document was "inconsistent" though (inconsistent with what?) - he's now saying that the data was less reliable. Much better. We are onto about the 5th draft by now - I'm sick of it, I'm sure he's sick of it and we're not finished yet. We are closer though. Which is a good thing.

This post and this one got me thinking about some stuff that happened very early in my career.

First up, as a bit of background - I made the following comment about competency over at the first blog I linked to above:

"I started out doing some very basic debt collection files when I began my articles. Within maybe 3 months, I felt completely competent on those files.

As I became more experienced, I felt completely competent on more complex and difficult matters to the extent that, now, I can provide at least preliminary advice on nearly every area of law I can think of. Since I do volunteer work giving legal advice, this is something I do fairly regularly and with confidence.

Perhaps the only areas that I would avoid would be specialised areas like tax, IP, and corporate mergers. But since I have no interest in them (well, other than the copyright part of IP which I have a good general knowledge of but never wanted to specialise in), it's never been an issue I've had to face.

I guess it's a little different for me because we have the solicitor/barrister distinction here and I can always seek counsel's opinion if I'm not completely sure of myself. With that disclaimer, I would feel comfortable taking on any case that I come across, including in an area I've not tackled before.

It probably helps that I'm one of those people who tends to know a little bit about most subjects rather than a lot about one subject. So, when it comes to law, I will know the basic issues to spot and questions to ask in practically every scenario, and I will know what areas to research to get the answer I need. I believe that you don't need to -know- the answer to take on a case, you just need to know where to -find- the answer.

Which brings me to my two stories. Both of which were about people who were incredibly rude to me and how I mishandled each one.

The first was a old country lawyer who took offence at my explaining my client's case to him - he called me "girly" (a term I hate) and told me that he'd been doing this for 20 years and didn't need me to explain the law to him. I got angry and sarcastic and suggested that if that was the case, then he'd see why his client didn't have a leg to stand on.

In hindsight, I should have:

(a) cut off the conversation when he started getting narky about 5 minutes before and dealt with it by correspondence; or

(b) simply said "I understand that, but I merely wanted to be sure that we were working from the same base" or something similarly calming. I could always defame his character, using every swear word in my vocabulary, as soon as I'd hung up the phone.

The second was a doctor whose records we were after and I had to serve a subpoena on. The subpoena had to be served on the doctor personally and, as a courtesy, my firm always rang ahead and made a time when it could be served. So I rock up at the appointed time, explain to the receptionist who I am and why I'm here and sit down to wait. After about 15 minutes (while patients have gone in and out), I approach her again and explain (again) that I'm from a law firm and that all I have to do is hand the document over to the doctor - it will take about a minute. She tells me he won't be much longer. Again I wait. I go back a few more times and each time I'm told that he won't be long. In all, I'm kept waiting for 45 minutes by the time the doctor finally sees me. As soon as I'm in the door I place the document on his desk at his fingertips, tell him the explanation of the document is in the covering letter and turn and leave.

He later rang up to complain to my boss. He blasted me for my "arrogance", complained that I "stormed" in there*, "slammed" the subpoena on his desk, and didn't even have the courtesy to sit down and explain properly what this is all about. Luckily for me, my boss didn't really have a lot of time for him after he told my boss that he'd kept me waiting on purpose because he was pissed off that he'd been kept waiting for hours at court the previous day by another lawyer from another firm entirely. So basically he was pissed off with lawyers in general and decided to take it out on me, then didn't like it when I bucked up. The arrogance of the man still stuns me. Has he not heard of professional courtesy?

Anyway, hindsight and a little more experience has taught me that I should have just left after 15 minutes. Told the receptionist that I couldn't wait any longer as I had another appointment and just left. Perhaps after suggesting that the doctor give me a call when he was not as busy and I could possibly return then to serve the subpoena.

* I didn't storm into his office - however, I have a long stride for a short person (especially when in a hurry) and heels on a wooden floor often sound very loud, so in all honesty, I can maybe see why he would think that way. I didn't "slam" it on his desk either, but I also didn't wait for him to take it out of my hand. I actually thought that I was being very calm considering how angry I was at being kept waiting, but I'm sure my body language would have revealed that I was pissed off.

Anyway, there's probably no point to these stories, except that maybe competency in knowing how to handle a case often comes from experience not so much because of a greater knowledge of the law, but from a greater knowledge of people, and learning diplomacy in handling them. My ethos now is "I'm from the government and I'm here to help" - the fact that complying with this usually helps me more than the other side is beside the point! ;o)

Listening to: Screamfeeder - Introducing Screamfeeder


Blogger The Uncivil Litigator said...

Your doctor story is similar to mine, that you linked to. In both cases it's obvious that the rude person in question simply didn't want to deal with lawyers. I too was accused of being rude despite the fact that it was the bureaucrat who was being rude, and unresponsive to my requests.

Is it common in Oz for lawyers to serve papers on persons themselves, rather than hiring what we call a "process server"?

7:53 am  
Blogger OLS said...


No it's not common - basically everyone other than the doctors were served by private process servers (we call them the same thing) or the police (in remote areas).

The doctors were served by me (as the junior lawyer at my firm) for two reasons I guess -

(a) they weren't parties to the action, but were just having their records subpoena'd (like in your one that I linked to); and

(b) we often had to deal with the same surgery over and over again, so it was a professional courtesy to serve them ourselves rather than using a process server, so that we could explain the action to them or negotiate when the file would be available.

Thankfully it's not something I have to deal with anymore. From many experiences over my years in private practice similar to this one, I grew to dislike doctors with a passion. I still don't like them, even when I'm a patient. We used to say that the uni must teach them Arrogance 101 in first year because perfectly nice people seem to end up in the same mould after they've finished their degree.

That said, you can generally tell a nice doctor's surgery by the friendliness of their reception staff. I think nice doctors must make nice employers and so they look for, and keep, nice staff.


9:54 am  

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