Dear Mr. Schaeffer:
My problem is a lawyer from New York named T. Hadley Stevenson III. I’ve changed his name and his state of practice, but you get the idea—he’s typical of a certain type of lawyer who could be practicing anywhere. This particular T. Hadley Stevenson III is making my life miserable. He deliberately sets depositions on dates he knows I’m not available. He sends letters “confirming” things I've never said. He objects to every discovery request I make, no matter how innocuous, daring me to see the judge about it. He knows I probably won’t, since just last month the judge told us he’s “not our goddamned babysitter” and that he “doesn’t want to see us again until the morning of the trial.” The trial won’t happen for at least two years. Meanwhile, T. Hadley Stevenson III won’t return my phone calls. When he does, he’s condescending. “You’ve sure got a lot to learn,” he told me yesterday, adding, as an afterthought, “You little weasely punk.” When I threatened to put his name-calling in an affidavit, he said, “Go ahead and do it. I don’t care. I’ll deny it.”
I don’t just hate the man, I abhor him. Next week, he’ll be in town for a deposition. Do you think I’d be justified in having him killed?
Signed, Willing to Risk Everything in Englewood
Dear Willing to Risk Everything:
As I think you probably know, having another lawyer killed is a very drastic litigation measure. Not only is it drastic, but it probably won’t take care of your problem. Lawyers such as the one you describe seem to be cast from a mold. All over the country, our nation’s law firms are churning them out one after another faster than ever before. Sure you can kill one or two, but others will simply take their place. A second problem is that cold-blooded murder flies in the face of the conventional wisdom that lawyers should be “civil” to one another. It's a sort of conventional wisdom that's been created so that lawyers don’t have to face up to the real problems that have ruined our profession. Instead, we grumble a little and complain a bit and drag ourselves off to a one-hour ethics CLE where we sip lukewarm coffee and listen to an "expert" tell us to quit making so many speaking objections and to stop instructing witnesses not to answer valid questions. It’s harmless and it makes us feel like we’re doing something to help. Meanwhile, no one teaches us what to do when we’re the only ones who are being civil and everyone else has decided to use our civility as a weakness to exploit. Suddenly, murder doesn’t seem so crazy after all.
Is there any solution to the problem? As someone who regularly experiences the sort of litigation tactics you describe, I sure hope there is. Just think of all the talent, time, and money that are being wasted as these tactics are repeated every day at law firms across the country. The money expended on legal fees alone is an outrage that must be stopped. Yet I refuse to make the mistake of the naive legal ethicists whose big idea is that lawyers should smile more often at one another. What do they know? Most of them are law professors or professional has-beens who don’t have to practice for a living. While I agree with them that civility is a wonderful thing, the easy fixes won’t work. The lawyer who nods politely and shakes your hand because he’s just been to an ethics CLE is still just as anxious to make your life miserable with dirty litigation tactics as he was the day before. The only difference is that now, he’ll do it with a smile. Big deal.
Here’s the sad truth: things won’t change until the adversarial model of U.S. litigation has been transformed from the ground up. Should the transformation begin by killing the most obnoxious lawyers? Absolutely not. Killing the most obnoxious lawyers would be too humane. Let’s get them where they’ll really hurt: let’s take away their license to practice law.
Too many lawyers. Too many courts. Too many indefensible litigation tactics. Obviously, it’s seriously affecting my judgment. After further consideration, I take back everything I just said. Go ahead and kill the bastard. The world will be better off without him.
Your friend, Evan Schaeffer
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