Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Quid Pro NO!

One of my greatest frustrations as a solo practitioner was dealing with the client who wanted to barter for my legal services.  While there was something strangely comforting in knowing that I could have, say, free lifetime dry cleaning in exchange for a private placement memorandum, I knew that my creditors wouldn't be as comforted.  After all, they tend to insist that I pay my bills in actual money.  As a result, they tend to cop an attitude when I call them and say, "Oh, no, I don't have your money this month, but the starch in my dress shirts is just right!"

And, just recently, an northern Illinois lawyer learned that bartering can not only be frustrating but it can lead to being suspended from the practice of law.  Well, that is, if you barter your legal services for nude lap dances.  Yes, you read that correctly!

The really sad part is that this entire debacle could have been avoided if the attorney in this case had followed three basic ethical rules:

1.  Don't Solicit Business in Strip Clubs.  According to the Review Board Report, the attorney met his client at her place of employment -- an Illinois strip club.  How can you possibly expect to find reputable clients among a group of people who aren't even using their real names?  A simple rule of thumb should be to reject any client who introduces herself as Porsche, Mercedes or Lexus, unless her name is followed by ", Inc."

2.  Don't Barter for Services More Expensive Than Your Own.  From what I've heard, lap dances can cost up to $40 per song.  Assuming an average song length of three minutes, this means that lap dances can cost up to $800 per hour.  Therefore, unless you are a senior partner at a mega-NY firm or a liar, you don't make that much per hour.  Does it really make sense to trade 4-5 hours of your time for an hour of lap dances (and three hours of resulting shame)?  Because my wife occasionally reads this blog, I say, "No way!"

3.  Clients Should Remained Clothed At All Times.  For those of us who serve corporate clients, adherence to this advice goes without saying.  After all, about the only people less sexy than our corporate clients are ... are ... I'll have to get back to you on that one.  However, even if you find the client to be attractive (i.e., you are desperate), there is a level of objectivity that must be maintained in the lawyer-client relationship.  And while reasonable people may disagree about where the appropriate line is, we can all agree that it shouldn't be a tan line.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Everybody's a Comedian

In the past, I thought the most annoying thing about being a legal humorist is that people insist on validating your skills.  For instance, if I'm introduced to a group of lawyers as the "legal humorist," one of them will invariably ask me to prove my bona fides.  "Oh, so you're a humorist, huh?  Well, I'll be the judge of that.  Say something funny."

I've always been tempted to respond, "Oh, so you're a securities lawyer, huh?  Well, prove it.  Draft a trust indenture."  Of course, common courtesy (and the fact that the organizer usually holds the balance of my fee until after my talk) prevents me from doing so.  Besides, given the current state of the securities market, she just might take me up on my offer.

Yet, recently, I've found an even more annoying tendency among the lawyers I meet -- the tendency to suggest ways to improve my talks by telling their favorite jokes.  Now, don't get me wrong.  The quality of my talks can always be improved.  And I certainly am not above "adapting" (or even outright stealing) time-tested humor techniques.  Yet, I can't possibly fit a Nantucket limerick into my seminar on stress management, as was suggested by an attorney last week.

Even more, I can't help but to feel that, while well-meaning, these suggestions are just a tad presumptuous.  After all, you wouldn't meet a rocket scientist from NASA and say, "Well, you know, I really think you guys did a good job on landing that probe on Mars.  However, for the next mission, I'd suggest ..."  Even more preposterous would be the rocket scientist taking your advice back to NASA.  "Guys, we're going to have to scrap the new Titan rocket series.  Why?  Well, I met this family lawyer at the Chili's Happy Hour on Friday and he told me ..."

And while my work is not exactly rocket science, it does require a modicum of skill and specialized knowledge.  It's simply not that easy to formulate, and cleverly express, zany thoughts and ideas (as evidenced by this blog entry).  It's something best left to the professionals -- nightclub comedians, late-night talk show hosts, and the people currently in charge of U.S. domestic fiscal policy.

And I suspect that you might feel the same way about your area of expertise.  Think about it.  If you met a plumber at a neighbor's house, would you consider his suggestions on drafting, say, an SEC-compliant stock option plan for your biggest client?  Of course not.  In fact, if this plumber is anything like my plumber, you probably wouldn't even consider his suggestions on plumbing.  And that would certainly be the case if the work boot was on the other foot.

For example, I recently had my house painted by professional painters.  You're going to find this hard to believe, but I did not overhear the following conversation:

Painter #1: "Should we use the blower or the brush to get to that tiny space under the overhang?"

Painter #2: "Hmmm.  That's a tough one.  In my 40 years of experience, I've seen it done both ways.  Oh, I know!  Let's ask the legal humorist!"

About the only thing that these guys wanted to ask me was whether my check would clear if they cashed it immediately (which they did).  And I don't blame them.  After all, I don't know primer from prime rib.  I have about as much business interjecting my thoughts on a house painting project as, say, a certain lawyer who thinks that I should tell his favorite Andrew Dice Clay joke during my next diversity seminar.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Politician Arrested for Bad Joke

When I read the above headline, I was horrified.  After all, I make my living telling jokes to lawyers.  And while I think all of my jokes are funny, my audiences don't always share in that assessment.  However, up until now, the penalty for telling a bad joke has been awkward silence and comments like "He should have kept his day job" on my evaluations.  It's scary to think that the penalty could be stiffer.

I can see it now.  I'm making my way through an adoring throng of fans shouting out things like, "Great talk!", "You the man!", "I want to have your baby!"  You know, the usual stuff.  Just then, I'm approached by a police officer.

"Mr. Carter, I have to place you under arrest."

"What for?"

"For that WNBA joke in the beginning of the speech.  You're also being charged for that bit about not having sex with the clients."

"You've got to be kidding me?  The sex with clients bit is some of my best stuff!  It killed!"

"It didn't kill for Agnes Walker," replies the officer, pointing to a woman who appears to have been born in the 30s -- the 1830s.  "She's the one who called us in.  Now, are you going to come quietly or are we going to have to get rough?"

How do I explain that one to my new cellmates?  As they sit around exchanging stories of assault, robbery and general mayhem, I'd be forced to chime in.  "You know what I did?  I told a bad joke at a legal conference.  That's right!  And I'll do it again too!"  For some reason, I suspect that I'll be doing a lot of sleeping with my eyes open.

Seriously, when did this society get to the point where you can get arrested for telling a bad joke?  And why hasn't someone come and put Conan O'Brien on death row?  These are questions that we all should ask.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Long Live the Fashion Police

When I first read about the case of the 29-year-old Florida man who was arrested for violating a city ordinance governing low-slung trousers (or, legally speaking, "exposure of undergarment in public"), I was sympathetic.  After all, what's next?  Will the fashion police in Florida begin arresting people for wearing white after Labor Day or black dress socks and sandals?  I could just see it now:

Frightened female motorist: "D-d-did I do something wrong, officer?"

Officer:  "Did you ever?  What made you think you could get away with wearing red lipstick and plum nail polish?"

Motorist:  "Oh, but I was running late and ..."

Officer:  "Save it for the judge, sister!  Here's your ticket and have a nice day.  Oh, and for the record, that lime green blouse is soooo last year!"

Well, I did feel that way about the law until I happened to see the rapper Lil Wayne on the Video Music Awards (see picture above).  But first, I must explain why a 40-year-old man with a law degree (and a fully-functioning frontal lobe) was watching the VMAs in the first place.  Here's what happened:

It was nearing my 14-year-old son's bedtime.  My wife and I conducted our nightly coin flip to determine who would have to risk malaria to step into the swamp he calls his room to remind him to bathe.  Needless to say, I lost.  When I got to his room, I found him lying across his bed on top of a mountain of both clean and dirty clothes watching television (what a surprise!).  As someone who believes that parents should monitor their children's entertainment choices (particularly when the Pussycat Dolls are gyrating across the screen), I decided to investigate his viewing choices further.  That's when I became acquainted with Mr. Wayne.

Now, the fact that I couldn't understand a word that Lil Wayne was mumbling into the mic was to be expected.  My parents could never understand the high pitched squeals of Prince or Michael Jackson either.  However, at least, Prince and Michael Jackson wore pants that covered their entire buttocks (well, at least, Michael Jackson did).  In any event, I began to see the wisdom of the Florida law (and canceling my cable subscription).  No person should be allowed to wear pants that expose their underwear, unless of course, they are in an all-girl musical group.

Seriously, Lil Wayne and his fellow rappers must be stopped!  That's why I'm calling on the U.S. Congress to stop their current work of not passing legislation to deal with the major problems facing the American people and start working on passing legislation that would require Lil Wayne to wear a belt.  And if you think I'm picking on the rappers unfairly, I'm actually trying to help them.  For instance, Lil Wayne has been arrested twice in the last year.  I now know why.  He can't possibly run very fast from the police with his pants fastened across his thighs.  If he pulled his pants up, he might have gotten away.  Also, please note that my proposed law would also apply to plumbers, locksmiths and heating and air conditioner repairmen.  

In short, if the American people have to put up with high gas prices, a crumbling infrastructure, unaffordable health care and MTV, we should at least be freed from Lil Wayne and the Brotherhood of the Exposed Backsides.