Monday, November 18, 2013

When It Really Doesn't Have To Be There in the Morning

It was 1972 or 73 when I bought my first so-called pocket calculator, a TI as I recall.  It was about half the size of an iPad, though two or three times as thick.  I paid, as I recall, $65.  And wonder of wonders, the thing could add, subtract, multiply, and divide.  Just the thing for balancing the checkbook and calculating my students' grades.  (I was teaching Freshman Comp and Sophomore Survey classes in the English Department at Michigan State University at the time.) 

I got my first computer, a "transportable" Kaypro, in 1984, around the time I started law school. These days I have computers at home and at the office, an iPad (sorry guys), a smart phone (not an i), and a first generation Kindle.  I am, as I think they say, tethered.  Yet I have no particular computer skills or aptitude.  When they tell me that this or that computer program or operating system is intuitive, I sigh.  Not to me it isn't.  My intuition simply doesn't run in the same paths as that of Bill Gates or Steve Jobs.  And I have no desire to learn to do more than I do now - surf the web a bit, do research, process words.  Fewer bells and whistles, please, not more.  (I actually yearn for the days of the WordStar program I used on that old Kaypro - before Windows, before a mouse.

I have this blog, of course, but no matter how assiduously you dig through it, you won't find much information about my life.  (I'm not so naive as to believe a search of the web won't reveal stuff, some of which is inaccurate; but what I say publicly is different from what Google's algorithm's discover.) I don't tweet or tumble or facebook or whatever it is that one is supposed to do to stay in touch.  I've finally figured out how to send text messages.  I just can't figure out why I would want to.  I hate the telephone. 

All that said, I practically live on e-mail.  And, frankly, I don't see how any lawyer can reasonably hope to function these days without being connected.  We do research on the web (and still in books, too, but that's a separate issue).  Federal courts require electronic filing.  So do more and more state courts (and those that don't frequently require electronic copies in addition to paper ones).  Court opinions and analyses, some of which are actually useful to practicing lawyers, are available on the web before hard copy arrives by letter carrier.  And of course there are listservs and blawgs and blogs that provide community and connection and answers (some of the answers are even useful).

Note, however, the word function in that last paragraph.  And consider the case of Cynthia E. Collie, attorney and (I believe it's the same person) ophthalmologist on Sullivan's Island in South Carolina.

Ms. Collie is not tethered.  As of a year ago (and I assume still today) her office, at least her law office, had no access to the internet.  And she has no working e-mail address.  On the other hand, she doesn't actually practice law, hasn't had a client, she says, in 30 years.  And while she isn't technically eligible to register with the South Carolina bar (or whoever lawyers register with in South Carolina) as "retired,"* she is indeed retired from the practice of law.

But rules, as they say, are rules.  And if you're gonna be licensed to practice law in the Palmetto State, then you have to be available to your clients.  Even if you're effetively retired.  Hell, even if you're registered as required.  And availability, per Rule 410(g) of South Carolina's Appellate Court Rules includes a verified e-mail address.  
Persons admitted to practice law in South Carolina shall have a continuing duty to verify and update their information contained in the AIS, and must ensure that the AIS information is current and accurate at all times.  At a minimum, the contact information listed in the AIS must include a mailing address, an e-mail address and a telephone number.  Members must update their contact information within five (5) days of any change.  Additionally, members must verify and update all of their information prior to paying their bar license fees every year.
 So the disciplinary folk took off after Ms. Collie.
You have no e-mail address, they said.  How are your clients to get in touch when all you have is an office and a phone?
To which she responded that she has no clients, hasn't had any for 30 years.  And she is retired.
But your clients!!
Fuck the fact that you haven't any.  They must be able to reach you. By e-mail.
So she got an address.  Set it to an automatic reply, and ignored it.

Here's the thing.  It turns out that having and verifying that you have an e-mail address isn't enough.  You have to monitor it.  Which of course Collie didn't.

OK, the woman's a pain in the ass.  She's been filing pleading after pleading with the South Carolina Supreme Court which declared her a vexatious litigator and basically closed the courthouse door to her.  

And then, because really, she "poses a substantial threat of serious harm to the public or to the administration of justice," they suspended her license to practice law.  Which, of course, she doesn't do. Not having had a client in 30 years.  And being retired.

OK, all this is trivia.  The net effect as far as I can see, unless she should decide to come out of retirement some time, is that the suspension will save her having to pay bar dues.  Oh, and it might screw up her 6.7 rating on AVVO.

Every state has some disciplinary system for lawyers.  We police ourselves, whether through bar associations or courts or however, because we understand what's important in ways the great unwashed (and unbarred) don't.  And can't.  Which is, of course, bullshit.

The penalty box - reprimands, probation, active suspension, disbarment, whatever - is almost exclusively reserved for solos and small firm types who represent actual people.  As opposed to corporate lawyers and biglaw types and prosecutors, you know, the big guys who, well, who don't represent actual people.  That's not because the big guys are any more ethical than the rest of us.  It's 'cause they're the ones with the power.  

They're the majority on the grievance committees and the folks who run the bar associations and fill most slots on the judiciary.  And like the cops who huddle round and cover up and swear that what's on the video is a lie (and who you gonna believe, us or your lying eyes?) they can't see that they do anything wrong.  Because they wouldn't.  Unlike the sleazeballs who have to work for a living dealing with, once again, actual people.

And so it is that Cynthia E. Collie met her match.  Because she didn't play ball.  Or check her e-mail.  For those angry notes from the clients she doesn't have.

*Not yet being 65 and having neither a serious illness nor a total and permanent disability.


  1. Wow, this post took me back. TI here too, though it cost more and was stolen within 24 hours.

    If the kids see this post, they may well argue that she should not only be suspended, but perhaps burned at the stake. Digital natives can't understand why anyone wouldn't have all the iToys. Have you ever seen a twenty somthing in a power outage? It's hysterical.

    To suggest that an email address is not necessary is heresy. The only legitimate justification is that the lawyer is now dead and buried.

  2. I thought e-mail was actually dead, the reserve of old farts who haven't mastered the joys of texting (and the young'uns who grudgingly put up with them).