Friday, December 10, 2010

An illustration of why things never get done as fast as you think they will -- or -- Why the honest solo seldom bills an 8 hour day

While in the middle of working on that seemingly interminable brief I would generally dodge calls from bill collectors and salespeople. But, no matter how busy I am, I firmly believe it is poor policy indeed to dodge calls from my one paying client.

Thus, no matter what, when that number pops up on the Caller ID, I answer.

Her question last week concerned a request for copies of statements that the investigator had transcribed, at my request, from his tape-recorded witness interviews. He sent them to me -- but he apparently didn't keep copies. Now my client needed copies of these statements for someone else. (I won't bore you with why she needed them.)

It should have been a simple matter: Pull the file down off the shelf, photocopy the statements in question, and send them off as requested.

And, no, I didn't lose the file.

But, when I pulled it out, I noticed that my file copies were all marked up. I'd used these statements as exhibits for a deposition and the copies I had were the copies I'd used to help me frame my questions. But I wouldn't have shown the witness marked up copies. Where were the clean copies?

I am a creature of habit. You may say that this is boring and predictable -- and I will not disagree. It is also useful. When you do things the same way every time you don't have to remember what you did on this one occasion. You only have to remember what your usual and customary practice is.

My usual and customary practice is to provide all exhibits to the court reporter and have them bound with the transcript. So -- realizing this -- when the copies in the folder marked witness statements were not as I needed, I pulled the transcript and found...

...nothing.

No exhibits attached.

Doubt settled in. This wasn't really a deposition -- not exactly -- though it was a sworn statement that I intended to produce in the coverage case I've filed in this matter. Maybe... just maybe... I'd departed from my usual practice, then, and not asked the court reporter to attach copies.

I looked again for clean copies of the statements elsewhere in the file -- but I couldn't find anything.

I should point out that this takes less time for you to read about it than it did for me to puzzle this through: My easy task was starting to take hard time.

OK, I thought, maybe I can re-create clean copies of these statements using the photocopier and strategically-placed Post-It notes. I have spent many happy hours (well, not 'happy' -- but many hours, surely) standing in front of the photocopier over the last few decades. I tell people that the sickly green pallor of my skin is caused by the photocopier light.

But I had marked up these statements pretty thoroughly. Even though these statements were all pretty short, it was going to take me a looooooong time to pretty them up. And they probably weren't going to look pretty at all, no matter how long I labored over them. They were going to look altered.

Attorneys just love to get statements that look altered. We're paranoid to begin with. This sort of thing just sends us spinning off to new heights of suspicion.

After taking far too long to this conclusion, I came to another one: Maybe the court reporter had the clean copies anyway but had, for some reason, not included them.

I placed the call.

The reporter who'd taken the statement wasn't in, of course, but the receptionist said someone would get a hold of her and get back to me.

More time passed.

The phone rang. It was the court reporter and, sure enough, they did have the statements. There was a reason -- and I didn't really care whether this was a good reason or a flimsy excuse. I was happy to get the news. And, within the hour I had the clean statements, too.

Total time spent chasing this down: Two hours, give or take. Billable time? More like .30 hours -- the time it took to prepare the letter transmitting the statements.

I can't remember the last time that I'd had this exact problem, if ever, but this kind of thing -- the unexpected time drain for wholly unbillable reasons -- happens all the time. If I had a secretary -- or, in the modern, less specific language of today -- an "assistant" -- he or she might have been able to do the unbillable stuff while I moved on to the next task. But I'd guess (based on my experience in those long-ago days when I did have an assistant) that most assistants would have photocopied the marked-up statements and thought the job well done. And I'd still have wasted time trying to get this right....

Am I being unfair?

4 comments:

Shel said...

Okay, I considered, and I'm leaving one! And it's not spam. Curmudgeon, you have just described my life. Everything takes twice as long as it should, because I have no idea where I put whatever-it-is that I need to do the task in question. So far, the only thing I have never lost is the cat.
By the way, this is Shel from the old phenomenal webmistress blog (which no longer exists - well, the site name does but it's not my site anymore). Chris and I are still where we were, but he's finished his degree and we'll probably be moving somewhere closer to where you are in the next year. Anyway, we're both still alive and well...at least if you don't count mental health!

Dave said...

I think you are about right; though, I'd have called the reporter right after discovring the missing exhibits, cutting the unbillable time in half.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

Putting things away 'for safety' is a fatal thing to do. They won't get found again.

Empress Bee (of the High Sea) said...

i just got caught up on your posts curmy, first happy fifth blogeversary and next, put the keyboard down my friend. put it down. (kidding) hope things are better in '11.

i used to bill for attorneys. they made me bill .2 to say hello to someone.

smiles, bee
tyvc