Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The garbage has been repacked

I'm getting ready to move.

In the course of nearly 26 years as an attorney I've only moved offices six times. The firm that I had clerked for during law school and which had then hired me as an attorney was moving to new quarters when I finished the bar exam -- I had very little to do with that one. I had more to do five years later when that firm bought a building in River North, but not a lot more.

The firm grew and we took satellite space in a building a block away, next to (as it turned out) a women's prison. I didn't know there was a women's prison next door when I volunteered to move to the new space, but all that involved was moving my computer and files over. The office was either furnished already or the firm arranged for furniture to be brought in.

And the women's prison -- more of a halfway house, actually -- was nothing like what you might see on late night cable TV.

But that wasn't the reason why I moved again, just a few years later. No, I thought I would be a great success out on my own in the cold, cruel world.

I didn't have a clue.

And I didn't take a thing, not one single file. So there wasn't much involved in that move. Physically, anyway. (A file later followed me, but only one. It is significant to this story, but not for awhile yet. Be patient.)

I joined up with a college classmate and set up shop in the attic of the converted house he was using as an office on the far South Side of Chicago. For the first several months about all I did was watch the Rock Island trains pull into and leave from the station across the street. But I watched carefully and, eventually, my practice grew... a little... and I began to forge new connections with people I'd known in my past life.

One of these people invited me to move downtown into his office. Although I maintained a tenuous business connection with my college classmate, and I still had my own cases, my real job was working files for my new landlord.

Moving to this new office was a cinch: I had a computer and a few boxes of files. I did it in one car load.

And what an office my new landlord had: On one of the top floors of a Class A building in the South Loop, with an unobstructed view of Lake Michigan. I sat with my back to the window the entire year I was there. I knew that if I ever looked out the window in the morning I'd lose the entire day.

Unfortunately, my landlord was himself a subtenant of a very large, silk-stocking firm -- and the firm decided it needed the space for expansion. Move number six took me to my current location, only a block away from the other place -- I've written before about the inability to keep my phone number over even such a short distance. Because I had my own business, this move was more involved than any of the previous ones -- but I was still piggybacking. I dealt with the phone company and had to send out a bunch of notices to a bunch of places. I had to order new checks. But the movers came and I left. I set up my office the next week and continued on for five years.

Which brings us to today, on the eve of my seventh office move. I will be a subtenant no more -- and I discover just how involved moving really is. There's more to it than changing over the phones and sending out notices. There's more to it even than buying furniture (which I've had to do for the first time) or dealing with union movers.

I've been packing now for a solid week. Much of what I have accumulated during the past five years will not be going with me. Most of this is stuff generated from one single file -- the lone file that followed me from my old firm. (See? I told you it'd play a part in this story eventually). That one file grew, over the past eight years, into ten consolidated cases, three interlocutory appeals, a related Federal case, and a coverage case in the Chancery Court. My client was the target defendant in the consolidated cases. I settled all the claims against it but one, and that claim went to trial last Summer. There were over 50,000 pages worth of discovery from the plaintiff who did not settle. I had boxes and boxes of stuff regarding claims that had gone away. I packed 10 boxes worth of materials that I intend to keep, either because I want to or I have to. But I had no further use for any of the rest of it -- and there was quite a bit of that. There was no appeal from the trial verdict; the insurer was content to pay the judgment and let the litigation end. Nor did the insurer want to take any of this stuff off my hands.

So I had to figure out how to dispose of it. It was easy to pitch some stuff -- duplicates of pleadings, copies of cases. But some of the discovery materials were another matter. They were covered by a protective order and I had to make certain I did not run afoul of its terms.

My review of the protective order persuaded me that I could throw stuff out: It said the material had to be destroyed or returned at the conclusion of the case, but the method of destruction was not specified. Putting paper in the recycling bin will, at the end of the day, result in the complete destruction of that paper. Granted, there is always a chance that someone could snoop through my recycling before it was processed back into pulp -- but why would anyone want to? I am simply too unimportant for my garbage to be considered interesting by anyone.

Last Friday I commandeered every recycling bin on the floor, the large and the small, and I began throwing out mass quantities of paper. I filled all the blue bins to the brim, lining them up along the wall outside my office like a row of toy soldiers and I went home Friday evening with a sense of accomplishment....

Only to return on Monday to find the bins all still against the wall. And still full.

I was glad I'd not gone in over the weekend. I had thought to go in -- and fill the bins up again. I would not have been pleased if I'd found them that way on Sunday after incurring the cost of parking. But there was plenty to do at home also, and I wound up doing some of that instead.

But back to Monday morning: My landlady came in while I was bemoaning my fate and cursing out the cleaning people and generally whining and carrying on. (My ex-landlord and I had both become subtenants of this lady's firm during the course of the past five years.) You know, she told me pointedly, if these materials contain confidential client information you really should have this stuff shredded. I pointed out that these weren't my client's confidences... but even I thought that sounded weak just as soon as I said it.

So I called a shredder. I still don't know if I really have to shred this stuff -- but there was some sensitive, personal information in this material -- and I really didn't want to call attention to it by, for example, calling the building and making special arrangements for throwing it out. That's the kind of thing that might make the garbage seem interesting. Or so I feared.

The shredder wanted to come by and look at what I was proposing to send out -- but he couldn't guarantee that he'd be here before the end of the week. And he wouldn't be taking my stuff with him -- he sends other people for that. They'd follow next week. But I'm moving on Friday, I whined, and the shredder came up with a different idea: If I could estimate for him the number of standard document boxes worth of stuff I'd have, he could quote me a price and I could sign a service agreement today, and fax it right back to him. So I guessed 15.

Good, he said, and the agreement followed in due course -- but he still wouldn't send the truck around before Friday. In the meantime, I still had every recycling bin on the floor jammed with paper.... and that wasn't going to go over well with my landlords or fellow tenants.

And that is how I came to spend all day yesterday repacking my garbage -- 17 boxes of it.

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