Wednesday, September 30, 2009

One of the joys of solo practice: $28 to plug in a fax machine

I drove downtown first thing this morning to pick up a large appellate record (from which the second brief of my current three brief sequence was drawn) and return it to Elgin.

Elgin is the city well northwest of Chicago where sits the Illinois Appellate Court for the Second District. Returning the record this way involved driving to and from the Loop in rush hour traffic. I could have made arrangements to send it back via UPS or something -- but that would have necessitated finding suitable boxes (you know, boxes that close) -- and packing materials -- and calling UPS -- and being here when the driver comes.

This is not a knock on UPS -- but driving was easier.

Besides, this way the record was returned on time. It was due today.

Now my wife had one request of me this morning: She needs to sign up for a continuing education seminar and she tried calling the telephone number on the brochure -- but couldn't get through. So she filled in the form on the brochure instead and asked me to fax it.

This is a task not likely to be confused with cleaning the Augean stables and I did not mind undertaking it in the least. Even though I'm certain that her school also has a fax machine.

So... while the flashers were blinking on the car parked in the tow zone on the street outside the Undisclosed Location and I was putting the (open) boxes in which the record was obtained from the Appellate Court Clerk on a dolly brought down for this express purpose, I also waited for the fax to go through.

It didn't go. I got the printout that said that there the line was either busy or had no signal.

This got me just a little indignant: Imagine! This outfit doesn't answer its voice line or its fax line. Grumbling to myself, I put the papers in my suitcoat pocket and steered my dolly out the door, back to the car (which had not been towed or ticketed -- yaay!) and headed out to Elgin.

I have an appointment on the North Side this afternoon, but I thought I could stage for that just as easily from home as from the Loop... and I always carry work with me that I could do. And I had to go right by the house -- well, practically right by -- in order to get back downtown... so I went home.

It was when I got out of the van, in my driveway, that the light bulb went on.

I went inside and dialed the number of my fax line. The phone rang and rang and rang some more.

My suspicions were thus confirmed.

We have a mostly-retired lady who comes in once a month or so to prepare checks and allocate the bills for me and the fellow with whom I share this Undisclosed Location. Now and then she fills the postage machine. This is done over the phone.

She has found, from trial and error, that the postage machine has to be moved to the conference room and plugged into the separate line there (the only real justification for our continued maintenance of that line, actually) in order to accomplish this task. For a long time she used to try plugging the postage meter into the fax line -- but she couldn't make that work. On some of those prior occasions she had forgotten to plug the fax machine back in.

Monday, when she was last here, she must have tried to use the fax line again: The fax machine had been disconnected from the phone line.

Now it's not that I get a lot of faxes. But I have this line listed and clients do use it sometimes. I need to have it available.

So... back in the van I jumped and headed for the Loop. Traffic was a lot better, at least. And I'll hang out here until it's time to head out to my late afternoon appointment.

And the fax machine is now plugged back in, too.

But why did I title this piece "$28 to plug in a fax machine?" That's what it cost me to park.


Today's post was going to be about another aspect solo practice -- collections -- in response to a comment left the other day by Shell of Shelley's Case. (She even referenced and linked to Monday's post in her September 29 post, which was nice.) I guess that post will have to wait a little longer, though.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

At the Lincoln Library, transfixed by a pair of gloves

Yesterday I mentioned that the first of the three appellate briefs I will complete in a month's time was filed a week ago Friday. And so it was. But I was not there to file it.

Some weeks before, in a moment of weakness, I'd agreed to accompany Long Suffering Spouse on a field trip to Springfield....

The teachers at my wife's school decided not to ask parents to serve as chaperones for the middle school students' field trip this year. The teachers found that sometimes a parent would watch only his or her own child. And the other kids didn't listen to them. When they ran wild (the kids, not the adult chaperones), the parents seemed powerless to rein them in.

So a number of the teachers decided to enlist their spouses as chaperones. I know one of the teacher's husbands from our respective terms on the parish school board and a lot of other activities back in the day; we always got along well. So his wife used my presence as an inducement for him to come and my wife used his as an inducement to me.

And then I found out that the buses were leaving the school parking lot at 5:45am on a Friday.

But I went ahead with the plan anyway and took my place in the convoy of three highway-style tour buses. My wife assigned me eight or nine kids to look after. The girls were fairly compliant, but one boy moved with exaggerated slowness and another moved like he was hopped up on uppers... so the group tended to space out as we went through New Salem.

After a while, I found out that I could holler at the kids and bring them back into line without much difficulty; the parent of a child in the class might have difficulty doing that. After all, s/he might fatally damage his or her child's social prospects for-ever.

But these were truly city kids.

On the bus on the way down, a kid saw animals grazing near the Interstate. "Horses!" he shouted.

They were cows.

And, at New Salem, these sixth, seventh and eighth graders were far more interested in the cows and chickens and sheep than they were in the Rutledge Tavern or even in the legend of Ol' Abe's youthful infatuation with the ill-starred Ann Rutledge.

Some of the buildings had re-enactors available to talk about the history of their building and its occupants... and I gamely tried to engage them... and my charges. I had great conversations with the re-enactors. The kids drifted off in search of more animals.

Ah, well.

But after New Salem it was time to visit the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. This had opened up in Springfield since I was last there and it was another powerful inducement for me to agree to make the trip.

By this time I had figured out how to keep my charges more together. And it was a more confined space so the straggler couldn't straggle as much... even though we had to more or less keep pace with Mr. Hopped Up. Still, I had the chance to catch their attention a couple of times. The group paused around an exhibit showing Willie Lincoln's deathbed. In a room dedicated to the Gettysburg Address, I discovered that not one of them could recite even part of it. Memorizing set pieces just isn't done these days, apparently.

But I stray, as I so often do, from the point, which is not about what the kids saw, or absorbed.

We finished our tour of the exhibits with some time to kill before heading into the gift shop. Long Suffering Spouse's group came up not too long after. She took pity on me. While she kept her group, and mine, occupied by taking photos with statues of the Lincoln family (the one place in the museum where photos are allowed), she let me sneak back and look at the exhibits for a few minutes on my own.

I wound up in the "Treasures" room. These were real Lincoln artifacts... one of his stovepipe hats, a lock of his hair. But I was drawn to a display of two gloves.

Lincoln, the accompanying sign said, often wore gloves when in public -- because all that handshaking and so forth was tough on his hands. I can imagine that he might have used them riding, too, since Lincoln often rode his own horse when in Washington. He kept one glove in each pocket of his suit coat.

Thus, one of the cream-colored gloves I was looking at seemed almost rust-stained, the other was not. One glove was in the pocket drenched in his blood after John Wilkes Booth shot him. The other was not.

I stood there for as long as I dared before rejoining the tour group.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Curmudgeon comes up for air... but is he about to go down for the third time?

Well, I'll shortly begin writing my third appellate brief in a month starting... tomorrow, probably.

I need a break today.

I worked all weekend on the second brief and sent a draft through the ether to my co-counsel last evening. My weekend lasted for about an hour afterward. Then I fell asleep.

With all this work you might think I'd be wallowing in the green stuff but, sadly, no, such is not the case: The first of these three briefs was a reply brief. The client in the first case still owed a large sum for the opening brief that we (I and my co-counsel -- I'm not putting on airs) did for him.

It wasn't supposed to be that way. With "retail" clients -- meaning people, with all their faults, as opposed to nice, solvent corporations -- I try and work off what are known as "security retainers."

In Illinois, at least, a security retainer is money that the client pays the attorney for work that is going to be done but hasn't been done yet. The money technically belongs to the client, which is why the lawyer must deposit it in a separate client funds account, but when the lawyer actually does the work he or she has the security of knowing that the money will be there to pay for it.

And this was the plan we had dealing with the client for whom we did the first brief in this latest sequence. It's just... well... he fell behind... and then got all indignant that we were pressing him to live up to his end of the bargain. Aren't I paying within 30 days? he would sputter. Actually, no, I would think to myself. As a solo practitioner, I actually look at these things. He was probably used to dealing with lawyers in firms; lawyers in firms usually have office managers who take care of the tawdry financial details.

Anyway, even the pretense of the 30-day plan fell apart when we billed him for the opening brief. Oddly enough, in an appeal, the truly concentrated time is when the brief is actually being prepared. We'd warned him, we'd cajoled him, we'd sweet-talked him... but he hadn't put anything substantial on account and, in the event, he couldn't make good.

Sadly for us, the other side was extremely prompt in filing their responses. They sought no extension. If they'd sought even one extension our client might have had time to catch up on his bill.

Thus, we were faced with the prospect of doing a reply brief when the client had not yet paid his bill for the opening brief. But the real problem was that he has continued to suffer reverses in the trial court (piecemeal appeals happen in the federal courts) and he wanted us to file still another appeal... and file all sorts of emergency motions in connection with same.

My co-counsel and I agreed that our obligation was to complete the original undertaking -- and even if the client had paid ahead as agreed that would still have been our priority -- so I got to work on the reply brief. That brief was filed a week ago Friday. The client got his bill just last Tuesday. After giving him credit for what he'd paid, and adding the new time, he owed us nearly as much as he did when we finished the opening brief.

But the client continued to demand that we get to work immediately on his new project... and I have these other two briefs to write. My co-counsel sent him an email suggesting that one of his trial attorneys could file the notice of appeal and we would join in on the briefing if our schedules permitted -- but we had to do some work for our other clients, long delayed while we were dealing with this client's stuff. This prompted a phone call from one of our client's other attorneys (he has quite a stable) -- a well-respected attorney, too, so I was rather disappointed in his attitude -- who wanted to know why were "refusing" to do work for this client.

So -- there's $22,000 I'll now never see.

But, the odd thing was, it was liberating to move on, secure in the knowledge that I'm going to get stiffed on that bill. I had a clear head to focus on the next brief, the one due yesterday.

This was another complicated monster, a long and tangled 10-year trial record, but not as bitter and vitriolic as the first client's case (which lasted just over a year, never went to trial -- and generated nearly as much paper). I don't think much of our prospects in this second case -- but I'm functioning here as strictly a ghost writer. My name will not appear on the brief, and that's fine with me.

I hope my co-counsel will like it. More than that, though, I hope her client will pay for it. I'll be working on that bill in a few minutes.

Then, tomorrow, the third of these consecutive briefs. But I think I have a handle on this one.

Famous last words?

And I haven't been fully paid for the opening brief in this third case either... but I have a much better feeling about my prospects of receiving compensation in this case than I do on the first one.

I have learned a few lessons from all this -- aside from not taking on individual clients without insisting on much larger security retainers.

One is that I write best in the morning.

I can see the computer screen, which helps. (Well, I can't see too well this morning -- but it's been a loooooong weekend.) But, more importantly, I can focus better. I can concentrate.

So if I'm not posting some mornings in the near future, just suppose that I am trying to use my limited attention span to my best advantage. I can think a little more deeply in the mornings.

In the afternoons, then, I'll think about politics.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

A rant first, and then a pause

My workload has increased to the point where I won't be able to keep up with posting for awhile. Again.

This too shall pass.


But, in the meantime, let me leave you with just a small rant:

You know, of course, that the Internet is the New Frontier of advertising. And the online ads are becoming increasingly sophisticated. I'm not just talking about pop-ups that defeat the most determined pop-up blocker. I'm talking about the commercials that open on the side of the page when you try and access your email or your favorite news site.

At least, they try to open.

On older, less graphically muscle-bound machines -- such as the one I use here at the Undisclosed Location -- or even the somewhat bigger and better machine I have at home, the ads don't always open.

They hang.

They freeze.

They leave white space where they should be.

And... in the meantime... I must wait.

And wait.

And wait some more.

A note to advertisers: If you want me to be kindly disposed towards your product: Don't have your stinking ad prevent my page from opening!

Are we clear on this?


Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Friday, September 04, 2009

Don't get any ideas about us, Britain

It was just a squib I saw in this week's Newsweek: Self-government has been suspended in a one-time British colony, the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Since achieving self-government in 1976, the small (population of around 32,000, scattered across a group of islands north of and roughly in between Cuba and Hispaniola) country has been the subject of many complaints. There have been charges of rampant corruption, rigged elections, and just general ineptness. So the British government last month took over the local government and imposed direct rule by a Crown-appointed governor-general. Although some have made charges of neo-colonialism, the Newseweek article says "the takeover had a number of similarities to a proposal currently gaining ground in development circles.... [R]eal development requires more than foreign investment or charity; it needs functioning institutions, which is precisely what outside administrators can provide."

Let's see now... former British possession... rampant corruption... charges of rigged elections... general ineptitude in government....

Hmmmmm. Why are the English looking at us Americans with that funny look in their eye?

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Support for 2016 Olympic bid fading?

That's the headline in this morning's Chicago Tribune. Coming, as it does, on the day after the International Olympic Committee released its technical evaluation of the four remaining bids for the games (the link will take you to the Huffington Post which has the entire report embedded) the news must be sobering for those hoping to bring the Olympics here.

The Olympics, we are told, won't go where they're not wanted. One criticism of Tokyo's bid, in the recent technical evaluations, was that it lagged behind the other cities in public support. The Tribune poll's figures, if accurate, show we now lag well behind Tokyo.


Here's a link to the official website. You'll see pretty pictures there, a slick video, testimonials from former Olympians who have Chicago ties. (Huge surprise! Michael Jordan backs the bid!)

Of course, there are also local people who have been staunchly opposed to the Olympic bid from the beginning. It's rather Newtonian when you think about it: For every website, there's an equal and opposite website. For there's No Games Chicago.

But most of us locals, I suspect, are somewhere in between these two poles. Public opinion is heading negative at the moment because -- another huge surprise! -- long-rumored insider deals are starting to surface, such as the disclosure that 2016 committee member (and Daley-appointed Chicago School Board chief) Michael Scott "and a group of politically connected West Side ministers were planning to develop city-owned vacant lots kitty-corner to Douglas Park, the proposed Olympic cycling venue." The August 13 Chicago Tribune reported that, one day after determining that Mr. Scott was not compromised by his involvement in the project, Scott had decided "to accelerate his separation as agent for the group." (The quotes are taken from the Tribune's August 13 Clout Street blog entry.)

As the late Paul Powell said, "I can smell the meat a-cookin'."

There are millions to be made from the 2016 Olympics -- and, if the games are awarded to Chicago, Daley's friends will make most of them. The likely boodle boom tends to sour the disposition of the vast majority of those who, like yours truly, are on the outside looking in. There's your reason for declining public support.

On the other hand, as I've said before while talking local politics, being without friends in high places is the best defense against indictment.

Not that the IOC much cares what an old Curmudgeon has to say, but I think it might be kind of exciting if the 2016 Olympics come to Chicago. It'll be sheer misery when the games are on, and in the weeks before and after, just getting to work in the morning. I reserve my right -- if I'm still breathing and blogging then -- to crab about that. Sadly, our political overlords will steal from us whether the games come here or not. So we might as well get the games. With luck, some of the politicians will get caught overreaching for that Olympic gold and find themselves in jail as a result.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Getting Younger Daughter back into the dorm

Younger Daughter had been lobbying for a couple of days to begin bringing her stuff down from her bedroom into the living room in anticipation of loading the van for her return to college this weekend. We resisted until Sunday, the day she left.

I wrote last year about the mounds of stuff (including a set of dishes!) that Younger Daughter took with her for her freshman year. All of these were to be returned to the dorm this fall -- along with a whole new pile of soft goods and appliances including, among the latter, a small refrigerator inherited from her aunt.

I kept harrumphing about the enormity of the growing pile, the needless volume of stuff, how -- in my day -- I'd packed my clothes in a World War II-surplus duffel and took that and my portable typewriter on the train and the bus back to campus. "Two shopping bags of stuff should be all you need," I told her (repeatedly -- and to no avail). "Get this down to two shopping bags and we can put you on the Harlem bus." Younger Daughter merely laughed at me.

By Sunday afternoon, neither Long Suffering Spouse nor Younger Daughter were laughing any longer. They had assembled the pile with a little assistance from Middle Son -- and none from me. Long Suffering Spouse's withering stare said eloquently, "He who would kvetch must also carry."

Thus, I volunteered to accompany them back to school.

Younger Daughter folded the middle seats of the family van into floor and we began stuffing the vehicle beyond capacity. Beyond reason itself. At some point, Younger Daughter said she'd have to get inside. I could pile groceries on top of her.

I was worried that the driveway would collapse beneath us before we could get underway, but we made it to school without incident.

Unfortunately, we arrived at the same time as many others and were obliged to park about a block away. Younger Daughter will be living this fall in a partially converted monastery. I say "partially" because a religious community is still functioning in part of the building; the chapel inside is breath-takingly beautiful.

The elevator, however, left something to be desired.

Such as size.

And have I mentioned that Younger Daughter was assigned a room on the third floor?

My wife had brought along a dolly to tote some of the heavier bags and boxes, including the previously referenced refrigerator, but she had forgotten to bring the bungee cords necessary to secure the loads. So the dolly was used once, for the refrigerator.

I got the infernal device into the elevator and Long Suffering Spouse jumped in behind me with an armload of stuff. Fortunately we did not use up all of the limited oxygen on the two flight trip up. A line of people was waiting for the elevator's return -- but I did not have room to maneuver the dolly off the elevator. In frustration, I picked up the 'frig' and began walking it down to Younger Daughter's room -- down three stairs and about as far away from the elevator as possible while still being in the same building.

Apparently my face turned such a bright shade of crimson in the course of this exertion that a man whom I took to be much older than myself ran -- sprinted -- down the hallway to offer me assistance. I grunted that I could do it myself. And I did.

Thereafter, though, I used the stairs. I made multiple trips up and down those three flights of stairs toting bag and box after bag and box. In my somewhat sedentary condition, just getting up these stairs totally unencumbered would be something of an achievement. (You may recall my March 2009 post about walking down the stairs here at the Undisclosed Location in an effort to improve my conditioning.)

Through my exertions, I redeemed my right to crab.

We haven't yet heard from Younger Daughter since we left her Sunday. Long Suffering Spouse attributes this to her being busy -- buying her books, starting her classes, renewing her acquaintances from last year. But I imagine her being trapped in her dorm room, piled high atop a heap of stuff, unable to reach the door. Like this scene from A Night at the Opera -- without the Marx Brothers and the engineer, and the assistant engineer, and the manicurist, and the maid....

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Swine flu distinguished from Bird, Zombie varieties

(Sighted elsewhere, but this seems to be the source. Click to enlarge.)

Update 9/2/09 -- Links followed from Sitemeter traffic today suggest a different origin for this chart, that it may possibly have originated with Mark H. Harris at a site called Off the Charts. I don't want to get involved in any mishegaas about who created this work so I report the additional information. Who would have thought that a chart about the flu would go viral so quickly?

(Sorry. I couldn't resist that one.)

Seventy years ago today: World War II begins

Seventy years ago today, the Wehrmacht blitzkrieged into Poland. You may find this article by British historian Andrew Roberts (obtained from the UK's Daily Telegraph) of interest. Roberts addresses why England delayed declaring war on Nazi Germany until September 3 despite its prior guarantee of Poland's borders. A brief excerpt:
It was true that Chamberlain and Halifax still hoped against hope (and rationality) that Hitler could be persuaded to withdraw from Poland once it was made clear to him that the Western Allies would stand by their guarantee. Because they would not be providing any material help to Poland, indeed the British Army only started crossing over to the Continent after 3 September, there seemed to them to be no particular hurry to declare war, since doing nothing to help immediately struck them as little different from doing equally little a few days later. Moreover, the French Government of Edouard Daladier seemed to be dragging its feet, and both Governments believed a simultaneous declaration would have a far better effect.
Nevertheless, Roberts posits that the main reason for the delay was an offer by Mussolini to host a peace conference. Roberts does not speculate on whether Mussolini's offer was genuine or just a cynical bid to gain time for his ally, Hitler, to subjugate the Poles. But there is no question that the British were eager to keep Mussolini on their side, or at least neutral, in the looming war. Churchill writes, in his memoir of World War II, about his efforts to court Mussolini.

And, speaking of Churchill, on a lighter note, today seems like a good day to recycle this photo I first found (and posted) in 2007:

Originally Stumbled upon at this site.

Heads or Tails #105 -- "Yellow"

Today, Barb has another timely Tuesday Heads or Tails: We are asked to write about "yellow" -- some of the leaves on the trees around here are turning that color even now. On September 1! Somebody seems to have smuggled Chicago to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

But I won't write about leaves this morning because I cheated and looked at Barb's post first. She often puts up a music video and her selection today was "Big Yellow Taxi" -- but not by Joni Mitchell. Her video is from some entity called "Counting Crows."

We can't count too many crows around here since the West Nile virus came through.

But I started thinking about the "yellow" songs Barb passed by.

The Yellow Rose of Texas. The Mitch Miller version is on my iPod. There goes my street cred.

Yellow Bird by the Arthur Lyman Group. Wikipedia says this was the only version of the song to chart in the U.S., reaching No. 4 in 1961. Now you remember why America was so ready for the British Invasion. And, speaking of which....

Yellow Submarine by the Beatles.

(Despite what it may look like, Wikipedia assures us that Peter Max had nothing to do with the artwork in the movie.)

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John.

Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini by Brian Hyland. (This will boost my search engine traffic.)

Yellow River by Christie. (You'd remember it if you heard it.)

Not one but two songs from Donovan Leitch: Mellow Yellow, of course, but also Colours ("Yellow is the color of my true love's hair/In the morning, when we rise....")

And still one more, by the group "Yello." Herewith a medley of the group's greatest hit, "Oh Yeah," used to such great effect in 80s films such as The Secret of My Success and the late John Hughes' Ferris Bueller's Day Off. The video that follows shows neither of these, but may be the actual music video released with the record (kids, turn off MTV for a moment and find an adult to explain to you what a music video is was):