Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Hey technology! Stop doing me such favors....

I had a mediation last week that lasted all day and, in that time (without going into identifying details), we agreed how much money my client should get (I represent the plaintiff) -- but the defendants, who all agreed to the overall price, failed to agree among themselves who would pay what portion of that price. Imagine ten businesspeople trying to figure out how to split a single lunch check. Each could agree on who ordered which sandwich, but problems would still arise: "You had more of the onion rings than anyone!" "Yeah? Well, you ate all the chicken wings!" "Whose bright idea was it to order pitchers of Coke? Sam here drank one all by himself!"

The mediator, a retired judge, was working the phones throughout the week after the mediation and even into this week. The judge's assistant has called me with updates -- but the updates are all of the they're-still-working-on-it variety.

Meanwhile, today was supposed to be the post-mediation status hearing before the non-retired judge who is presiding over the actual court case. We're supposed to tell this judge whether we've settled the matter... or whether we're going to plunge, wallet-first, into trial preparation.

My thought was that I would wander over to the courthouse this morning and tell the judge what's been going on and obtain a short extension. I like going over to the courthouse in the morning. I get to see people. People get to see me. Sometimes I even have conversations with people... without typing!

But this was too easy a solution to be workable. The defendants' attorneys took time out from their squabbles over who should pay what to argue about what to do in court this morning. If they'd come over to court with me we could have argued in front of the judge. Then everyone, even the judge, would have felt connected to the process.

Instead, however, some of the defendants' attorneys urged that an order be entered yesterday, striking today's hearing, and setting up another date next week. Emails were exchanged. Phone calls were made and received. I was working on a project that was not overly difficult -- but required me to stay focused for more than 10 minutes at a time in order to get it finished. Though I therefore tried to stay out of the discussion, I was on the receiving end of various phone and email messages. Finally, I called the judge's chambers and asked if I could bring over an order yesterday, instead of this morning. The judge's case coordinator agreed.

I went back to my project with one wary eye on the clock. Courtrooms tend to shut down around 4:00pm and, at my rate of progress, I was going to be getting over there about a minute on either side of that witching hour. I maintained my focus for a little while and finished my project, printed it, put it on the fax machine, typed out my order, photocopied it and ran over to court.

Unlike a visit to the courthouse first thing in the morning, the Daley Center in late afternoon is a lonely place. There are trials underway and, in other courtrooms, where there are no trials, many judges and their clerks are working diligently to prepare for the next morning's calls, but there are no crowds of lawyers and clients milling around the lobbies or in the corridors. The deputies conducting the security inspections are tired and maybe a little bored. There are some people around. But the Daley Center is a big building, and it feels pretty empty at 4:00pm.

I had the elevator to myself. When I got to the courtroom, the deputy told me the case coordinator was already gone for the day, but perhaps she'd left word with the clerk about my order and he took my paper and went to look. I got my order stamped and ran back to the office. The order had to be scanned and emailed to counsel. This doesn't happen nearly as quickly as you might think.

The upshot? I spent far more time on the post-mediation status yesterday than I would have today -- but I could not bill all that wasted time. And my oft-interrupted project took me longer to do than it should have, too. And I can't bill that client for the interruptions occasioned by the other case. And all thanks to "time-saving" technologies.

Spare me.

1 comment:

Shelby said...

ok, I am just gonna get right to the point.. talk about (please) the commerce clause and health reform and Virginia's latest move.. I'd love your take..