Thursday, December 09, 2010

Ah, the glamor of the solo practice.... yet another illustration

The immediate cause of my recent blogging hiatus was an appellate brief. It was due Monday -- on double-secret probation final extension. I couldn't write here because I had to write that.

It's not that there are a lot of similarities between the kind of writing you find in a blog, even one as literate and erudite as this one (there will be a brief pause now while you roll your eyes): Sentences in briefs and blogs alike should start with a capital letter. But in a blog we have digressions, in a brief we have footnotes. This blog is written (believe it or not) to entertain; a brief is written to persuade. Soaring phrases and purple prose may be persuasive on the campaign trail, or in the pulpit, but mastery of the facts (the record) and application of the law to those facts is the only way to 'sell' an appellate brief. And it still must be done in a way that keeps the reader awake, if not actually engaged.

Actually, I usually find that "writing" an appellate brief doesn't involve a lot of writing at all, not until the very end. Even though the brief was due Monday, I probably didn't actually write a full paragraph of the brief until the end of last week.

Most of my time was spent fretting. You may ascribe this to my own neurotic personality; I've often thought someone else might be able to better tamp down his or her fears and charge more fearlessly into the creative process. Maybe I'll explain why I was fretting so much about this particular case in another post; for now, suffice it to say that a lot of my non-fretting, actually productive time was given over to preparing an Index to the Record.

Our rules require appellants to provide document by document descriptions of everything in the record -- sometimes that means page by page. There is no better substitute for learning what transpired in the trial court than performing this exercise no matter how excruciatingly boring this exercise may be.

And it is.


Especially in a case, like this one, where the record is 30 volumes long.

Here in the County of Cook, each volume of the record on appeal is supposed to be 250 pages long. There were 29 full volumes in this record and a partial 30th volume -- thus, over 7300 pages of paper to be examined.

Not all of it actually belonged, of course.

But I will defer complaining about the deficiencies of our Clerk of the Circuit Court until some other time.

Anyway, you will wonder, by now, those one or two of you who have stayed with me this far, where the "glamor" will come in. And I have held you in suspense long enough.

After staying up all night Sunday to finish the project, there still remained the task of returning the record to the Clerk of the Appellate Court: The other side will need the record to prepare its brief. The Appellate Court Clerk's office serves as the neutral ground where the exchange may be made. Besides, the learned justices (or, in this case, almost certainly their clerks) may, at some point, wish to peruse the contents of the record for themselves.

Now these 30 volumes of record pretty well filled up three banker's boxes. (These are the 1.2 ft³ boxes. Not the really long boxes that I always called banker's boxes. These boxes were the standard size used in the record storage industry. Someday I may tell you about how I spent nearly a decade learning all about that. But, thankfully, not today.)

There are certain logistical challenges inherent in requiring one middle-aged man to move three boxes of stuff, particularly in this security conscious era. It's not like I could tote one box over to the building which houses the Appellate Court and leave it in the lobby while I went back to retrieve its companions. Even though my Undisclosed Location is only a block or two away, the Bomb Squad would probably be summoned before I made it back to my own building.

Somewhere along the line I have acquired a cart for just these occasions. One box went into the cart; the other two were carefully stacked on top. If I didn't mind crushing my fingers, I could maneuver the cart without too much difficulty. It's cold today in Chicago anyway, so I wore gloves. That helped with the crushed fingers.

Because it is only a short walk from the Undisclosed Location to the Appellate Court, I did not anticipate any difficulties. True, the wheels on the carts objected to the 'bumps' on the wheelchair ramps at each corner (which, during periods of snow, ice or rain, make those ramps safe to use by persons not in wheelchairs) but I could compensate. I almost lost the load only once, as the cart found a large crack in the sidewalk on Randolph Street just a little bit deeper than I thought it was.

Still, short walk and relatively smooth surfaces notwithstanding, I was huffing and puffing when I got to the Appellate Court.

Now my load had to be unstacked and run through the x-ray machine, box by box. My coat, glasses, phone, keys -- all that stuff had to be x-rayed as well. And that was after I'd shown my ID. I don't really think that all of this is particularly necessary: It seems to me that my ARDC card and the photo ID that I use at the Daley Center should suffice for the Appellate Court as well. But at least the security staff at the Appellate Court is generally good-natured. Also, it's not terribly busy most times, so (unlike at an airport, for example) I wasn't subjected to the death glares of persons waiting their turn during the time I had to spend putting my load back together. And the security at the Appellate Court is very even-handed: Years ago, back when they started screening all entrants, I was in line behind a recently-retired Illinois Supreme Court Justice. He had to empty his pockets just like I did.

But there I was this morning, sweaty despite the cold, my back twinging from the too-short handle of the cart, restacking my document boxes... yes, I thought, here is a good illustration of the true glamor of the solo practice of law. And something you'll never see on TV.


Dave said...

I dunno, I've always kinda liked field trips.

Steve Skinner said...

Your tale reminds me of when I worked as a forester -- those who didn't know would say how luck I was to be able to work outside and better yet in the forest. I would think of such folks when I was stuck on the side of a snow covered road attempting to put on the tire chains. If people only knew!!