random musings on myriad topics: water law / vintage watches / globetrotting / fast cars & fast women / geopolitics / austin / scandals / tech & gadgetry / urban planning / my bizarrely huge fount of useless trivia / misadventures / parker posey / the days of way back / getting older but not maturer / occasional decadence

Saturday, June 13, 2015

the reality of lawyering

Now that I'm a lawyer -- or, at least, have a law degree -- I feel like I should point out a few very common misconceptions about the field on whole:

  1. Virtually without exception, every single element of the trial process, as depicted both on television and in film, is complete bullshit. For starters, virtually no cases even go to trial. The percentages vary by state, but on whole at least 98% of all criminal cases are decided by plea bargain. The discrepancy is biggest in California, where only one out of every 5,000 cases goes to trial (before either a judge or jury). Watching a show like "Suits" or "How to Get Away With Murder" absent any context, you'd never know that:
    • The entire trial process -- for ANY trial -- take months, if not years. TV shows invariably skip the "boring stuff" like pretrial motions and hearings, voir dire (jury selection), and the endless series of delays that plague virtually every criminal court in America, at least in any city mid-sized or larger. For cases that do go to trial, it may literally be months before there's a time where the prosecutors, defense attorneys and judge all have a free slot on their respective schedules. (On TV, on the other hand, even a murder trial can be scheduled for the same week the defendant was arrested.)
    • Acquittals are rare, mainly because no big DA's office has either the time or resources to prosecute a case they aren't practically guaranteed to win. It's a sad fact, but the American justice system as we know it would flat-out collapse if every defendant -- or even a significant percentage of them -- wanted a jury trial. We have neither the judges, courtrooms, or prosecutors available for such a concept.
    • There are no 45-second closing arguments. Even speedy cases (1-2 days total) have closings at least 15 minutes long.
  2. Aside from small towns, there are virtually no "generalists." On "Suits" Harvey Specter has worked on more varieties of cases than I can count, but in reality, lawyers have one or two specialties and almost never work outside of them.
  3. Most lawyers spend their entire careers without ever entering a courtroom. Maybe 10% of them are litigators.
  4. It's extremely common among lawyers for friends and family to pepper them with legal questions. Guess what? Unless they're borderline-genius level in terms of retaining knowledge -- I'd put my mom in this category, but few others -- ALL of them forget the vast majority of what they learned either in law school or while studying for the bar. Point being, if you ask an oil & gas lawyer about something related to family law, he will likely not have the slightest clue how to answer.
  5. "Surprise witnesses" are a television and cinematic staple, but in reality both sides have the complete witness list months before trial (and most witnesses have been disposed long before trial. Further, the sudden appearance of a new, last-minute witnesses practically guarantees the verdict will be successfully appealed, and more often or not the appellate court will reverse and demand (a.k.a. reject the verdict and require a new trial).
  6. Finally, most lawyers aren't rich -- quite the opposite, actually. Aside from the elite "BigLaw" attorneys who manage to make partner after toiling away 14 hours a day for close to a decade, few lawyers make much beyond the high-five/low-six-figure range. (NB: The wealthiest lawyers these days are personal injury lawyers, by a pretty wide margin. The best of them make far more than any BigLaw attorney, even the most senior partners.)
That's all I can think of now, but I'll add additional myths/falsehoods if I come up with any.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


This blog, much like its owner, has recently undergone yet another wholesale reinvention. In my latest incarnation, I'm a newly minted lawyer not yet in possession of either a license to practice law or any idea what the hell I'll be doing with my life after I take the Texas Bar Exam next month. (I won't even know if I passed until some point in November.)

What I'd like to do is something in water law, which ended up being one of my two areas of expertise in law school. As you may have heard, California is at present in the midst of what is likely its worst drought ever. On the one hand, many of its residents are fundamentally reassessing what it all means in the larger scheme of things, as it's become amply clear that California cannot possibly continue with its status quo -- one in which, among scores of other problems, most of the residents of its state capital don't even have water meters, and wealthy residents with sizable lawns react to the governor's mandate of a 25 percent across-the-board reduction in water use by using even more water than before. Meanwhile, here in Austin -- which only in the past few weeks was rescued from its four-year drought by a days-long (weeks-long?) "rain bomb" that hurt nearly as much as it helped -- we've long had mandatory lawn-watering restrictions (once a week, and only at night, for the past several years) and an annual "shaming" ritual of the ten biggest residential water-wasters. (I assume it will come as no surprise that Austin's most infamous cheater repeatedly made the list.) The city is second only to Santa Fe in what I suppose one could call "hydrological progressivism.

In any event, California needs help, to state the obvious, and what many people don't understand is that its water problems are rooted almost entirely in law. While yes, obviously a lack of precipitation coupled with climate change-related snowpack depletion in the Sierra Nevada range has played a role, the state has countless fundamental problems that very little to do with rain levels; one of them is the abjectly asinine idea of encouraging widespread farming in an area that only gets 10 inches of rain per year. Worse, said farming includes growing almonds, one of the most water-intensive crops commonly grown. Worse still, California has no controls whatsoever on usage of subterranean aquifer water, so the farmers whose land is parched are quite literally sucking them dry -- solely to keep producing bullshit like almonds! So: we'll see what, if anything, I can do to help. I've put out a few feelers, but I'm kinda in a holding pattern until I at least take the bar (at the end of July).

The most perverse part of California's water problems, however, may be the fact that Texas -- one of the most notorious abusers of the American environment on whole -- has a vastly more progressive system of water management! Unlike California, we have various groundwater conservation districts and river authorities covering nearly every inch of the state ... well, except for an area in suburban Austin that was mistakenly left out of these districts -- resulting in an ongoing "water war" -- but that's a long story, and this blog entry has already gone on long enough.

Anyway, the next year or so will undoubtedly include some rather seismic changes in my life, so stay tuned if you want to hear all about it. It won't all be glamorous international travel and whatnot -- though I say that having recently returned from Dubai (another long story) . . . -- but I already know at least one truth about my time on this third rock from the sun: for some reason it almost always manages to stay interesting. (In good ways and bad.)