Friday, April 30, 2010

The $ Value of Words

Contingent and non-contingent interests in the estate of a decedent -- mysterious words like these are responsible for my livelihood. I joke around with my clients that if it weren't for words like this attorneys couldn't charge outrageously hourly sums. If you ask someone do you have any contingent or non-contingent interests in the estate of a decedent, the eyes glaze over and catatonia ensues. If you ask the question this way: Is anyone dead or dying that is going to leave you money or stuff? The eyes light up, the laugh comes and often, they gush, "No, I wish." To which I respond with a chuckle, "Glad I'm not your relative."

Computers and Google make words much less mysterious. I don't know that words are how I'm going to be able to keep making my income. The change is that people are not going to want to pay simply for my ability to interpret mysterious words. I get paid not for my understanding of legal jargon, but for my ability to pilot people through a legal system that I just happen to know from doing it 8000 times. Nothing mysterious.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Pricing Ourselves Out of Existence

One of the struggles I've had with being a lawyer from the very beginning is how much we charge. Usually, the cost of legal fees far exceeded the benefit we provide. This is probably why I ended up in the consumer bankruptcy realm where the cost/benefit analysis of fees and benefit to the client is so clear and so definitive -- I feel like I'm worth every penny of fees based on the benefit to my client.

I was speaking with another attorney yesterday and told him that a couple of my daughters are considering law school as an option. He shook his head and noted that by the time they got through law school, attorneys will have priced themselves out of existence. He then went on to quote several other attorney's hourly rates and noted how ridiculous those rates were. I bit my tongue because one of the rates is what I charge -- and earn.

The demise of my profession may not be eminent, but with technological advances, the free flow of information and the infiltration of money and power into the legal system, financial access to the attorneys for the poor and middle class is in fact threatened. Solutions need to be found, so that the Courts remain Courts of the People and not Courts of the Corporate.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

My Love of the Kindle

The last week or so has had plenty of hullabaloo about the new iPad and everyone seems very concerned about what Apple is going to do to the Kindle. Hate to break it to you Apple folk, but you are a little late and on the wrong side of the eReader game.

I'll never use the iPad for reading. I use plenty of Apple products, but the Kindle -- at this juncture is the dream book.

Those issuing the death knell of the Kindle obviously don't read, so they don't have a clue. The virtues of the Kindle have been expounded by its acolytes, but I'd like to offer five great reasons that the Kindle is here to stay in a Gutenberg-ian sort of way --

1. Real bibliophiles are ecstatic about not needing to lug thirty books with them when they travel. My carry-on is so light these days.

2. I actually get the newspaper delivered to me without the annoying and unreliable paper boy -- and it is the New York Times.

3. As I'm reading my NY Time's Book Review on Sunday Morning in my slippers and bath robe, I see a book I want to read and I click the convenient shop button, type in the name of the book and two clicks I'm reading the book instead of the review. I spend more money on books (and I spent a lot before).

4. I can lay in bed and read without flipping back and forth like a rotisserie chicken -- just hit next page.

5. Oh, did I mention that I like being read to -- even in the mechanical voice?

Actually I think one problem with the Kindle and "Death of the Kindle" crowd is the people saying this aren't really readers. How the hell would they know what a good reading experience? This is the same crowd that was saying reading was dead just before Harry Potter sold a gazillion copies and every adolescent girl on the planet purchased Twilight.

Seth Godin in his marketing blog encourages marketers to "disaggregate" and he starts off his blog post with this gem, "The typical American buys precisely one book a year". He points out the obvious that based on the statistical analysis, between Seth and me at least 950 Americans didn't buy a single book last year (Seth bought about 400 and I bought about 450-(250 on the Kindle)). Ok, that may have been a little hyperbole.

The people who say the Kindle is dead or dying are the same people that haven't bought a book of any kind for a long, long time.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

More Writing and My Job

Most of what I write is crap.

"I love my job."

Now that sentence is simple to the point and probably crap. It loses all nuance in a bold, white declaration of affection. I do get a thrill out of my work, but love is a word that is devoid of meaning in this context.

When people ask me what I do, I tell them "I Robin Hood for a living, taking from rich, evil creditors and give back to the poor and destitute, while skimming a little off the top for myself."

Now, that is a more accurate description than saying I love my job, but again -- crap. Not all creditors are rich or evil. Not all clients are poor and destitute. I don't really skim, but take court ordered and disclosed fees for my work. I am trying to create a persona, a facade -- to make my job and myself, way more glamorous than I really am. I know, because when I tell people I am a consumer bankruptcy attorney I get one of two reactions -- 1) Eyes glaze over and the subject is changed or 2) A smile, a nod and "Wow, you must be really busy these days. Glad someone has work." Much better to describe my profession by turning Robin Hood into a verb, but while greasing the social skids, the words are still crap.

Writing is an attempt to connect with other people on a non-physical plane of existence that removes time from the coordinates and takes the physical and transforms it into the mental. Maybe this is why I think everything I write is crap. Writing is a modified and socialized form of what the psychics call "remote viewing." I think psychics are crap.

Take the word, "crap." I am using this word in a metaphoric sense, as well as the colloquial meaning of "not good." As a metaphor, physical crap is the detritus of biological functions and metaphoric writing crap is the detritus of my mental functions. This is also why we refer to excess material possessions that have become useless as our consumerist version of crap -- the shit we have left over from our spending.

Another thing about crap is that no one is really interested in crap -- their own or others. Although you may check out your own crap or grouse about how much crap you have or how your writing is crap, you never check out anyone else's crap or care how much crap someone has (unless it is bigger and nicer crap than yours) or you rarely read someone else's crap, because after about two sentences, or if the writer is lucky, two paragraphs, you say, "This is crap" -- and stop reading.

So I'm stopping -- for today.