Archive for the 'lawyers' Category

Being too competent?

March 17, 2015

I was on the phone last night with a friend, talking about such topics as asset basis and non-resident domicile and tax returns and account registrations and settling parents’ estates.  A large piece of his advice to me was for me to stop displaying and using my competence so much and to instead play with the accountants and lawyers the role of a character he called “Jane the Dunce.”  He threatened to start calling me “Jane,” just to remind me.  The issue, as he saw it, was that nobody but me actually cared about getting the stuff right and that I should remove myself from the role of trying to get this stuff done properly.

I had a neighbor named Jane, who would be appalled at her name being used thus — she reveled in her competence.

The countervailing issue, which he did understand from his own experience, is that as a fiduciary, I am answerable to others — this isn’t just about my own stuff.  But he said that the standard in that context is not for me to act as a professional accountant or as my lawyer is expected to, just to act as a reasonable or prudent layperson would act.  Which he said is more like his character of “Jane the Dunce” and less like me.

Now we’re into territory about whether it’s ever a good idea not to use your own style and to try to act like someone else.  Some people, of course, ask themselves, “What would Jesus do?”  and nobody thinks that will end badly.  But aiming in the other direction, I have my misgivings about that.   On the other hand, there is the risk of getting everybody mad at me as I try to get the forms corrected or the transactions adjusted.  I could win some battles and lose a war.

My friend and I agreed that this is why many people, himself and my father included, end(ed) up trying to do all these tasks all by themselves.  (Interestingly, both my friend and my dad seem to have similar issues with their wives about financial matters.)  Which, actually, is a large part of why what I have now on my plate is so complicated — my dad arranged things his own way and without a lot of regard to what would happen after he was not there to handle the stuff.

Anyway, my friend said that he and his sister just signed what the lawyer (when he did use one) put in front of them, they didn’t check it over.

It’s a thought, but it’s certainly not how I was brought up.

I certainly see a challenge for me here.  The challenge seems to me to be something about striking a balance between pushing to get things right and not alienating others, between picking up other people’s slack and keeping my equilibrium, between my responsibilities to others and taking care of myself.  It’s a work in progress.



Attorney review

September 5, 2014

I have never bought a house in New Jersey, so I was floored by the custom of having buyer and seller sign a contract before having their attorneys review it — the review comes after the signing.

I learned about this as the result of helping my mother communicate with her real estate agent and lawyer during the phase in her house sale of negotiating with a prospective buyer.

It was also not intuitively obvious to me during the attorneys’ exchange of negotiating points what provisions survived which rounds of negotiating — this is why we hired someone who is experienced in these things.  And I did actually conduct some residential real estate closings the year I practiced law in Connecticut.  And I have been involved as a purchaser of a house in Massachusetts.  But these customs in NJ have been quite foreign to me.

Harmony and distinction

July 27, 2014

In law school students are trained “to think like a lawyer.”  It involves the ability to make distinctions and it also involves a skill in finding a way to “harmonize” prior precedents seemingly at odds with each other.

It’s, to my way of thinking, a language.  And its relationship to spiritual insight is that it gives a person a way of putting into rational linear thought an insight perceived as a concept without words.  It is not itself, I don’t think, a path to non-dual thinking, but nor does it inhibit non-dual thinking — I think it supports it.  And it doesn’t just deal with splitting things from each other, it provides patterns for seeing compatibility among things that might superficially seem not to fit together.

Now, as for getting to the point of seeing things non-linearly, I am not sure intellectual training is relevant (except insofar, as I said, for providing a language for communicating to others about it), any kind of intellectual training — philosophical, theological, mathematical, etc.  Training in any of them may well provide a fluidity of thought that helps in translating, but how to break out of Kansas and into the Land of Oz, well, that, I think, takes something else and involves a different part of our mental processes.

Phone call

April 10, 2014

I wrote a post here a few weeks ago about how someone had not listened to me and I eventually expressed my dissatisfaction and we had a falling out.

Well, they called me yesterday.  Their proposed solution is they will be less insistent on having their way in the future.

I told them I appreciated the call.

And that’s probably where I see any improvement in the matter, that they reached out.

Because it does me no great respect to just have me have my way next time (which is their proposal);  I like a collaborative effort, but I want that effort to take me and my wishes into account as much as the other person’s.  Saying we’ll just do it my way doesn’t address that.  It just suggests to me they want something else from me, my business.

Yesterday I had something similar with a family member’s lawyer.

The document the lawyer prepared contained a material mistake, I called it to their attention, they told me I was free to edit the document.  I wanted them to do the editing.

I didn’t find their position respectful, either.  They yelled at me for being persistent, gave me the “I’m wonderful and have done everything right” speech, and threatened to no longer provide service at all.  This is a law firm this family member has used for over 50 years, they’ve been there less than a year.  The net result is that the family member will have a sizable delay before they can receive their sizable refund from the IRS.  We said we would revisit the issue in about two weeks, when the lawyer will be back and I will be back, but there’s an accountant involved (because someone else in the law firm mistakenly told me to have an accountant prepare the tax form at issue, which is not the tax form with the refund, but the accountant is holding everything up until all the returns are finished), so who knows when this will get done.

What do I take from all this?  That people find new and clever ways to protect themselves and make themselves comfortable at other people’s expense, that the very thing you want from them is the very thing they don’t want to do — collaborate respectfully and with consideration.


Compare and contrast

March 17, 2014

I made a quip the other day in a reply to what I think was somebody complimenting my ability to distinguish different situations accurately according to what makes them the same or different.  I said something to the effect that sometimes having been trained to think like a lawyer comes in handy.

In law school students learn to distinguish a case from precedents and to try to harmonize seemingly disparate cases.  I think it is probably just a more intensive form of “compare and contrast,” which I think we all learn to do at some level.

It’s not as simplistic as dualism — in which there are only two categories.  With compare & contrast there can be many categories and gradations, there can be a continuum, there can be multiple axes and dimensions along which things are evaluated.

Compare & contrast I think is one skill involved in finding patterns.  It is probably related to metaphorical thinking, as it involves the use of analogies often.  Maybe it’s a bridge between dualism and unitary thinking, I don’t know, but I have thought that my learning to think like a lawyer, in the Anglo-American tradition and Roman law traditions, is not irrelevant to where I’ve ended up, although I think my first choice was learning such techniques through the study of Jewish law.

The definite article

December 23, 2013

I really do mean the word “the” in English.

I used it in a comment about the deficiencies, in my experience, of a secular approach to life and its issues.  This was in response to the Ross Douthat column “Ideas From a Manger” in Sunday’s Times.

I referred to “the horizontal relationships” because I was distinguishing them from “the vertical ones.”  But by using the definite article and not just referring to “horizontal relationships,” I may have made possible the interpretation that I was referring to my own relationships happening to be inadequate to the task of helping me deal with a situation adequately, not to the more general phenomenon of human relations being inapt for some issues, period.  (I wrote, in part, “In my experience, the secular approach has nothing to offer when the horizontal relationships are inadequate. And there really are some situations in which the horizontal relationships are inadequate to the task — again, in my experience.”)

Sometimes a little misprision can have a big impact, for better or for worse.  In my context, it probably doesn’t much matter, given how limited the reach of my comment, but I was interested in it as a opportunity to understand how misunderstandings can get started, including in religious texts.  Just a little change in emphasis in translating from the concept into language at all, or the translation of the idea and words from one human language to another, can get it started.  Some languages have demonstrative adjectives but no definite articles.  That’ll make a difference in emphasis and thinking.  And to give another example of how emphasis can get transformed, as I recall it, Latin does something very different from what English does when it expresses the report of something negative — the negative goes with the reporting verb, not the thing reported.  It looks like “I deny that X happened,” where in English we would say that “I say that X didn’t happen.”  That can make a difference in emphasis, too.

The content of the interpretation I did not intend in my Douthat comment is also not wrong in itself, I think, anyway — vertical relationships are available to people whose human ones happen to be inadequate, even if others have human (horizontal) relationships that would be adequate to the situation, I think.  But that wasn’t really what I intended to say, in part because secularists tend to take that to mean we should all only focus on our human relationships and improving them.  Telling that to child born into a family of narcissists is like telling the child to get water from a stone, although many children will eventually, when they can choose their own relationships, find substitute ones that will fill in for deficits in family relationships, at least to some extent.

So I actually think there are two dynamics:  one in which one finds oneself in a situation in which one’s needs exceed what other human beings can help with, and the other in which one happens to find oneself short of what one needs, like being short of change when buying a pack of gum, because of weaknesses in one’s own human relationships (for whatever reason or reasons).  In both cases there is, I believe, help available through vertical relationships.  I don’t think God or the universe invokes the lawyer’s concept of needing to exhaust administrative remedies before filing a lawsuit, I think grace is available on a much more generous basis.  I don’t think God is like a clever lawyer any more than I think God is like a cranky parent (and I don’t think God is like a cranky parent).

Legal argumentation as preparation for spiritual progress

December 8, 2013

I was just now reading the Daily Meditation by Richard Rohr on paradox and apparent contradiction, and I started thinking about how law students are taught to harmonize seemingly contradictory precedents in Anglo-American case law.  I suspect this goes on in religious law study, too, but I don’t actually know.  Anyway, it struck me that my law school preparation might have come in handy for more than just my current “occupation” with bureaucratic paperwork for family matters.

Abstract rules

March 25, 2013

During our first year of law school, I suspect in the context of complaining about the work, we used to discuss things like which classes we liked or which we were having the most trouble with.  As I participated in these conversations, I came to realize that I appreciated Civil Procedure because it was pretty explicitly about a set of clearly ennunciated and formally created rules.  Torts to some extent was predicated on a certain way of thinking, even if that was never admitted, and if you didn’t happen to think that way, you were left to puzzle out a lot of implicit assumptions in the doctrines.  Contracts and Property were somewhere in between, Contracts closer to Torts, and Property closer to Civ Pro, along the spectrum I envisioned.

I wasn’t all that surprised not to be on the same wavelength of the people who had developed Anglo-American law case law in areas such as torts.  I had found even before this that for better or for worse, I don’t make a lot of the same assumptions most people do, and that when I am forced to try to guess what they are, I am often wrong.  This comes up when I’m trying to fill out forms or navigate websites.  Not making common assumptions does, however, come in handy when you’re doing academic research, because sometimes you see things in the evidence that prior, conventional thinking has missed.

If nothing else, codes give us a common text from which to follow, a same page on which we can all be at the start.  So I can see how they are convenient.  But I think their use has drawbacks, too, at least some uses in some contexts.  Maybe like many other things, they are just another tool — to be used more or less helpfully.


More adventures in Medicare, or, how we outsmart ourselves with complicated systems

January 23, 2012

I mentioned in a previous post some of my experiences trying to sort out for a family member a health insurance situation involving both Medicare and private insurance whose cost is shared with an employer.

One of the strands at that point was my 4 phone calls and 2 days of pursuing some help through the SHINE program in sorting it out.  I got a voicemail on Thursday from the local Council on Aging’s SHINE contact person.  She works three days a week, so today was the first day I could hope to reach her.  And I did, sort of.  She called me back, we talked, she said she needed to talk to some folks, and then she called me back again.

To say that the case is too complicated for their counselors (she herself seemed to understand it, but apparently she needs to refer it a counselor who wouldn’t).  She suggested I call Health Care for All, which I already had, some time ago, and they had referred me to the Medicare Advocacy Project of Greater Boston Legal Services.  Which I had called, and heard back from, have done the intake with, and have yet to hear back again for a conversation about my actual questions about things like coordinating the insurance plans and obtaining the documents (who is supposed to do what, for instance — who furnishes the documentation for comparable creditable coverage for prescriptions, for instance, and when?).  She seconded the motion that they were the right ones to help me with this, and she suggested I leave new voicemail messages for them, which I probably will.

But first I wanted to express my sense that this is an example of how we make these systems way too complicated.  We need to consult with lawyers just to arrange our health insurance?  This is our current system.  It is so complicated the people designated to help us navigate it can’t and instead refer us to lawyers.  I have no problem talking to lawyers, I kind of enjoy it, I can speak the language, I’m technically one myself, but needing to do so to arrange health insurance reminds me of the hostility towards lawyers as getting in the way and driving up costs, that people sometimes express.

Well, if we don’t want lawyers involved in everything, we need to simplify administrative systems.  Because the administrators apparently can’t handle the administration administratively.

Showing up

October 31, 2011

I have had people in my life whom I experience as predatory.  One of them I grew up with, one of them I worked for on and off for decades.  There have been great separations and then attempts at reconciliation, but the relationship seems to founder in the same way over and over again.  I don’t know how to relate to these people in a way in which I am not harmed.  I would like to, in part because these people desire a relationship with me, in part because I feel for my own growth I should be able to figure out how to have a functional relationship with them.

It occurred to me this morning that maybe for now what I can do is to express admiration and even gratitude that these people just show up for life, given their limitations (I know they suffer, I also know their behavior and modus operandi are damaging).  For the rest, my technique, rightly or wrongly, is to ask the universe to do for them what I can’t do for them myself, including loving them as they would like me to — kind of like giving them a spiritual gift card from afar.  Would I like someone doing that for me?  Probably I would feel somewhat rejected by the refusal of personal intimacy, but on the other hand, I think I would welcome the benefits of the universe’s help and try to focus on that instead.  And I would try to find my way to acceptance of  the thing I didn’t like, in part through re-framing it and looking for what the lesson for me might be.

So, I think showing up is the thing I can be grateful for with regard to some people, that I can see their just showing up as their (important) contribution to our collective dance.   I can use my discomfort with them as an opportunity to learn greater patience, my dissatisfaction with the situations as an opportunity to practice letting go, and my concerns about what these relationships mean for my other relationships going forward as an opportunity to deepen my willingness and faith.