John Flood: What Do Lawyers Do?

John Flood has published a revised version of his book on a Chicago law firm, called Tischmann and Weinstock for the purposes of the book: What Do Lawyers Do? An ethnography of a corporate law firm. You can get the Kindle version, and the paper versions are due shortly.

John Flood has a website and a weblog called John Flood’s Random Academic Thoughts, where there is a post with more information on the book.

I have often wondered what lawyers do myself – the book is about business lawyers rather than litigators, whose role is easier to understand. Just as people who come straight from translation studies can’t usually translate, new lawyers can’t usually act as lawyers, so I never found it out, although the firm in the book sounds very similar to the Jewish law firm where I did my articles in London, down to the arrangement of the offices. The text is rather dry on the surface, a summary of analysis, but amusing between the lines.

The main activity of lawyers is talking on the telephone with persons other than Tischmann lawyers (31.1%). If we add talking with other Tischmann lawyers by telephone the percentage rises to 23.5 percent. The second largest activity is talking face to face with other Tischmann lawyers (12%). Talking with Tischmann lawyers and others takes up 18.1 percent of lawyers’ billable time. If we sum time spent at meetings outside the office (2.6%), office meetings (0.7%), telephoning and talking face to face, we find lawyers spend 53.9 percent of their chargeable time talking. Writing, however, takes up only 20.8 percent (16.3% – drafting; 4.5% – revising). … Research is an activity mainly carried out by associates.

All the office staff are considered.

All the support staff had to log in and out during the day. If they were late, their salaries were docked. Because they perceived their salaries already low, many secretaries left after having their salaries reduced. Much of the office gossip turned on how much of a “bastard” the office manager was, and who was about to suffer his wrath next. Some of the secretaries were aggrieved at how they were treated by the office manager. They felt he conveniently forgot the many occasions when they came in during weekends to help their attorneys, when he decided to dock their pay for some infraction.

I’m looking forward to reading the rest. I think I first read John Flood on barristers’ clerks, a mysterious species – here’s a blog post on them.

The Lost German Slave Girl/Eine Deutsche als Sklavin in Louisiana?

Here is yet another gratuitous book report.

The Lost German Slave Girl. The Extraordinary True Story of Sally Miller and Her Fight for Freedom in Old New Orleans, by John Bailey, Atlantic Monthly Press 2003

This book was a present from my friend and fellow-translator Karen in Denver (thanks, Karen!). I read it quite a few weeks ago, so my report is rather vague now.

John Bailey is an Australian lawyer who has now turned to writing, and he discovered this story when he was researching the details of law relating to slavery in Louisiana. Sally Miller was the ‘lost German slave girl’, who won a case freeing her from slavery because a person who was Caucasian could not be a slave. It’s a fascinating story and it throws some light on the situation of slaves who could not be freed from slavery. There’s also a fair amount about the circumstances in which the Müller family from the Alsace emigrated to the USA, following years of pillaging by French troops, bad harvests and ice in summer (apparently resulting from volcanic eruptions in the West Indies, the Philippines and Indonesia from 1813-1816 – so tonight I will be watching the arte documentary on ‘The year without a summer’).

From an interview with John Bailey:

My plans unraveled, when one day, in the quiet corner of a law library on a university campus in Louisiana, as I struggled to bring some semblance of order to my unruly and ever expanding manuscript, I opened a volume of the Louisiana law reports for 1845. There I met Sally Miller, the Lost German Slave Girl. I was immediately enthralled by her story. By the end of the day, I had shoved my notes on lawyers, judges and politicians into my bag, and opening a fresh page in my diary, had began to jot down ideas for an entirely different project – this one, on the saga of Sally Miller’s bid for freedom.

One feature of the book is that while it cloaks the story in mystery – the witnesses in the trial are obviously long dead – at the same time it often knows exactly what the weather was like or what the main characters were thinking. This is part of the genre ‘bringing history to life’, I think. For a long time I was convinced that I was never going to know anything more about the truth or falsity of the story, but in fact more information was revealed at the end, which made the end of the book more satisfying than I had expected.

A bit of research on the Internet revealed that the story has been told before. Curiously, there is a 2007 American book on the subject, which looks similar to Bailey’s: The two lives of Sally Miller: a Case of Mistaken Racial Identity in Antebellum New Orleans, by Carol Wilson. You can read quite a bit of this on Google Books.

I was proceeding in a northerly direction/Polizeisprech

In an article headed Cops Talk Funny, Val Van Brocklin points out some of the curious turns of phrase used by U.S. police in court. British police do this too, though not always using the same terms.

# He indicated… He said
# I have been employed by… I worked for
# I exited the patrol vehicle… I got out of the car
# I observed… I saw
# I ascertained the location of the residence… I found the house
# I proceeded to the vicinity of… I went to
# I approached the entrance… I went to the door
# The subject approached me… She came up to me
# I apprehended the perpetrator… I arrested the man
# I obtained an item that purported to be an envelope from the individual… I got the envelope from her
# I observed the subject fleeing on foot from the location… I saw him running away

She actually seems to believe that police could be trained not to speak like this.

(Via Boing Boing)

German-American Day Blawg Review

Andis Kaulins’ blawg review for German-American Day, recently mentioned here, has now appeared.

There are a large number of links on matters German, some of them German and law, for example the German American Law Journal (note in its English version an entry on an article by Dr. Jessica Ohle on Recent Trends in German Employee Compensation. And let’s not forget the similarly-named German Law Journal, another excellent resource.

Scroll down (passing the non-German law links) for a large number of further transatlantic links.

Famous German-Americans are mentioned, although not including the three famous bankers from Franconia: Lehmann, Goldmann and Sachs.

Drei Banker von Weltruhm – alle drei waren sie Juden, die keine Perspektive mehr sahen in Unterfranken, Mitte des 19. Jahrhundert. Keine Zukunft, kaum Spielraum – die Gesetze für Juden waren hier sehr streng. Jüdische Bürger konnten sich nicht einfach niederlassen oder heiraten, wenn sie wollten. Sie durften keinen Beruf erlernen. Zahlen mussten sie aber – Steuern und Sonderabgaben für alles und nichts. Heinrich Lehmann, Marcus Goldmann, beide Söhne von Viehhändler, wollten so nicht leben.

Lawsuit, Shmawsuit/Yiddisch

Judge Alex Kozinski and Eugene Volokh on the use of Yiddish in court decisions:

Searching through the LEXIS legal opinions database reveals that “chutzpah” (sometimes also spelled “chutzpa,” “hutzpah,” or “hutzpa”) has appeared in 231 reported court decisions. Curiously, all but eleven of them have been filed since 1980. There are two possible explanations for this. One is that during the last 21 years there has been a dramatic increase in the actual amount of chutzpah in the United States–or at least in the U.S. legal system. This explanation seems possible, but unlikely.

The more likely explanation is that Yiddish is quickly supplanting Latin as the spice in American legal argot. As recently as 1970, a federal court not only felt the need to define “bagels”; it misdefined them, calling them “hard rolls shaped like doughnuts.” All right-thinking people know good bagels are rather soft. (Day-old bagels are rather hard, but right-thinking people do not eat day-olds, even when they are only 10 cents each.) We’ve come a long way since then.

Mind you, there’s no comparison with US language outside lawsuits.

This is a 1993 article, Lawsuit, Shmawsuit, available online.

(Via Ruth Morris, who writes on Interpreting in legal contexts and Interpreting in the Israel legal system – and has published on the same topic in England and Wales)


LexMonitor is a sort of US blawg portal, like JuraBlogs on steroids. As reported by Kevin O’Keefe in Real Lawyers Have Blogs, it has just ‘soft launched’ (seems to mean launched in a beta version).

LexMonitor is a free daily review of law blogs and journals highlighting prominent legal discussion as well as the lawyers and other professionals participating in this conversation.

Pulling from nearly 2,000 sources and 5,000 authors, LexMonitor will hopefully shine a light on the ongoing conversation among thought leaders in the law for the benefit of the legal profession and the public at large.

Like putting in the sidewalks on a college campus after watching where the students leave paths, we’ll refine the site and add features based on how it’s used and the feedback we receive from you.

Clicking around, I found a translation company blog on Translation for Lawyershere.

Words banned in court/Verbotene Wörter im Gerichtssaal

An article of 16 June 2008 by Tresa Baldas in the National Law Journal, Courts Putting Hot-Button Words on Ice, reports that words such as rape and victim are being banned by judges because they prejudice defendants.

A steadily increasing number of courts across the United States are prohibiting witnesses and victims from uttering certain words in front of a jury, banning everything from the words “rape” to “victim” to “crime scene.”

Prosecutors and victims’ rights advocates nationwide claim the courts are going too far in trying to cleanse witness testimony, all to protect a defendant’s right to a fair trial. Concerns and fears over language restrictions have been percolating ever since judges in Nebraska and Missouri last year banned the word “rape” during rape trials.

The article contains many examples.

This relates largely to the Nebraska case reported in July 2007. From Slate:

Nebraska law offers judges broad discretion to ban evidence or language that present the danger of “unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues or misleading the jury.” And it’s not unheard-of for judges to keep certain words out of a courtroom. Words like victim have been increasingly kept out of trials, since they tend to imply that a crime was committed. And as Safi’s lawyer, Clarence Mock, explains, the word rape is just as loaded. “It’s a legal conclusion for a witness to say, ‘I was raped’ or ‘sexually assaulted.’ … That’s for a jury to decide.” His concern is that the word rape so inflames jurors that they decide a case emotionally and not rationally.

I think the judge may have gone too far in this particular case.

In the NLJ article, note in particular the last section on the appeal against the Nebraska decision:

Wendy J. Murphy of the New England School of Law, who is representing a Nebraska rape victim opposing the judge’s barring of the word “rape,” said the major battle facing prosecutors and victims now is fighting judges’ censorship orders.

To date, she said, there has been no federal court ruling on the matter. …

Murphy tried when she appealed the Nebraska judge’s decision to bar a rape victim from using the word rape. She lost the case, and is now appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court. Bowen v. Honorable Jeffre Cheuvront, No. 4:07CV3221 (D. Neb.).

At Language Log, Roger Shuy discusses the matter and adds that witnesses don’t often get to use their own words in any case:

“Using your own words” isn’t all that common in trials I’ve experienced. Among other things, you can’t introduce your own topics, you have to answer the opposing lawyer’s questions according to the form in which they are asked (usually yes/no questions, or worse, tag-questions), and you have to be ready to be interrupted at any time. Testifying requires a witness to learn a new set of communication skills, many of which can seem counterintuitive. Doing this can be daunting for anyone not trained in the special culture of the courtroom.

British blood refused/Britische Blutspende abgelehnt

John Flood, temporarily at Miami Law School, tries to give blood:

I hand in the forms and a moment later the medic looks glum. Was it because I’d admitted to taking an aspirin that morning? No.

“I have to reject you,” he said. “You’ve been in the UK.”

“So? I come from there.”

“It’s because of ‘mad cow disease’. We can’t risk you.”

LATER NOTE: the Wikipedia entry on Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease has more details of the dangers, and information on bans on blood donors in other countries – Australia, Singapore, Canada, Denmark, Switzerland. In the UK, blood donors may not include those who have had a blood transfusion since 1980:

In 2004 a new report published in the Lancet medical journal showed that vCJD can be transmitted by blood transfusions.[19] The finding alarmed healthcare officials because a large epidemic of the disease might arise in the near future. There is no test to determine if a blood donor is infected and in the latent phase of vCJD. In reaction to this report, the British government banned anyone who had received a blood transfusion since January 1980 from donating blood.

Unauthorized use of titles/Ermittlungen gegen Gebrauch eines US-Doktortitels

There’s been some excitement in the press about criminal investigation proceedings against some highly qualified Americans at the Max Planck Institute in Jena and elsewhere. They had the temerity to describe themselves as Dr. and Professor Dr. But in Germany, you can use Dr. as part of your name only if the doctorate is German.

What academic titles one can bear is governed by Land law. When I started teaching at a Bavarian Fachakademie in 1982, I was not allowed to call myself Frau Dr. Marks, although this did not stop my employer doing so. I was not even allowed to write Ph.D. after my name – I would have had to pay a sum of 83 DM, I think it was, to be allowed to do so. I may have broken this rule, because I certainly didn’t pay the money. I don’t know what the penalties were, but it was a matter of administrative law as far as I was concerned.

In recent years, the situation has been relaxed for EU citizens. I suppose Germany was forced to grant reciprocity. I was still told I might call myself Frau Dr. (London) Marks. Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, does it?

The Kultusministerium used to write to a British fellow-examiner, who was employed at the FIM Fachakademie in Munich, as Herr Dr. X. One day I found out while chatting to him on the phone that his Ph.D. was from Oxford! This was before the EU relaxation. Shortly afterwards I was able to leverage the forbidden title out of the Kultusministerium after I wrote them a letter (they had curtly told my school principal a few years before that a Kultusministerium cannot call a foreigner Dr.).

Anyway, the hoo-hah now relates to Americans and to section 132a of the German Criminal Code, which imposes a sentence of up to one year’s imprisonment or a fine on those who use German or foreign titles without authorization. § 132a German § 132a English.

The main purpose of this section is apparently to protect the general public against those falsely claiming expertise. Using the title on one’s business card is evidence, but I presume that if the person does not normally act in a manner likely to damage the public, the charges will be dropped.

See article in the Washington Post, Non-European PhDs In Germany Find Use Of ‘Doktor’ Verboten.

Ian Thomas Baldwin, a Cornell-educated researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena, has stopped calling himself “Dr.” ever since he was summoned for interrogation by police two months ago on suspicion of “title abuse.”
“Coming from the States, I had assumed that when you get a letter from the criminal police, you’ve either murdered someone or embezzled something or done something serious,” said Baldwin, a molecular ecologist. “It is absurd. It’s totally absurd.”

Der Spiegel has the story in German.

In der Tat hatte sich der Amerikaner auf Visitenkarten, Briefpapier und der Internet-Präsenz seines Instituts als “Prof. Dr. Ian Baldwin” bezeichnet. Das hatte sich Baldwin so angewöhnt, weil ihn seine deutschen Kollegen exakt so angeschrieben hatten. An “Professor Dr. Ian T. Baldwin” etwa war der Brief adressiert, mit dem die Max-Planck-Gesellschaft ihren Neuzugang 1996 herzlich begrüßt hatte, einen von gleich drei Amerikanern, die sie für Jena gewinnen konnte. Auch Einladungen zu Vorträgen an Universitäten ergingen immer an den “Prof. Dr.”.

Der Spiegel says that the problem has probably been caused by a frustrated foreigner who is not allowed to call himself Dr. in Germany and who is taking his revenge by reporting Max Planck Institute scientists who do this to the police, who are then happy to pursue the complaints.

LATER NOTE: there are at present 77 comments on the Washington Post article. There are some wonderfully ignorant and ranting remarks: the term ‘reichsanwalt’ contributed by someone in Munich with a law degree, the suggestion that Germany only became a nation in the 1930s, the view that fascism has reigned in Europe since the Roman Empire and the EU was the first step towards ‘the end’, and ‘The Germans have been causing trouble as far back as the Goths’. Also some good sense on § 132 from Robert Gellately. Great irritation at Germany being the only country in the world to require a licence to play golf. And ‘not all bad, puts Condi Rice down a couple of pegs. Univ. of Denver prob wont even make the 200 school list when they relax the law.’

Via German American Law Journal blog, which points out that the press will have a wonderful anti-German field day with this.

Interviews with Supreme Court Justices/Video-Interviews mit US Supreme-Court-Richtern

At LawProse, Inc.

In 2006-2007, Bryan Garner interviewed eight of the nine Justices about legal writing and advocacy. These are the complete interviews. Because the files are large, the videos may take a few moments to start playing.

LawProse is making these interviews available as a public service. Anyone may freely use these videos for educational purposes, with appropriate attribution to Bryan Garner or LawProse.

(Via The Illinois Trial Practice Weblog)