Mistakes

The Supreme Court of the United States (photo by Drew Havens).

Yesterday, the New York Times ran an article by Adam Liptak on the increasingly suspect “facts” that the Supreme Court cites in some of its opinions. Whether penned by the justices themselves or the little twits who actually do the heavy lifting on the opinion-writing, opinions from the Court have become a veritable wasteland of dubious figures, outlandish claims, and hardcore pornography. Or, rather, just the first two.

Sex-crazed Stephen Breyer, for instance, is said to have relied on a discontinued blog for a statistic related to public libraries. The blog, wackyliberryfacts.blogspot.com, has two posts since 2008 and both have to do with Michael Hutchence’s death. A good read, if maybe a bit too reliant on incorrect lyrics from Suicide Blonde.

On the right side of the Court (and history…?), coozehound Samuel Alito is said to have cited an unreliable fact about background checks done by employers in a 2011 opinion. The fact? That 47 percent of Americans can’t come up with Joe Biden’s name when asked who our Vice President is. Which, as far as I can tell, is a totally true fact! But its connection to background checks is tenuous, if not downright nonexistent.

Given the fact that our nation’s entire legal edifice threatens to crumble under the weight of a thousand erroneous internet “facts,” we’ve decided to help the Court out. Here are five ways the court can get around the shoddy fact-checking in judicial opinions.

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Keith Lee

One of the great, unspoken realities of being a new lawyer that is never mentioned in law school is that you are going to screw up – badly. And then you’re going to have to explain it to your client or supervising attorney.

You’re going to miss a deadline, not file an objection, miss some case law, or not contact an attorney involved in the case on a hearing. A mistake is going to be made and it will be your fault.

You may be tempted to try and shift the blame. Come up with excuses as to why something outside of your control caused the problem. That you were swamped with work and had too much on your plate. He said, she said. But if it was a task assigned to you, it is your personal responsibility to make sure it was completed on time and specification.

As the task, and subsequent mistake, are your responsibility – you must own it….

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Imagine returning home from vacation and finding your home cleaned out. The thieves grabbed all the furniture, all the gadgets, all the kitchenware, and left you nothing. That’s what happened to an Ohio woman recently, and the police are refusing to help.

That’s because the perpetrator was First National Bank. Except Katie Barnett was not behind on her payments; the bank just repossessed the wrong house.

Fair enough. Mistakes happen. The bank is going to pay her back though, right?

Right?

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I’m thinking again, as I did on Monday, about why lawyers go insane over time.

Years ago (long before MapQuest was even a gleam in its inventor’s eye), an older lawyer sent me directions for driving to his home. It was pretty easy to get from my apartment to his house; I had to make only three or four turns. But the directions were several typed pages long. Why?

Because this guy had been driven insane by mistakes in the past. He had told someone to turn east on a road, and the person had turned west. So now the directions eliminated that possible mistake: “Turn east (that is, turn right as you are proceeding northbound on route 1) at the light.” Someone else had missed the turn. So now the directions eliminated that possible mistake: “If you see a shopping mall followed by a McDonald’s on the right side of the road, then you have gone too far. Turn around, go back to the light, and turn east (that is, left as you are now proceeding southbound on route 1) at the light.” Having experienced all of these mistakes, the older lawyer felt compelled to help me avoid them, which made his driving directions nearly incomprehensible.

What does this have to do with being a lawyer?

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