Saturday, December 31, 2016

Being an Honorable Person - 6 East Rules (Reprint from October 27, 2009)

Being an Honorable Person - 6 Easy Rules

I wrote this post back in 2009.  We are on the last day of 2016, and I hope I can live by these guidelines in the coming year:

I am going to take a little departure from talking about cases.  I have and have had many courageous clients.  It's the nature of my business that someone who wants to bring a discrimination case must have a modicum of courage.  These are not the types of cases for the faint of heart.  Today, though, I have been thinking about honor.  It is the courageous, honorable clients whom are the ones I love.

What is it that makes a person honorable?  An honorable person is one who is deserving of respect.  And who deserves respect?  Most of us, including me, have acted in dishonorable ways.  Dishonorable acts include lying, cheating, stealing, betraying, manipulating.  It's easy to be negative.  What does it take to be a truly honorable person, worthy of the respect of others:

1.   Speaking the truth even when it is unpopular, while avoiding needless unkind words;
2.   Being loyal even when it is tempting to be disloyal;
3.   Having empathy, especially with one's opponents and people with whom one has little in common;
4.   Giving with no expectation of receiving anything in return except the joy of giving:
5.   Standing up for what one believes in even when it is unpopular to do so;
6.   Truly being able to forgive others for just about anything.

I know this is a simple list, but it seems fairly comprehensive to me.  When someone needlessly hurts someone else or strives for personal power or personal wealth above all else, it is always a reflection of some underlying conflict in that person.  Unfortunately, people who are hurt by others oftentimes go out and hurt even more people.  Angry people hurt others, while oftentimes not meaning to do so.

So, how does this relate to the practice of law?  The practice of law is a microcosm of the act of living.  We have developed a set of rules with which to operate so that we don't destroy each other.  Law is eminently logical and practical.  People aren't.  It is possible to fiercely promote what one believes in or to defend one's person and principles without annihilating the opponent.  The fiercest advocate can be the gentlest person.  It is not easy to be honorable, but honorable people do not expect perfection.  They are ready to forgive transgressions. Living honorably is the key to being peaceful and content. Not ironically, the best advocate is the one that acts with honor.

Friday, December 30, 2016

We Need More Women Lawyers Trying Civil Cases

Carrie Fisher, who famously portrayed Princess Leia, once said, "You are only as sick as your secrets."  A psychodramatist I know put it this way, "If you can't talk about it, "it" is out of control."
One of the reasons that lawyers fear going to trial is that once you stand up to talk to that jury about your client, you must also inform the client about who you are.  A good actor doesn't just pretend that he or she is the character he or she portrays.  Rather, a good actor becomes that character.  And in so doing, lays bare his or her soul.  The actor opens himself up, is vulnerable, and must trust the audience.  The same is true of the trial lawyer.  A trial lawyer, at least a real one, must believe in the case with all of her heart, must become vulnerable in releasing her love for her client or for her client's cause, must speak from not only the head, but also from the heart.  And the greatest risk of all to the client and to the lawyer is rejection from the twelve people seated in that juror box.  The jurors examine the lawyers, the clients, the witnesses.  Those of you who have been on juries know that talk about the personalities and presentation, and even looks, of the lawyers is common.  The client is an amateur and jurors know that the client does not make his living by appearing in court.  The client deserves sympathy, even empathy, but not so for the lawyer.  People say public speaking is the number one stress producer for most people, yet trial lawyers must face this fear and rise above it in service to their clients.

A trial is a zero sum game.  There is a winner and a loser.  Trials may be about jurors compromising, but the parties compromise not, or they would not be at the courthouse.  The acts of public speaking, having a client's case and maybe even his life in one's hand, competing in a public battle, and the risk of being vulnerable and rejected account for why so few lawyers actually try cases.  Trial lawyers are oftentimes egomaniacs, narcissistic and insecure. We are also oftentimes caring, magnanimous and generous.  But one thing is clear, trial lawyers are risk-takers. They are willing to suffer the valleys to experience the mountain peaks.

Women make very competent lawyers.  They work hard, sometimes harder than the men, but are often relegated to an "assisting" role in trial.  There are so many more female trail lawyers than there were over 30 years ago when I started practicing law.  But, I do not think women lawyers will will have real parity with men until they no longer assist, but command in their fields.  This is no more true than in trial.  I worry about implicit bias against women, that people, even women lawyers, but certainly the juries, implicitly believe that men are more competent than women. Yet, unless women are willing to take the risks of actually going to trial, we cannot combat implicit bias.  Social norms are created by what normally happens in society.  Whether or not a woman is the major child-rearer in her family is not as important as whether she is willing to take risks that male lawyers, with their egos and braggadocio, are willing to take. When people take risks they are open to more healthy risks.

People often quote the maxim that on our deathbeds few people bemuse that they wish they had spent more time at work.  That is probably true.  But, I believe there is a different regret that lawyers can have, when they look back on their careers, that they were too afraid to take risks that could not only benefit their clients, but could also make life exciting and satisfying.  Maybe someday women will earn as much as men, will be represented in government and politics as much as men, and will head major businesses as much as men.  Women, us, just need to dream and have the courage to follow those dreams.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Older or Younger - Who Is better?

In Missouri, state court judges are required to retire at age 70. Yet, our new President-elect will be beginning his term at the age of 70. Bernie Sanders is 74, the age at which most people have long-since retired. Employers oftentimes force older workers out or refuse to hire people in their 50s. So what is going on?  People do live longer. In Missouri and federal court, workers protected against age discrimination can be as young as 40. In Missouri, though, once the older worker turns 70, he or she is no longer protected. Do what you want with a 70 year old, as long as he is not president.

There are pluses and minuses of both older and younger workers. Here is what I see as the benefits of workers 50 and over. Of course, these are gross generalizations.

Older workers are:

1.  More loyal;
2.  More confident;
3: More experienced at problem solving;
4.  Wiser;
5.  Less distracted.

Younger workers are:

1.  More confident with technology;
2.  More flexible about changes in environment, jobs, assignments;
3.  Learn fast;
4.  Have more energy.

Generally, and I am really generalizing here, young and older workers have a lot to give employers. Obviously, many people retire later and later and bring a wealth of historic knowledge to the workplace. Donal Trump - 70, his Cabinet's average age in the late 60's, Supreme Court justices in their 80's. The cap on age discrimination cases at the age of 70 is antiquated.  We need workers of all ages, not just young ,"energetic" ones. ("Energetic" is a code word for "young.").

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Don't You Feel Tired of Worrying All the Time?

Here we are on the cusp of the Winter Solstice, coming off negative degree temperatures, looking past the holidays to the gloomiest time of the year. In my family, people have been wracked with serious illnesses. Donald Trump was elected president. Missouri has a Republican governor, with a Republican legislature.  Dark days are possibly ahead for victims of discrimination, if civil rights statutes are changed to protect the harassers.  Dark days.

But, after the solstice passes, the days slowly become lighter. Trump is not even president and we do have three branches of government with checks and balances. Who know what is going to happen.

I am tired of expecting Armageddon. I am going in with a not open, not closed mind. I stopped listening to political podcasts and cable news. I try not to read Trump's tweets. My current clients are safe and if the unthinkable happens, and the legislature throws civil rights out the chamber's window, it would be August 2017 before anything bad can happen. Plus, there will be legal challenges. There is a Constitution which has an equal protection clause and there are federal statutes that will not be repealed.

So, while still representing my clients who are still victims of radish, sexism and ageism more than 50 years since civil rights laws were passed, I am going to relax. My clients are brave.  And I am tired of worrying. Maybe Donal Trump and Eric Greitens will be the best president and governor, respectively, in the world. We'll see. I won't look away, but it's hard to survive in constant fear and worry.

I hope they work out great and leave me and my clients alone.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Blocking The Right to Vote

I have been a poll watcher three times, in 2008, 2012, and 2016. These comments are based on my personal observations. Voting is a right of all citizens, but sometimes we provide roadblocks to voting. The first two times I was a poll-watcher were in Eastern Jackson County, Missouri, the last in Indian River County, Florida.

In 2008, I was a poll watcher in Blue Springs, MO in Eastern Jackson County. Blue Springs is not adjacent to Kansas City, so I do not recall issues of Kansas City voters moving to Blue Springs, or vice versa, so there was not confusion between the Easter Jackson County and Kansas election boards. A voter can move within Kansas City (Jackson County) and change addresses on voting day and still vote. Likewise when voters move from one eastern Jackson County location to another. The problem arises when a voter in Jackson County moves to or from Kansas City to or from Eastern Jackson County. Even though the move is within the same County, if the voter does not report the address change in advance (I think 10 days) he or she is disenfranchised.

The scenario above, moving to or from Kansas City to or from Eastern Jackson County became a real problem during my second assignment in 2012 in Grandview, MO.  Kansas City and Grandview are adjacent cities, and voters regularly moved between the two. If a Grandview voter moves to Lees Summit without changing his or her address, the voter is okay, since both cities are in Eastern Jack. But, if that voter moves to Grandview from Kansas City, without changing addresses formally, even if the move is a couple days before the election, the voter cannot vote, even though the voter is still within Jackson County. The voters I saw who were turned away from the polls were primarily African-American. I think the 10 day rule for changes of addresses with the same County, between Kansas City and Easter Jack, is probably unconstitutional. It deprives citizens from the right to vote.

What I witnessed in Florida was much worse. In Florida, if a voter has not voted in the last two elections, he or she is removed from the polls. The voters have registered, have not moved, but just decided they did not want to vote, and bam, they can not vote in the subsequent election. I suspect this rule in Florida affected Trump voters more than Clinton voters, because, presumably those who had not voted in the two previous elections chose not to vote for Obama.

In Florida, there is a voter i.d. law similar to the one just passed by the Missouri electorate. Voters must have an official photo, drivers license, passport, etc. to vote. This caused much frustration. Many elderly voters had no official identification. The other voters with no were overwhelmingly African-American. Voting is not dependent on us having a level of sophistication whereby we each must have a car or hope to travel internationally, and the ability to obtain state identification for poor people without restriction is limited. None other the turned away voters seemed like their intention was to commit voter fraud, since voter fraud is a rare thing. Many of those turned away from the polls will probably never vote. Being turned away from voting, exercising a citizens' right, can be humiliating. I suspect that was the first and last attempt to vote for many U.S. citizens.

Some states allow voter registration up to election day, early voting, and even voting by mail. Some states encourage their citizens to vote. It's sad that even the ability to vote has become partisan.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

How to Fund Social Security Without Cutting Benefits - Close the Loophole

It pains me, as a 64 year old fully working American not on Social Security to see that Republicans want to cut Social Security benefits. People like me have been paying Social Security taxes for 50 years or more.

What these politicians don't tell Americans is that people with higher incomes pay proportionally less tax than lower income Americans. Americans earning more than $118,500 in 2016 stop paying Social Security taxes on income over that amount. Plenty of Americans earn more than $118,500, some as much as millions of dollars. We could use those additional tax dollars, without increasing maximum benefits.

I do not understand why taxing Americans on all of their earned income never comes up. Oh right, I forgot, we can't tax the rich because ... why?  The thought of millions of Americans dependent on Social Security getting screwed is distressing. I guess these particular Republican Congressmen, with their government pensions and salaries and health care, funded by taxpayers, really don't care about the rest of us.