Signs and Omens

           I look for signs and omens in everyday life, confident of my ability to spin a theory out of any of them and content to abandon ship if the theory doesn’t work out.

           A couple weeks ago, there was a big checkout line late in the evening at the grocery store and the clerk commented that it had been really busy all day, as it had not been for months. And I thought that food shopping could not possibly be dependant on the economy, but I stored the story away.


           Today, Beto who works next to me tells me that his cousin who works in construction is not struggling for jobs the way he was a couple months ago.


           A friend who works as a building contractor told me last week that he had to pass on two jobs offered recently because he is too busy.


           While a little melody way in the back of the statistical reports seems to portend something other than doom when the job losses are a bit lower than expected or when, as numbers out of the EU showed just a couple days ago, prices rise very slightly after sharp dropoffs in December.


           In our own business, the law goes into overdrive in times of financial crisis and the lawsuits start flying around, as bleeding investors search desperately for someone to blame.


           The Madoff debacle is a good example, with the still-solvent hedge funds and financial advisers who steered money into that black hole now serving as a prime targets for suits in Federal Court in Manhattan.


           While some law firms, such the giant Heller Ehrman, crashed and burned in the early weeks of the recession, and other monsters were laying off hundreds of lawyers, other firms in the litigation business now report blockbuster orders for work, kinda like the grocery store, busy all day.


           Out of the fall, an adjusted order seems to be emerging. Newspapers, for example, were always a great foreteller of the economy, with ad lineage – particularly the classifieds – dropping off sharply months before an economic slowdown took shape and taking off again before a recovery had revealed itself.


           But the newspapers were already in bad shape when this slowdown came along. And all it did was knock them down for good.


           So the Seattle Post Intelligencer, that shared a press room with us in King County Superior Court, is gone from the news stands. The Rocky Mountain News folded a couple weeks ago.


           But Courthouse News is showing a substantial net gain in subscriptions. Some big firms cut subscriptions in order to trim expenses. More have signed up, confident and hungry for the new business flooding into the courts.


At the courts themselves, voters in Houston, for example, turned a large majority of state district court judges out of office in the Fall elections, sweeping with a huge, angry and unforgiving broom. So now we negotiate for access to the court with a new clerk who in turn is working with big group of rookie judges.


           On a larger stage, the old world seemed to be gaining steadily in recent years as the European Union grew stronger both in economic terms and in political cohesion. But out of the economic destruction, the newer world of America has emerged stronger, with the dollar gaining on the euro and the wealth and central political direction of the United States allowing for a more forceful response to the economic dragon.


           At the same time, across the other sea, the newest world of China is reported to be using the crisis to improve its roads and infrastructure while tapping its reserves of cash to buy weakened foreign businesses and resources for a song. It could emerge from the ashes stronger than it was.


           There is a crushing force in an economic dive, that kills businesses and costs millions of jobs, but it is also a chance for renewal and reinvention, something Americans were always good at. So maybe, just maybe, that day at the grocery store was a real sign. And we are on the road back.

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