We Come in Peace

Lawyers are scary. They’re even scary to each other. You lawyers out there may not think of yourselves as scary, but you are.

I have a vivid memory of calling an attorney many years ago in my role as a newspaper reporter to ask about a lawsuit filed against him. I was expecting a calm, professional denial.

Instead, the guy freaked out, sounded like he was about to cry, and then asked me what he should do.

I wasn’t helpful.

Apparently, not even lawyers like to get sued.

That’s understandable, but it seems even the slightest exposure to a legal document can be a trigger. I realized this the other day when I got a notice in the mail of a bankruptcy case creditors meeting.

It didn’t bother me. I’m a hardened, unfeeling veteran of the legal world.

But then I noticed something that, at first, I thought was really weird. In the middle of an innocuous paragraph about protecting creditor rights there appeared this sentence in bold type: You are not being sued or forced into bankruptcy.

Of course I’m not. Why would I think that?

Then I realized what was happening here. They had sent out notices like this before and people had freaked out. The authors of one these notices might have been sued for infliction of emotional distress.

It’s reasonably foreseeable that someone could have a heart attack, faint and fall downstairs, or choke on a meatball when confronted with an official-looking document.

There must have been expensive litigation.

Unfortunately, I’m not certain that a random, boldface sentence is going to insulate notice writers from liability. That sentence isn’t necessarily the first thing that recipients will see. People are sensitive (and often stupid).

So what should you do?

First off, obviously, packaging is important. Legal documents need to come in envelopes marked – in huge, eye-catching type – “WE COME IN PEACE. THIS DOCUMENT MEANS YOU NO HARM!”

This is not sufficient, however. Recipients will expect a trap.

Calming, reassuring presentation is key. Rather than using a plain envelope or a plain process server, have your legal documents delivered by St. Bernard. They can be rolled up in the tiny barrels around their necks.

People will be happy to see your documents even if they’re being sued.

An accompanying musical greeting card and some happy-face emojis couldn’t hurt either.

There’s no reason the practice of law needs to be stressful for anyone.

 

The price of freedom. Question: if you paid not to go to court, would you go to court?

Yes, I know that sounds like a stupid question. In fact, it is a stupid question.

I think.

Yet that’s just what a group of people in the District of Columbia did. They took advantage of a “post and forfeit” procedure that allowed them to pay a fine and walk away from misdemeanor charges without going to court or even creating a criminal record.

Then they filed a class action saying the post-and-forfeit procedure violated the Due Process Clause.

Personally, I think throwing some money at a police officer to get out of going to jail is a fine idea. Crime rates might go up, but only among the well-to-do, and the government would have a terrific new source of revenue.

If the cops take credit cards, you could amortize your debt to society for many years.

So why would someone sue over this?

Beats me. But according to a ruling last week from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, the plaintiff “asserted that the post-and-forfeit procedure violates arrestees’ due process rights because it deprives them of their money without a hearing.”

Even though he paid the money to get out of a hearing.

Maybe he thought he was paying the money to get a hearing.

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