We have all heard that a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client. Many of us have had occasion to walk into a courtroom, be it in magistrate, state, or even superior court, only to find that the courtroom is packed with pro se parties waiting to have their matters adjudicated. Watching inexperienced people handle their legal matters can at times be entertaining and at other times extremely frustrating. We observe these parties fumbling with rules regarding cross-examination or the admission of evidence. It is almost always apparent that these people are uncomfortable, intimidated, and unaware of how much they do not know about prosecuting or defending a legal action. Out of necessity, desperation, or perhaps stubbornness, many people still choose to represent themselves in court.
As attorneys, we have one of the most difficult jobs to simply duck out for a spontaneous three-day weekend getaway. Notice that we aren’t even allowed to call it a vacation. Such time away from one’s legal practice is referred to as a “leave of absence,” which immediately has a negative connotation; a feeling of abandoning the courts, the clients, the job.
My mother was in town this week from Florida. Unlike my wife and me, my mother is drawn to opinion shows that run on news networks. Notice that I did not say news shows that run on opinion networks. I will try to compose my thoughts in this article without leaning towards the left or the right, if you will. It simply strikes me as strange that given how little time I have to myself these days, others with equally scarce time spend it listening nightly to the opinions that others have on political or social issues.
I know I am not the first to say it, but I don’t know where this year went. There are still so many books I intended to read this year that I have not yet had the time to read, so many tasks I intended to address around the house, and so many New Year’s Resolutions that I failed to pay any attention to whatsoever as of Jan. 2, 2010. Well, I suppose the year is not yet over.
Today, like many DeKalb Bar Association members, I observed a debate between Ken Hodges and Sam Olens, both of whom aspire to be the next Georgia Attorney General. Amidst the bickering over each candidate’s resume and job performance were the undertones of an intellectual disagreement as to whether or not the position of attorney general is better categorized as that of a prosecutor or a politician. Of all the important topics briefly touched upon by the two candidates during the brief and insightful debate, I found this schism regarding the most basic job description particularly compelling.
CNN recently ran a story on how the economy is having a severe impact on many of those who are called to serve as jurors (www.cnn.com/2010/CRIME/03/17/jury.duty.recession/index.html?hpt=C1). In the best of economic times, even those among us who can best afford to sacrifice time at work to engage in our noble civic duties might cringe at the summonses in our mailboxes. However, what this article makes clear is that today, perhaps more so than ever before, the toll taken by this sacrifice on the jurors can be devastating.
In February, I attended a panel discussion hosted by our own DeKalb Bar Association and moderated by Phyllis Williams. The title was “A View from the Bench: Professionalism in the Courtroom,” and the panel consisted of the Honorable Gregory A. Adams of the DeKalb Superior Court, Honorable J. Antonio DelCampo of the DeKalb State Court, and Honorable Elliott A. Shoenthal of the DeKalb Juvenile Court.
This year I have been volunteering as an assistant coach with the Georgia Mock Trial Competition. In the past I have volunteered as a judge during the competitions, but this year I have been more actively involved in dissecting the problem and helping a student team shape their case. I can now say, without a doubt, that the experience has been one of the most fun, engaging, and rewarding volunteer opportunities in which I have ever taken part. Other than the fun that I have had, I have learned far more from the student participants than I ever anticipated. I am fortunate in that the students I have been working with are extremely bright and enthusiastic.
As we roll into 2010, I thought it might be worth exploring how some of our members view New Year’s Resolutions. For me, the beginning of a new calendar year rarely feels like the perfect moment for a fresh start or the time to make a specific change. After all, the majority of my cases did not terminate arbitrarily at 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 31, so any fundamental practice changes do not seem well-timed simply by virtue of the fact that I need to remember what calendar year to write on checks.
Hanna recently picked up another foe—an Atlanta attorney whose practice focuses on representing consumers in debt-collection matters. At issue was a 2008 suit brought by Alpha Receivables, one of Hanna's clients, against an Atlanta woman, Jennifer Chattman. Alpha claimed in DeKalb County State Court that Chattman owed it $1,505. Chattman's lawyer, Daniel E. DeWoskin, proved that Chattman never had such a debt and filed a counter-claim. Alpha admitted it made an error and withdrew the case. In June, DeWoskin sued in federal court, saying Alpha Receivables and Hanna's firm committed fraud and violated state and federal laws regulating debt-collection practices by creating a fictional debt and trying to collect it from Chattman.