The Science of Windfalls
From the nationally syndicated column “Under Analysis”
Stuart Tomas stopped by the Levison Towers this week while he was in the area promoting his book “Getting To No, The Art Of Passive Aggression.” At least he said he was in the area promoting his book. I think he was just here trying to scam some World Series tickets.
I am typically happy to see Tomas and today was no exception. I had landed a little bit of windfall time and was looking for an excuse to goof off. Earlier, I was in court to get a continuance of a case set on the following week’s docket. The defense lawyer and I were still dancing around with preliminary matters and were nowhere near ready for trial. As I left the courthouse, I saw a lawyer with whom I had depositions scheduled later that afternoon. He told me he got sent out for trial and we needed to reschedule the depositions. What had looked like an afternoon of drudgery had just become windfall time.
Windfall time is a cherished bit of freedom in a lawyer’s schedule. We sell our lives in tenths of an hour, marked off on the calendar weeks in advance. When something cancels at the last minute there is no time to reschedule another appointment or task. The hole in the calendar becomes windfall time.
To a lawyer who bills hourly, windfall time is unwelcome. We contingency fee lawyers see it as a free gift. Halloween candy. Winning the Publishers’ Clearinghouse sweeps without buying a magazine.
Tomas looked around my office at the piles of files and half written briefs hiding both my desk and much of my carpet. He hinted that maybe this newfound free time might be used to reduce the mass. (Tomas is a little bit of a neat freak.) Without holding back, this was the silliest idea I’d ever heard.
“Stu, it just doesn’t work that way. Windfalls are a gift from heaven. Wasting them on actual work is giving the powers that be a poke in the eye.
Think of it this way. My bank has given me a line of credit. Unless I borrow all that money as quickly as I can, even if I don’t need it, I’m disrespecting the trust that they have placed in me.
When I was a kid, they gave us recess every day. I didn’t do extra work during recess, I played. If you start working during off time you’re messing with the delicate balance of the universe. Don’t cross the work and goof streams.”
To misquote the prophet Alanis Morissette, it would be like paying in advance for free ride. I was on a roll now and knew it.
“It’s actually a minor infraction that I’m even in the office now. We should really continue this discussion down at The Restatement.” As is his nature, Tomas nodded agreement and off we went.
There was quite a crowd in The Restatement for 2 o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon. This tavern next to the courthouse is known for cold beverages and salty conversation, mostly from the wait staff. If you want warm pretzels you should consider the yuppie bar down the street. The Restatement is where old codgerly lawyers come to think.
We had only been in the joint for a couple minutes when young Mike came in. You could see this kid coming a mile away, all 6 foot seven and 250 pounds of him. He is an associate in a plaintiff’s personal injury practice and his wife defends insurance companies. Given that I am a liberal married to a conservative, I understand his plight.
We exchanged greetings and he asked why I was wearing a suit. I told him I had just been in court to get a continuance. He said that when he got to be my age, he hoped he was getting continuances. The look on my face inspired him to stammer out an explanation – he had been carrying boxes all day and thought appearing in motion court was much more lawyerly.
Just as he was wriggling free from the uncomfortable moment, one of his young defense lawyer buddies came over. He said, “That is quite a suit. I’m not sure I could pull it off, but on you it looks good.” For the record, pulling it off is not the problem, it’s getting it on in the morning. My dry cleaner seems to be shrinking my clothes much more regularly lately.
In the span of five minutes I had taken two jabs to the head for no apparent reason. Tomas was laughing so hard he could barely drink the beer I was buying. I laughed along. There is no time for feeling slighted or carrying grudges during a windfall, and no amount of ribbing was going to cloud my day. After all, I was enjoying a cold one with my fellow lawyers in the middle of a Wednesday afternoon. Life doesn’t get much better than that.