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Writs and Other Major Awards

Although the weather in my part of the world hasn’t yet gotten the memo- it is still in the upper 80s here- it is officially Autumn. Little known fact: the word Autumn comes from an ancient cave drawing that means “Get lost, Summer.” Concededly, a loose translation.

The season signifies we have made it through the worst of the unbearable heat and have a short respite before Winter kills everything we spent all year planting. There is probably a metaphor for middle aged lawyers here as well, but I can’t find it. Maybe I just don’t want to.

Autumn is always welcome. It heralds the beginning of football season and deer season, a/k/a redneck holy days. The only drawback to the change of seasons is the rollback of Daylight savings time. Lawyers leave for work and come home in the dark once again. Clients who feel like they have long been in the dark about what their lawyers do have no sympathy for this problem. That is what they say on their Bar complaints, anyway.

Autumn marks the time to either finish or give up on the summer projects hanging around my house and office. Others partake in Spring cleaning, but Autumn desperation cleaning motivates me more.

It’s also award season and the Emmys aren’t the only game in town. Lawyer awards are in full swing. Some awards are thinly veiled marketing ploys by trophy shops. I think they are silly at best and predatory at worst, but the organizations giving them know that they are strokes of marketing genius. In our “everybody gets a trophy” society, I am surprised that such aggressive marketing is necessary. Still, show me something official looking and shiny and I will get out my checkbook.

I received two awards this month. One was from a group that was pilloried in a blog last year after a lawyer got a plaque for his dog by nominating Fido for membership.  They named me as one of the top criminal defense lawyers in town. For a mere three hundred dollars, I could have a trophy to showcase my glory. Groucho Marx didn’t want to be a member of any group that would let him in, but he should have waited to see the trophy.

I have never tried a criminal case. My closest experience was disputing a red light camera ticket my wife received. She was adamant that she was innocent, and I was pressed into service as her champion. The video of her infraction was both clear and convincing, even to me. I explained that to her after I lost. She just shrugged.

“At least it didn’t cost anything to try,” she said. Not counting the two hours going to and from court and my bruised pride, she was right of course. If that performance put me among the top criminal defense lawyers in town, local jails would be sardine cans with bars. Sardines will be on the award dinner menu if they can afford them.

While I was thrilled to be recognized, the award should go to someone who actually does criminal defense work. It is an honor just to be nominated after all.

The other group giving me an award is more exclusive. It is peer reviewed and membership is limited to a couple thousand lawyers across the country. My firm’s PR guru asked me for details about the organization and I could only tell her that “It is the kind with a $500 yearly dues requirement.” The group looks like the real deal. They didn’t offer me a trophy, but the list of members is so impressive that I am certain they let me in by mistake. I accepted before they could figure that out.

My firm has been doing a lot of winning this year- mostly in the courts of appeals.  Unfortunately, we’ve been taking appeals and filing for writs rather than defending victories. The Farris Law Firm’s appellate department graciously credits our trial and motion departments- without their ineptitude the success wouldn’t have been possible. As a solo lawyer, I am both proud and ashamed.

Extraordinary writs are rare. If appeals are like video reviews of the call on the field, writs are video reviews during a power outage. At a night game.  Not Hail Mary touchdown pass rare, more like Saint Mary’s face in a potatoe chip rare.

I was back from a vacation and working at 10:30 at night getting ready for a deposition the next day when I looked up from my research to check email. That is when I learned that my state’s Supreme Court had issued an order three hours earlier. It was not a final decision, but the Court was entertaining the matter.  

The order ended with these words: Herein fail not at your peril. It may only be a preliminary finding, but “peril” sounds permanent. Perhaps the Chief Justice is just kicking it Ye Olde Schoole. Even though I am a civil trial lawyer and jail time isn’t in the offing, I don’t intend to test him. I’m willing to bet that my top criminal defense attorney award won’t impress the high court.

©2019 under analysis llc. under analysis is a nationally syndicated column. Spencer Farris is the founding partner of The S.E. Farris Law Firm in St Louis, Missouri. He likes potato chips. A lot. Comments or criticisms about this column may be sent c/o this newspaper or directly to Under Analysis via email at farris@farrislaw.net.

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