Under Analysis

 Don’t say that thing that you thought about saying

Spencer Farris, The Levison Group

They say that no news is good news. Judges have been in the news a lot lately and not in a good way.

A judge in Montana blamed a rape victim in open court when giving her attacker a light sentence. A judge in Florida exchanged fighting words and fists with a public defender. A judge in Mississippi yelled racial slurs at a young man working at a flea market and then struck him. The last story has a bit of a happy ending as a lawyer in Missouri gathered money from a few of his friends and bought the young man, Eric Rivers, a bicycle like the one he was working for at the flea market. 

Believe it or not, I am not writing today to attack judges. Most judges start out as practicing attorneys, and I wish only to warn future judges — be careful what you say. It is my firm conviction that if you say stupid meaningless things over and over, you actually hurt your brain. I am not a scientist, Gentle Reader, just a student of the human condition. Assuming my hypothesis is correct, I have gathered a few of the stupidest phrases that insulted my ears in recent days. 

Due Diligence. This meaningless phrase started in the business community and has permeated the legal field as well. “Sally wants to do her due diligence before completing this transaction.” No one wants to do undue diligence, do they? The word “diligence” means doing that which is necessary. Stop saying Due diligence. 

Legally acceptable document. I was discussing some changes in a release with an insurance claims representative last week who said that she couldn’t make changes because the document was a legally acceptable document. Not to me.  The Communist manifesto is legally acceptable, if you want to accept it. Just because something can be accepted  by someone somewhere doesn’t make it correct. = “Legally acceptable” is the lawyer wannabes version of “may lower cholesterol.” It may not. 

It is our official policy. A hospital billing clerk told my client last week that the hospital needed a copy of her car insurance information. My client told the clerk that she had health insurance and had given that information. The billing clerk said “I know, but it is our official policy to get your car insurance.” When my client called me, frantic, I told her to tell the hospital folks that she understood about policy, and it was her official policy not to give out her car insurance information. We will see what happens when these two official policies collide. Your official policy is not a deity’s blessing.

I am legally required to make this offer to everyone. When buying a car recently, the finance manager spent 20 minutes telling me about the available added warranties. After I informed him for the third time that I wasn’t interested, he told me that he was legally required to make the offers. You are not legally required to tell anyone anything. Sure, he may expose yourself to liability if you don’t, but that is a different story. Tell the truth: “I’m telling you this so I don’t get sued. “Folks will understand and respect you for it.

You have a really great case. No client ever wants to hear that they have a great case. If you represent injury victims, you have just told this person they are hurt really bad. If you’re defending someone in a business or criminal case, you are saying that you will likely win but at great expense to them. Tell your law partners and your friends that you signed up a good case, but never say this to a client. Try instead, “What happened here was terrible. You came to the right place to get help.”

We made a verbal contract. All contracts are verbal. Some are oral, some are written. I guess it is possible that someone will hold up a sandwich and you will nod that you want it, but other than that…

While on the topic, I left out the host of other sayings that just make you look stupid: I need to get a hold of him. We should of sued that guy. And my alltime favorite — we will give you a free gift. Your free gift to me would be to email me the sayings that irk you. 

Sticks and stones may break your bones, Gentle Reader, but words make you more stupider. 

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Under Analysis is a nationally syndicated column of the Levison Group. Spencer Farris is the founding partner of The S.E. Farris Law Firm in St. Louis, Missouri. Comments or criticisms about this column may be sent to this newspaper or directly to the Levison Group via e-mail at comments@levisongroup.com.

© 2014 Under Analysis L.L.C.

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