Under Analysis: The most powerful book isn't even a book anymore

Once upon a time, in a land I could see out my window, there was a thing called the banker’s hour. The length of the hour was the same as it was for the rest of us. 60 minutes. Bankers in those days however, only toiled for 8 of them in a row. Their working hours were memorialized in song by St. Dolly of Parton—9 to 5.

Not only were banker’s hours limited each day to 8, but the number of days which they worked were also limited by “banker’s holidays.” During these days, banks simply didn’t open as there were no bankers available anyway. Perhaps this is the reason that ATM machines and online banking has dwindled away the number of bankers in existence. Not coincidentally postal workers observed the banker’s holy days and no mail was delivered. Once upon a time.

I write this with no small amount of envy. I will be spending Labor Day driving cross-country to try a lawsuit. There is no such thing as lawyer’s hours. Anyone who is billed by a lawyer can confirm this when the number of hours billed exceeds the number of hours in a day.  While a layperson believes that the smallest increment of time is a second, lawyers know is actually .1.
Although I don’t bill for most of my time, I have written .1 often enough to recognize it as the most powerful unit of measurement. Reading email is usually .1. Phone calls start at .3 Ditto for letters, even if they are on the desk on a banker’s holiday.  Adding all these hours up at the end of a case consumes many of the 60 minute hours. Nonbillable of course.

Calendars are at once both loved and hated by trial attorneys. While we like to view ourselves as “Masters of the universe,” the real truth is that our calendars control us. Hours are our kryptonite. An old lawyer I knew used to say his life was measured in little segments that someone else wrote in a book.  If I worked for a software company, the desktop icon for calendar would look like a ball and chain instead of a day slip. Year-long calendars would resemble a prison door.

We still call calendars “our book.” “Let me check my book for availability and I’ll get back to you.” I can safely say that no young lawyer has ever seen an actual datebook. Instead, they rely on their iPhone/pad/pod/thingie to tell them where to be and when. Young lawyers are more optimistic about time as well, and set the alarms on their calendars for much less time before an appointment than do older lawyers.

Calendar books kept schedules in two types- pen and pencil. Penciled appointments were tentative, and could change. Penned events, such as trial dates, could not, absent an act of God. God rarely changed trial dates, even back then. 

The court system begrudgingly recognizes the new electronic calendar. I remember when “no cell phones” first came into vogue. Entire circuits were shut down as no one could agree to a schedule without their smartphone. The ubiquitous “no cell phones allowed” sign on the front of the courtroom has long stopped applying to attorneys.

One lawyer recently told me of being chided by a judge when her calendar software was not up to date at a scheduling conference. Only Amish lawyers can appear in court without an electronic calendar these days. And they get to park their buggies right in front of the courthouse.

Law shows on TV never show the true drama of law practice—the agony of losing one’s calendar. “I dropped my phone in a puddle” has replaced “my dog ate my homework” as an excuse for missing a meeting. Incidentally, if you do drop your cell phone in a puddle, putting it in a bag of rice often helps. Putting it in a box of pork fried rice does not.

When I was a kid I often fantasized about being a superhero. (My therapist tells me that’s normal). Lawyers also fantasize about superheros. One who is strong enough to break free from the binds that calendars put on our lives. We call him “Continuance Person.”

Continuance Person, in the old days, could erase penciled dates in a single bound. Even inked appointments were no match for him and his trusty sidekick, “White Out Boy.” Continuance Man’s services are expensive, to be sure. Like some divorce lawyers say about divorce- they cost a lot because they are worth it.

Even the dynamic duo of Continuance Person and White Out Boy are no match for a trial date. And so it is that I am preparing for trial while bankers and other mythological creatures are enjoying Labor Day weekend. The smell of backyard grills while I prepare for trial is the ultimate insult. No amount of white out on my cell phone can change that.
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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. He sleeps with his cellphone under his pillow.  Comments or criticisms about this column may be sent c/o this newspaper or directly to the Levison Group via email at farris@farrislaw.net.
©2014 Under Analysis LLC

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