A Philosophical Look at Monetary Damages
Money is a funny thing. It makes people do things they would never consider doing without the incentive. It also acts as a bandage to heal emotional wounds, both inside and outside the courtroom.
The world of damages to a lawyer sometimes resembles a kid in a candy store. Hmm, what else can we possibly tack on to our request? Just reviewing the largest jury awards can make a person’s mouth water, or at least his jaw drop. For example, back in 2002, Plaintiff and smoker of 50 years Betty Bullock was awarded a whopping $28billion for her lung cancer claim against Philip Morris. This was the punitive award, which was later reduced to $28m, and a “measly” $850,000 was awarded for compensatory damages to the 64-year-old.
But no matter how high the award may be, a victim is never restored to his pre-injury state. So why do societies accept that compensatory and punitive damages are sufficient to offer closure where there is still pain? Why does it make the victim’s family feel better to hit the defendants where it hurts, in the pockets? Do monetary damages really deter future negligent behavior? Last year, Philip Morris still raked in nearly $7billion net income. And with the unbelievable medical malpractice case history, there are still very negligent doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel out there, depriving newborns of oxygen and leaving all sorts of objects inside peoples’ bodies after surgery.
Does the concept of monetary damages help people sleep at night or is it simply making the best out of a horrible situation?
Do you think law schools should teach empathy?
In a recent article, lawyer and author Jeena Cho writes
"Nowhere are we taught that the act of sitting with someone who is suffering — someone who has been unjustly treated, physically, emotionally, psychologically or financially harmed, or lost dignity, limbs, or loved ones — is really deeply painful and hard work. Instead, we are regularly told nonsense like, we’re lawyers, we shouldn’t have emotions."
I agree with her that it can be emotionally draining to sit with a client who has been harmed, especially if physical or emotional abuse is involved. However, clients are not coming to us for a shoulder on which to cry. Clients want justice. While it is certainly appropriate to sympathize with our pained clients, our role as lawyers is to advocate for their legal rights and deliver the protections and compensation they deserve.
What do you think, counselor?
A doctor and a lawyer were going golfing one day. As they strolled across the green, the doctor said to the lawyer, “I have a professional dilemma.”
“Oh yeah?” said the lawyer.
The doctor continued, “Yes. With the ease of quick communication nowadays, my patients have started asking for my medical opinion through emails and What’s Apps. The conversation is usually brief, taking up no more than a few minutes of my time.”
“Ok…” replied the lawyer.
“But, you see, when patients come into my office, even for a brief appointment, I can still charge them for the whole appointment. When they ask me questions over SMS, I don’t charge them because it’s not an official appointment.”
“I see” said the lawyer. “This is a tough situation you’re in. I think you should charge them for the electronic conversation as if they’ve come into your office for an in-person appointment.”
“Really?” replied the doctor. “It’s not unethical?”
“Not in the least bit,” the lawyer assured his friend. “The only mistake you made was not charging them from the first text message.”
The doctor responded, “ok thanks. It’s good to have a lawyer as such a close friend.”
Two weeks later, the doctor received a bill from his close lawyer friend charging him $125 for a quarter hour of legal advice.
Considering President Trump’s recent firing of FBI director James B. Comey amid the spicy Russia investigation, it behooves us all to consider the individuals in our close networks, both professional and personal. Who do we approach with our ethical legal questions, if anyone? Do we only ask sticky questions to those who will provide smooth answers?
We were all required to take a Professional Responsibility course, or its equivalent, in law school. And since 1980, most lawyer wannabes have had to pass the MPRE (Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination) to become licensed to practice law in their preferred U.S. state(s).
Yet, every year, I see hundreds of names of disbarred or suspended (pardon the profanity) lawyers on various state bar association websites. Clearly, no one wakes up one morning and decides “I want to commit legal malpractice today.” So how do so many people slip? One reason involves the company people keep. If others in our professional circle are lax in their ethical standards, this sentiment is likely to spill over to us, unless we make a conscious effort to maintain our integrity.
Warning: This post is more philosophical than most. It may even force you to ponder a bit.
Last week my grandmother died. She was 88 and had been very sick for months. She was an amazing mother, grandmother, mother-in-law, sister, and person. When I got married, she gave me a piece of advice: “never yell at each other unless the house is on fire.” When I was a little girl, I complimented her earrings. Without a word, she smiled, removed them and gave them to me. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to say goodbye as I live thousands of miles away. I was planning a visit for next month to coincide with my cousin’s wedding. The last time we were together, 5 years ago, my grandma joined me for a Zumba class. My bubby will be missed by everyone who knew her and her death has provided a reminder for us all about the importance of life.
China's One-Child Policy
Life is an interesting concept. We all have it and most of us take it for granted most of the time. We tend not to appreciate the gift of life until it’s far too late. Different cultures view lives differently. For example, consider China’s one-child policy which endured for more than 35 years, and was replaced only in 2016 by a two-child policy. Since its “inception” in 1979, violators of the one-child policy were fined and the practice of forced abortions and infanticide swept through the vast eastern region. An important part of the policy was to sterilize women after their first birth or surgically insert birth control devices. While there were some exceptions to the rule, it is estimated that 400 million lives were prevented. Apparently the rationale behind the policy was to prevent economic, environmental, and social problems in Red China.
A Peak Inside Israel and the United States
In stark contrast, the Israeli government provides a child allowance to encourage families to procreate. All Israeli families (Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Bedouin alike) receive a nominal stipend (a bit more than $100) each month into their bank accounts for each child under the age of 18 in the family. In the United States, there is a movement whereby companies will pay for female employees to freeze their eggs in the hopes that they will remain in the workforce and put off having children. Unfortunately, for many of these women, their biological clocks will not be ticking quite so well after a delay of a decade or so.
Aside from cultural push to populate, or not, there are also quality of life debates heating up around the globe. For instance, the controversial discussion revolving around whether or not a woman should abort her fetus after receiving a diagnosis of Down Syndrome, as illustrated in this mother’s blog, highlights one such issue. Another hot topic in America and Europe is the right to “die with dignity” using medical intervention to end one’s life.
What is the value of your life? Is your happiness conditioned upon having “things” like a good job, loving spouse, exciting social circle, or some other extraneous element? If you lived on a deserted island, would you be able to feel as productive and satisfied with yourself as you do after a busy week? Would you question whether or not your life is worth living?
No, really. Going away is so important because it allows us to return stronger and better. When I was studying for the BAR exam, I did not study everyday like many of my colleagues. I studied six days out of each week and took off one day. As the BAR preparation course I took was only about six weeks long, my schedule worried some of my close friends and family members. They thought I would be missing out on information and that my peers would have a significant advantage over me come testing day. But, I disagreed. My day off allowed me to digest the previous week’s worth of information, relax a tad, and rejuvenate myself for another grueling six days of arduous study.
I passed on the first try.
Now that I’m in the working world, it’s harder to get away. This is especially true since I run my own company. I need to be responsive and stay on top of things. I manage multiple projects simultaneously. When there’s a problem, I’m Mrs. Fix It. This is a good role for me as I’ve become quite the juggler over the years. However, I am still a firm believer in going away.
Next week, I will be going away. I’m not physically leaving my domicile, but I will be taking a week off work to spend time with my family and enjoy my kids during their days off school. I will not be checking my emails and I’m so looking forward to it. And any time I feel a pang of guilt or my mind starts to wander to ongoing projects, I will simply remind myself of my BAR prep days. I’ll remember that the best way to grow in productivity, efficiency, and responsibility in the future is to go away.
Technically, spring has sprung, even if you’re still shoveling snow. Here are five simple ways to spring clean your law office, including a few cheap tricks.
Tip #1: Start with the top of your desk.
The first place a client or colleague notices upon entering your office is your desk. If it looks cluttered, it makes you appear unorganized and too busy to help. Get rid of any pens and pencils you never use. Lay out the items on your desk in a parallel fashion so your clock, notepad, pen organizer and laptop form a sort of grid from a bird’s eye view.
***CHEAP TRICK: If you can’t move some important papers off your desk, simply stand them up or stack them in a paper organizer. They will still be within your easy reach, but won’t appear like a messy pile of paperwork.
Tip #2: Notice your bookshelf.
Oftentimes when we set up a bookshelf, it only contains books—surely a novel idea. But over time, other items seem to take residence upon the shelves. Picture frames, pens, office gifts and trinkets, boxes of tissues are all common cluttering culprits. Bookshelves look the most neat when they only have books on them. If you want to add some flavor to your shelves, then you need to move books out of the way for the other miscellaneous items. Don’t merely stick the items in front of books.
***CHEAP TRICK: When purchasing bookshelves, buy ones with drawers along the bottom row. This way, you can keep your tissues and trinkets in the drawers out of eyesight. If you want to insert photo frames in between books, buy bookends.
Tip #3: Electrical hazards.
Take note of anything that is plugged into an electrical outlet in your office. Does it look like a potential fire hazard? There are numerous ways to hide your wires, including simply wrapping them up with Velcro to minimize the haywire effect. You can also get a power strip and safely hide it behind your furniture.
Tip #4: Inside your drawers.
Drawers, whether in your home or office, often become black holes, frightening away anyone who opens them. They seem to vacuum in anything and everything with which we cannot part. In the spirit of spring cleaning, try your best to throw away anything you haven’t used within the last two years. Even if it still works and has some objective value. You can give these items to your secretary or a colleague so that person can make the decision: keep or trash. But if the decision is to keep, it now belongs to your secretary or colleague, not you!
***CHEAP TRICK: If you are truly unsure about something, put it in a box and have your secretary keep it for a few more months. Then, at a specified deadline like September 1, look through the box again to make a final decision.
Tip #5: Timing is everything.
People need mental and physical energy for spring cleaning of any type. Some people work better by handling small tasks over a longer period of time. If this rings a bell, set an alarm where you will tackle some office spring cleaning for 15 minutes one day per week. If you are the more intense type of person, block out two or three hours one weekend and jump in headfirst.
***CHEAP TRICK: Enlist support from a spouse, friend, or child.
Finally, you must plan a reward for yourself once your office is organized to your satisfaction.
This summer, O.J. Simpson is up for parole. Wait a sec. Why is he in jail? It’s NOT for the bloody murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. If you remember correctly, he was found not guilty in the criminal case in 1995. While he was found guilty in the civil trial two years later, you don’t need to be a criminal lawyer to know that people don’t get jail time for civil culpability.
As a result of the civil trial, O.J. was ordered to pay the Brown and Goldman families to the tune of $33.5 million, most of which they will probably never see for two reasons. First, he moved to the Sunshine State, taking advantage of Florida’s homestead exemption which precludes creditors from forcing the sale of residences to pay off debts. Second, his NFL pension amounting to a monthly figure of about $25,000 is untouchable by creditors under ERISA (Employee Retirement Income Security Act).
Money issues aside, Simpson is currently incarcerated in Nevada’s Lovelock Correctional Center after he was found guilty in 2008 of ten counts including robbery, kidnapping, assault, and burglary while in possession of a deadly weapon. While the facts were contested at trial, he and his co-defendants allegedly entered a Las Vegas hotel room looking to recoup several items of sports and personal memorabilia stolen from Simpson including photos of his children. This six-minute confrontation with the supposed thieves lasted six minutes and Simpson was subsequently sentenced to 33 years in prison, with the eligibility for parole after nine years (October 2017).
Whether or not Simpson will be granted parole is based on eleven factors evaluated by the fine establishment personnel at Lovelock:
His odds are good. He was a well-behaved prisoner, often mopping the floors and mentoring younger inmates. He took an active role in the recreational sports at Lovelock and had no disciplinary issues. Also, he’ll be 70 years old at the time of the parole hearing, hardly a threat that he’ll return to his mischievous ways.
It looks like “The Juice” will be loose come October.
We have all heard the phrase “think good and it will be good.” During challenging times, this is much easier said than done.
Lawyer and legal writer, Julie worked primarily in real estate law before focusing her career on the social media and marketing aspects of the legal industry.