Phil Donohue, esteemed partner at my old law firm Schwartz Meisner, called today. He thought I’d get a kick out of the near malpractice committed by one overworked associate. Apparently, the kid had let his mail pile up untouched for two weeks. After this negligence came to Phil’s attention, he summoned the associate and imparted the cautionary tale of Luke Flowers’ professional demise, intending it as a warning to the young attorney.
Luke Flowers fell prey to alcoholism. The man once recognized as a topflight litigator ultimately became better known for his pristine desktop. While other attorneys covered their desks with reams of paper, his contained only an overflowing ashtray, a single pen, and a partially-completed New York Times crossword puzzle. We other litigators viewed this feat with awe, mystified at Luke’s ability to perform his work without any visible evidence of his labors. We should’ve known better!
One day, firm founder, Alan Schwartz, took a call from an irate client. The client screamed how he’d hounded Luke for months to obtain a default judgment against the defendant who’d failed to answer a complaint. Although Luke eventually copied the client on a letter to the court enclosing a proposed default judgment, several weeks passed without transmission of a filed judgment. The client pestered Luke to investigate the reason for the delay, and Luke told him the law clerk had reported a backlog in the judge’s caseload.
The following month, while Luke vacationed, the client opened an envelope from Schwartz Meisner. The man expected to see his long-awaited default judgment. Instead, he found an order dismissing his case for want of prosecution! Thus, the angry phone call to Alan Schwartz.
Moments after contritely promising to look into the mess and fix it, an apoplectic Alan visited Luke’s secretary for answers. Yet Frannie knew nothing about a default judgment. Puzzled, Alan “invited” her to join him in searching Luke’s office. He hadn’t been in Luke’s quarters in quite a while though, and the scene which confronted him left him flummoxed. After one look at the bare desktop, he exclaimed: “Where the fuck is all the paper?”
Although Alan and Frannie failed to locate the missing default judgment, the pair did discover something else. In the bottom drawer of a filing cabinet, they found stacks of unopened mail dating back six months. There were letters from adversaries, motion papers, and orders in various cases – in short, a cornucopia of potential malpractice. Alan, a man rarely at a loss for words, grew so shocked he could only muster a brief “Holy Shit!” before lapsing into muteness.
Under intense grilling upon his return from vacation, a clearly-intoxicated Luke confessed that his drinking had gotten out of hand and he’d lost control of his workload. As a result, he’d begun hiding away all his unopened mail, hoping matters would sort themselves out.
And the mysterious default judgment? Astonishingly, he’d typed up the document and cover letter himself and sent them to the client, just so he could get the pestering man off his back. Luke never submitted those papers to the court though. When asked why, after taking the trouble to draft the documents, he didn’t have his secretary transmit them to the judge, he merely shrugged his shoulders.
Luke left Schwartz Meisner that same day … ashtray, pen, and crossword puzzle in hand.