I’m sitting by the shore of Lake Superior at the Java Moose coffee shop in Grand Marais, MN. My wife and I have been camping here at the municipal campground. Must say this is about my favorite spot in the whole world. The people who run the Java Moose are very kind. They don’t seem to mind how long one sits with one’s laptop.
Yesterday and Sunday were unique in that our cell phone service was out. I didn’t realize how important that cell phone has become until it didn’t work. On a trip like this it serves more as a family intercom, helping me find my wife when we get separated during one activity or another. The phones kicked back in and started working late Monday afternoon – something wrong with the tower I guess. Whatever it was it seemed to only affect T-Mobile service. Verizon and AT&T still worked I learned from comparing notes with other campers.
So yesterday, before my wife and I headed out to hike at Mount Oberg, I fired up a pair of old walkie-talkies. That way if we got separated, which happens a lot because I tend to get ahead of her on the trail, we still could talk with each other. Compared to the cell phones, the walkie-talkies seem crude. They always work at least if you are in range no matter where one is, however. Turns out that even when the tower in Grand Marais is working, the cell phone service doesn’t extent to Mount Oberg.
I’ll be back in the office on Thursday morning. These trips are always too short.
Yesterday I got a call from my office-mate and friend Emanuel Serstock. He’s a former Minneapolis Assistant City Attorney, a former Ramsey County Assistant County Attorney, and a former Assistant Hennepin County Public Defender. We call him “Em.”
Em knows that I try to go for a good long walk most days, and that I have my favorite places to do this. In particular, he knows that I like to go to the Westwood Hills Nature Center, which is only about a half mile from our office. After an apparent heart attack last fall, he is under doctor’s orders to walk at least three times a week. When he called, he wanted to know if I would be walking that day and where would I be going. I said that I had been thinking in terms of a swim at my health club, but that I would be honored to walk with him if he was up for it.
An hour later he was at the office in his walking shoes, and we jumped in my Toyota Highlander. I drove the half mile or so to a back door entrance to the Westwood Hills Nature Center. After deciding whether we would take the track in a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction, we were heading down the trail. I had anticipated that he would have trouble keeping up with me, but the reverse was true. He’s a bit taller than me, so his legs are longer. I had been a bit worried about his health, but I’m not anymore. He was robust, vigorous and hard to keep up with.
We found that the ice is finally out and the water is open on the lake. We saw a loon, who was obviously migrating to somewhere further north. We also saw a colorful adult male turkey, which Em said reminded him of certain people he knows.
Em has been a good resource and mentor, helping me with many of my criminal defense cases. Compared to how much help he has given me, I have felt for some time that I owe him something. Going on this walk was an opportunity for me to show him something he had not known about, which I hope to some extent was a down payment on my repayment of my indebtedness to him.
There are three or four other lawyers with whom I consult more or less constantly. Actually maybe it’s five other lawyers. Two are guys I office with, and the others are people I speak with a lot, usually by phone. I’m reluctant to name them because I don’t want them held responsible in any way for anything that I’ve done; but there are days when I have been temped to ask one or two of them if they would mind if I listed them as “of counsel” on my letterhead and web site.
That “of counsel” designation is something you will run into now and then as you are reading about or looking up lawyers. The meaning as I understand it is a bit vague, but it usually refers to a lawyer who is not an associate or partner, but who is in the same building or general vicinity, and with whom one consults a lot.
My Black’s Law Dictionary defines the term as a lawyer “employed to assist in the preparation or management of a cause, or its presentation on appeal, but who is not the principal attorney of record …” The usage of the term in my experience is much broader and would include lawyers who are around – that is physically present or close by – and with whom one consults; but I wouldn’t expect them to be actually “employed,” since generally there is no money changing hands. Today I ask one of them a question about something, tomorrow one of them may ask me. It’s a fair exchange usually, but not a monetary one.
OK. I’ll admit it. Sometimes it’s not exactly a fair exchange. Sometimes I monopolize the time of my friends to the point that it’s unfair to them and an embarrassment to me. On the other hand, I have done a few things for some of them that could be considered beyond the call of duty; so I think or like to think that in the end it does balance out.
I don’t think I could ever practice law and operate out of an office entirely by myself. It would never work for me. I need other lawyers around; people with whom I can chew over, mull around, run up flagpoles, dispute and otherwise try out ideas.