“Letters of Engagement” and other unromantic notions.

Who is this mysterious source of a “letters of engagement?”

An old flame, a new flirtation, a marriage proposal, …. the product of one’s first romantic crush… a promise ring. Or perhaps the law firm that you have finally convinced to take your case? It was only the 7th firm I pitched the case to, becoming more succinct and compelling each time. Imagine if all of our battles went through a minimum of seven iterations, well, that’s what is called editing.

The “language of justice” is archaic, often flowery, full of bias, even prejudice, resplendent with precision and squeaky clean authoritative climate. There are phrases that are so punchy yet obsequious. My favorite: a ruling can be “arbitrary and capricious”… or subject to impulsive mood changes, something artist might comprehend. It rolls of the tongue like a poet’s line. Arbitrary and capricious, isn’t she? I found the whole flavor of the performance arbitrary and capricious.

I first became acquainted with this betwixing phrase in the case where I tried to buy a post office. It’s a grand tale, but not for now, however, here is the link if you need bedtime reading.

NATIONAL POST OFFICE COLLABORATE, et al., Plaintiffs, v. PATRICK R. DONAHOE, et al., Defendants.

“The Court need not resolve this unanswered question, however, because there is no dispute that the “arbitrary and capricious” standard of review applies to the existing NEPA claim”. Snooze as I did while sitting in on the trial that would determine my fate.

Best Practices

A standard that has been achieved over time producing guidelines that are set uniformly…. the following being one that is likely the most unique, in the legal profession. What are you able to talk about — at a cocktail party — with a lawyer? God forbid, something that might require an opinion, lest the opining might be construed as legal advice, for which you failed to get a “letter of engagement”. So the warning following a correspondence states, “this does not represent a relationship.” I have enough (possibly) legitimate malpractice issues with two recently “engaged” attorneys who had no issue with lying through their teeth.

“Do NOT construe this conversation as in any way an attorney-client relationship”.

I called an attorney — who had authored an article that I found useful for a concern I was entangled with. “ Your article indicated that your firm might have jurisdiction in other states.” The call was made with an appreciation for the clarity of the position taken. No sooner did the period drop on that sentence, when out of his inquisitive shell came the “justice for all” questions. Which state? How much was the damage? Retainer? Predatory preoccupation in action.

For some, retaining a lawyer counts as one of the three most essential people in their court. Doctor, investment broker and lawyer. Is the same warning understood during cocktail conversation — with that essential person — and how quickly and unknowingly it might trigger the clock counting. Retained in perpetuity, huh? How could you not?

Take this scenario, you are opening a solo show in a wing of your city’s art museum, a huge honor and privilege. It is a non-profit entity, therefore the cost of attendance to the public is minimal. Openings, known to be fashionable events — attracting a certain population; artist friends; critics; more artists; distinguished scholarly types; fashionable professionals at large.

You are aware that a certain law firm is down the street. In waltzes a half-dozen suits (aka lawyers) and a few women (aka lawyers). As much as I would love to see entrance fees on a sliding scale for this troupe, it isn’t going to happen. The well-dressed, combined with confidence, are like a lingering strong fragrance — the kind that so inflame a migraineur.

The artist is dressed fashionably, in black flowing layers while fielding and extracting the worthwhile questions from the clueless ones.

pair of suits from the legal brigade saddle up — trying to impress her — and asks a question that shows just enough credibility to engage her. They ask her if she identifies her work with found art objects movements.

Here is where the artist and the lawyer veer into distinct pathways. The value of the artists’ works and now further statements, may provide any number of ways the recipient benefits. She might influence her audience anywhere from prophetic life changes, artistic influence gained or existential feelings that boiling up to the surface. All of these could potentially have an impact albeit positive or negative, life-changing or damning.

Does the artist look at the man who asked the question and say,” Do NOT construe this conversation as in any way an artist-client relationship”? “Or without a letter of engagement I am unable to opine toward”.

Really, is the lawyers’ substance a gospel, to hang on every word? Are those words worthy of such reverence; to need a disclosure, for every conversation?

Next conversation you have with a lawyer, try to reverse roles , existentialism and all. And, hey if you are an attorney, try role reversal with an artist. The clock is on.

— Debra Sherwood

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Like a Haiku

To be defined as an Artist, an entrepreneur, an educator, writer, curator, mother, would miss the life that created the whole.

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