Broad Street Beginnings
I’m 51 years old. I’ve been practicing law for 22 years now, since 1993. When I began my career, all the lawyers in town knew each other. I started as an associate in a small two partner law firm on Broad Street in Charleston, having just graduated from the University of South Carolina School of Law.
Every morning the late and great attorney Arthur Howe and a group of attorneys and judges would have their morning breakfast ritual meeting at the Broad Street Café. At about 8:45, they would disband and walk to their respective offices for a full day of work. They were all friendly and encouraging. They would all tell me to come by the office if I needed forms or had any questions on how to do things. The warmth and goodness was infectious. On a typical morning, I’d speak to a circuit court judge, federal court judge, magistrate, insurance defense lawyers, criminal lawyers. There was a sense of us all being part of a community of attorneys. It was a spiritually enriching time of my career, thinking back.
Friday and Monday Docket Meetings
After about a year, civil cases are placed on an active trial roster, and tried in chronological order, with some exceptions for complex date certain trials. The court needs to know from the parties, the status of their case and to make sure everyone is ready to go to trial. There are a host of things that need to be addressed pre-trial. Out of town experts need to be flown in for testimony, the court has to make pre-trial evidence rulings, some attorneys have orders of protection for vacation on certain days, and sometimes there are simply last minute emergencies that prevent the parties from trying a case. It can be a pressure cooker, getting everything organized. So meetings are held to make sure everyone is ready to go.
Prior to everyone being connected via internet, attorneys in virtually all counties would meet at 9:00 a.m. in their respective counties for docket meetings, to go down the list of cases and determine which cases would be tried during the term of court. It was a great time to socialize and catch up with fellow attorneys. The young lawyers would meet old lawyers. We would always be happy to see one another. The sense of community amongst lawyers was high. I always looked forward to our weekly docket meetings.
We still have docket meetings on the Fridays before the terms of court, but we attend via the computer, live chat. No fun: no handshaking, no joke telling, no seeing the judges and staff… Just live chat, amongst lawyers, young and old, many who have never met one another; and they remain separated by technology. I like the old days, honestly. I made some good friends in those docket meetings.
Technology has done a lot for the legal profession, but in some respects, it has destroyed a culture that his close to being forgotten. While attorneys still practice on Broad Street and dine in the mornings in cafés nearby, the culture has changed with the times. The sense of community is gone. The courthouse is just down the street, but law firms are spread all over the city now. Change has been good. We are an international destination. Broad Street is well served now, with a mixture of offices, art galleries, and small restaurants. But I miss the old law culture of Broad Street for lawyers.
As times have changed and we have progressed forward, we said we would miss the old days in some respects one day. I think I am there when it comes to the loss of a culture where we all knew each other and saw one another on a fairly regular basis. The effect of attorneys being separated by technology is that they tend to be less concerned about each other, and civility tends to go down with more separation. Fellow lawyers should be civil to one another and communicate at all times. Technology and the mad pace of the modern law practice have increased incivility, in my opinion.
We can Overcome the Machine
I believe we can still maintain our values in the face of technology and the fast pace of the modern day law practice. We just have to go out of our way in every case to meet face to face with opposing counsel, even when we don’t need to. Call the attorney when we sometimes could email; just do things that bring us closer to one another. Just some musings of an old school trial lawyer.