Friday, April 3, 2009

Suspended from what?

One of my more dubious distinctions is that I am a recovering lawyer. When you use the adjective "recovering" with almost any interesting noun there is the implication you might fall off the wagon and start doing whatever it is that you're recovering from. Like ending sentences with prepositions if you are a recovering 8th grade English failure like myself (Report card: "Mr. Acton, I hope you grow rich so someone else will be tasked with sorting through the mess that is your writing, as I am passing you onto the ninth grade and will no longer be available.")

But really, the only thing you can do to recover from being a lawyer is STOP BEING A LAWYER. So, having a fool for a client, I took my own advice last year and decided to go on "inactive status" with the Washington State Bar Association, the local organization otherwise tasked with riding herd on people more interested in arguing about justice than actually preserving it.

Inactive status, as it turns out, does not come cheap, merely cheaper than active status. The insidious plan I had hatched was that for the paltry sum of $144 I would not have to register for nor suffer through another 4-day session of Trusts and Estates at the end of the year to satisfy my mandatory continuing legal education classes. What I know about trusts and estates can be encapsulated thusly: trust no one with an estate, especially if they are dead.

My assumption was that being "inactive" required little more than…well…. not being active. And if I don't put too fine a point on it I rather expected it to work in a relatively self-evident manner: I'd pay the fee, go – or at the very least, become – inactive and kick back every December instead of being jammed into a small conference room with a bunch of other idiots who've also waited until the last minute, spending four days reading USA Today and checking e-mail.

So, imagine my surprise when I received a CERTIFIED letter from the WSBA, admonishing me that I hadn't paid the annual fee to be inactive and was now in danger of being suspended.

Suspended from what? I mean, it's not like "recovering" is it?

I called the bar and was put through to "Arthur" in Member Benefits. Member Benefits? I'll grant you that my suspension would obviously be a benefit to the great unwashed public, but really – which mental giant put it under "Benefits" in the phone tree?

Anyhow, Arthur informs me that I'm on the pre-suspension list and there's a fine to get off the list.

"Arthur, I thought I was inactive, so I'm a little fuzzy on just what happens if I stay on the pre-suspension list.

"Well, your name could be forwarded to the Supreme Court and suspension proceedings could ensue."

"Arthur, maybe I wasn't clear – I'm supposed to be on the inactive list. I've already suspended myself."

"But that's not the same as the Supreme Court suspending you."

"Are you telling me they're going to suspend me from the inactive list?"

"If you don't pay the fine, yes, sir they could."

"And so if they suspend me from the inactive list, does that mean I have to practice law again?"

"I don't understand."

"Well, Arthur, I'm on the inactive list. If they suspend me, that would mean I'm not able to be inactive, so I must be active, right?"

A long awkward pause is followed by,

"Sir, I'm not a lawyer so I can't advise you what your status might be."

"Well, until I called I didn't think I was a lawyer anymore either, but increasingly it looks like I'm not only a lawyer, I'm very likely an active lawyer again. And I can tell you the idea of suspending an inactive lawyer is a little bit like taxing the unemployed."

"Sir, I can help you there – if you're unemployed, we have a deferment plan for your fees."

I gave him my VISA card before my head exploded and I was drafted into the judiciary.

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