Greenfield, I Pick You

In the past week alone, three people were very angry with me. Not because I offended them, though that could well happen, but because I failed them. At least in their eyes. Normally, I shrug this off as part of the deal, both as a lawyer and a blawger.

But a call yesterday afternoon brought the problem home in a particularly harsh way.  Someone who had been a regular commenter here for a while, who had emailed me asking if we could get together and talk, who had called me before to talk to me, called in hysterics because she was being arrested.  As it turned out, she wasn’t actually being arrested, but was with paramedics who were trying to take her to the hospital.

Where she was, in her home, on the street, I can’t say. Between sobs, she offered no information. What I was told is “the cops are arresting me, I have no one else. Help me.”  In the background, I heard a paramedic explaining he wasn’t the cops, she was intoxicated and she had a serious gash in her head from having fallen down.

The paramedic got on the phone and told me this, and said that if she resisted their help, he would have no choice but to call for police. He didn’t want to do that, as . . . he understood it doesn’t usually turn out well for people. He asked me to persuade her to be cooperative. I tried, then hung up the phone.

Here’s the thing. I don’t know her. I know a few details of her life, but nothing of substance. She is not my client. She is not my old friend. She is not my family.  When I spoke with her before this happened, she went on at some length about some vague problems in her life. All adjectives, no nouns.

She wanted to meet with me so she could tell me the story of her life. I demurred. I get a lot of phone calls from people I don’t know who read something I write here, and think that they should get an hour, a few hours, of my time to telling me all about them.  It’s not possible.  When I tell them so, they get angry. Every blawger knows this experience, where readers believe an intimate, personal relationship exists based upon their having read something.

But you care about this. You must care about me. You owe me.  You must do for me as I want you to do.

No, I do not owe you.  And no, I cannot, and will not, give you what you want just because you’ve decided you want it.  And if that means you are going to be angry, call my office to leave ranting messages in the middle of the night (which happens with surprising regularity by distraught people who are furious that I have not agreed to dedicate my life to their problems), then so be it.

But when someone is out of their head, desperate and alone, the demand changes.  The caller yesterday told me she had no one else to call.  There are a lot of people out there who are alone, without family or friends. Often, they’ve alienated anyone with whom they had a personal connection, and are left to fantasy relationships with someone on the internet.  It was sad that she said she had no one else but me.

Except, she doesn’t have me either. Nor do you. Nor you.

On your side of the computer, you wouldn’t know how things look or happen on my side. You don’t know about the dozen ten thousand incomprehensible word emails I receive, tell me stories of their personal injustices, and seeking, sometimes demanding, my pro bono help. Or the telephone calls from people I don’t know who want to “discuss” a blawg post. Or the hundred people who “just have a question.” Or the people who email me with their comments about a post because they feel that my writing about an issue means I want to engage in a personal discussion about it with them.  Or the people like the woman yesterday, who have no one else to call.

In the early days of SJ, I tried to be kind about it, explain that it wasn’t possible for me to do as they ask, or even to spend the time necessary to discuss whatever it was they want to discuss. My time is spent writing SJ, not talking to anyone who felt entitled to call me. As even this quickly became untenable, I cut it all short. I won’t take phone calls, return emails, engage with people with whom I have no relationship, because the time that’s lost has to come from somewhere.

They don’t care, and they get very angry about it. How dare I not be there for them. How dare someone who says one thing on the internet not be their personal sounding board, savior, lawyer. They pick me, and in their mind, that makes me obliged to do as they demand.  And so, I’m constrained to say no, and suffer their diatribe. Some are flaming nutjobs. Some are just sad and pathetic. Most are desperate. Almost all are angry when they don’t get what they want.

But when the call comes at the moment of extremis, when they say the police are there to arrest them, they don’t know what to do, they have no one else to call, and despite the absence of any personal relationship, as client, friend or family, expect me to save them, it’s more than I’m willing to take.

I write SJ.  That is my contribution to the public weal. What I do in my practice, the people I represent, the terms of my representation, has nothing to do with my writing SJ. I don’t do it to get clients, and don’t get clients because I do it.  To the extent that it proves helpful or interesting to readers, that’s great, though I don’t write for your sake but for mine.

But when the writing translates into insanity in real life, expectations and demands from readers, people I don’t know but who think they know me, it crosses a line. I don’t want to be a bastard about it. I don’t want to appear unempathetic. I don’t want you to suffer. And I don’t want the messages in the middle of the night, ranting about how I failed to dedicate my life to your craziness. But I can’t be the one to save you.

The alternative to enduring the insanity is that I stop writing SJ. I don’t want to do that, but I could well be pushed to the point of walking away. Instead, I say no. You may believe that you’re different, your situation is special, you deserve my time and attention because it’s you. I am sorry. Truly. But no. I am not your savior. Don’t call.

55 thoughts on “Greenfield, I Pick You

  1. Joe

    Don’t stop writing. I so enjoy your posts. I get there are a large number of nut jobs out there that believe you to be their friend because your writings connect with them so deeply. You are a good writer. You have fans and fanatics.

    Now, if you’ll just send me your personal cell number, I’ll explain all this is much much much more detail. jk.

    You’re not being a bastard. Just spending your time the way you wish. You are a free man in a somewhat free country. Have a good day.

    1. SHG Post author

      It’s more than just spending my time the way I wish. I’m a lawyer. I represent clients. If I’m on the phone with people I don’t know, telling me their life stories for no apparent reason, then the time needed to represent my clients is gone. I can’t make more. I have a duty to my clients, and no amount of anger and empathy changes the fact that the time lost to other people’s demands of me is time denied to those who I have a duty to represent. That can’t happen, and I won’t let it.

  2. William Doriss

    What was your number again? What jumps out at us is: How is this poor lady in mid-crisis able to remember/find
    your number? And how comes you answer? Most lawyers we know do not answer their phones. They return voice-messages,… if you’re lucky. Whenever we get arrested–which is not too often–we cannot remember any lawyers’ names, let along phone numbers. They are at home and in the phonebook. Ha.
    We suspect you are more concerned than you let on, and will figure this out somehow?!? We know you are not going to quit SJ. That is no solution. Keep us posted. Is she OK?

    1. SHG Post author

      I don’t know if she’s okay, and I suspect she’s not. The problem is that I do give a shit, but I also realize that I can’t let people decide to make me their best friend and responsible for their well-being, so that their lives consume mine. I will not make an effort to find out whether she is okay or not, because if I do, then I’ve enabled this misguided responsibility and it becomes my fault.

      The world is filled with people who are in terrible straits and need of help. My involvement in their lives is writing SJ. That’s where it ends.

  3. Mark C

    In my fantasies, I’d love to get a group of people I follow together – You, Ken White, Tor Ekeland, Eugene Volokh, Radley Balko, Judge Richard Kopf, Ken Womble, and maybe a couple of others for an evening of conversation over drinks… topics ranging from Criminal Justice in general, the CFAA, War on Drugs, First Amendment, Constitutional Law, and problems with law enforcement and prosecution. I figure the conversation would be amazing, or bitter, or both.

    It’s a fantasy that wouldn’t ever come to happen – and if it did, I wouldn’t be invited (but oh to be a fly on the wall).

    Please keep up the writing.

    1. SHG Post author

      The odd thing is that we all pretty much know each other, at least from the internet (and some of us in real life as well), and would probably have a really interesting time if we all sat down for drinks and a chat. Even though we disagree at times, we all get along pretty well and respect what each other has to say.

      Somebody ought to throw a shindig and put us all together. With drinks and a nosh.

          1. Jim Tyre

            You had me until you included bmaz. ‘-)

            My fly on the wall fantasy was for the weekly poker game that CJ Rehnquist ran, that included Scalia and a whole bunch of other DC power types (including the father of one of my former law partners).

            Rehnquist: I’ll raise you ——-

            Scalia: You don’t have that to bet.

            Rehnquist: Hmm. Then how about my swing vote in Crook v. State?

            Scalia: Good enough, let’s play.

  4. Jake DiMare

    Jeez. And here I was feeling guilty about asking you a few legal questions after answering a few tech questions.

    I have some experience pointing drunks at the help they need. Feel free to share my email. Sincerely.

    1. SHG Post author

      Because they weren’t in extremis, I nicely declined. They made clear that they did not think my nice declination was nice at all, because once they picked me, declining was not a possibility, nice or otherwise.

  5. Raccoon Strait

    I have had dreams about calling one of the lawyers (you, Ken White, Eugene Volokh) I follow on the Internetz should I get arrested. I wonder sometimes what that says about my mental state. But, in those dreams I always hire whomever I call. I wonder what THAT says about my mental state.

    Then there is the old saw about what happens when it rains on a duck, and how one should learn to act like a duck at times. Rather than quit, ,maybe you could figure out when to use an umbrella (metaphorically at least).

  6. Tommy Gilley

    Really, no one else is going to comment on a nationally recognized attorney titling his blog using a Pokemon reference? +1 sir.

  7. dm

    Reading this post, and your other recent post (or response to a comment) expressing essentially similar information makes me wish I hadn’t posted a couple of my earliest comments. On the other hand, the thought of calling you (or others calling you) to share life stories and problems of the moment never crossed my mind. Please continue to ignore the crazies and write SJ, it’s usually my first stop on the internet everyday (but I promise I won’t call you to share my feelz about your articles!).

  8. Mort

    It literally never occurred to me that I might call our host for anything less than my having been actually arrested in the state of New York.

    Hell, the few times I’ve emailed him I’ve felt guilty for taking up his time…

  9. Matt Barry

    Feel like you missed an opportunity to title it “I choose you Greenfieldchu!”

    Who knows when this chance will come again?

  10. John Barleycorn

    Dammed if you do, dammed if you don’t.

    If you were a lesser man the rather porous micron filtration you choose to deploy at SJ would have soured you to the core long ago.

    You’re fucked either way…

    But, I would like to think, selfishly or not, it’s worth it to you, in a thousand ways your readership will equally never understand, to keep carry on with SJ even when it takes a disproportionate toll on you.

  11. losingtrader

    Does this mean Martin Shkreli shouldn’t call , or even post one of his stream-of-conciousness you tube posts, even though he can pay?
    Well, check that, the stock closed at $23 and opened at $1 today.
    As to me, I was counting on your help with the “donkey” case. Damn. Disappointing.
    But, having non-internet friends who are lawyers and can suggest a line of argument such as ,”everyone knows donkeys poop diamonds!” perhaps I won’t need to call in the middle of the night.

    Better yet, you should get the phone numbers of some of your readers and call THEM in the middle of the night. That would be so awesome if you could post those (assuming it isn’t wiretapping). Skype video calls would be even better.

    1. SHG Post author

      You should not discuss the donkey case here. This is not legal advice. This is free. Legal advice you have to pay for.

          1. William Doriss

            You and your Latinisms! Give us a break?
            Id est, inter alia, some of us are not “fit” to visit here?
            If we are not conversant in Latin archaisms?!? You are
            a member of the guild, after all!?!

  12. Kirk Taylor

    This is not snark, but totally serious.

    I long for the day when me, my blog, and my business are so popular that I take off the note on my blog that says feel free to email with questions. Not because I don’t enjoy answering questions, but because it means I’m helping so many people just by writing and working that the individual answers I provide become lost in the mix. My blog has an invitation. Yours doesn’t. That should be enough for people. There are days when the emails I get make me sorely tempted to remove the invitation, so I understand completely where you’re coming from. Also you write a LOT more than me, and a lot better.

    1. William Doriss

      R U Serious! If so, well,… we will stop now, at the risk of offending an “innocent” commenter.
      P.S., SHG is the best,,… in the East,… not an invitation, just an observation which could change at any moment~ Sayonarra. Yes, he writes pretty well.

    2. SHG Post author

      I don’t do this for business, and don’t get business from doing this. I’ve covered my reasons for writing in the past, and there are often comments that are brilliant and illuminating, which makes the idiotic ones (hi Bill) more tolerable. But since you (it would appear) write with a business goal in mind, it makes sense that you would invite questions, and are willing to tolerate the demands, stupidity, anger, whatever, that comes with it.

      Me, not so much.

        1. SHG Post author

          It does make sense, and if the New York Times calls and offers me a column, I would certainly consider it (call me, Times. Operators are standing by!). But then, our focuses are different. I don’t take any issue with your idea, but if it reaches the point where you’re fending off hundreds of inquiries a week, such that you can’t do any actual work but spend your day fielding craziness, you’ll understand what this is about. It’s the part nobody tells you when you try to use a blog to establish your business bona fides.

            1. John Barleycorn

              I am for sure gonna call Greenfield the next time my tax lawyer gives me the look. Now, why the heck didn’t I ever think of that before?!

              Damn! Someone should have told me tax professionals hung out around here. I could have been polishing up my game before them tax lawyer visits all along.

  13. Mark

    If it makes you feel any better, I don’t care about you. It’s not always easy to do so, but I try my best.

  14. Gary Paulson

    I think you are a victim of your success if not your notoriety.

    An intoxicated, injured lady on the phone in hysterics looking for some help. She picked you for whatever reason, you didn’t ask for this. She is obviously not really able to make reasonable decisions. The paramedic was just looking for some “hail mary help” from a very unlikely source. (I totally understand… been there, but it is still not right) It is natural to want to help. Unless you are willing to make a medical assessment over the phone of someone you have never met in chaotic uncertain circumstances and take responsibility for it (and no sane person would) the ONLY right answer is to not intervene but encourage her to cooperate with the present professional EMS and politely say good by and good luck. Hopefully she is in a medical setting with or without the 72 hr hold and she can begin to put the wreckage of her night (or maybe her life??) back together in the calm, sober light of day. Then perhaps some legal advice might make a real difference–from a lawyer she has hired.
    The REAL problem for you isn’t when the phone rings but after you hang up. Then the second thoughts start, especially if you give a damn. You can’t stop the brain from thinking and sometimes doing the right thing just doesn’t feel right. You can rationalize it in your head, just not in your heart. You know…feelz.

    This is the price you are going to pay. You should also hope that feeling never goes away.

    1. William Doriss

      Now that we’ve all had a chance to sleep on it, let’s go over this slooowly. G.P., above, gives a nice summary in the second paragraph. He is correct when he says the lawyer’s role comes in after the emergency has been stabilized and dealt with by those trained and qualified: After the phone has been hung up. Lawyers are not doctors or therapists, although they might wish. He is not only in a position to give counsel later, but may be in a position to look for someone or some company upon whom to pin the tail of the donkey. AKA: the dreaded Liability factor. Surely the blame for something awful happening somewhere to someone must fall on someone else, or some company. Perhaps some penalties can be imposed and/or some monies exchanged for restituition and compensation for the victim? He can always “refer” the case if he’s too busy or not interested. To do nothing is not acceptable.

      Here we have Mr. Scott, instead, going immediately to the keyboard and writing a lengthy essay about the debacle the unwanted intruder lady puts him in. He is distracted from his normal routine and annoyed. He feels bad; it’s all about feelings, which are somehow unacceptable in the legal arena about which he writes, but OK for him to express when they are his. The essay is posted for the whole world to read. You do not have to be legally trained to understand his annoyance!
      The replies and comments come cascading in, most of them supportive of the host.
      It’s a “double standard”. But double standards are permissible for the host, because,… well, it’s his blawg.

      On second thought, this is an essay which never should have been written, simpley. Did he discuss it with Dr. SJ at the supper table last nite? Inquiring Minds!

      1. SHG Post author

        This is why I like you, Bill, aside from your occasional hilarity. You remind those of us in the guild that there are people who, at their core, believe, all reason notwithstanding, that they are entitled to us. This is why the callers get angry when the answer is no. There is no “no” to the entitled.

        To do nothing is not acceptable.

        Not only is it acceptable, but it’s reality. You don’t have to like it. You don’t get a vote in how I choose to use my time. That’s the part that eludes the entitled. Your interpretation of my position, through your lens of entitlement, wrongly assumes that it’s a matter of mere annoyance, of feelz. It’s just the opposite. I would love to help every person in need of legal counsel (not psycho-therapy, Bill, which is well outside my skillset and which I no desire whatsoever to dabble in), but it’s not possible. And if I don’t say “no,” I end up helping no one.

        What gets lost in translation is that the time spent trying to help the entitled is time taken away from serving those to whom I have made a commitment, who are depending on me to do what they properly believe I am doing, representing them. I know, it sucks that lawyers’ time is wasted on their clients rather than the entitled, but that’s only because the world of the entitled is all about them, and they couldn’t care less whether other people’s lives suffer because other people aren’t them.

        There are a lot of people who feel as you do, Bill. They don’t need legal help, but psychological help to realize that they are only the center of their own universe, not mine or anyone else’s. They would have far fewer legal issues if they gained control over their psychological problems. But I can’t help them with that, because I’m just a lawyer. And not their lawyer.

        1. William Doriss

          Sorry, we misspoke. Honest, we did! (Wanted to see if you were awake.) What we meant was, “You lawyers are entitled to do nothing. To do nothing IS acceptable”. In fact, you do not even have to practice law at all if you don’t want to. You can drive a bus or tend bar. You can comb the beach and surf thru life.

          We still think the essay was unnecessary, especially for a seasoned blawger. If you were a newbie, we might have given you a pass.

          We are hereby reminded of the guy in CT who took on too many federal cases. Although his briefs were consider good, he could not get them posted on time. In some of his cases, they were never posted at all. He was warned, cajoled, coaxed, reminded, and finally reprimanded/censured by the 2nd Circuit Court, New York, 2010, we believe. It makes for interesting reading. A man can only do so much. We stand corrected. However, some people ARE more equal/entitled than others. Ha.

          1. SHG Post author

            Then I feel very fortunate that I don’t need to have my choice of posts pass muster with you before publishing.

  15. Rendall

    Oh which reminds me. You should pick up your pace with posts. You fell off over the holidays and need to catch up!

      1. Rendall

        I don’t understand how you can be so sarcastic and dismissive in the comments. What about my feelings? How can you pay back my feelz?

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