Legal Funnies: Mission: Impossible – Mailbox Rule Edition

If you’ve never visited the Failblog, I would highly suggest having a look around for some comic relief.  I came across this gem and it gave me that inner laughter and brain stimulation that keeps a good “funny” in your head for days.

What a ridiculous stamp for an envelope to have!  The craziest thing may be that someone created this stamp in a shop and sold it.  Now, I could wax philosophical for a while about alternate perceptions of reality: can you ever truly know if you did not receive something?  Or, how do you notify someone of an event that never took place?  But let’s take a look at the legal ramifications this stamp could have since, well, that’s the theme of this blog.

There’s a certain legal theory known as the Mailbox Rule.  In general, the Mailbox Rule allows for the formation of a valid contract at a certain moment in time when one party does not actually know the contract has been formed.  A practical example is a contract, say, to buy 1,500 lbs. of watermelons from a local supplier.  You picked up an order form at his grove-stand last week and filled it out at home to buy 1,500 lbs. of watermelons for a certain price.  You sign it, and drop it into the mailbox that gets picked up at 7:00 AM the next morning.  Well, you are in contract right now – the very moment you dropped the letter into the box.  The supplier does not know you signed it yet, but the Mailbox Rule deems the agreement valid from the moment you circulated the agreement into the mail.

The Mailbox Rule is a little dated by modern standards.  In the 1980’s we were getting used to faxing documents, which now is becoming a dated way to communciate.  Now, I can scan the contract and email it to the watermelon supplier and he will have actual knowledge of the agreement within minutes – not days.

So, what’s with this letter?  Is the sender trying to add some teeth to the Mailbox Rule in an, arguably, idiotic way?  “Yes, your honor, not only did I mail the contract to Jeff, but it said right on the envelope to call me if he did not receive it.  He never called me so….”

Can you think of a legitimate use for this stamp?  I would love to hear one.  But if you don’t think of one, please notify me immediately.

Lawyers using social networks: attorney beware!

These 12 networks just scratch the surface. There are literally hundreds of them. Click for a list.

Lawyers have all kinds of rules to follow when it comes to practicing law, giving legal advice, and advertising.  As social media has expanded over the last few years, one study suggests that 3/4 of lawyers belong to at least one online social network such as LinkedIn, facebook, and twitter.  If you look to either side of this blog, you can see that I am squarely within that 3/4 group.

There is nothing wrong with lawyers belonging to social networks, is there?  In my mind, they are free tools that provide an enormous community for users to share ideas and connect with people that would otherwise be unavailable.

But, lawyers must use their heads when using these networks.  Common sense and experience should be sufficient for most lawyers.  Perhaps the most important key to avoiding foot-in-mouth disease is to proofread, review, and THINK.  We have all had that sickening feeling in the pit of our stomach when we click “send” when we meant to click “cancel” on an email.  Even worse, is the classic “reply all” when “reply to sender” was the intent.  You can’t take those emails back, but at least the audience is limited to (hopefully) a short cc: list.  But, when you post a status update on facebook, all of your “friends” see it, your friends’ friends may see it, and eventually your post will be indexed by Google and may permanently link your name with your entertaining bathroom mishap in search results.

A recent article by Vicki Voisin sets out some examples of lawyers that should have thought twice before using social media.  One example sums up why caution, care, and though should be the focus:

Judge Susan Criss, a Galveston, Texas, state court judge, relayed an interesting personal story as part of the 2009 ABA Annual Meeting program “Courts and Media in the 21sr Century: Twitterers, Bloggers, the New Media, the Old Media, and What’s a Judge to Do?”  Judge Criss admitted learning to adapt to social media as a way to connect with long-lost friends, leveraging Facebook as a tool-and then learning a few surprising things on Facebook … The judge granted a continuance requested by a lawyer upon the death of the lawyer’s father.  Judge Criss also checked the lawyer’s Facebook page. While there was a funeral, there was also a string of status updates posted on Facebook that detailed not mourning her dear departed father, but, instead, the lawyer’s week of drinking and partying.
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I’m guessing the continued hearing was a bit awkward for the lawyer and Judge Criss.  Social media is here to stay and it makes the world smaller and communication easier.  This can be a good thing or a bad thing and it all comes down to using social networks consciously and responsibly – if you value your career, that is.

Legal Funnies: Juror No. 5

Every now and then, my friends and colleagues share real life legal tales that not only make you laugh, but they provide a different lens for looking at the legal profession, how we handle cases, how we interact with the public, and how the public feels about lawyers.  In this first edition of The Funnies, we have the tale of Juror No. 5.  This was a hand-written letter that a juror in a trial supposedly sent to the judge seeking relief.  It reads:

Your Honor,

These lawyers and this case are literally boring me to death!

I am tired of spending day after day wasting my time listening to this bullcrap.  This is cruel and unusual punishment.  The Plaintiff is an idiot.  He has no case.  Why are we here?  I think my cat could better answer these questions…and he wouldn’t keep asking to see a document.  I’ve been patient.  I’ve sat in these chairs for 7 days going now.  If I believed for a second this going to end on Thursday I might not go crazy.

This is going to last for another 4 weeks.  I cannot take this.  I hate these lawyers and prayed one would die so the case would end.  I shouldn’t be on this jury.  I want to die.  I don’t want to be thanked for my patience.  I want to die!!  Well not die for real but that is how I feel sitting here.    I am the Judge, you’ve said that over and over, well I am not fair and balanced.  I hate the Plaintiff.  His ignorance is driving me crazy.  I know I’m writing this in vain but I have to do something…for my sanity.  These jury chairs should come with a straight jacket.  An entire day today and we are still on the same witness.  The defense hasn’t even started yet and we have 3 days left.  3 days my ass.  Not that the defense needs a turn considering the Plaintiff and his lawyer (who looks like The Penguin) have no case!!! Thanks for letting me get this off my chest.  Please keep the Disorderlies nearby.  I may need them

-Juror #5

This is an extreme (and funny) example, but it’s also a good education for trial lawyers on how much the jury is judging the advocate as well as the case.  I have a copy of the actual letter if you are interested.

Posted by Jerry