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We welcome letters to the editor on issues presented in the magazine. Email letters to firstname.lastname@example.org. All opinions, statements, and conclusions expressed in letters to the editor represent the views of the respective authors and do not necessarily carry the endorsement of the WSBA or its Board of Governors. Publication of letters to the editor is not to be deemed an endorsement of the opinions, statements, and conclusions expressed by the author(s).
Six Obstacles to Small-Town Lawyering
Thank you for your articles about small town law practice [Bar News, November 2022]. After 75 years in this small town, I’ve observed these obstacles that cause new lawyers to fail:
- Getting started. Few people will trust you with their legal problems until they know you’re trustworthy. The two ways to get a good legal reputation: 1) Join an existing trusted lawyer or firm, or 2) make many friends who learn to trust you over the years. The second option rarely works.
- Your personality. Your work ethic shows and people respect self-sufficiency. For instance, we learn to do our own painting and mow our own grass and replace our own light fixtures. We know how to defend ourselves because the only sheriff’s deputy may be 30 minutes away. Workers think all lawyers are rich so they’ll charge you extra. Still, we never claim to be victims.
- Your attitude in law practice. Your client will likely consider you a personal friend. You’ll run into your client in the supermarket or at the post office or at your kid’s school and they’ll expect you to stop and talk. You are also likely to meet the person on the other side of a case at the same places. You can’t be cruel to the other side without consequences. You must learn to practice vigorously, but without animosity.
- Confidentiality. You can never, never share stories about your cases with anyone even if you don’t give names. People will guess the names. Once people hear you talking about your clients’ cases, your reputation is doomed. This requires a certain degree of social isolation along with a well-practiced ability to not tell great stories about your interesting work.
- Saying “no” tactfully. Five percent of your clients will give you 95 percent of your problems. You’ll have to turn down legal work in a friendly way without making an enemy who will disparage you to everyone. You’ll get phone calls at home and requests for legal advice at social events. Then there are self-destructive clients who want you to “save” them over and over. Depending on your need for money, you’ll have to say “no” tactfully [and] a lot.
- Alcohol, drugs, sex. If you like to get drunk or high or sleep around, people will find out and eagerly spread the news. You cannot remain anonymous in a small town. “Sober as a judge” still means something here. If you go to the marijuana store or the porn store, they’ll know. If you don’t go to church, they’ll know. They’ll see what you buy at the grocery store. If you have something to hide, it will be discovered.
Despite those obstacles, the blessings of small-town practice and life are wonderful. You might have a 10-minute commute. You’ll know your neighbors and their children. If your tree blows down in a windstorm, a friend will show up with a chainsaw. People won’t force their ideology on you and won’t let you force yours on them. In most areas there is great food and entertainment if you know where to look, and you rarely wait for service.
I think that we are more free in a small town. We can wear an old hoodie or drive a rusty truck with a peace sign or raise sheep and be treated the same as a judge or a senator. A three-piece suit or a Porsche won’t impress anyone. If you are a good person, people will know and reward you with their business. But if people see you as narcissistic, greedy, or superior, you won’t do well in a small town (or anywhere else).
John Panesco, Chehalis
Pronoun ‘Chaos’ or ‘Courtesy’?
What’s so hard about referring to people in a manner of their choosing? If Patricia Michl [Bar News, Inbox, December 2022/January 2023] informs me of a preference for “he, she, they, Pat, or Patty,” I will afford that courtesy.
Fred Corbit, Spokane
About That ‘Racist’ Kidney Test
A recent Inbox letter [Bar News, November 2022] from a “white American” Seattle lawyer cited a medical test for kidney function as evidence for “systemic racism.” The test had previously been denounced by a student in the UW alumni magazine, who, upon learning about the test in class one day, declared it to be “racist.”
In the last century, kidney tests did not take race into account. Concerned that Black people might have unmet, special medical needs, the National Institutes of Health appointed a UW Medicine professor to manage the NIH Office of Minority Health Research Coordination. At NIH, this professor sponsored research programs to gather data about the health of Black people, including data related to kidney disease.
In 1998 the professor and several co-authors published a peer-reviewed article based upon the NIH data. The article concluded that kidney tests tended to over-estimate the need for treatments when applied to people who self-identified as Black on medical office questionnaires. To remedy this, the article set forth a mathematical correction that could be applied to the test results. The physical and chemical aspects of the test remained the same. Rather, the results were merely plugged into a post-test mathematical equation that was somewhat different from the equation used previously. Many medical laboratories began presenting test results in two formats, applying both the traditional and the newly proposed mathematics.
So why is this evidence of “systemic racism”? The test came from an NIH program that was specifically set up to serve the needs of Black people. The professor himself was born and raised in the Volta Region of Ghana, which is known to history as “The Slave Coast.” The professor was a founding member of the UW Medical School Diversity Council. Upon the occasion of Black History Month, on Feb. 11, 2021, the National Kidney Foundation issued the following statement concerning the professor:
“We thank Dr. [Lawrence Agodoa] for his dedication to kidney health and for promoting racial equity in healthcare. #BlackLivesMatter”
Edward Hiskes, Brier
Patents Aren’t Patently Prohibitive
I read with interest Erin Caldwell’s well-researched article, “How the U.S. Patent System Fails Small Businesses” [Bar News, December 2022/January 2023]. While she correctly notes various shortcomings of the U.S. patent system, she fails to point out that despite these shortcomings there are nonetheless also substantial advantages for individual inventors and small businesses that avail themselves of patenting.
Litigation to stop infringement is indeed prohibitively expensive for most small patentees; however, patent marking of patented products, allowed by statute exclusively for patentees, discourages much potential infringement before it starts.
An issued and maintained patent is evidence supporting a presumption that the exclusive rights claimed in the patent are enforceable, a presumption that can only be overcome by clear and convincing evidence. The onus of meeting that burden of proof is often enough to discourage erstwhile competitors from challenging the patent’s validity.
A small patent portfolio is often the only substantial asset of a startup technology company. As such, patents lend credibility to the value of the company, its technology, and its prospects for potential investors.
Even though a small business generally cannot realistically litigate to enforce its patent rights, its patent is property, albeit intangible property, that can be licensed, hypothecated, or sold for value.
I agree with the author that much needs to be changed to make the patent system more protective of the intellectual property interests of small businesses. Even with its current shortcomings, however, the U.S. patent system does not altogether fail small businesses. The advantages of patenting new and useful inventions still far outweigh the practical disadvantages pointed out by Ms. Caldwell.
Anthony Claiborne, Bellevue
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