Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The First thing We Do

Lawyering is the only career my father asked me not to enter. He said that he'd prefer I became a ditch digger. Now I'm very close to living up to his high hopes and a recent story about a "legal letter"* Bill Clinton's attorney sent to a restaurant has crystalized why The Old Man felt this way.

Osso Buco is a swankyish Italian restaurant in the Village. Like a lot of joints in NYC it features a rogues gallery of low and high grade celebrity diners who have posed for photos with the owner. According to a couple of news sources a photograph of Chelsea Clinton has hung in Osso Buco for five years. The other day Clinton's lawyer sent a grouchy letter to the restaurant asking that it be removed. He said Chelsea didn't consent to this use of her photo. The lawyer implies that he's going to sue the pants off Osso Buco if the picture is not removed from display, saying, "We reserve the right to exercise any and all legal options available to us if you refuse to comply." Oh really? What legal options are available to you Perry Mason?

Osso Buco's management should tell Clinton's lawyer to take a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut on a gravel driveway.

Chelsea Clinton gave her implicit approval for the display of the photograph when she posed for it. On these grounds any self-respecting judge would throw a "rights of publicity" or other nonsensical lawsuit straight out of court. Chelsea Clinton is not a dumb woman. The pictures of celebrities and politicians on the walls of Osso Buco should have tipped her off that the photo would be mounted on the wall. And she posed, said cheese and waited for the flash. That's consent.

The lawyer is probably acting without the input or consent of the President or his wife or their daughter. This is what must be stopped. Lawyers all over the world walk around inventing laws and legal threats on behalf of clients who don't really want the lawyer to do what they're doing. Do you think Bill Clinton, famous lover of food, really cares that his daughter's picture hangs in an Italian restaurant? No. No, he doesn't. If he knew that picture was up there, he'd probably hop in his limo and roll down there for a free meal. Then he'd have his own picture snapped. Avuncular old Bill doesn't want press about mean lawyers writing nasty letters to restauranteurs. He wants some good food to eat. This lawyer is doing what almost all lawyers do best: he's making work for himself. At the end of each week he sits down and tallies all the bullshit letters he's mailed off and pats himself on the back for doing such good work.

This case probably stikes a lot of lay folks as just another funny news story about the ridiculous excesses of celebrities, politicians and lawyers. It is all that. But it's a signifier of how certain lawyers have gotten completely out of hand. Like I said above, if Osso Buco goes to the mat the case will be tossed, when it gets to court. The shit of it is that in the meanwhile, Osso Buco will have to hire another lawyer to prepare the case. At $400 per billable hour, minimum, fighting the stupid request will add up to real dough, very fast.

With that in mind Osso Buco will take the picture down. Kudos to them for generating some PR for themselves. But in the meanwhile, this shitheel lawyer has shown the world that bullying letters get things done, and that we need all the lawyers we can get. Yay rule of law!

* The term "legal letter" drives me nuts. You're supposed to shudder when you get a "legal letter"--like, from a real lawyer--in your mail box. Don't. Lawyers are just like accountants, except instead of playing with numbers they play with words. They have no more power when they write letter than you or I do. They should chill the fuck out. I don't care how much money they spent on school.

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