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What are some of the most frustrating things about your law practice?

Most readers will assume that my answer would have to do more with people not paying me for services, conduct of other lawyers, Judges sometimes not seeing things “my way,” etc.  But, that’s not the case!  Here are some of my ongoing frustrations: 

a.     There is no “set” way to sign legal documents in Ohio!  For example, deeds in Ohio have to be signed and notarized but not witnessed.  Wills have to be signed and witnessed, but not notarized.  Healthcare powers of attorney have to be either witnessed or notarized, but not both, and some people believe that it is appropriate both to witness and notarize them to minimize confusion.  Many contracts have to be neither witnessed nor notarized, but for one reason or another, are witnessed or notarized or both.  A living will has to be witnessed or notarized but not both.  A financial, or statutory, power of attorney is supposed to be notarized but not witnessed.  What this kind of thing means in the real world for me is this:  if I am conducting a “signing” session for folks who are completing, for example, their estate plan, I have to be extremely vigilant to make sure that the proper witnessing, notarizing, etc., occurs.  That’s not easy!  Sometimes people want to have casual conversations in these detailed sessions, but I have to avoid that in an effort at making sure everything is properly executed.  That gets frustrating! 

b.     Another really difficult thing to deal with is that lots of people for some reason believe that it is ok to withhold important information from their lawyer.  All too many people also seem to think they know enough about the law to decide what the lawyer does and does not need to know.  This almost always results in something negative for the client.  That may be the lawyer being completely surprised by something embarrassing in the Courtroom which would have been possible to explain away, but about which the lawyer had no idea until being blasted with it in the middle of a hearing, with no ability to subpoena a witness who could disprove the item, etc.  How about this one:  a parent has a drug problem, the other parent knows it, but the one with the problem doesn’t want her lawyer to know because that might make the lawyer dislike her.  Whether the attorney dislikes her is far less important than the fact that if the lawyer knew about the problem, he or she could deal with it head-on.  Many times I have seen lawyers help clients get into recovery situations, improve their lives in the process, and actually be able to foster better relationships between parents and children.  Beyond those sorts of things, this is not at all unlike a patient going into a doctor and failing to tell the doctor about chest pains or migraine headaches.  A doctor can’t appropriately treat a patient without knowing the facts and that is no different for lawyers!  Clients should tell their attorneys absolutely everything related to their cases no matter how uncomfortable or embarrassing.  Only in that way can a lawyer be reasonably prepared to deal with those problems as they arise in Court proceedings or negotiations.


What are some things a lawyer can do to establish better rapport with the “other side?”

I think the first thing is to treat the opposition with courtesy and respect.  I have been practicing law for over 40 years, and I really don’t think I’ve ever seen a situation where it was appropriate for one litigant to sneer at another, for a lawyer to yell at a witness, for an attorney to roll his or her eyes in a Courtroom, etc.  Not only do those kinds of things generally have unintended negative effects on triers of fact, but they also frequently increase the tension between the parties and make the possibility of any kind of settlement much more remote.  Being mean isn’t the same as being effective.

What are some shortcomings you have seen in members of the legal profession?

That’s a tough question to answer.  Generally, members of the legal profession are hard-working, honorable and capable individuals who are very dedicated to their clients.  But, here are some thoughts that come to mind: 

a.     Sometimes I have seen other lawyers appear to believe that whatever their clients have told them has to be absolutely accurate, even if the people on the other side of the case vehemently deny such things.  My personal feeling is that nobody’s recollection is perfect, and that it is possible for people on all sides of the case to be mistaken about certain factual and other items.  I think the most effective lawyers have very open minds, and have to recognize that even their own clients sometimes can be wrong. 

b.    Sometimes a lawyer cares so much about her or his client that the lawyer has trouble being objective.  When an attorney feels that a client has been unjustly wronged, at times there is a tendency to discount everything that comes up that could be viewed as negative about the attorney’s client.  It can be almost as if the lawyer can’t hear the negatives!  Our profession is a difficult one, and we need to be focused and realistic about the fact that in most cases, neither side is completely wrong nor completely right. 

c.      From time to time, I have seen lawyers continually disparage and insult people on the other side of the case, apparently in the hope of convincing a Judge or Magistrate that there is absolutely nothing “good” about that person.  Particularly in divorce and similar cases, that’s a tough one to swallow, because that lawyer’s client obviously at one point found enough good in the other party to establish a very close relationship with her or him!  That fact alone operates in many situations to undermine such a lawyer’s presentation. 

d.     At times, it has seemed to me that lawyers on the other side of a case have had the attitude that our job is about the fight rather than the result.  Let’s face it: our job is to resolve legal disputes, and it is not to act as gladiators just for the purpose of fighting.  Unfortunately, on occasion I think I have seen the opposite.

Our American legal system may be the very best one in the world.  However, it will never be perfect because it is, in all respects, run by human beings.  No human being is perfect, so the system of necessity will occasionally fall short of its goals.  Nevertheless, if we lawyers can try to recognize our own shortcomings and avoid some of these kinds of things, the system absolutely will benefit!

The Ohio State Bar Association has published a recent article about Steve Tilson.  Did you know he plays in a band? 

Click here to take a look!

What is a typical work day like for you?

First I have to say that there is no single type of work day.  Sometimes I will be in Court, and sometimes I will be in the office.  Other times, I will be traveling to one or more Courthouses or other locations either to file papers, pick things up, have meetings, attend various kinds of events like appraisals, sheriff’s sales, etc.   

But, here are some things I can relate about those different kinds of days:  On a day during which I will be in Court the whole time, I get up pretty early, dress relatively formally, go to the office to pick up my file and other materials, drive to the Courthouse and pull out the file while I’m still in my car.  Usually, I’ll work in the car for an hour or so before going into the Courthouse, because the car is a comfortable and quiet place, and this gives me a chance to reflect on the upcoming case and review my final notes again.  Then, I will try to go into to Courtroom and put my file on the counsel tables if they are available, go out and meet with my client, and maybe have a discussion with the opposing counsel.  After that, I will usually go into the Courtroom again and work on the case.  If the case takes all day, I will feel pretty drained and tired and will probably go straight home.

On days when we have a number of appointments on the book, I will typically go in to the office a little bit later.  I won’t be dressed as formally.  I will meet with different people to discuss their situations.  Some appointments are for new clients, and those involve getting to know each other and getting some basic information together about what the client wants me to handle.  Some appointments are just for simple question and answer situations.  Some appointments are for ongoing work where I will be discussing the status of a client’s legal case and how she or he would want to move it along, etc.  Also during office days, I set time aside to work on ongoing projects like written arguments, correspondence, etc.

Then, there are those other relatively “typical” days, like this one:  First thing in the morning I may head to one county to file real estate deeds; then, I may head to another county to file probate paperwork; after that, I may travel to another county to file a new estate, pick up a Court Order, file a lawsuit response, or do something else.  Sometimes I will travel for part of the day and then come back to the office to meet with clients or work on paperwork for the rest of the day. 

One thing is for sure in our small town general practice:  We do a lot of reading, talking, writing, and driving!

Why did you go to law school?

I was 20 years old when I made the decision to become a lawyer.  Up to that point, I thought very seriously about going into the ministry, medicine, and music.  I was also interested in lawyer shows on television, and enjoyed writing and public speaking.   

I majored in religion in undergraduate school at Ohio Wesleyan University.  I enjoyed theology, biblical study, learning about the various religions around the world, and reading the great philosophers and theologians.  But I didn’t have that “calling” or spark that prompted my father and my grandfather to become members of the clergy.  I have great respect for people of the cloth, but I knew it just was not my thing.

I have lots of doctors in my family and among my friends.  But I also know that I can’t stand the sight of blood and would have an incredibly difficult time working with it!  I played contact sports, got bangs and bruises like the other players, had broken bones, etc., and had very little fear of going up against other players.  But any time I got even the smallest cut, it really bugged me!  I had to admit that medicine was not my thing. 

I love music.  It is a very good stress reducer.  After a tough day in Court, I often sit in my easy chair and play my guitar for a couple of hours.  I also have had the privilege of performing in public a lot with my son and friends, for a lot of civic and other events.  One thing I know about professional guitarists is that it is very tough to make a living doing that unless one is willing and able to go “on the road,” or to locate in a very large metropolitan area or recording studio destination.  Frankly, as much as I love playing music, I did not want to do any of those things. 

So, I became a lawyer pretty much by the process of elimination.  It is true that my parents encouraged me to do it, and it is true that I felt the draw of the legal profession, but it's also true that the reason I chose it is because I saw in it none of the negatives for me that I felt about the other possible career paths I considered.

All in all, I’m glad I made the choice I did.  Law school was not fun, but it was challenging and very helpful.  Parts of the practice of law are not fun.  But, there is no job in the world that is all about fun.  I think lawyers have the ability over a long period of time to help a lot of people and to do a lot of good.  I’m glad I made the choice I made, and if I had to do it all over again, I would probably make the same choice!

What are some of the most difficult things for you about being a lawyer?

Without a doubt, the hardest thing for me is telling people what they don’t want to hear.  While it is very difficult to do, it is also a basic necessity for lawyers to have the intestinal fortitude to sit a client down, look her in the eye, and say “I’m sorry but you are wrong.”  It is also very difficult to tell someone who has a very good moral or common sense argument that the law takes a contrary position.   

Probably the most frequent sorts of “bad news” things I’ve had to tell people are these kinds of matters: 

                1.            “I know the person in front of you shouldn’t have stopped as hurriedly as she did, but Ohio’s ‘assured clear distance’ policy makes you the one who is at fault because you rear-ended her.” 

                2.            “Yes, I am aware of the fact that you were not a wrongdoer in your marriage, and that it was your wife who decided to stray and to leave.  But that has very little, if anything, to do with ‘who gets what’ or who will be child custodian, etc.” 

                3.            “I understand you are willing to spend a lot of money, time and effort in prosecuting this case, but the fact is that you are incorrect legally, and no amount of money will change that.  Therefore, I won’t take your case because it has no legal basis.”

                4.            Here is probably one of the most frequent ones:  “Yes, I know you bought this defective product that had foreign material in it, I know that the grocery store should not have sold it, and I know that it could have caused real problems.  But I also know that you did not consume any of it and were not injured.  Therefore, you don’t have a $100,000.00 case.  You also don’t have a $50.00 case.  That can of soda that included the ‘foreign matter’ probably cost $2.00, and that is what your case is worth.”