Brass Tacks Post: Don’t Find It Interesting

imageThis post will cover a practical tip for responding to letters from the ARDC asking for information about a complainant’s initial request for an investigation. Such letters are facts of life (about 6,000 of which arise per year). It’s a lawyer’s duty to respond to such a letter, of course, and to take the matter seriously. But don’t lose your head.

photo credit: MicroAssist (CC)

I think I saw just about every kind of initial response letter during my time as an ARDC prosecutor. I saw lengthy letters, short letters, respectful letters, obsequious letters, disagreeable letters, and at least a few with improbable literary allusions. It’s impossible for me to know if these were intentional attempts to play me, but whether it was or not, the letters wound up sounding far too snarky. So tip number one is: leave the Norton Anthology on the shelf.

Many lawyers indulged in a less flamboyant, but more common, method of expressing sarcastic disagreement with the complaining witness’ statements, to this effect: “Mr. MacGuffin claims that he paid me $1,500 on March 28. I find it interesting that he says that, because in fact he never paid me any more than $750, which even a cursory review of the invoices I sent him would reveal.”

Hear that? That’s the sound of me grinding my teeth at the sight of the words “I find it interesting.” Even today. If you are responding to an initial ARDC request for information, do not say this or anything that has its tone, even and especially if you are indignant about having to deal with the issues raised by the complaining witness.

“I find it interesting” is a neutron bomb of smugness, a bitterly sarcastic tone-setter that instantly suffuses the mind of the ARDC attorney handling the file. That attorney is (in almost all cases) new to the situation being discussed, not embroiled in whatever negativity gave rise to the report. The ARDC attorney does not need to be needled about how ridiculous you think this all is. You need not demonstrate that you are upset at having to respond to a complaint you think lacks merit; no one assumes that you are happy about it. The best way to introduce your point of view is to respect the ARDC’s distance from the core of the matter, and to discuss it clearly and with emotions far more tempered than “I find it interesting” will ever allow.

You may come to a point in your initial response letter when you will need to point out inconsistencies or gaps in credibility. If you have the instinct to do it mockingly and condescendingly, then really go at it, let everyone know how much better you are than your accuser. Then delete that draft and start over, and take out all of the mockery and condescension.

There is no one method for responding to the ARDC’s initial inquiries. The agency is required to receive and docket every communication it gets concerning any matter, and it requests responses from the named lawyers in relation to the vast majority of those communications. The wide scope of matters reported prevents a one-size-fits-all approach or any sort of form language. Also, it may become necessary to shift the tone of advocacy later, to make some points more strongly than previously. This comment isn’t meant to foreclose that, or to say that one’s defense of ARDC-related charges shouldn’t be vigorous or zealous. Of course it should be. But if there’s ever a place for a snide posture, I don’t think the initial response is it. So the hardest-and-fastest rule in an inexact realm, even if things have gotten interesting:

Don’t “find it interesting.”

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