Answering Your Most Pressing Questions

Real nice, Google.

Because we were bored out of our skull this afternoon, we checked this blog’s stats on Google Analytics.  Browsing through the various keywords people have used to find this blog over the past year, all we can say is “The hell is wrong with you people?”

Leaving aside the freaks and weirdos (and possibly some of their clients), however, it seems that most people find this blog by asking Google the same handful of questions.  The number one search engine query that get people here, every month this year, is something along the lines of “why become a lawyer.”  Number two includes variations on a theme of “can a cop lie about whether he’s a cop.”  The top five are rounded out by queries about what crimes Goldman Sachs may have committed, connections between Adam Smith and insider trading, and what one should say to a judge at sentencing.

We’re not sure that we’ve actually discussed all of these topics here.  Then again, we might have, and just forgot it (which is a distinct possibility — these posts are all written in a single pass, without any real editing, and usually are not given another thought once they’re posted.  If you ever wondered what “ephemera” meant, you’re looking at it right now.)

Still, in the interests of alleviating our boredom public service, here are some quick answers to our readers’ most pressing questions:

1. Why Should You Become a Lawyer?

Because you feel a calling to serve others.  Because you want to make a difference in the lives of others.  Because you are genuinely interested in the rules by which human society functions, why people behave the way they do, and the policies and interests underlying it all.  If those are your reasons, then you belong.

Not because you want to make a buck.  Not because you want prestige.  Not because you can’t think of anything else to do.  Not because you want a cool job.  If those are your reasons, you don’t belong.

2.  Can a Cop Lie to You About Whether He’s a Cop?

Of course he can.  Cops are allowed to lie to you about pretty much anything, and that includes whether they’re really an undercover.  Cops are trained to make false statements in order to elicit a confession — it’s not the only way, but it’s a time-honored investigative technique that gets results.  Whether that is ethical or not is not the issue.  But there is no ethical question when it comes to whether an undercover has to admit he’s carrying a badge.  The slightest bit of thought should make that obvious.  An undercover dealing with some dangerous thugs is likely to get shot if they find out he’s a cop.  At the very least, if he himself isn’t killed, the investigation sure will be.  It would be beyond stupid to require undercover officers to announce that fact if someone asked them.  Nevertheless, idiots continue to ask “you’re not a cop, right?” and then go ahead with their crime when the cop says no.

3.  What Crimes did Goldman Sachs Commit?

None that we’re aware of.

Certain people like to rant that there aren’t enough criminal prosecutions to punish the Wall Street types who “caused” the financial meltdown of the last few years.  We’d like to remind those people that stupid business decisions are not a crime.  Neither are smart business decisions undercut by market forces beyond one’s control.  Neither are decisions to hold off on extending credit in uncertain times, especially when the uncertainty is exacerbated and extended by foolish governmental actions.  And neither are those foolish governmental actions criminal.

The one criminal case that was brought, against Bear Stearns executives, was a flop because those guys didn’t commit any crimes either, and the jury saw it pretty clearly.  The case shouldn’t have been brought in the first place, and wiser heads have prevailed against calls for further similar arrests.  The prosecutorial focus has instead shifted to frauds that were exposed once the market turned sour, and to the current fad of insider-trading cases.

4.  Would Adam Smith Approve of Insider Trading?

Depends on which Adam Smith scholar you ask, and on your definition of insider trading.  Speaking generally, he’d probably be in favor of economic decisions being made rationally, taking into account all the relevant information.  He’d probably be opposed to keeping such information secret in the first place.  Still, we’re not an Adam Smith scholar (thank goodness — he’s almost impossible to read).  For a thoughtful and insightful summary of his writings, however, we heartily recommend P.J. O’Rourke’s take “On the Wealth of Nations.”

5.  What Should You Say to the Judge at Sentencing?

It depends on your particular case.  In some cases, especially where there’s been an agreed-upon plea deal, you don’t need to say anything at all.  In some cases, you the defendant opening your mouth is only going to piss off the judge so he gives you a few extra months or years in the slammer.  In other cases, a sincere statement can demonstrate that you’re not the kind of person who ought to get a harsh sentence.  Depending on your circumstances, this could mean a statement of remorse, of change, of compassion, or other things likely to make a difference.

Even if you don’t say anything yourself, and it’s not an agreed-upon plea, it is often a good idea to have a lot of people in your community write letters to the judge showing why you should get a lighter sentence.  These letters should not be sent to the judge, but instead should be sent to your attorney, so he or she can put them together as an appendix to a sentencing memorandum arguing for a lighter sentence.  Letters should be from people who actually know you.  They should state facts about you, specific things you’ve done, as specific as possible.  Provide facts from which the judge can draw conclusions.  The worst letters just provide the conclusory statement that this guy deserves a lighter sentence, without providing any facts to support it.  No, we take that back, the worst letters aren’t about you at all, but are about the writer of the letter — how much they’ll miss you, how hard it will be on them if you go to jail, etc.  Sentencing is not about them, it’s about you.  The judge isn’t going to feel like he’s the one putting them through any hardship; you are.  Just focus on reasons why you shouldn’t get a higher sentence, period.

And if saying anything will just make it worse, then don’t say anything.

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There.  Nothing too in-depth here, but we hope it sorta answers some of your questions.

Dang, that wasn’t as time-consuming as we’d hoped.  Now what else are we going to do this afternoon?

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