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DTCI: Throw your cell phone into the spaghetti bowl

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dtci-strenksi-jamesAbout five years ago, my father-in-law (who my children affectionately call “Poppy”) got so fed up with his cell phone that he threw it into a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs that was sitting on the kitchen table. My children, who were young and impressionable at the time, thought this was one of the funniest things that they had ever seen. There are times when we all feel like throwing our cell phone into the spaghetti bowl – technology can be extremely frustrating. However, my observation is that people, and especially attorneys, steadfastly refuse to throw their cell phone into the spaghetti bowl, even when they should.

Cell phones, tablet devices, laptop computers and other forms of mobile technology are great things. They increase our productivity. They allow professionals, including attorneys, to multitask. They give us the freedom to work away from our offices. Gone are the days when attorneys had to be at their offices during regular business hours; we can now attend our children’s ball games while taking short conference calls or responding to email correspondence. In a family such as mine, where both my wife and I have full-time jobs, cell phones allow us to juggle our home and work responsibilities more effectively.

However, my observation has also been that the electronic devices we possess are “mixed use” devices. In addition to housing our work email, work calendar and work-related apps, these devices also have a number of “play” apps, including but not limited to video games, Internet capability and YouTube. Accordingly, the ability to access both work and play 24/7 is only a click away. It is unfortunate, but I often see attorneys, friends and strangers using their cell phones or other smart devices at times when it is absolutely inappropriate to do so.

I attended a seminar this past spring. It was a great event; the speakers were excellent, and the seminar was well attended by attorneys from all segments of our profession. I arrived at the seminar a little bit late and ended up sitting in the back of the auditorium, so I had a fairly good view of the attendees in the room as well as the speakers. The number of attendees who had either a cell phone or a tablet device was striking. What was also striking was the number of attorneys who were using their cell phones or tablets during the seminar presentation. It was also clear from what I could see on the screens that the use of these devices was not work related. I found it a little shocking and rather depressing that many of the attendees were using their smart devices at a time they should have been listening to the presentation. Moreover, I suspect that none of these attorneys discounted their ethics credit for the time spent using their cell phones or tablet devices during the seminar.

Another example of smart phone misuse or abuse can be vacation. Like many attorneys, I take my cell phone and tablet with me on vacation, mainly to clear emails while away. If I didn’t bring my smart devices, I would most likely spend my first day back at work going over hundreds (or perhaps thousands) of emails that had come in while I was away, most of which are inconsequential, insignificant or just plain spam. However, more often than not, I find myself handling some small aspect of some matter on vacation just because I saw it come in on my email. Before long, I find myself billing an hour or two each day of vacation on matters that – while not insignificant – could have certainly waited until I returned to the office. At some point, attorneys, myself included, have to ask themselves, “What’s the point of vacation if you’re just going to work during it anyway?”

Cell phones, tablet devices, laptop computers and related devices are great; they put work and indeed the world at our fingertips 24/7/365. However, there are times when we really shouldn’t be checking our email or playing solitaire. As members of a great profession, we need to recognize that there are times when we really do need to be like Poppy and throw our cell phone in the spaghetti bowl – if only for a while.•

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Mr. Strenski is a partner in the Indianapolis firm of Cantrell Strenski & Mehringer and is a member of the DTCI board of directors. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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