For something a bit different, this post concerns a few interesting law-related things rather than anything substantive.
The Netflix original series The Staircase is a documentary series following a murder prosecution in North Carolina. Not only is it entertaining as a human story, it provides a fascinating insight into the (criminal) litigation process of another jurisdiction, which we can compare and contrast with our own systems and standards. It includes fly-on-the-wall observations of conferences between the lawyers, between lawyer and client and so on, and it includes interviews with key players, witnesses and family members.
Of particular interest to me was the courtroom advocacy. The series features samples of very good as well as less impressive advocacy.
Spoiler alert: stop reading now if you want to watch the series in blissful ignorance of what happens.
Here’s my synopsis:
In December 2001, Michael Peterson finds his wife Kathleen at the bottom of a staircase in a pool of blood. He calls 911 and reports that Kathleen has fallen down the stairs. Kathleen dies of her injuries.
Investigators and prosecutors quickly form the view that there is too much blood to be consistent with a fall. There is a level of political intrigue in that Peterson, in his time as a journalist, had been critical of some personalities in the local authorities of Durham, North Carolina, where he lived.
At trial, some significant evidence is admitted over objection:
Peterson’s online activities were, according to the prosecution, inconsistent with the defence case that he and Kathleen had a happy marriage and must have led to an argument.
When Peterson lived in Germany in the 1980s, a friend of Peterson had been found dead at the bottom of a staircase the morning after he had been at her house helping to get her children to sleep. (The authorities there made no allegation of foul play.)
The conduct of investigators comes under the spotlight. Viewers familiar with concepts of disinterested expression of expert opinions will likely feel, at the least, a level of frustration with elements of their work.
Peterson was convicted in October 2003.
In 2011, the trial judge vacated the conviction after it had been discovered that one of the expert witnesses, a blood-spatter analyst, had given false and misleading evidence. A retrial was ordered.
The real-life drama eventually concludes, which is where the satisfaction lies. It is undoubtedly debatable whether the nature of that resolution is satisfactory.
Wolters Kluwer’s CCH eLending
I’ve recently subscribed to an online library of legal textbooks. It’s operated by Wolters Kluwer and brings together publications of many of the major publishers. (Thomson Reuters isn’t on board – at least not yet.)
Most legal textbooks are normally worth in the range of $100.00 to $250.00, sometimes more, and they generally have a limited shelf-life in terms of being an up-to-date commentary of the law.
Sometimes a particular book will be especially useful for one matter – and worth investing in – but might never be looked at again. For instance, I made use of a book on legal professional privilege for one brief recently, but that issue is rarely a problem.
The cost of books is what makes libraries great value. You go in, pick what you need, take it away for a few weeks, and bring it back. The problem with that though is, of course, libraries with what you need aren’t always conveniently located or open at convenient hours.
And herein lies the real value of eLending. The entire book is available in electronic (usually EPUB) format. You “borrow” it from the library once and hold on to it for as long as you have a subscription. You can read it on anything from your phone to your desktop computer. It doesn’t take long to get great value out of your subscription.
Another tool that an instructor has put me on is Todoist. As the name suggests, it’s all about managing your “to do” list. It operates on its own website, as an app on your phone or other device and as plugin in your email client (eg Outlook).
Whilst it takes a bit of discipline to keep your list of to-dos organised in one place and up-to-date, Todoist makes the task simpler. You can set deadlines, arrange email digests, include subtasks and, if you have multiple staff working in your organisation, allocate responsibilities to different people.
I love having a whiteboard to map out stuff, particularly in conferences. I’ve just bought a new one. I just need to get it put on the wall. It’s on my Todoist list.