Why can't the lawyer give me a straight answer?

Understanding the Law - A Wall of Pigeon Holes...

I'm often asked in my practice to explain how the law works. And it's also an old joke that a lawyer's favorite answer to any question is: "It Depends", and many non-lawyers think that lawyers never give a straight answer.... I found that explaining a legal issue to a client one of the most difficult things to do because it was so confusing, and how there seemed to be an exception to every rule; then finally one day, I stumbled on this easy analogy to explain it all - the wall of pigeon holes...

Imagine that the world of the law is a giant wall of pigeon holes like you see in the lobby of an old hotel... Instead of the columns being labeled "1st Floor", "2nd Floor", etc, they are labeled different areas of the law: Contracts, Torts, Labor, Property, Evidence, Civil Procedure, etc. Some areas of the law have two columns under a bigger label, like Criminal, which has Criminal Procedure and Criminal law. Every area of the law has its own column...

Each pigeon hole has its own label for an section of the law within that column. If you watch the cop shows on TV, then the area of the law you know the most about is Criminal Procedure. In Criminal Procedure, are holes labeled for various criminal doctrines (which happen to make good TV), like Miranda v. Arizona, the Exclusionary Rule, Terry v. Ohio, etc. Inside the Miranda hole is all of the law related to your Miranda rights; that the cops have to tell you of your right to remain silent, right to an attorney, etc. The Exclusionary Rule, has all of the rules about excluding evidence because the cops violated your rights. Terry v. Ohio has the rules for when cops pull you over for a brief stop.

The column labeled Torts, the area of civil wrongs, is all the rules for when a plaintiff seeks to recover monetary damages from a liable defendant, and there are holes for various different tort actions: negligence, defamation, trespass to property, sexual harassment, etc. Property has holes labeled: adverse possession, easements, title transfer, deeds, recording, etc.

Inside of all of these pigeon holes, are both the rules for that area, but also all the exceptions to those rules. And for every exception there is a little note on it that says "if this exception applies, then see the rules in hole #32". And some of the exception notes point to other doctrinal areas like the column labeled "Evidence". Like in the Miranda hole, the cops might screw up and not read you your rights, which would toss out your statements under the Exclusionary rule, but there is an exception to the Exclusionary rule, which is if they cure that mistake by later informing you of your Miranda rights, then subsequent statements (but not the pre-Miranda statements), they collect can be used as evidence. So you went from the Miranda hole, to the Exclusionary Rule hole, to a hole in the Evidence column, back to the Miranda hole, etc. This makes good TV...

Now when you ask a lawyer a question about an area of the law, for example, Causation in a Negligence claim, what the lawyer has to do is look inside the pigeon hole for Negligence, find all the rules about Causation, see all the exceptions to those rules, put your facts into all of that, and come up with an answer. Because there are so many exceptions, and because judges can have so much discretion in how they rule, and because one never knows how a jury is going to decide something, it is difficult to give a straight answer, often the best a lawyer can do is to say "It depends", which really means "I need to look in that pigeon hole, and find all the exceptions, and try my best to predict the future". That's hard to do!...

Good luck with your claim, and I hope this helps in understanding the world of the law.

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