I don’t like doing evictions. I don’t dislike everything about them, but they are time-consuming, and they expose me to a lot of disagreeable people — some tenants, some landlords, and occasionally, disagreeable attorneys. Every once in a while, like this morning, disgruntled tenants come back to the office complaining that things didn’t work out the way they had thought it would.

I try and settle the cases, and to do that we have to make deals. That’s a problem with unsophisticated people, because they hear what they want to near, not necessarily what I say to them. The tenant wants to protect their credit rating, and the best I can do for them is give them a dismissal of the case. I can’t change the fact that I filed it in the first place. The folks this morning were like that — they thought I’d promised them a clean credit report, when in fact what I promised them is that I would dismiss the case after they moved out and that they could report that to the creidt bureaus. Yes, the case was something like three months ago, but that’s what I say to everyone. It may not even be correct — another lawyer told me that credit reporting bureaus do not actually report dismissed cases, so this might have been a mistake that somebody made.

But what is said to people, and what they hear, are often very different things. And when someone wants to hear what they think they’ve heard (there is a cause-and-effect relationship between those two concepts), and then they reinforce that selective memory through repetition for three months, you get something of a Rashomon phenomenon going on. No doubt they believe in good faith that I did promise them something that would require me to travel back in time and un-file the complaint. Of course, if I could travel back in time, I’d undo a lot of things and frankly, their eviction lawsuit would likely not be near the top of the list of things I’d undo.

So now they think I lied to them, and when I said that I had not and if they felt otherwise they should go get their own lawyer, they proceeded to swear loudly at me until both I and another lawyer in the firm commanded them to leave the office about ten times. I was wondering when I should ask the staff to call the police when they finally relented, making ambiguous threats about how they would make sure I had not heard the last of them. Chances are good that I have heard the last of them, but you never know.

Someone has to do this work, and I’m still low man on the totem pole at work, so that means I get to do them. I fully accept that and I’m happy to have the work. In some ways, I like going to court most of the time — I’ve made friends with many of the other lawyers who are there frequently, with many of the judges, and many of the courthouse staff. I enjoy a good reputation at the courthouse, both in my own right and bolstered by working for a firm that enjoys a good reputation aside from me. And some of the clients, and sometimes even some of the tenants, are pleasant to work with.

Hell, I’m coming to even like working with one of the tenant’s defense attorneys because he’s at least reasonable in tone and has the ability to get his clients to make deals. He’s smart and a good lawyer, which makes it pleasant to talk to him, and more importantly, when he’s involved, he serves as a filter between me and his invariably-unpleasant tenants. (Which is not to say that I approve of his business model, because I do not, but it’s become a fact of life.)

I’m not uncomfortable with conflict and disagreement. But then again, I work in an environment and a profession in which conflict and disagreement are resolved on the basis of pre-established rules, evidence, logic, and persuasive argument. Or sometimes, by democracy. Other methods of conflict resolution are significantly less comfortable for me.

Maybe what I need to do is change my style when I do this part of my job is not work so hard to settle the cases. I should try more cases, and settle fewer. There is no doubt when I try a case to judgment who I represent and no one can later accuse me of promising them anything after I roll them over at trial. The big question is, would that get me out of the courthouse faster in the mornings?

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.