Not Since Law School

So I’m in court, doing an eviction. The tenant gives a sob story and indeed breaks down, sobbing. It’s a heart-wrenching and depressingly credible claim of a recent medical challenge in her family. She’s just begging for some time. I get a nod from my client and offer to give the lady three extra weeks to move out.

That’s when I hear someone hissing.

Lawyers and law students will recognize this instantly. It is the signal made from the back row of a law school class when one student morally disapproves of what another is saying. I’ve not been hissed at since law school because attorneys are supposed to be mature enough to understand when a brother or sister attorney is just doing his job.

I’d been hissed at enough in law school that I pressed on and got my client his judgment (and gave this woman, who I genuinely felt sorry for, the three weeks my client agreed to). But it was one of those times I wanted to just stop what I was doing, turn around, and say, “Really?

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.


  1. Part of engaging in intelligent discourse is understanding that people can have differing points of view but still be thoughtful, intelligent and be of good will. It is also part of seeing the world to accept that some people are the living definition of acting out of malicious will.

    • This was my question. Were they hissing for only allowing 3 weeks? Or hissing that you weren’t teaching the tenant the lesson they deserved to be getting?

      In either case, fwiw I found myself saying “Really?” I’m my head before I got to that part about you saying it.

      • My assumption was that they thought I was being ungenerous with this woman with a whole lot of awful problems. From my perspective, I was being generous with her, but I guess reasonable minds could differ about that.

        • … it can depend. It may seem ungenerous to give someone a bit more time — but people can also be okay with multiple extensions (it makes it easier to explain to the higher ups if you don’t give people six months at the beginning, I suppose).

          But hell, you’re in So California, home of the banks where foreclosed properties are allowed to spread mosquitoes Everywhere. For causing such a public heath hazard.

          • There was only one civilian in the room and he looked pretty bored. Of course, you never really know who hisses at you, because by definition it is something done behind your back.

          • Is it considered kosher, in such a circumstance, for you to turn around and hiss back? Because I would really like to see that.

  2. Growing up in Michigan, we didn’t have hissing. It wasn’t on our radar.

    I visited a friend (who grew up in Toledo) in San Francisco (it didn’t work out) and she warned me, when we went to see a movie, that people would hiss during the trailers. “Hiss?”, I asked. “SSsssss”, she explained.

    Sure enough. They hissed during the trailers.

    This might be a California thing.

    • Hissing was discussed in Scott Turow’s One-L, about his first year of law school. IIRC, it also was illustrated in The Paper Chase although it may have been eclipsed by John Houseman’s cruelty.

  3. As a tech major in college, a lot of my college classes were pretty apolitical. The Honors College classes were moreso, but tended to be stocked with thoughtful individual. The worst was the education classes, which were political and were not stocked with honors students.

    At one point, a student got up on her soapbox about a recent eviction, loudly proclaiming “They’ve lived there for twenty years. You can’t just kick them out because they’re not paying rent!” To rounds of applause.

    (Actually, what was happening was that the government stopped subsidizing certain apartments. Without the government subsidy, those that were relying on them had to move because they couldn’t afford the rent. Complaining about the government’s actions would have been fair ball, but it was all about the Evil Landlords.)

    • yet if I’ve been parking on your side of the line for 20 years, that’s my parking spot. by law. unless I’ve been paying you.

      law is weird.

      • My understanding is it’s not “unless I’ve been paying you” as much as it is “unless we have a written or enforceable agreement.” (which almost always involves paying you).

  4. Maybe the hissing is a regional/national thing?

    I am attending law school in Canada and that simply has not occurred at all.

  5. I find it oddly moving that law students are moved enough to hiss (not that I agree with the method). Less moving in a court (dear old dad is a criminal defense attorney…)

    I teach ethics, and no hissing. In fact, a little too much respect and tolerance! I have to spend several class sessions convincing them that they really are, despite their protests, almost all moral realists.

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