Under Analysis

February 11-17, 2013

I spend more time on the road than most people. I do it on my own time, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved in many matters that required travel down strange and twisted roads. I recall meeting a friend from law school on the street outside an airport when we were both traveling on cases. He was headed to Peoria, Ill., and I was headed to Stockholm, Sweden. He soon joined my firm, and told me it was the meeting at the airport that made him think he was doing something wrong. The cases in which I’ve been involved through the years have almost never been simple, and it doesn’t seem like any two clients, or their perspectives, were ever the same. Although this might be just as true of my local clients, the clients and witnesses I’ve met abroad stand out as stark examples. Experiencing different cultures, not just in the developed world, but throughout the world, exposes the traveler to different ways of thinking, which is a good thing and a beneficial tool. Understanding different thought processes and perspectives helps when it comes to dealing with varied personalities and complex facts – or maybe even in dealing with judges from different backgrounds. Further, viewing other systems of law and legal proceedings lends valuable perspective. I remember the time when the road I travelled took me to East Africa. A road warrior from Australia had checked in at the same campsite, and we became friendly. When he didn’t return after a few days, someone informed me he’d been arrested on drug charges. I went to see his trial.

The courtroom was crowded and I soon learned why. Defense counsel handed out cash to almost everybody on the courtroom floor. Australian Bob was back at our campsite that evening, a little haggard from the experience – but a free man. Nothing like that happens in an American courtroom (although some people argue that the election of judges is simply a more subtle procedure than the East African model).

Another thing I’ve noticed in my travels is the roads themselves. American streets have dull names. They are often simply numbered, e.g., 4th Street, North 5th Avenue, Western Boulevard. You know, organizational types of names. Having a courthouse on Market is generally as wild as most cities get. We could probably take some lessons from the Far East.

Recently, I was listening to a fellow on NPR who had just opened a sandwich shop in Shanghai. It is located on “The Street of Eternal Happiness.” Now there’s a street address that not only catches your attention, it offers side benefits, e.g. eternal happiness. In China, other streets are named things like Brotherly Love, Peaceful, Humanity, Happy or Modest Road, all of which may eventually intersect with Ever-Healthy Street. Now those names speak to us. They give us hope. As a matter of fact, Hope Street is located in the Philippines. All of these names are more meaningful than, say, Poydras in New Orleans, or Sepulveda Boulevard in L.A. What the heck do those names mean?

That got me thinking: Why not pick memorable names for the streets that our legal institutions sit upon? A courthouse on the Avenue of Broken Dreams certainly has a nice ring to it, but probably sends the wrong message to litigants and might decrease work for us lawyers. Beneficiary Boulevard or Per Stirpes Place are good street names for a courthouse that has a lot of probate cases. Hanky Panky Boulevard is an excellent name for divorce courts, but then so is Alimony Alley, or The Long and Lonesome Road. For commercial matters, there are unlimited possibilities – consider the Avenue of Unanticipated Consequences, Archaic Anachronisms Avenue, Poor Performance Place, or the Street of Tender Offers (which could of course be confused with the wrong kind of street). What about Breach Boulevard? With a little urban planning, we could locate the next Federal Courthouse at the corner of Inter Alia Avenue and Ad Infinitum Boulevard.

Here in America, when we run out of numbers, we start naming our streets after trees. It seems like lots of the courthouses in quaint American towns are located on Oak or Maple Street. In Southeast Asia, they name streets after vegetation, too, but they take it to a different level. “Pisang” means banana in Malay, but in Singapore, they don’t just name a road Banana Street. There is “Lorong Pisang Asam” or Sour Banana Street. They also have a Golden Banana Street, a Green Banana Street, a Prawn Banana Street and a Stone Banana Street. Thinking about stones reminds me of old American jails. We ought to be more creative when it comes to jailhouse road names. End of the Road Road has a nice ring to it, and might even have a deterrent effect. Honorable mention goes to Bad Man Boulevard, Drug Alley, Three Strikes Street or Desolation Row.

Streets in the East are often named after poets and philosophers. There is an Omar Khayyam Avenue. Here in America, we could follow that example. How about Walt Whitman Way? Better still, why not name streets around our courthouses for famous lawyers: Clarence Darrow Drive, William Jennings Bryan Boulevard, the Johnny Cochrane Courthouse Square or Marsha Clark Avenue (perhaps a dead end street)?

And what about our law schools? We could discuss Socratic Street, or maybe the Lane of Perpetuities, or how about Debt Boulevard? Speaking of law schools, maybe there should be a big road sign posted for incoming law students that says, “Make Love, Not Law Review.” On second thought, I’ll save that topic for another column.

© 2013 Under Analysis, LLC. Under Analysis is a nationally syndicated column of the Levison Group. Mark Levison is a member of the law firm of Lashly & Baer. Contact Under Analysis by e-mail at comments@levisongroup.com.