Lately, I have been thinking a lot about time and the lack of it. Last semester, I thought maybe I just hadn’t planned well enough, so I decided my lack of time was an organizational problem. I worked on time management. I divided my workstreams. I even cleaned out my email inbox. But at the end of it all, I still didn’t have enough time. Only now, I didn’t have time in a nice, organized sort of way.
I began to notice that it wasn’t just me. No one had enough time. Even though we all get the same amount – that good ole 24/7 – and even though it’s renewable on condition (on condition that you aren’t dead) there is somehow just not enough of it to go around. Ever. It’s as though we’re being shortchanged by the universe one day at a time.
From a philosophical point of view, the finitude of time announces the anxiety of an impending death postponed to an indefinite but certain future. But from a legal point of view, I wondered…is it just that lawyers and law students are really, really busy? Is that why we never have any time? Or does it mean something else, something more fundamental? Prompted by a comment from my law practice professor, I decided that maybe it did. So I formed the following hypothesis: A permanent lack of time is the foundation of legal practice. It drives how we write, how we read, and how we argue. Of course, right off the bat, I realized there were at least two problems with my hypothesis. First, I’m not a lawyer. I have no idea what real legal practice is like. I’m largely making educated guesses based on anecdotal comments from actual lawyers, and then making uneducated guesses about everything else. Second, a lack of something can’t serve as a foundation for anything. Houses aren’t built on air, and the law ain’t built on nothing. Unless you’re a legal positivist, in which case it is. However, since I couldn’t change either one of these problems, I decided to ignore them.
Philosophy has at its disposal a formidable technique for examining these sorts of hypotheses. First, you assume the hypothesis to be true in every respect, which in this case is the hypothesis that a permanent lack of time drives legal practice. Second, having granted this assumption, you see what follows from its perceived truth. Colloquially, it is often called “*Fool* around and find out,” or FAFO.
That’s what I decided to do. Assuming the truth of the hypothesis, I wondered what might follow from a permanent lack of time. So, I FAFO’d. Here is the abridged version of my reasoning, though a fuller proof exists. And no, I am not kidding.
AXIOM 1: THERE IS NEVER ENOUGH TIME.
This is a practical, not an existential, truth. It can be stated as follows: For any Task (T), the amount of Time required to complete the Task exceeds the amount of Time available to complete the Task. As a universally true axiom, this formula means not only that there is never enough Time, but that there never has been and never will be. There never has been enough Time because the creation of the universe was a Task, and thus under Axiom 1, the universe was already behind schedule before it ever went Bang. There never will be enough Time because every Task (up to and including the universe) generates a Time deficit.
AXIOM 2: TIME IS MONEY
Axiom 2 states an identity, not a predicate. If it is Time, then it is Money. If it is Money, then it is Time.
AXIOM 3: THERE IS NEVER ENOUGH MONEY
Follows from Axioms 1 and 2. If there is never enough time, and time is money, then it follows axiomatically that there is never enough money. And commensurate with Axiom 1, there never has been enough money, and there never will be.
THEOREM 1: THE “BILLABLE HOUR”
Where time is money, each can be expressed through the other. This is known to lawyers (and most especially to clients) as the “billable hour.” The billable hour is a variable quantum of money for a fixed quantum of time. HOWEVER, the term ‘hour’ is merely descriptive of a quantity of time, and should not be understood to mean exactly 60 minutes (or 3600 seconds).
COROLLARY: THERE ARE NEVER ENOUGH BILLABLE HOURS
A billable hour expresses the truth that time is money, and there is never enough of either one. Thus, there are never enough billable hours. However, this theorem depends upon whether one treats a billable hour more as time or as money. Clients, for instance, seek to maximize hours but minimize money. Thus, they interpret this Corollary with reference to Money. Accordingly, it means either (a) I have unlimited money and therefore unlimited hours to devote to my case (FYI: it almost never means this.); or (b) I am limited by money, and so limited in the number of hours that can be devoted to my case. (FYI: it almost always means this.) And sometimes (b) is asserted when in fact (a) is true. (FYI: this is always true.)
[Portion of the Proof Omitted.]
Demand for a resource increases when it becomes scarce, like toilet paper during a pandemic. And since under Axiom 1, there is never enough time, then time is always in demand. Just like toilet paper. We always want more of it than we have. Thus,
THEOREM 2: WHERE TIME CAN BE SAVED, TIME MUST BE SAVED
This is also known as the Principle of Efficiency insofar as it encourages Lawyers and Law Students to always seek the most time-saving (hence, money-saving) method for completing any Task. The Principle of Efficiency is among the most important and oft-referenced theorems in the legal universe. Below are common forms:
The exhortative: Get you’re a** in gear.
The interrogatory: Is that seriously all you got done today?
The imperative: I need it yesterday!
The Motivational* (to be distinguished from Axiom 2): C’mon people. Time is money!
COROLLARY 2: THERE IS NO TIME TO SPARE
This is also known as the Principle of Waste. When we combine Axiom 1 with Theorem 2, we see that the ultimate ideal is to eliminate the time deficit. Of course, this can never actually be achieved, since it is only an ideal. The belief that an ideal reality can become an actual reality is called Wishful Thinking, and should be done on your own time.
Time is wasted when the time taken for a Task exceeds either the Time available or the Time required. If time taken exceeds the time available, it is merely wasted. Though not to be taken lightly, nevertheless some waste is inevitable, and to a certain extent forgivable. However, if time taken exceeds the time required, then you are just Lazy, and in all likelihood will soon be either Unemployed or Promoted.
POSTULATE 3: DO NOT WASTE TIME.
There is debate among scholars whether POSTULATE 3 properly belongs under the Principle of Waste. Some argue that it should be postulated under the Principle of Efficiency, since you cannot waste what you do not have. Nevertheless it holds, and is equally true in the alternative: DO NOT WASTE MONEY.
[Imagine now that you are scrolling past further steps in the proof looking for…STOP!]
XXV. LEGAL WRITING (LAW STUDENT) (with sincere apologies to MVN)
Legal writing for law students refers to burglary memos, motions for summary judgment, research emails, and writing samples (bedazzled memos). This list is inclusive for you, but exhaustive for me.
THEOREM 1: LEGAL WRITING IS NOT MEANT TO BE READ
Reading is a separate Task, one that Takes Time. It is reserved for things like deposition testimony, judge’s opinions, and the contract terms for your wireless plan. Your Supervising Attorney (hereafter, Super Attorney) should not need to read your memo. She should be able to skim the important bits from the point headings and rule statements. If your Super Attorney has to stop and actually read your memo, you’ve done messed up – and bad – and their likely are many lots of further things wrong with your memoe. However, if your memo is not stalled by sloppy grammar or riddled with poor reasoning, then the problems are likely caused by…
COROLLARY 1: SPACE IS TIME
The reason your Super Attorney was able to skim your memo so quickly is because she already knew where everything was going to be. And if you’ve learned the appropriate lessons in LP, so did you! Because there is an established and universal structure to everything you write. This satisfies the Principle of Efficiency, and also, well, everybody just sort of agreed that this is how things were going to go. And if you know where your Super Attorney expects things to be, (and then, you know, actually put them there) you can Save Her Time, which will Be Remembered.
POSTULATE 1: SAVING SPACE SAVES TIME
Conciseness, clarity, simplicity of expression: these are prized features of legal writing for one very simple reason. They help to save space. And saving space saves time. If there is less to skim, Time is Saved, which again, will Be Remembered.
But most importantly of all, whether you think you should or not, just to be safe…
AXIOM OMNIUS: IF YOU SAY IT, CITE IT!
Michael Deere is a first-year student at BC Law. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.