Alextronic Discovery
Alextronic Discovery
An Electronic Discovery Blog covering News, Articles
and Thoughts for the Legal and Corporate Community Author: Alexander H. Lubarsky, LL.M., Esq. - - Tel. (415) 533-4166 OR 800-375-4222 THIS BLAWG IS NOT AFFILIATED WITH THE WEB SITES WWW.DISCOVERYRESOURCES.ORG OR WWW.DISCOVERYRESOURCES.COM

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Lawyers and Not So Lucky Fish  

After passing the bar and trying the big firm thing out for a while, I decided that I needed to test my father's theory. My father always told me that as far back as he could trace our heritage... back to the days when great, great, great Grandpa Lubarsky left the Shtetl near Lvov, Poland to join Levi Strauss and a few other ragged Ashkenazi expatriates venturing to California on the heels of the gold rush, no Lubarsky ever worked for another man. "It's in our genes," my father insisted, "we just can't do it."

Rather than trying in vain to fight the forces of DNA, I left the construction defect litigation department at the large San Franciscan law firm and sought for a place to hang my shingle.

Being the miser that I am, I instinctively avoided traditional office space with buzzing halogen overheads. My old high school friend, Dung Nguyen, had just opened up a travel agency in the heart of the East San Jose, California’s immense Vietnamese community - the second largest Vietnamese neighborhood outside of Asia next only to that of Westminster in Southern California. Dung insisted that I commission his friend to paint a sign in Vietnamese and run a few ads in the local ethnic newspaper. "As a first generation Vietnamese, I can guarantee you that you will thrive in this neighborhood," he would tell me.

"But I don't speak a word of Vietnamese, Dung" I countered.

"That's why you will be so successful out here," he explained, "Us Vietnamese don't trust our own when it comes to lawyering. We want to hire the white Jews because we think that they know how to work the system." Although the logic escaped me, I blindly followed his lead. Dung had a sixth sense that never seemed to fail him. He launched what is reported to be the first internet based travel agency before I had my first Prodigy password.

As usual, Dung was right. Within a month I was inundated with Vietnamese clients. Dung would help me with the interpretation and I would borrow his Vietnamese speaking agents to work the front desk and answer the phone. I learned enough Vietnamese to say, "I do not speak Vietnamese, come back or call back later." The plan was working.

Then came the Asian Arowana.

The Asian Arowana is the Vietnamese "good luck fish". The Vietnamese are steadfast in their conviction that those who open a new business without placing an Asian Arowana in an aquarium within the first month of business are destined for unparalleled financial disaster that would make the Great Flood look like a the drizzle of Portland in March. It took me a while to figure out why all of my Vietnamese clients would ask "where's the fish?" before they would inquire about the status of their personal injury case or generation skipping trusts.

After weeks of being labeled "the fishless luat su" ("lawyer" in Vietnamese) I looked into one of these creatures if only to avoid the subject of marine life during every new client intake consultation. The local Asian aquarium sold these grotesque looking fish. They started in the neighborhood of nine-hundred dollars for a silver creature that looked like a cross between a sardine, an eel and Uma Thurman. There was no way I was going to drop nine bills on one of them ugly suckers. Superstitions be damned!

One day I complained to Dung that I had thought business was slowing down. "Maybe it is because I still don't know how to give out my phone number in Vietnamese," I guessed. Dung was adamant that it was my fish free office that was the source of my insecurity. "How can you expect to do well when you still don't have an Arowana?" he would reply.

The next day I walked in and there was the ugliest looking nine-hundred dollar fish I'd ever seen. It glared at me as it swam in circles amidst a large tank next to my Shepard's Citators and Witkin Treatises. "You're not going to be able to handle the onslaught of business now" said Dung - still ever the wise sage and giver of fishy gifts.

Lo and behold that ugly fish did its job. I was settling whiplash cases left and right and processing Amerasian Legalization Petitions with the INS at record rates. People were lining up for my simple wills and I couldn't keep pumping out the Chapter 7 filings fast enough.

Life was good and I owed it all to a talisman with dorsal fins.

Then one of my Vietnamese clients, Huu Minh Tran, hit pay dirt. The insurance agency accepted our inflated offer and he was cut the biggest settlement check anyone had seen this side of Saigon. He was so happy with me, he bought me a large bottle of Meukow Cognac and a live turtle. I got the cognac part but a turtle? What gives?

"It's so that the good luck fish won't be lonely" he explained as he shook the green critter from a plastic bag into the aquarium. "This will double your luck as you have doubled mine" he said in between sips of a tapioca pearl iced tea and drags of his Marlboro.

I actually grew attached to the turtle almost immediately. I named him Fluffy.

There was one big problem, Fluffy was amphibious but he was stuck in a tank with no shore in sight. I couldn't stand to see the little guy constantly swimming day after day with no respite. I was losing sleep over it. I would have nightmares where I would be treading water in a vast sea along side a sinking schooner.

Finally, I had an idea, I could find something that floats and perhaps Fluffy would perch himself happily on his little island. I tried a Frisbee, but Fluffy was too heavy. I tried a broken two by four, but he couldn't seem to climb onto it. Then as I searched around the office, I found some Styrofoam packing material inside of a box that used to house a Sony computer monitor. Perfect!

I placed a slab of the Styrofoam in the aquarium and Fluffy took right to it. I had never seen a more content turtle since the Teenage Ninja series.

The next day I walked into the office and Dung's face was pale white. "What's wrong?" I asked Dung. He was speechless, he stepped aside to reveal the fish tank which looked as if it had been replaced with skim milk. The Styrofoam had dissolved into the water and the lucky fish was dead. Fortunately, however, Fluffy was swimming around blissfully.

"This is a very bad omen," said Dung. He ran out of the office mumbling something about how he was going to pick up a Vietnamese sandwich. For the first time since he opened his business, he never returned that day.

My 4:00 appointment came in, saw me trying to net the dead Asian Arowana from the aquarium and promptly asked that I substitute out of his case. My 5:00 took one peek at the scene of the crime and coolly walked out of the office. The word hit the street fast. The Jewish lawyer killed his Vietnamese lucky fish. My clients fled faster than the American GI’s during the fall of Saigon.

Now I've heard of attorneys that have overcome natural disasters that have leveled their offices. I've seen them bounce back after the insolvency of their key clients... but I never, never heard of an attorney that could get past the complicit demise of their lucky fish.

Within two months, I was working as an account representative at Lexis/Nexis and my office was subleased to a Karaoke club.

Fast forward to today - a decade later (yesterday, actually). I am co-sponsoring a litigation support event in San Francisco on behalf of Fios with my former co-workers at Summation. Among a host of other duties, I was charged with handing out name tags. One name tag was for a Dung Bui Trinh, Chief County Counsel of Santa Clara County. So, I give Dung his name tag and explain that I once shared an office in Santa Clara County with a Vietnamese friend also named Dung and that I practiced law in that area for a bit.

It turns out that Mr. Bui Trinh and I knew a lot of the same people in the Vietnamese community back in my old East San Jose stomping grounds. We started chatting about how e-discovery could really transform the county's outdated litigation support strategies. Dung began to tell me of how he is currently defending a large wrongful death suit against the county and how he needed some assistance reviewing the hard drives and CD's that are being requested by opposing counsel for relevance and privilege and... and... he froze, twitched and a solemn glare stretched across his face... "you're not that attorney that killed his lucky fish are you?"

posted by Alexander | 6:29 AM


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