A calendar item in Washington Business yesterday listed the wrong location for the American Bar Association convention. It is to be held at the Sheraton Washington Hotel, 2660 Woodley Rd. NW, July 4-11.
They came from everywhere, thousands of them flaunting plastic ID cards bearing their names and home towns, swooping down on Washington's finest hotels in their dark suits and dresses, poised for seven days of tort trends, appellate advocacy and antitrust amendments.
Twice each year, members of the American Bar Association migrate to a city to catch up on hot legal developments, take in the sights and network over cocktails. This year they chose Washington. You may be wondering: What happens when more than 8,000 lawyers get together to talk shop?
"I don't think anything very exciting has happened yet, and I'm not very sure anything exciting will happen," said Kurt Melchior of San Francisco in a flash of unprecedented legal candor.
A more typical answer, courtesy of Charles D. Woodruff of Alexandria: "I haven't participated in the whole convention to the extent that I'd be able to answer that. I think you ought to talk to someone more informed."
Some took the diplomatic route. Said James Chelberg of White Bear Lake, Minn., "I enjoy walking around the city. I think it's a beautiful city."
So much for crazy convention antics. Leave that to the Society of Plastic Engineers.
Donna Manz of Kansas City, who is not a lawyer but is fortunate enough to be married to one, did let one racy item slip.
Sunday night, at the ABA president's reception for the entire bar association, music was playing in two of the ballrooms. Manz asserted that the lawyers danced. How big is the American Bar Association convention?
So big that 13 hotels are renting meeting rooms.
So big that the association spent two days sifting through a policy book as thick as the Yellow Pages.
So big that the association leased a fleet of buses to shuttle hordes of lawyers from meeting to meeting: "Recent Developments in Selected Areas of Real Property Law," "Post Leon Suppression Motions," "Transmutation of Community Property During Marriage," "Critical Issues in Alternative Dispute Resolution." Best Convention Speaker: Jay Foonberg, author of "How to Start and Build a Law Practice."
"Every human being you come in contact with is a potential client," said Foonberg, a Beverly Hills attorney who claims his book is the tome most stolen from law school libraries.
After advising a group of young lawyers to go sell aluminum siding if they wanted to make money, he proceeded to offer tips on the smartest ways for new lawyers to expand their practices.
The three magic words in the legal profession, according to Foonberg, are "cash up front."
Send Christmas cards to clients, because many couples decide to spend one last Christmas together before splitting, Foonberg asserted. "You send a Christmas card, you've got two potential clients, him and her."
Magazine display is vital, and lawyers should buy publications that reflect the interests of their desired clientele. "You don't have to have something your clients read," Foonberg said. "Remember, it's advertising."
He also advised lawyers to publicize their accomplishments. For example, he sent a picture of President Reagan posing with him to all his clients. Many of them hung the photo in their offices, he said. Sauntering from seminar to seminar, the barristers occasionally abandoned their famed legalese long enough to reveal glimmers of their personalities:
"Hi, Paul, how are you? How was your trip to Mexico?"
"You're not out playing golf today?"
"I'm having some trouble with these back spasms. It just snaps and then boom!"
"Are you taking a muscle relaxant?"
But for the most part they were their usual public selves -- so careful with their language that it often became unintelligible. No wonder they need longer note pads than everyone else. Most Uplifting Lawyer Trend, courtesy of John C. Shepherd, president, American Bar Association:
More than 77,000 attorneys nationwide are now supplementing publicly funded legal services for the poor by volunteering their time to their communities.
The number of bar-supported pro bono programs has grown from fewer than 50 to more than 400 in the past five years. Best Lawyer Fact, courtesy of Rachel Adler, sales representative from Graland Distributors Inc. of Baton Rouge, La.:
"Lawyers tend to like all-leather rather than vinyl or Naugahyde, and 90 percent ask whether it is leather or vinyl."
Adler said the most popular item among lawyers was the expanding leather attache' case that, with the snap of a button, grows five inches in width and depth. She noted that lawyers have questioned her not only about the case's exterior, but its interior as well.
"They're careful buyers. They're not impulsive buyers," she said.
Eighty-five percent have paid extra for the monogram option on their attache's, Adler reported. When it came to generalizing about their profession, the always-precise attorneys took the Fifth. Not one would answer what foods lawyers are most likely to eat, or what lawyers like to do in their free time.
"They're all wearing ties and wishing they weren't," offered Wayne A. Schrader of Washington, venturing into the danger zone.
"I guess we're just ordinary people," expounded Stephen Manz of Kansas City.
"It's a diverse group of people," said Robert Dean Johnson of St. Paul, not quite breathlessly.
Many lawyers said, however, that they do have a sense of humor.
Based on their responses, it's questionable whether that contention would stand up in court. Lawyers Discuss Why They Think They're Not Very Popular:
Neil T. Sayne of Mineola, N.Y., said a Supreme Court decision that allows lawyers to directly contact people involved in accidents, as in the Bhopal tragedy, has hurt the profession.
"It looks horrendous," he said.
San Diego attorney Dewett Higgs cited hourly fees. "I sometimes hear lawyers compared to Grumman Aircraft's $600 ashtrays for the Navy. Some official said, 'We put a lot of hours into making them.'
"Sometimes we charge to the hour without regard to the worth of our services," Higgs concluded.
"It's probably because lawyers are perceived as being in control of society, and so people who are upset with society blame lawyers," said Wesley Dean Wornom of Washington. The Convention Member Most Likely to Succeed:
Davina Tate, 11, of Columbus, Ohio, whose father is a divorce lawyer.
Asked if she also wants to be an attorney, Tate responded, "No, you have to go through too much school."
She wants to be a doctor instead.