Barely Legally

Confessions of a Moot Court Bailiff

My Favorite Mnemonic (Yet)

My sixth and final semester of law school a distant memory, my eight-subjects-in-four-hours exam a fleeting nightmare, my commencement ceremony come and gone, I return to my adopted homeland: the internet. Oh, how I missed you.

Most everyone is aware that a legal education does not, of itself, permit a person to practice law. (You’re probably not aware that New York was among a number of states that allowed lawyers holding J.D.s to title themselves “Doctor,” which I find hilarious, as there is an actual doctorate degree in the legal field, called the S.J.D. But I digress.) It varies by state, but folks with a J.D. in New York are merely qualified to take the dreaded Bar Exam, a two day test of nearly thirty subjects all at once. Being tested on one subject in law school is bad enough, I can assure you.

Of course, the law school model of education doesn’t really encourage long-term retention of much of these thirty subjects, and none of us have studied all thirty in school, anyway. That’s where Bar Review classes come in: supplementary private education that’s the de facto way for almost-lawyers to become barely-lawyers. I’ve been in that for the last couple of days, learning about the driest bits of civil procedure law New York has to offer, and there I shall remain until early July, when I’m sent off to study on my own for the two-day Exampocalypse in the last week of July.

Today in my class, we covered the Statute of Limitations. The name itself is about as helpful as a sign in the middle lane of the highway reading “Beware of Signpost.” Statutes usually involve all kind of limitations: they limit what the government can do, they limit what you can do, they limit what other people can do to you, and so on. The name needs some creative imagineering; some zing, zork, or kapowza.

Decades-old Simpsons references aside, the specific limitation in this specific statute is a blanket prohibition on your ability to sue or be sued — there’s a time limit on how long you can wait before commencing a lawsuit. Conversely, if you do something bad and you don’t get sued in X number of years, you’re immune to that lawsuit for the rest of your life. This sounds straightforward, until the professor explains that there are different time limits for different kind of lawsuits before the SoL will leave you SOL. (Do not LOL. Puns should never be encouraged.)

By way of some horrifically oversimplified examples, if someone takes up residence on your land, you have ten years to kick them out, after which you lose your right to sue them for trespass, and now the trespasser can actually take legal ownership of that bit of land. Do try to visit your beach houses at least once a decade, old bean. Similarly, if you borrow money from someone, and you never agree (or mention) a time to pay your generous friend back, after six years, the lender will lose the legal right to sue you for their money back.

These seem hilariously backwards. Rights shouldn’t just disappear, right? If someone’s wronged you, your ability to sue should be able to wait until you can afford top notch lawyers, or until you realize how much it’s going to cost to actually buy all those beach houses upon which trespassers will encamp. Well, if you think about all the people you’ve ever wronged, you don’t want to be sitting at home with the grandkids in sixty years when armed robo-cops kick down your door and tell you that you’re being sued for saying something mean to someone in high school. ((Even if that guy Blake totally deserved it.)) It’d suck to keep having to look over your shoulder for the rest of your life.

Also, in Ye Ancient Times, apparently the internet took forever to look up records for things like loans, and peoples’ lifespans were like fifty years shorter, so ten years was actually approximately eight or nine generations of humans. Back then, when people died or moved or died of Polio or something, there were no good witnesses to loans and rightful owners; it was just case of he-said/ye-said (what did I tell you about encouraging the reckless commission of puns?) that wasted the court’s time. And since the judge was decrepit at the age of twenty-six back then, he was like two weeks away from retiring and in no mood to have his time wasted. The solution? The Statute of Limitations, the “you snooze you lose” law. As we all know, the strongest laws are the ones that rhyme. ((See Banana v. Fanana-fo-fanna-fe-fi-fo-fanna.))

Now, not all laws date back to the prehistoric days of yore; some were passed in the prehistoric 1980’s. I’m downright awful at remembering silly little things like “when did this law come into effect oh god I’m going to fail this stupid class and I’ll never get a date to law prom now.” However, today in class, we discussed the SoL time limit for suing for child support: it’s now 20 years, but it used to be 6 years. The law changing the SoL from 6 years to 20 years took effect on August 7, 1987. Where do I know that date from? Why, it’s the birthday of Sidney Crosby, the most hated man in US Olympic hockey! He wears number 87, and signed a contract for $8.7 million a year, because his birthday is 8/7/87. He scored the gold medal goal in overtime, and now I have this horrible Gollum/Bilbo thing going on with him. Except for that part where I try to kill his nephew and his gardener while they try to save the world. (Spoiler Alert!)

I’ll remember the significance of the date, because Crosby’s nickname is “Sid the Kid” — the mnemonic refers to child support payments, which take significantly longer to expire since Sid the Kid was born. Easy as pie. My resentment towards Crosby finally pays off in a constructive way!