I can’t help it, but when I follow a car with a bumper sticker that states: "My kid is an honor student at Grover Elementary School," I am tempted to rear-end it. Can you imagine marketing your kid? And this takes me to my last month’s column.
We explored the corrosive effects of the "Top 100 Lawyers." We could include the "Top 100 Anybody." These exclusive clubs, which often are undisguised marketing devices, do not produce salubrious consequences for numbers 101, 102 and those after, continuing to infinity. Gnashing one’s teeth is not healthy. Why am I writing about something we have already explored? Bear with me and you will understand. I had posed an inquiry: "Top according to whom?" If I had said "according to who?" doubtless I would not be considered for inclusion in the list of the "Top 100 Grammarians."
Besides not knowing who makes the selection, another troubling aspect of these lists is that it is just as hard on those in the "top" as those not in the top, and maybe even more so. The Daily Journal list of the Top 100 Lawyers is not forever. It is a yearly undertaking. Assume you are selected. The year of self-satisfaction, exhilaration, and smugness disappears in an instant when the next year’s list is published sans that one important name yours. This demoralizing moment often lives on for years.
So-called friends and colleagues cannot stop themselves from asking in the most innocent manner that scarcely hides their joy, "So why were you not included in the Top 100 this year?" As if you knew. And there is bound to be the superfluous declaration that sneers, no matter the tone in which it is voiced, "So looks like you didn’t make the top this year," or the niggling, "So you were kicked out of the top this year."
This does not happen with other honors. Win an award, and most times, everyone knows it is a one-time affair. That Madame Curie, Linus Pauling, John Bardeen and Frederick Sanger were awarded the Nobel Prize twice is hardly a put-down for those who won the award only once. Many have won an Academy Award more than once. It is not a source of embarrassment for those who have not. Even the obnoxious bumper sticker I mentioned earlier is not as bad as being in the Top 100. Putting aside the boastful advertisement, "My kid is an honor student," and the implied message, "Your kid isn’t," to most people, the kid is anonymous. And if the kid doesn’t make the honor roll one year, the braggart parent will likely not peel off the sticker and no one will know the difference. I still see "Al Gore for President" stickers on old cars.
In addition to not knowing who picks the Top 100, my frustration also stems from not knowing what standards are used to make the selection. I have heard that the criteria used to determine the Daily Journal Top 100 Lawyers are written in Enigma code. Advanced Enigma-decryption techniques were unsuccessful in breaking the code.
After publication of my last column in October, I was heartened by the numerous sympathetic e-mails I received, including many who had been included in the Top 100 Lawyers and some who had been listed in some organization’s list of the Top 100 Judges. They all swore to me under penalty of perjury they had not a clue how they got there. That helped me cope with and get over the "Top 100" phenomena.
But no sooner had I recovered, when in mid-October, I received the Daily Journal supplement featuring the "Top 100 Neutrals." I must register objections on more than one ground. First, the term "neutral" calls to mind surgical procedures veterinarians perform on cats and dogs. Yes, I understand that "neutral" means free of bias or interest. From this do we conclude that those "neutrals" who are not in the Top 100 are biased in some manner?
You might question why I should be so greatly perturbed over these Top 100 phenomena. To be frank, I feel it breathing down my neck. You don’t think that being on and off the Top 100 Judges list hasn’t taken its toll? And what if I retire and become a…a…I can barely bring myself to say it… a…neutral?
To make matters worse, about a week after the Daily Journal published its list of neutrals, another event occurred that brought even greater pressure to bear on the Top 100 phenomena. On Oct. 31, the world’s population reached 7 billion. This means being in the Top 100 is even more difficult to achieve than ever before. When the world population was a measly few hundred million, being in the Top 100 was not as big a deal. More of us had a chance. Now it is even harder to be in the Top 100, and harder to stay there. With 7 billion people in the world, the odds of my being a Top 100 neutral are not promising.
This means if I ever retire, and I have no plans to do so in the near future, I may have to forego becoming a neutral. People will think I am biased if I don‘t make the Top 100.
I may have to look for other work. I would like the work in some way to relate to the law. I read in The New York Times about a guy who New York detectives call whenever they need "fill-ins" for line-ups. The money is not all that good, but it would be something different, sort of like being an extra in a movie. It’s not hard work, it relates to what I do, and I wouldn’t have to memorize lines unless maybe say something like, "Give me all your cash," or "Don’t nobody move."
I doubt I will get much work because not all that many people with AARP cards commit violent crimes. But with the bad economy, you can never tell. With my luck, however, I bet I would be fingered as the culprit and wind up doing time for a crime I did not commit. That could get me on a special category for the Top 100 Retired Judges list.