When Santa Claus and Sirens Make You Think Uncharitably About Lawyers

Danny wanted to run when he heard a siren.

A holiday tradition in our Washington, D.C., neighborhood is an evening visit from a fire truck with Santa waving to the kids. It came again last night.

The truck, from our city’s volunteer fire department, features Santa waving while the truck’s red and white lights flash and the siren announces its arrival. Parents hear the siren and bring the kids outside to see Santa.

A few years back our two kids were grown up and gone but we had a golden retriever puppy, Danny, and when I heard Santa coming I took him outside to enjoy the holiday fun. As the truck came by with siren blaring and lights flashing, Danny bolted. It took a half hour to find him and bring him home.

For the rest of his 15-year life whenever we were out walking, at any time of day or night, and he heard a siren, no matter how faint, he’d look like he wanted to run and hide. He never forgot Santa and the siren and flashing lights.

As a longtime editor, a survivor of three expensive lawsuits (one won at a jury trial, two finally settled for nuisance money), I always reacted pretty much like Danny whenever a letter from a law office arrived or I was told that Mr. X from the so-and-so law firm was on the phone.

Over the years there probably were several thousand innocent letters from lawyers but as I opened the envelope I still got the siren and flashing lights response.

You never forget the lawyers and interrogatories and depositions. And the one trial.
I sent this post to a lawyer friend, suggesting that lawyers put small symbols on the outside of their envelopes, telling the recipient that this is a friendly letter about an event our law firm is hosting or news of five associates becoming partners or something similarly benign. That way the journalist wouldn’t age five days every time a letter arrives from a law firm. A different kind of symbol could warn the editor you’d better be sitting down when you read this.

His response:

But we do!!! If the envelope is labeled “Privileged and Confidential,” then it is from your lawyer, and it is a nice letter. If it is not labeled, then it is from someone else’s lawyer, and then it’s maybe not so nice.



  1. Wrong. When I worry someone won’t open a letter or sign for certified mail, my assistant or I use a simple return-address label — say, labels I received from Smile Train, or XYZ Children’s Hospital — and handwrite the envelope addressee.

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