Authors: Magdalen Braden
What he really wanted to do, Dan realized, was tell Jack. They’d been colleagues and competitors, but they’d also been friends after a fashion. Dan considered inviting him to lunch—probably not a conflict of interest as Dan wasn’t defending criminal defendants—and describing the weird “rules” Dan kept encountering at the firm. Jack, who had a low tolerance for bullshit, would find it all amusing.
And Dan could explain about Meghan, how brilliant she was. He smiled at the thought of Jack’s reaction. Until it occurred to him that Jack might cherry-pick Meghan for his own team. Better not talk about Meghan, even if she was the best part of Fergusson so far. The support staff in a private law firm made the federal office look bare-bones, but to find someone as bright as Meghan…well, that was way more than Dan had expected.
Just one fly in the ointment. Dan had found himself responding to Meghan last night in the way a man did when he met a woman he liked beyond the workplace. He’d tried to make her see that he wasn’t with anyone—that was a thorny mess he’d do well to avoid. He wanted to succeed here at Fergusson, make equity partner. He wanted to be settled professionally, with a job title and workload he enjoyed. Getting mixed up with a paralegal was almost certainly against the rules—he’d read something about the firm frowning on intra-office fraternization—and it made him look like a horny asshole.
Luckily, Meghan had set him straight. Somehow Dan had to find the line between admiring her as a lawyer—okay, almost-lawyer—and admiring her as a woman.
He picked up Lady Justice, holding the paperweight in his right hand. Its heft always pleased him. The weight of fairness and justice. Getting what you deserve.
Still, there was something about Meghan. Not spectacular looks, he supposed. Brown hair, no makeup, conservative clothes. And yet…when she started thinking like a lawyer, Meghan was transformed. Dan was reminded of a Wonder Woman comic he’d found in his sister’s bedroom when they were kids. Get Meghan talking about a case and she might as well have clicked on a pair of golden bracelets. It was actually a sort of sexy image: mousy—no, wait, she wasn’t mousy, not with those beautiful huge eyes—paralegal by day turns into smart lawyer at night, righting wrongs and seducing men when it suited her.
Only not her boss.
And he really shouldn’t be disappointed about that.
Meghan was working on the pitch to ProCell when her email icon flashed.
Call with ProCell went well. Got an enthusiastic okay from Lou T. for us to research clever ways to make this case go away, so be sure to log your time. If you have any questions or want to run ideas by me, stop by. I envy you the joys of creative legal thinking, so don’t hoard all that fun for yourself.
And if you do find the magic bullet, I’m going to call you Wonder Woman. Be warned!
I have some preliminary thoughts for a motion to dismiss. In the alternative, get the court to sever ProCell from the other defendants. I want to check the case law before I get your hopes up.
I should warn you, Vic—uh, a certain mid-level associate has been asking questions about what I’m working on. (She caught me in the law library. I don’t have access to Westlaw because, you know, I’m not an attorney.) I mumbled something about you having a quickie
research project for me to complete. I may have rolled my eyes to cover how happy I was in the library.
I had to research Wonder Woman on Wiki. I look nothing like Lynda Carter. You look nothing like Lyle Waggoner. But of course I’m too young to know anything about all that.
Cheeky whippersnapper. Stop sassing decrepit elders like me and get me some great cases that go our way. (Motion to sever? Interesting. I await details breathlessly.)
And I’m working on a way to get “The Associate Formerly Known as Vic—” aka Sycophanta slowly reassigned to other cases, preferably not mine. So don’t think you need to tell her what you’re doing, as I don’t plan for her to be on the team forever.
Just get me some fantastic strategies, like, two hours ago.
Yes, I can see the need to hurry it up, as you might die any minute now from old age.
I am absolutely sure I have no idea who Sycophanta is. None. Whatsoever.
Dan looked up to find Meghan knocking on his door a few minutes after two. She had a pad and some papers with her. He waved her in. She didn’t look dejected, so that was a good sign.
“Do we have time to talk about ProCell before you call Lou?” she asked.
He looked back at the screen where he’d been busy deleting useless emails. “Tell me, is there ever an end to these things? I mean, the daily conflicts check—that’s important, I grant you. But these?” He read off one of the subject lines. “‘Lawyer recommendation wanted for routine slip-and-fall in Abilene, Texas.’ I mean, sure, someone at this firm might know a name in Abilene, but not me.”
She smiled. “Ah, but they don’t know that. Could be your cousin Bobby Joe Howard is Abilene’s finest legal mind. If you don’t get that precise email, Bobby Joe doesn’t get the referral, and then aren’t you sorry at the next family reunion?”
“My family comes from Maine.” He made a show of scowling at her.
“Fine. So when the email finally comes that is looking for a wicked good lahyer in Falmouth, you’ll be glad you were there to pass the referral on to cousin Robert Joseph Howard IV, Esquire.”
“Oh, all right,” he relented. He clicked the screen off. “I’ll delete them later when I can grumble about it in peace.”
She settled in her chair and consulted her notes. “None of the plaintiffs own or owned a ProCell phone. Plaintiffs’ counsel has alleged a class that includes purchasers or owners of our phones, though, so they can just add a plaintiff who did own a ProCell phone.”
“Right. That’s no defense,” he said, fiddling with one of his toys.
“More interesting is that the lawsuit doesn’t allege specifically that ProCell’s technology created the same problem as with the other manufacturers’ products. So I went back to the actual FCC reports. The Feds used a generic category to indicate the short message service technologies used in the determination of the maximum size of a text message.”
“Wait. Slow down. Assume I know nothing about cell phones. Because, bluntly, I know nothing about cell phones.” He grinned at her expression of disbelief.
“Say you send a text message that’s super short. You’re charged for one text message and the recipient is charged for one text message. But clearly you could write for hours—well, not you, as we know attention spans and short-term memories deteriorate with old age, so you’d fall asleep before the long message was sent—but for a younger user, there needs to be a limit for it to still count as a single text. Without a limit, companies might lose money on longer texts.”
“I’ll have you know I can write, oh, thirty or forty words before I nod off.” He looked as indignant as he could.
She smirked. “Okay, so there’s a limit. Imagine a text just under the maximum limit. The text gets transmitted. The caller sent one text and the recipient got one text, but the caller is charged for sending a single text message while the recipient is charged for receiving two.”
Dan frowned. “What’s the amount the recipient is overcharged?”
“Whatever their plan charged per text. You might notice it if it happened every time—if you were chatting with a buddy and saw on your bill that you were being charged for receiving twice as many texts as your buddy actually sent. But it happened so rarely that virtually no one would check or care.”
She flipped to the next page. Dan smiled at the sight of her hunched over her notes, intent on getting everything sorted out.
“And there’s no evidence that ProCell had this glitch?” he asked.
She checked her notes. “As far as I can tell, all the FCC said was that any company whose phones used that broad class of SMS technology—and ProCell’s did—was responsible for that overbilling. As no one knew what caused the glitch, no one knew to ask the basic question, namely whose phones had that glitch. So the FCC’s fine was predicated on something so general, all cell phone manufacturers were guilty of it.”
Dan nodded. “ProCell paid the fine because otherwise they would have had to prove the Feds used the wrong standard—an expensive case to mount.” He picked up a new toy to fiddle with. “That might be very helpful in distinguishing the cases.”
She pointed to the paper on Dan’s desk. “The plaintiffs’ complaint refers to the same broad technology. The complaint boils down to this: Each defendant manufactured phones that used this technology. That technology has been found to have resulted in overbilling. Our clients texted with your phones, therefore our clients were overcharged.” She stuck her hand out, rubbing her thumb and fingers together. “Pay up, please.”
Dan laughed. “Right, but there’s no allegation there that specifically links our guy’s phones with their plaintiff class’s phone bills.”
Meghan looked smug. “No, there isn’t. I think that’s how to get ProCell dismissed.”
“Go on,” he drawled.
Her idea boiled down to an evidentiary hearing on ProCell’s technology before the main claims in the trial. Dan leaned back in his chair quietly listening and watching her. When she glanced up, he smiled lazily. He was so loving this.
Her head dipped even lower, her hair falling loose around the sides of her face. Was she blushing? Her voice was steady enough. Must be his imagination.
Dan piled some magnetized balls into a wave. “We’ll argue that the issue of ProCell’s technology has to be dealt with before the class can even be certified. Without some showing of causation, ProCell’s SMS technology didn’t cause overbilling.”
He looked up. She was glowing again, just like Wonder Woman.
“Right.” She grinned. “And the best-case scenario is that they can’t show our technology does that. We’re gone, out of the case. Worst-case scenario, I think, is the court certifies a separate class specific to ProCell technology.”
“But first…” He waited until she looked up. “Road trip.”
She looked confused. “Road trip?”
“To Boston. To ProCell’s offices. Assuming Lou wants to consider us as counsel in this case, we need a lot more information about the technology. Hey, maybe ProCell knows more about this than Lou realizes. We need to get up there to find out.”
“You and Sycophan—I mean, Ms. Womack—?”
Dan shook his head, sad to see Meghan so certain she wasn’t going to be allowed to participate. “No, silly. You and me. I told you that Ms. Womack, as you call her, is uh, better utilized on other cases. Anyone else’s other cases, to be specific. And don’t even bother trotting out the names of the other associates. They don’t know nearly as much as you do about this case.” He cocked his head, challenging her. “C’mon. It’ll be fun.”
Meghan’s eyes got huge. She blinked twice, then shrugged. “Okay.”
He swiveled to the phone, where he’d already put Lou’s number on speed-dial. He clicked the speaker button so Meghan could listen in.
“Lou, hey, it’s Dan Howard at Fergusson and Leith. Now a good time?”
“Great. What’ve you got?”
“I’ve got you on speakerphone, Lou. Meghan Mattson is here with me. She’s been looking at our strategic options in this case.”
“Excellent,” Lou said heartily. “Hi, Meghan.”
Dan tried to keep his face quite solemn as he watched Meghan squirm a little. “Uh, good afternoon, sir.” She looked at Dan helplessly. He decided to rescue her.
“Okay, so Lou, we think we have found some weaknesses in the plaintiffs’ case.”
Dan summarized the various approaches Meghan had thought up.
“Here’s the thing, Lou. We need a lot more information from your technical guys. Can you set that up for next week?”
“Sure, I think so,” Lou said. “Send me a list of what you need and who you think you need it from and we’ll get that together for you. Do you have a specific day in mind?”
“Meghan?” Dan asked her.
“What?” She glared at him.
“What days next week work well for you?” If looks could kill, she’d have to climb over his lifeless body to end the call. He ignored her. He was having too much fun to stop now.
She gathered her thoughts. “Any of them, actually. I’m sure I can accommodate your schedule, and Mr. Trioli’s of course.”
“Hey, call me Lou.”
“Thank you, I will,” she told the phone, not looking at Dan.
“Well, I have nothing on for next week that can’t be rescheduled, so Lou, you tell us when we should come up there. I’m thinking we’ll need two days or perhaps more, a conference room, and if you can get someone up there to work out a schedule for us, that would be great.”