Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 48

LAST WORD

Editors' Note: To honor the memory of Jacob Stein,
Washington Lawyer is reprinting some of Stein's "Legal
Spectator" columns, which appeared on this page for
nearly 25 years.

LEGAL SPECTATOR
By Jake Stein

E=PROCRASTINATION=MC
T

his day and age we're living in gives cause for apprehension, with speed
and new invention and things like third dimension. Yet we get a trifle
weary of Mr. Einstein's theory, so we must get down to earth at times,
relieve the tension.
Do those words sound familiar? They are the words to the song "As Time Goes By"
(You must remember this / A kiss is still a kiss), the wistful 1930s tune revived in the
1940s movie Casablanca with Bogie and Ingrid.
The words came to mind as I watched the National Public Television program
about Albert Einstein and the 100th anniversary of E=mc2. I had hoped that, once
and for all, I would get an understandable explanation of E=mc2. I knew that "E"
means energy, "m" means mass, and "c" means the speed of light. Beyond that
I knew nothing more.
Within the first hour of watching the program I became uneasy. There were the
details of Einstein's private life, a life with the same contradictions and mistakes
that we all have, but no understandable explanation of E=mc2. I also heard
repeated in a defiant way that nothing can be faster than the speed of light,
but nobody explained why. So I got a little weary of Mr. Einstein's theory and
I switched channels to the White Sox-Angels playoffs.
The next day I spoke with a physicist friend and asked if he watched the program.
He said he watched for a half-hour, and when Einstein did not get a base hit, he
turned back to the White Sox. I was not to be put off. I asked him why it is that
nothing can be faster than light.
Here is his explanation, which I pass on to you. Assume I have a speed machine
that can, in fact, go faster than the speed of light. I get on board and speed back
along the light beam that is coming toward me. I go so fast that I go back faster
than light. I go so fast I overtake the events of the past. I see myself in H. D. Cooke
Grammar School. There are now two of us, the grown man and the callow youth,
both together at the same time. Of course, this cannot be done, except in the
movies.
I next asked my friend, what is energy? He said energy is movement. Everything in
the universe is moving. The earth is spinning and moving around the sun, which
is moving around all the other constellations. Stillness is an illusion. Nothing stands
still. I asked how he connects this up with the so-called general theory. He then
took a call on his cell phone.
For a moment I thought I had it. Time and space, and mass and light, and the
movement of light and energy, and the atomic bomb that explodes with the
speed of light squared, and therefore . . . but I lose the thread.
I took a look at Max Beerbohm's essay "A Note on the Einstein Theory." The incomparable Max included in his essay an account by a friend of Einstein's. This friend said

48 WASHINGTON LAWYER

*

OCTOBER 2019

2

Einstein was a very human person. He liked to play the fiddle. He liked to smoke a
pipe and daydream. He was not a man in a hurry about things. Folded into the
pages of Beerbohm's essay was a faded newspaper clipping reporting that Einstein
liked to put things off. He was a procrastinator. Once I read that, I felt I knew the
man. Was the discovery of E=mc2 Einstein's way of avoiding the things he should
have done? That would be an interesting discovery. I would have liked to crossexamine him on that point. He might be a genius in quantum physics, time, light,
and gravity, but no match for me concerning procrastination. I would force him to
concede that anyone can do any amount of work provided it's not work he is
supposed to do. My credentials for this assignment are the best. I learned the art of
procrastination in the best school there is - practicing law. There is no better place.
Lawyers do it. Judges do it. Even law professors up at Yale do it.
The best lawyers I have known are the best at contriving ways to delay making a
decision. Experience has taught them not to be in a rush to do anything that can
be put off.
One of the causes of procrastination is the deadline. There are hundreds of deadlines hidden in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Federal Rules of Evidence,
the local rules, the chambers rules, the appellate rules, the administrative rules, and
the annotations to the rules. The fact that something must be done by a specified
date does get things done, but it often works against getting things done. The
point was made by Leonard Woolf describing his friend Desmond McCarthy:
[He] told me then that he really suffered from a disease: The moment he
knew that he ought to do something, no matter what that something was,
he felt absolutely unable to do it and would do anything else in order to
prevent himself from doing it. It did not matter what "it" might be; it might
be something which he actually wanted to do, but if it was also something
which he knew he ought to do, he would find himself doing something
which he did not want to do in order to prevent himself doing something
which he ought to do and wanted to do.
We learn to delay things, hoping they will work themselves out. What a pleasure it
is to have your adversary call and ask you to consent to a continuance, a continuance you desperately needed. Delay cools tempers and opens up additional
reasons for delay.
Let me close with some advice. When you realize you are getting caught in a
procrastination mental block, you must immediately turn the assignment over to
someone else. The person you give the assignment to will do it right away. He has
his own mental blocks, and he will welcome an assignment that distracts him
from what he should be doing, which for some reason he cannot do. Give me a
call and we will work a trade.
This column first appeared in the January 2006 issue of Washington Lawyer.



Washington Lawyer - October 2019

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Washington Lawyer - October 2019

Digital Extras
Your Voice
From Our President
Practice Management
Calendar of Events
Coding Out Implicit Bias With Ai
Rewriting the Rules on Data Privacy
Compromised Devices: Hardware Hacking Dangers
Taking the Stand
Member Spotlight
Global & Domestic Outlook
Worth Reading
Media Bytes
Attorney Briefs
Ask the Ethics Experts
Disciplinary Summaries
The Pro Bono Effect
Community & Connections
Last Word
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - Cover1
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - Cover2
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 1
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 2
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 3
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - Digital Extras
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - Your Voice
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - From Our President
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 7
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - Practice Management
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 9
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - Calendar of Events
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 11
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - Coding Out Implicit Bias With Ai
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 13
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 14
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 15
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 16
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 17
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - Rewriting the Rules on Data Privacy
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 19
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 20
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 21
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 22
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 23
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - Compromised Devices: Hardware Hacking Dangers
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 25
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 26
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 27
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - Taking the Stand
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 29
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - Member Spotlight
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 31
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 32
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 33
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - Global & Domestic Outlook
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 35
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - Worth Reading
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 37
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - Media Bytes
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - Attorney Briefs
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - Ask the Ethics Experts
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 41
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - Disciplinary Summaries
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 43
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - The Pro Bono Effect
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 45
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - Community & Connections
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - 47
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - Last Word
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - Cover3
Washington Lawyer - October 2019 - Cover4
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