In Which the Artisanal Lawyer Dismisses Google

Image of legal memorandumYou have inquired as to why I billed 4.6 hours on the Cleburne file for “research on the issue of the population of Papua New Guinea.” It is an excellent question. This memorandum attempts to set out a full explanation of the time I spent conducting this research which, as you and Mrs. Cleburne and several senior partners in the firm now know, resulted in an answer of 6,431,902. That is, there are 6,431,902 Papua New Guineans in the world, as of July 2013.1

As you recall, you and I and two other associates attended a luncheon with Mrs. Cleburne on October 15, 2013, during which time we discussed various political and social events, as well as, somewhat peripherally, Mrs. Cleburne’s pending legal matters. During our conversation, the country of Papua New Guinea came up. I believe it arose with respect to Mrs. Cleburne’s late husband’s journey to Papua New Guinea in 1999, from which developed several legal issues. There was some discussion among you and others about how big that country was, at least in population, not so much geographically. At one point, after the two associates had claimed to know nothing of the country, you turned to me and asked, “why don’t you locate that information for Mrs. Cleburne.”

I responded that I would do my best. In retrospect, while I do believe I did my best to find the answer for you and for Mrs. Cleburne, I perhaps should have disclosed a few pertinent things about my legal research methods and ideology.

As you may or may not be aware, beginning June 2, 2013, I gave up using the online search service commonly known as Google. My reasons are primarily personal, as I believe this particular mainstream search service has become a daily irritant, if not an international nuisance. I hesitate to go into further detail as to what amounts to irrelevant personal beliefs, but I felt then—and feel strongly to this day—that answers to seemingly trivial questions are often too readily available in our day-to-day interactions with each other and the world. In other words, modern tools like Google remove the mysterious wonders of the world, emasculate the pure joy of difficult personal discovery, and destroy what was previously an honorable response of “I actually don’t know.” But I digress.

As to the question. How many people live in Papua New Guinea and why did it take me 4.6 hours to find this information? Let me explain.

Typically, when I receive a question such as this one, I internally inquire as to whom I may know to know the answer. My question generally is stated thus: “Who do I know who may know the answer?” Suffice it to say, I know many intelligent and well-connected people, including professors, physicians, and other like-minded professionals, including a few cobblers, sawyers, coopers, and silversmiths. Seemingly trivial but difficult questions are often dispatched quickly by calling on said persons and presenting them with the information and a request for an answer. In doing so, I always insist—as they do for any reciprocal inquiries they make to me—that they refrain from using the online search service commonly known as Google.

For instance, I am on good terms with a research librarian at one of the local branches of the New York Public Library. I have called on this librarian often, and she has expeditiously assisted me in finding answers to various legal and pseudo-legal questions. Of course, to accommodate my particular research requests, if she does not know the answer offhand she completes her research using materials or other reference matter that is physically available; i.e., located on shelves in a building. This is true with any other requests—-the person to whom I present my question must know the answer personally or use traditional methods to find it. I believe—and I hope you do too—that it is the least we can do to maintain a necessary connection to our legal heritage.

On this particular day—the day of Mrs. Cleburne’s Papua New Guinea question—we were away from the office and eating lunch at a local establishment. I obviously did not have access to my office telephone, even if I were to choose to use such a means of communication. And while it would be a relatively short walk to return to the office, I felt that I could discover an answer to the question more quickly and easily, so long as I located an available pay phone.

Let me back up a bit, to approximately May 4, 2008. I call to your attention that, on that day, in order to adopt a more authentic law practice—as is the fashion today in parts of New York and in rural areas of California and Manitoba—I relinquished the use of a mobile phone and most privately-held telephones in general. This again derives from deep personal devotion to my craft. I also believe a law practice that adopts an artisanal approach will become a profitable niche area in the very near future. I expect, in fact, that my approach to the law should pay off handsomely for the firm in three to five years, provided that I am allowed to continue on this fascinating and rewarding journey.

Again, I digress. As you fully know, in order to contact someone by telephone, you often utilize a telephone. I did not see a readily available public pay telephone in our dining establishment on this particular day, and since I’m loathe to borrow another’s mobile phone for personal reasons I’ve already disclosed, I excused myself from our lunch so as to begin my research.

Again, I did not expect the research would take long, particularly the 4.6 hours I ultimately billed to Mrs. Cleburne’s file. In fact, I had in mind to call on the librarian I earlier mentioned or, failing to find her, to contact a professor of art history at New York University. I jotted down the Papua New Guinea question in my notebook and walked outside to locate a public pay phone. Seeing none, I began walking west in the general direction of the aforementioned branch library, all the while searching for a pay phone. Though in retrospect I admit the unlikelihood of it happening, I also held out hope of finding a person on the streets of New York who hailed from Papua New Guinea or who was at least an expert on that country’s demographic affairs.

I don’t know if you know this, but publicly available pay phones in New York are increasingly difficult to find. It is, in fact, something that I independently researched last year. Since 2007, the number of pay phones in operation in the United States has declined by 48 percent, a statistic that holds true in New York. Indeed, in New York City, the number of pay phones has dropped from 21,824 in 2008, to 11,249, as of January 2013.2

Accordingly, after walking four or five blocks and asking people along the way if they knew of a pay phone or knew of a demographer from Papua New Guinea, I temporarily gave up locating a pay phone from which to call the librarian or the art history professor. I instead hailed a taxi and asked to be taken to the embassy of Papua New Guinea, where I could quickly and easily locate what I rather proudly considered a primary source for the answer to Mrs. Cleburne’s question.

Little did I know at the time that Papua New Guinea does not maintain an embassy or even a consulate in New York, something I am sure that you and others have verified through your own independent research channels. Luckily, the taxi driver disabused me of my own misunderstanding and redirected me to the United Nations, where I was told Papua New Guinea maintained an office.

Funny thing, though, if I may use such an idiom in a formal legal memorandum. While one would assume that every country in the world maintains an office at the headquarters of the United Nations, the truth is that the UN’s various offices are scattered across a complex of buildings within a four or five square block area. While I should probably have known this as a native New Yorker, I had the misfortune of learning it from one of the main building’s security guards, who directed me to the “Permanent Mission of Papua New Guinea to the United Nations,” an office several blocks away. Though I do not believe he was a reliable source, I also asked if he knew the current population of Papua New Guinea. He told me I should look it up on Google, which I took as a no.

I made my way to the Permanent Mission of Papua New Guinea near the corner of 2nd Avenue and 42nd Street. Unfortunately, I could not gain access to the office at the time and, despite asking questions of those in adjacent suites, including some very kind and helpful people associated with Tanzania and the Lesser Antilles, they could not inform me of the current population of their office suite neighbors, other than they believed “four or five people worked there.” As I walked away from the office building, though, I noticed a pay phone that I had overlooked earlier and, with a pocketful of quarters that lawyers like myself often carry, I began making telephone calls.

My contact at the library, however, was on vacation. I deposited another 25 cents and called the previously mentioned New York University art history professor, who was in class and unavailable. I called a political scientist at CUNY, who was also similarly unavailable. Feeling slightly desperate, I called a previous contact at New York’s City Hall but ended up on hold for so long that my quarter’s worth of time ran out. I then called a friend in Brooklyn who was a fly-fishing outfitter, and he directed me to a professor he knew at Berkeley who was an Africanist literary critic.

Feeling this was close enough, I called her collect and was able to connect with her, despite the toll charges. She informed me that, while Guinea was a West African country, Papua New Guinea was in fact several miles off the coast of Queensland, Australia, something I rather embarrassingly admit I had not yet realized. But she was kind enough to transfer me (at Berkeley’s cost, I might add) to a specialist in the affairs of the Indo-Australian archipelago. Remarkably, this person answered the phone and, after introducing myself and my purpose, he retrieved the latest edition of the CIA’s World Factbook from his shelf, from which he informed me that the estimated population of Papua New Guinea was 6,431,902 in July 2013.

I fully understand that you may question my methods, particularly 1) my initial optimism of meeting a Papua New Guinean on the streets of New York or 2) how any of the initial people I contacted would know the relative current population of Papua New Guinea. Please understand that, no less than twenty five years ago, my approach would have been an accepted and honorable way to find information that was not otherwise readily available, at least without visiting the library or calling on knowledgeable acquaintances. I should hope that this honor extends to the modern day.

Certainly, I do not—and I use this solely as an example—expect a New York art history professor specializing in Cubist art to know definitively the population of Papua New Guinea, or at least accurately the population since 2010. But I do know that he knows people who may also know further people who know others who may know the answer. Luckily for all of us and for Mrs. Cleburne, my friend the Williamsburg fly-fishing outfitter knew of an expert in African literature, who knew someone with knowledge of Pacific island nations, who also happened to have a CIA World Factbook on his shelf.

Thus, at the end of my research, I provided you with a memo containing the answer of 6,431,902, billing 4.6 hours for my work in finding it. I trust that my answer and my explanation meets with your approval.3 If I can be of any further help, whether for you or for Mrs. Cleburne, please do not hesitate to request my assistance.

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