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Sometimes I wonder how the practice of law in our single federal court system can vary so from one district to the other. My state of confusion, which my partners worry is my perpetual state related to everything, has been exacerbated by the differences I’ve witnessed in the federal district courts in New York City compared to my former stomping ground, the Southern District of Texas. Some of the differences, such as the lack of cowboy boots and giant belt buckles in the courthouse, are explained by different regional sartorial tastes. Others are related to the Texas drawl versus the native New York lingo. Still others, such as the lack of requests for campaign donations, are welcome. Other differences seem almost inexplicable to me. I’ve been acutely aware of them since my recent return to New York City after a hiatus of over a decade, following my graduation from Columbia School of Law. Upon learning that I grew up in Texas and practiced law there for 12 years, New Yorkers frequently ask — along with the seemingly inevitable question “Where do you live?” and the inquiry that the rest of the country might find offensive, “How much do you pay for your apartment?” — “How long have you lived in New York?” When I reply that I relocated to Manhattan from Houston on Sept. 23, 2001, the usual astonished reaction includes bug eyes and an exclamation of some sort like “Wow! That was quite a time to move to New York City.” Quite honestly, I’m not sure that I would have encouraged anyone else to move here that tragic September. But, since I had already agreed to come to my firm’s New York office, since the change of address cards were in the mail, since my great Victorian house had a “for sale” sign on the front lawn, and last but not least, since I had already paid the real estate broker a king’s ransom to find my grand piano and me a suitable Greenwich Village apartment, I felt New York was the place I ought to be. Upon my arrival, New Yorkers seemed genuinely grateful that someone would relocate to their city at a time when many people were contemplating a mass exodus out of the Big Apple. I will admit that, on occasion, I have felt a little like the country cousin on his trip to the big city. A little like the inverse of Eva Gabor in “Green Acres” moving to the country. You know the old saying: You can take the litigator out of Texas, but you can’t take Texas out of the litigator. So, y’all, here are a few observations of New York practice from my Texas eyes. YOU REALLY SAY IT LIKE THAT? A trial lawyer in Texas begins a jury trial with what is called a voir dire. Now, before you think you understand what that is, realize that in Texas that term is pronounced “vore” (rhymes with “Gore” or perhaps more appropriate to a New Yorker’s view of Texas — “whore”), and “dire” (rhymes with “tire” or with the right Texas twang “liar”). It’s difficult to remember that up here, a trial begins with something to do with a dire (pronounced in New York like “deer”) that does not require a hunting license. And, what the heck is “voir” anyway? It sounds like that stuff in a fancy restaurant called fois gras, which is not something that most Texans understand, much less trust. WHY IS A MOTION NEVER ACTUALLY FILED? The motion practice in New York has caused me more than a little consternation and shaking of my head. Here, a notice of motion is filed along with a brief in support, but the motion itself is never actually filed. In Texas, a motion to dismiss or a motion for summary judgment is filed along with a brief in support of the motion. I’m still scratching my head to understand how the motion is considered and even ruled on when it’s never actually given to the judge. I keep asking what the explanation for this practice is, but I simply get blank stares in return. Perhaps, in time, I too shall unravel this mystery — although the blank stares in response to my questions are likely to continue. WHO LET THE TEXAN BECOME LICENSED HERE? One of the most exciting times during the year and three months since being back in New York (this may say something really unfortunate about my social life) was the day I finally became licensed to practice law in New York state and the federal courts in New York City. Although both the New York and Texas statutes indicate that each state will allow the other’s lawyers to become licensed without taking the bar exam, New York does not have direct reciprocity with Texas. As a sympathetic New York partner of mine was speaking to the correct person in the hierarchy of licensing about this seeming anomaly and about how I should not have to take the bar exam, the person in the hierarchy proposed that I waive into the District of Columbia bar from Texas and then waive into the New York bar. Apparently, the one day that I was a member of the D.C. Bar before I became a member of the New York bar somehow purified my Texas license to such a degree that I am now a member of the New York bar without having had to take the New York bar exam. It reminds me in many ways of the transitive property rule in geometry, but it has been too many years since I have taken geometry for me to describe exactly how or why that rule sticks in my head. These little idiosyncrasies have caused me to question things that are done exactly alike in both New York and Texas. The first case that I tried in the Southern District of New York seemed pretty much the same as any other trial in any other jurisdiction. But, when it came time for me to ask the judge to have the fact witnesses excluded from the courtroom — a process that is known as “invoking the rule” — I was not certain what to say to the judge. I have always thought it seemed a little colloquial to stand and “invoke the rule” in order to exclude witnesses from the courtroom and I was certain that in New York a more sophisticated statement would need to be made. Fortunately, as I stood to invoke the rule, the judge asked whether I sought to invoke the rule. When I told him that I did, indeed, I breathed a sigh of relief that I had made it past another potential roadblock on my way to being a real New York lawyer. This, added to the fact that I won the case — my first New York victory — really advanced my thinking that I was making my way in the New York legal world. I think I am getting the hang of the practice of law in New York, including when to file an actual motion and how to put my twang to good use. I’ve even figured out how to survive a massive New York power failure, like the one lower Manhattan experienced one steamy weekend this past July. But until I get it all down, I hope that my colleagues in the Bar and bench will continue to be patient with this Texan learning the New York ropes. Mark Robertson is a partner with the New York office of Fulbright & Jaworski LLP.

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