The Rolling Stop and Other Legal Oxymorons
When I was in my early teens, my older brother introduced me to the driving technique known as the “rolling stop.”
Like much of what he told me, this particular bit of advice struck me as questionable from the start.
As he explained it, a rolling stop was a tricky maneuver that should only be attempted by skilled, experienced drivers like himself. And only then in certain situations. It involved slowing down for a stop sign but never actually coming to a complete halt before proceeding through it. It was appropriate only when you had a clear view in all directions on your approach.
Oh yeah, he said, and you should never, ever attempt a rolling stop through a red light. Why not, I asked? Because that’s called running a red light, he said, shaking his head at my ignorance.
I loved my brother. He was smart and funny and knew many things I didn’t.
But he could not be fully trusted. There had been times – like when he assured me Feen-a-mint was regular gum and when he dared me to go up onto the Tedder’s porch and ring the doorbell – when he had led me astray.
And so when I asked our father if rolling stops were good or bad, I was not surprised when he replied they were good if you wanted to go to jail.
The Return of the Rolling Stop
Fast forward twenty years. I was a young lawyer practicing in the cramped attic of a 250-year-old building on Broad Street in Charleston, SC.
One of my very first clients had gotten a traffic citation for Failure to Yield at an intersection. I asked, was the light red? Yes. Did you stop? Yes, I came to a rolling stop.
My eyes lit up in delight. The rolling stop had re-entered my life!
Res Ipsa Contradictio
An oxymoron is a figure of speech that juxtaposes two seemingly contradictory elements. Examples: deafening silence, dry drunk, forward retreat, irregular pattern, quiet riot, known unknowns, a little pregnant, live recording.
Shakespeare loved oxymorons (sweet sorrow, piercing darkness). So did Simon and Garfunkel (“The Sound of Silence”).
Here are some legal oxymorons:
- Working vacation. This is when you take your laptop along on a leisure trip. The result: you wind up neither working nor vacationing.
- No harm, no foul. This is when you attempt to justify doing something wrong (i.e., taking money from your client trust account for personal use) by claiming nobody got hurt (I repaid it in full!). The result: you will get disbarred.
- Billable hour. This is when you try and place a dollar value on a concept that is by definition fluid, abstract and relative. The result: nobody is happy.
- Amicable divorce. This is when both spouses are equally miserable. The result: they wind up blaming you.
- Legally drunk. This is when your client swears they only had two beers. The result: a DWI conviction.
- Reasonable attorney’s fee. This is what you charge your clients. The result: some pay willingly, some refuse to pay, others report you to the State Bar.
How wondrous the law is! What fine messes we create for ourselves! How oxymoronic life can be!
Jay Reeves a/k/a The Risk Man is an attorney who has practiced North Carolina and South Carolina. Formerly he was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.