September 2015 Bar Bulletin
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September 2015 Bar Bulletin

Case Setting (in the Olden Days)


One of the engaging aspects of the professional life of a young lawyer when I started practice in Seattle fifty years ago was the rite known as "Case Setting". While I think most of us remember it primarily as a social, and sociable, occasion, I know it was work too. Probably nowadays it would result in billable hours, but in those days if you had asked someone about his or her "billable hours", you would have been faced with a blank stare and perhaps, as in the story of the two psychiatrists, with the unspoken "I wonder what he meant by that".

Let me set the stage for you. In 1940 there were 15 judges in the Superior Court for King County. There were about 1,000 lawyers in the county, most of them in Seattle. A "big law firm" had maybe 12 lawyers in it, and there were only two or three such firms. That which is now the King County Court House was the "County-City Building" and, in addition to the court rooms and the jail, it housed most of the officers and employees of King County and of the City of Seattle. The two Federal judges, Bowen and Black, were housed in the old stone Post Office building at Third and Union.

Most Seattle lawyers and law firms had their offices "downtown" in buildings such as the Hoge, the Colman, the Smith Tower, the Exchange and the Central. There were a few "way uptown" in the White-Henry-Stuart Building and the Securities Building. A young lawyer soon learned where every firm office was, and offices weren't moved the way they are now. Indeed, there was a 30-year period, 1929-1959, when no new office buildings were built in Seattle. Our firm, McMicken, Rupp & Schweppe, was in the Colman Building for 70 years, 1904-1974.

In addition to its quarterly dinner meetings, the Seattle Bar Association had weekly luncheon meetings, and most meetings were quite well attended, by judges as well as by lawyers. If you had a paper to be served on another lawyer and then filed with the Clerk, you usually did it yourself. You might know every third person you'd see on Third Avenue.

I give you all this quaint detail about the olden times to enable you to understand that we all knew one another quite well.

About the only thing that hasn't changed much is the location and size of the Presiding Judge's court room on the ninth floor of the "County-City Building". And it was there that Case Setting was done.

About every three weeks during most of the year the Presiding Judge would sit to set cases for trial, and anyone with a case on the list of those ready for trial would be there or be represented. For quite a long time, as it seemed to me, Case Setting took place on Saturday morning. "Saturday?" you ask, with an incredulous lift of eyebrows. Why sure. Why not? Law offices were open and at work at least until noon. Later on, and I don't recall when, the time was changed to Friday afternoon. But Saturday was a good day because normally the trial courts were in recess, and the morning was clear for such as ex parte matters and Case Setting.

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