Anger: I Haven't Missed It At All

My wife and I have taken the better part of July off this year. The plan was to take the entire month, but the feds got interested in a client of mine. I interrupted the vacation for several days to try to talk them out of an indictment. I still don't know whether I succeeded, but I suspect not. So as I write this, I expect to have one more week off, unless I need to spend another day or so locked up with federal agents and prosecutors. Then it is back to the law.

Today I found myself thinking that I do not want to go back. There is too much anger in it to suit me. I've not missed the fear, the rage, the anger of people undone by their situation in the world. For the past three weeks, I've simply let go of anger. It feels good. I am cleansed, refreshed, and lighter on my feet. Or so it seems.

Aristotle wrote of anger that it is difficult to be angry in the right way, to the right degree, at the right things and in the right manner. I wonder whether his concept of moderation sheds light on what Christians mean by sin. Surely, the love of the wrong thing, in this case anger, can warp a soul. How many are the lawyers I've seen sigh, some nearly on the verge of tears, when discussing their clients' rage?

My temper has certainly cost me much. Too often, I've perceived a slight where none was intended and then reacted in anger. I am quick to judge, and quicker still to attack, even if the attack is not justified. Some defect in my character or upbringing made anger a convenient weapon for me. I use it to defend, even when the only thing I need to defend against are the shadows I cast.

The law suits an angry man or woman. One can check concerns about the nature of truth or goodness at the courthouse door and navigate guided solely by a client's conception of his or her interest. The hard work of sitting cheek by jowl with a client and asking whether their desire is reasonable is also optional. Many are the lawyers who simply fight for what their clients want, regardless of whether the client's desires are wise.

I came to the law from other pursuits. I despaired of an academic career in large part due to a failure of nerve. I did not believe there were larger truths worth conveying in the form of teaching. Yet I realized that this realization was itself a larger truth of the very sort I thought impossible. Rather than work my way through this deeper contradiction and commit to principles I found acceptable, I succumbed to something like nihilism. I found the law liberating for the very reason that it did not require me to make epistemological commitments broader than the narrowly conceived interests of my client. The law had mere instrumental value.

That view no longer sustains, and I am once again forced to examine commitments and attitudes that make me uncomfortable. It is no longer enough to fight for the sake of fighting. I want to fight for something worth believing in. But cynicism and scoffing are old friends. Leaving them behind requires courage; it also requires turning aside from a form of anger that was cheap substitute for something more destructive. Anger, I conclude, is less damaging a sin than despair.

Every summer I vow to return to the law a better man. Late each summer I return only marginally chastened by the failings I have observed in myself. This year has been a long meditation on hope and love, lessons, paradoxically, I examine again and again through my dealings with our dogs. Come August 2, when I return to work, I will be challenged to find the same sort of warmth in the people around me that I find in my dogs. Of course, I know that a good deal of what I find in the dogs is what I give to them. Can I make the leap and give the same love and care to clients?

I genuinely do not know. I found myself thinking today that I have had enough of the law. There are so many young and talented lawyers out there, a small voice says step aside and let them bear the rage of strangers. But that seems somehow like a cop out, like letting sin win. I am not ready for that either.

So return I shall, chastened as always by a growing awareness of the presence of sin in the world, and struggling toward the grace necessary to survive a profession in which the worst we can to one another and to ourselves is our daily bread.

About Norm Pattis

Norm Pattis is a Connecticut based trial lawyer focused on high stakes criminal cases and civil right violations. He is a veteran of more than 100 jury trials, many resulting in acquittals for people charged with serious crimes, multi-million dollar civil rights and discrimination verdicts, and scores of cases favorably settled.

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I believe that the state is a necessary fiction and that failing to combat it is the first step toward tyranny.
– Norm Pattis


Nothing in this blog should be considered legal advice about your case. You need a lawyer who understands the context of your life and situation. What are offered here are merely suggested lines of inquiry you may explore with your lawyer.

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