Lawyers, Dogs And Definitions Without Words
I'm mid-way through a month away from the office and something like calm has descended. It therefore came as a rude awakening last night to be reminded of emergencies in the office. I tossed and turned all night long, considering the issues that had arisen in the course of an afternoon. When I got out of bed this morning I recalled that a good night's sleep is a rare gift for trial lawyers.
I slept the sleep of the dead the other night. Flat out hours of lost consciousness; a dreamless oblivion from which I awoke refreshed and as though visiting a different world. We were in upstate New York at a dog training camp with Odysseus and Penelope, our border collies. As anyone who works with dogs knows, training dogs has less to do with the dog's ability to learn than the human's ability to teach.
At the end of the first day's work, Penelope was exhausted. She leapt onto our bed and looked at me with eyes that beckoned me for a cuddle. I lay down, and she burrowed next to me, her head on my shoulder and a paw draped across my chest. Soon we were both asleep. Sure, the Sun was still above the horizon, but we had worked hard in the heat of the day. Hours later Odysseus woke me up. He was sitting on the other side of me, licking my face. When I tell you this is paradise to me, I reveal perhaps too much. But I remind you, dog is God spelled backwards.
Dogs are instinct and drive. So, frankly, am I. A fact pattern presented by a client's problem is a lawyer's chew toy. We gnaw, gnaw and gnaw some more until were are too tired to attack any longer. Then we sleep, but even in sleep the gnawing continues. This deeper gnawing is the real work of a lawyer. Can you make the client's troubles your own? Can you identify with the drives of strangers and discern which paths are congruent with a client's interests? None of this work is easy, and little of it takes place in the forefront of the mind's eye.
So last night we returned from New York, unpacked and checked email accounts. We' d been more or less out of reach for four days. It seemed like a moment, although a moment tasting of eternity. Trouble seemed to cascade from messages accumulated in just a few days time. I faltered at shouldering them, and then I fought the need to engage issues not my choosing. When I set aside the book I was reading and turned off the light, I fell fast asleep. I thought I might have preserved the peace that comes of being away from it all.
But a couple of hours after falling asleep, I was wide awake, as I usually am during the work week. Almost against my will the infinite permutations of a new crisis played themselves out, almost performing in a twilight theater. I knew then that something in me had engaged and that disengagement was not an option. So I read through the better part of the night; I read a book on, what else?, dogs and how they experience the world.
Sleep returned hours later and with it came dreams about Odysseus. When he greeted me this morning with bright, crystalline eyes, I felt as though I understood him so much better than I had only yesterday. My instincts had taken control, pushing aside the critical faculty to make room for patterns and possibilities that will present themselves to me in the course of a case as fully formed strategic options. I should be grateful for this night work, but I much prefer rest.
We head back to upstate New York this weekend for another week of working with the dogs. I cannot express how deeply I look forward to this time alone with them. They teach me much, and I learn that beyond words there are experiences that define without definition.