Walking the Lawyer's Walk
I have a dream. One day lawyers will come to court as bitter foes and leave as friends bound together by sweet reason. Discord shall be replaced by harmony, and the gentle tones of civility will flow. Where there was sorrow, there shall be joy; where there was anger, there shall be peace; and we will all, one and all, unite beneath the bowers of justice. I have that dream, and that dream is good.
But until the dream comes true, I will continue to practice law in the State of Connecticut. And that means I will remain mired neck deep in conflict, sorrow and muck. It also means that the courthouse will remain what it is for so many: a place of dread, terror and fear.
I was reminded of this the other day in Middletown. You see, I have wandered into a high-conflict custody battle, and I was attending my first mediation in the Regional Trial Docket.
The day started with a film narrated by Judge Elaine Gordon. The film is a brilliant appeal to the best within us. It is a reminder to parents that their obligations to their children run far deeper than meals and a bed. Children are tender plants and parents are gardeners. Shower a child with love and it blossoms into a complete human being. Stand in the way of Sun and light and nutrients, and growth is stunted. Too often anger, pride, self-righteousness possess a parent in the midst of divorce. When that happens we hurt our kids. All lawyers should watch Judge Gordon's film.
She is right of course. I sat and listened to her with a heavy heart. Many years ago, I divorced and I am ashamed to admit I did not always make the right choices about my children. I still do not forgive my failings. I could have been a better man. It takes a certain amount of courage to fail and keep on hoping.
When I see my clients collapse in fear, anxiety and grief, I see myself on lesser days. And I am reminded that I am merely an ambassador for the sorrows of others.
Those sorrows come in many forms and are caused by many things. Some folks can't get the business of living right no matter how hard they try. Some folks love anger, others sloth, some lust. Some folks are on the cusp of mental illness. I fantasize about a course in the law organized around the seven deadly sins.
"Why are you representing your client?" I have been asked from time to time. The question usually comes from an adversary exasperated with my client. The question leaves me speechless. Why does a doctor treat the sick?
I represent people in need of a lawyer. Sometimes they have been accused of horrible crimes. Stand next to a man accused of murder, and the victim's family will feel about you more or less the way they feel of the accused. I accept that. But I also accept that my client needs me. A friend to the friendless is an honorable role to play. And, of course, I do it for money. That makes me a hired gun, I suppose.
Sometimes my clients do things I disagree with, and they press me to seek goals I would not seek for myself. That causes sleepless nights. But there is a difference between being asked to help another's dream come true and being asked to do something one finds repugnant. I can't fight for what I cannot stomach, and so, in some cases I have asked to be relieved of the responsibility to represent a client.
But here's the rub: I am a lawyer, not a priest, not a judge, not a philosopher. Clients come with visions of the good and ask my help to use the law to achieve their ends. My obligation is to break my back against justice's wheel to make other's dreams come true. I am not a member of a professional guild entitled to tell others how to live.
So I was offended the other day when two lawyers reproached me for representing a man they contemn. The case is exceedingly difficult for all involved. But I am my client's ambassador. Must I remind my adversaries that lawyerly dreams are often not our clients' dreams? It takes imagination to walk in another's shoes. Why are they practicing law?
Pride is the lawyer's sin. The proud lack empathy. Such pride mistakes a dream, however noble, for reality. The sad reality of our courthouses is not sweet reason made plain. Our courts are waking nightmares, and, as lawyers, we walk dark, dark corridors. It takes courage and stamina to walk that walk day by day.
Reprinted courtesy of the Connecticut Law Tribune.