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.

Comments: (8)

  • I think you may be having a momentary lapse of rea...
    I think you may be having a momentary lapse of reason in the wake of your 'dog training' school at Highland. Am beginning to wonder who actually got trained, you or the dogs? (You've already answered.)
    The Summer heat is getting to you, for real! Hey, it could be worse. Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out into the midday sun. And, remember the infamous words of W.C. Fields, "I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy." Ha!
    I wonder what SHG would think of that? I submitted a nasty comment on S.J. this morning, and the site has been quiet all day, as far as I can tell. Maybe, just maybe, I shut him down (wishful thinking), or perhaps he's in court,...where he belongs.
    News Flash: According to former Dallas Federal Reserve President Bullard, we have nothing to fear but deflation itself. (However, he is NOT predicting it. Talking heads!?!) I wonder if there were not some way to 'deflate' the judiciary, both state and federal. I would sign up for that!
    When all else fails, freshen up with a Coca Cola. That's what I would do. Ok, lemon lime selzer water.
    Posted on July 29, 2010 at 9:41 am by William Doriss
  • Thank you so much Norm Pattis for all you do to ma...
    Thank you so much Norm Pattis for all you do to make American justice more just. Many of us appreciate your courage. I wish Gerry Spence would help us try to fight these laws. My mentally ill son was falsely accused by a child years ago and he got caught up in the hysteria and his life has been ruined. This girl, who came from a horrific family grew up and finally recanted to an ex head of PG County,Md. homicide commander, now head of a voice-testing company.
    She said it felt "so good" to finally tell the truth. Two older women had given her the idea years before. But my son is still on the registry. He lives in a self-imposed exile and every day I worry that some vigilante will kill him. I have learned there are too many more stories like my sons. I write to two men in prison from Idaho whose stories are so terrible, it's very clear they are innocent. And in the one case, the girl, his daughter recanted. She was a very rebellious girl who wanted to hang out with a boyfriend who did drugs and other things and her mother sent her to her dads because she "couldn't handle her". The girl got angry when dad set some rules she didn't like and he's now in prison. The wrong things that happened legally could fill a book. For anyone who thinks this does not happen often, watch Sean Penn's "Witchhunt" video on u-tube.
    Posted on July 28, 2010 at 6:50 am by suetiggers
  • For crying out loud, another post about wallowing ...
    For crying out loud, another post about wallowing in fear and misery? If you've lost the will to get back in the ring to get your butt kicked again, so don't. If you really believe that kissing baby lawyer butt is going to ingratiate you with the young'uns who praise you, so step aside and let them have their way.
    But what message do you hope to send to those who are filled with far more bravado than skill when they read how Mr. Experience, Norman Pattis, as at the edge of a breakdown, filled with doubt and self-loathing, at the idea of facing another year of banging is head against the wall?
    We get our butt kicked and go back in the next day knowing that we're likely to get our butt kicked again. Still, we do it, without whining or wallowing.
    Does Norm really have it so bad? Not compared with those poor miserable people who don't get to go home to their dogs at the end of another miserable day. Show some stones already and stop enabling the miserable.
    Posted on July 25, 2010 at 1:17 am by shg
  • I don't know. I'm not horribly angry, except at t...
    I don't know. I'm not horribly angry, except at the injustice that is everywhere. And, better to stand up to it than to just continue to let that anger fester and eat away at you.
    I get that there is lots to think about in all of this, it's not an easy business and I don't know how I'll feel in a decade when I've been doing it for a decade longer. But, it's a job. It's a good job. In fact, I'd say it's an honorable one at that.
    You've had a break. Enjoy it. Come back and help us keep fighting.
    Posted on July 24, 2010 at 6:38 am by mirriam
  • Since starting to read Pattis's blog several month...
    Since starting to read Pattis's blog several months ago, I've suspected (with a background in philosophy and a pretty good view on psychology) that anger and probably regret is the source of many of his postings. Now he has come close to realizing this himself, but still has not appeared to recognize the source of his anger. So here we are, which he has alluded to: Anger is a source of animation and direction; but what is the source of the anger?
    Was it president Kennedy who said, "Don't get angry, get even." Unfortunately in Pattis's chosen profession--in which he has been exceptionally successful, though how effective one wonders from many of his postings--there is practically no possibility of getting even. The source of Pattis's anger is his sense of helpless--central to this his sense of helplessness in the face of the outrages to not only the law but to common decency he encounters almost daily. I've run into much of this myself in my court cases as a pro se party versus corporate lawyers, state's attorneys, and prosecutors. I've succeeded in every case in proving what I wanted to.
    To sum up here, I think what is required among lawyers--defense lawyers in particular--is more of them pursuing cases against criminals and corrupt individuals in the legal system and in the political system and public and private institutions affecting society. As I've mentioned before, it's most sustaining and worthwhile to go after particular identifiable criminals and corrupt individuals working harm on individuals and society. One won't win every time, but in most cases one will weaken the harm being done. In other words (which has just come to me), defense lawyers should see themselves as prosecutors too--prosecutors of criminals and corrupt individuals in official positions. This is important work in a democracy--and it keeps individuals from being bound up in their rage. Needless to say, this is also risky work...but maybe more on this at another time.
    Posted on July 24, 2010 at 4:28 am by Henry Berry
  • Have you read "The Problem of Pain" by CS Lewis. H...
    Have you read "The Problem of Pain" by CS Lewis. He explains, among other things, the difference between kindness and love. I suspect there is very little kindness in the law but there might room for some Christian love.
    Posted on July 23, 2010 at 3:06 pm by Rumpole
  • Norm, I appreciate the honesty. You have the years...
    Norm, I appreciate the honesty. You have the years behind you, I have them ahead of me. But we share the same job. We operate from the same side of the system. We know the system is horribly broken. We know that finding justice is not always possible.
    But no matter what our motivations may be, we help people that need help. In a system where strong forces attempt to deprive our clients of their liberty, we stand guard and say "not so fast".
    We have guilty clients. We have innocent clients. And we defend them both the same, as it should be. We are the only real part of the justice system that wears the blindfold. It's our job.
    Since I started at the beginning of 2009, I have opened just over 200 cases and I did something positive for every one of them. Some took more work. Some had better outcomes. Some went to prison. Some went home.
    The comfort I get is that somewhere in that list of 200 or so people, at least a few of them will never forget me. Why? Because I stood there in court and said "not so fast". I cared when no one else did.
    You do the same my friend. I can feel it. We need more lawyers like you, not fewer.
    Keep up the fight.
    Posted on July 23, 2010 at 1:27 pm by Marcus L. Schantz
  • Though I'll never know any of them, bloggers like ...
    Though I'll never know any of them, bloggers like you, Norm, are mentors whose wisdom guides those of us who are taking our first uneasy steps down this path we have chosen. Thank you.
    Posted on July 23, 2010 at 1:24 pm by Stuart Sarratt

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