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.

Comments: (5)

  • Norm, you have certainly reached your 'stride'. Th...
    Norm, you have certainly reached your 'stride'. This is excellent. I just posted this on FaceBook: "Sadam Hussein got more 'justice' in Baghdad than I did in New Haven. That is affirmative." And more, of course.
    I would like to remind everyone that tomorrow is the eleventh anniversary of the murder of Suzanne Jovin, the Yale senior from Germany, in East Rock, New Haven, 1998. This was not only a senseless tragedy but a case which demonstrates in high relief the inability of CT police and the various district attorneys offices to prevent or solve real crime. It is an important case on a number of levels and we should all reflect on it tomorrow.
    I would like to remind everyone that Mr. Ed Grant is serving a life sentence in CT for a 1973 murder he did not commit. While CT officials are incapable of preventing or solving real crime, that in and of itself does not stop them from falsely arresting and/or maliciously prosecuting hundreds (thousand?) of its own citizens in the deranged attempt to keep those five new prisons built by Rowland, full-to-overflowing.
    Norm, if you have not read or heard of Jesse Allen's 'Law as Magic', you might want to pick it up. She is a prof at NYU Law School. She comes to the profession by way of the theater, which is unusual. And her insights were an eye-opener for me--a non-attorney for sure. (But that does not make me stew-pid!)
    The reproach by the opposing attorneys you write about above was clearly a 'tactic' to throw you off. It obviously backfired, and you were thus beneficially disabused of their false intentions,... rather than abused. And then you were able to write about it reflectively and pass along you newly acquired 'wisdom'. Thank you. Illegitimi non carborundum.
    And then there are my own CT cases, which no local, state or federal official will re-open and re-examine for errors and official malfeasance. For a profession with such high ideals, how does it then become so contorted, gutterish and nasty? Inquiring Minds want to know? Inquiring Minds want to know who hijacked the legal profession away from the good ciitzery? Why is it that in Amerika you only get the 'justice' you can afford?
    Something is wrong in the land where a murderer like O.J. Simpson can get off Scot-free, and an ignorant, illiterate, sexist pig can be elevated to the Supreme Court. Something is wrong in New London, CT, where a modest lady such as Kelo cannot keep her home out of the unconscionable ravages of the city and state.
    Posted on December 3, 2009 at 1:27 am by William Doriss
  • The gap pitting sides in the advesary process does...
    The gap pitting sides in the advesary process does not conform to the ideal, in most instances.
    In an ideal world, all would be harmony, sweet music, no discord. But, by virtue of human nature, we do not live in a ideal world, we dwell in the real world. Nevertheless, the wise judge sees(the big picture), that childern must be nourished with goodness, the climate to growth in postive ways.(even in divorce trauma). It is our solemn duty, it is our collective perogative to protect and nourish childern, even teenagers, etc, so they become the best they can be.
    If we fail, as persons, and as a society in that we betray not only oursleves, we betray our own humaness, our potential, and ultimatly we add to that which diminishes human dignity.
    Our world is now flooded with negative forces, often beamed in from a digtal networks.
    As parents, we must provide firewalls, to limit the negative.
    In any new technology, there are upsides, and downsides.
    When the personal computer came into the workplace, productivity increased--at first.
    Now, with the fusion of the personal computer, and the I-net, and other assorted techie devices, a large percent of workers are distracted, and productivy is going down in the work place. Losing focus is a by-product of waves of NETS, electric static flooding our life.
    The I-net is a flood of beaming influences.
    Enhancing the postive, and limiting the negative is a process in this area, as the digital world is going through many evolutions, at warp speed.
    The digital I-NET world in many ways is a cold impersonal detached world.
    It would be best, that ones connection to that domain be balanced and limited, and more time in the human connected world , with no artifical synthetic frames.
    Take a hike, meet a friend face to face, break away from the complusion to hit the mouse stroke the key.
    Balance is key, not only for childern, but adults, and society.
    Do we even know how the I-Net digital age is impacting our humaness ?
    I fear we are in the dark in some ways on that in some still unknown demenisons
    We must do better to discern its impacts.
    Posted on December 3, 2009 at 8:08 am by Anonymous
  • As a partner of mine says "Where you stand depends...
    As a partner of mine says "Where you stand depends on where you sit." And it's proven true for me--my attitude towards an issue or a person or situation will depend on who I'm representing. I don't believe that makes me a mere mouthpiece and there are certainly clients I've declined to represent. But once I am his/her/its lawyer, my view is colored by my role. Beth K.
    Posted on December 3, 2009 at 1:48 pm by Anonymous
  • When justice is weighted on the relationship betwe...
    When justice is weighted on the relationship between the police, judge, prosecutor and defense attorney it's time to overhaul the system. Walking the halls of GA23 must feel like walking through the dungeons of hell. As long as Satan is a dweller compassionate justice is a foreign concept. I have so much respect for those who try to do good anyway.
    Posted on December 6, 2009 at 12:07 pm by bee fair
  • While agreeing that we, as attorneys, must often r...
    While agreeing that we, as attorneys, must often represent our clients' interests even when the interests or the pursuit of them is contrary to our own reason and/or values or reprehnsible to those about us and that those of us who carry on such representation have truly grasped the core of our profession. With respect to the lesser point that you are not a priest, a judge, or a philosopher ... often times clients act irrationally not because of a dream they are pursuing but because their emotions are leading them to act irrationally while they justify their acts by claiming pursuit of a dream of justice. We are still counselors and are often times in a unique position to observe that about our clients that leads them to act irrationally and if we are willing to deal with our clients on a human level then we can give reason a chance where before there was none.
    Posted on December 8, 2009 at 12:40 pm by JDC

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