The Joy Of Hate Mail


I hate to say this, for fear of what it will attract, but anonymous hate mail is good for the soul. I get a piece from time to time. Receiving it is sort of like an atheist's trip to a confessional. I spin through all the folks who've left a foul taste in my mouth, and wonder who among them recalls my taste so well they feel the need to spit.

Last week, a piece arrived. How do I do it?, the writer asked. How do I manage to portray myself as high-minded, when, truth be known, all my clients hate me; I am disloyal, a hypocrite, etc. I'd have been better off if years ago I had taken more professional ethics courses. Or perhaps a trip to the zoo: I should watch how animals protect their young, and do likewise with clients.

I confess to hypocrisy. I will print anonymous comments that are nice; I generally don't print the ones that are blatantly defamatory. A writer who is going to take dead aim behind a cloak of anonymity is suspect, a coward, really, cowering behind a cloak and casting stones. And one given to blanket overstatement should write a blog of their own, and not litter my page with swill.

But I did run down the checklist of those whom I know to feel aggrieved by me. It is a long list, and that, I am afraid, is the life I have chosen. Some former clients do feel betrayed. I have asked the court for permission to withdraw when my client's objectives have become repugnant to me. I have also defended myself when foolish accusations have been made. I have never suffered either a malpractice verdict against me nor have I been disciplined by the bar. But I have made mistakes. No question about it.

Lawyering is tough work. We hang our shingles and invite the world to call with their troubles. Like all diagnosticians, we sometimes do not know what we are looking at until well into a case. Is the client a target of police harassment, or so deluded that they would damn the world before accepting responsibility for their own failings? Applying the zoo metaphor, some of the folks requiring legal representation would never be on display in a zoo: natural selection would have killed them off long ago.

But I thank the hateful writer. This past weekend, I have reviewed my hate list. There are folks on it who have vowed to kill me. We keep a list of threats in the office in case I turn up missing. And I am painfully aware of cases on which I could have done a better job. I am also aware that there are times when a client would be better off with a different lawyer, or, perhaps, with medication and a psychiatrist.

Am I perfect? Nope. Not even close. But that doesn't mean I will give up trying. So how do I do it? I pick up my bed each day and walk toward the brightest light I can find. What's your excuse?

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