After twenty-one years doing this and that for My Country Tis of Thee, I decided to go to law school. I didn't want to do it initially; I was reluctant to hit school for another three years at fortysomething, plus I didn't want to incur large amounts of debt (this was before the current trend of borrow and spend led by the GOP). But my wife poured three glasses of wine (a Pinot Noir, in case anyone cares) into me and said I must go. So I applied, was accepted (I think I got in under affirmative action for veterans and old farts) and here I am.
I always had it in my mind that I would help people who needed help. You know, the downtrodden, the underrepresented, those whom society scorned, etc. My first appearance in court was on behalf of two gay men who were being driven out of their home in rural Nebraska by their landlord for being gay. We ultimately settled favorably for the plaintiffs, so I guess we won.
Since then I've done a wide variety of legal jobs: prosecutor, criminal defense, family law, workers compensation, personal injury, and even a few wills. All of these jobs are prime example of what an attorney is supposed to do: be an advocate for the client. We are a surrogate, a mouthpiece, the foil in court, the battleaxe of truth, the hammer of justice, the bell of freedom, the song about love between . . . sorry. And that's as it should be. That's what the word "attorney" means: someone who represents, or acts for, someone else.
Only one thing bothers me: Nowhere in law school or in my many conversations with the wise attorneys who have supported me in my career, did anyone tell me that once a client hires you, they immediately cease thinking. I don't think the roots of the word "attorney" derive from the idea of "thinking of everything for someone." And the idea of being a counselor (another part of our job) carries with it the idea that, if you come to me for advice, you're going to FOLLOW THAT ADVICE! I see far too many people who believe that, once the attorney is on the job, they can switch off their cerebrum and bump against objects at will without accepting the consequences of their actions.
We have a legal system that, when all parts work together, actually works pretty well. I get frustrated at juries but I wouldn't trade the system in for anything else. I get frustrated at prosecutors who are the tools of police; who don't do their jobs by telling the police "you don't have a case." I get frustrated at defense counsel who would rather play procedural games than address the merits of a case. I get frustrated at clients whose first question is "when do I get my ten million dollars?"
Where am I going with this? The only time that, realistically, there's a problem with the American system of justice is when any part of it stops doing its job. That means if a jury hands down a verdict without good, clear thought, it's either going to be an insult to a horribly injured victim or it's going to call down the wrath of the insurance companies about "runaway juries." That means if an attorney takes a case claiming that McDonalds fries made me fifty pounds overweight, it's going to draw ridicule on the legal fraternity. That means that if a judge sleeps through a murder trial, the judiciary loses credibility.
But most important, that means that clients need to have a sense of reality. The guy who was caught standing on a streetcorner with his pants full of crack, with dust leaking down the seams of his pants, can't come to me and say, "Here's fifty thousand dollars, get me off." It means if you have a hurt pinky finger in a car wreck, you're not going to get a million dollars. It means that if your company's plant manager treats his female employees as his personal harem, the company can't realistically expect the defense counsel to let them get away scot-free because the manager didn't give the CEO a written report of his activities.
If people would own up to their own actions, maybe I wouldn't be so frustrated. Maybe I should take that job renting out surfboards at the beach.