Letter to a Young(ish) Lawyer.
What you’ll read below is an email sent to me by the person I consider to be my mentor, and one of the greatest lawyers I’ve ever seen, Terry Kindlon. Now, Terry is no joke. He’s tried capital cases and DWI’s, if you google his name you’ll see the kinds of shit he takes on. He’s not loved by all, but he’s done right by his clients and those who’ve had the privilege of learning from him are better for it.
I asked for his pemission to write about him and he said I could write whatever I wanted. I post this so that you’ll see that I wasn’t born to this, I was kicked in the ass, I was manhandled and dragged around. I got more emails like this than I would care to mention. I think I deleted most of them since they made me so angry, or sad, or name your emotion. But I’m glad I kept this one. It’s not nice, but its important. It took me a while, but I know what he means now. So I share it with you.
To be completely fair, Terry knew when you did good too. I came back to the office after a morning in court to a note on my door that said “WATCH OUT RON KUBY, MIRRIAM SEDDIQ IS COMING”. I still have that note too. So, my dear readers, here it is:
Mirriam–You need to develop a thicker skin if you want to do criminal law. This is a tough business. When it’s done right it is difficult, draining, challenging and, ultimately, very rewarding. When it’s done poorly, it’s pathetic. Almost everybody I know who does this type of work well is frequently at the edge of his or her personal envelope, ready to pop. This is why we take vacations, fly airplanes, drink ourselves to death, run
marathons, gamble, go to the gym and always come back for more.
You have the brains and talent to do this work, however, and this is a big however, you’ve got to stuff your ego into a wall locker and leave it there permanently if you expect to get anywhere important in the practice of criminal law. This is not about you and you simply cannot waste your time, effort or energy worrying about what people think of you as a person or how people are reacting to you as a personality. Develop your abilities and you won’t give a shit about what people think. This is not a popularity contest.
This is about the clients, the judges, the prosecutors and the law. We defense lawyers are here to do the very best we can for our clients, but we are not here to worry too much about whether people like us or not, or whether they approve of us or whether they’re “mean” to us, or whether they’re disrespectful to us.
I don’t know how exactly to get hold of this one, I’m not exactly certain that I’m expressing the idea that I’m trying to get across to you clearly or not, but, one last try, here goes–What’s important about your performance as a lawyer is how effective you are, how persuasive. What’s not important is whether or not you feel you are being properly admired, loved and respected.
That’s just not the point. We yell in this business. It happens. It usually happens for a reason, even if it’s not always a good reason. The yelling, however, is not the predicatefor a fight, or a counterattack, and I must emphasize that, if you want to fight with me every time I yell, then I am calling this off. I need a helper, not a sparring partner. I don’t need somebody who wants to fight with me whenever she feels she’s being dissed. I’m too old, and too far along in my career, to spend my very precious time fighting with somebody approximately half my age.
If you will help me, and talk to me about law and clients and cases, then I will benefit from the assistance and you will benefit from sharing the knowledge I’ve managed to accumulate over the past 33 years. If you want to fight with me, I don’t want to fight with you.I also do not want to have any more discussions with you about this aspect of our professional relationship. I will go to the ends of the earth to help you develop as a lawyer. I will do everything in my power to assist you in becoming competent, effective, perceptive and successful, but I decline to get involved in any more hassles with you because you feel you’ve been insulted. It’s just not what I do.
Thanks for listening.
This was written in 2003. Oh, you think its hard being called Slackoisie by some dude on the internet? I faced this guy every day.
And cried the day I left.