I have been a practicing lawyer for a whole bunch of years. Like really a good number of years – more than five but less than 20. I graduated from law school in 1997 so you do the math. Well, I did take some years off to be with the kids, then I did contract work which I guess is ‘lawyering-ish” but this is what I do. This is what I’ve always done and will probably continue to do as long as someone doesn’t realize how great my skills are and hire me away to do something fantastic for them paying me a lot of money yet not requiring me to come into the office with any regularity. And generally not telling me what to do. But seeing as how that isn’t likely to happen anytime soon I will continue to truck along doing this thing that I do. I wish I could tell you I was born to do this. I mean, of course people would tell me I should be a lawyer because “I like to argue” (maybe if you weren’t such a dumbass I wouldn’t have to argue. Maybe it has nothing to do with what vocation I should choose. Of course, this thought come way too late after many years of contemplation and therapy) and while I had a fleeting thought of getting my PhD in philosophy – I think, therefore why not – I didn’t do it. And thus, you lucky folks you, you have notguiltynoway.
But see, like I said, I wasn’t born this way. I wasn’t born knowing I could try cases or write appeals or really do much of anything except, I guess, argue. Which, at the end of the day isn’t how we do this lawyer thing really. When I went to law school I would read cases and I would think “WHAT THE HOLY FUCK??!!! Is this even english? This doesn’t even mean anything!” I truly did not get it. It seemed like up was down and down was up and the things you think are rational and true might not be at all. I was a philosophy major. I did symbolic logic. If A then B, if B then C equals A then C. Not so in the law. If A then B, if B then C equals go fuck yourself.
Think about this sweet readers: In the law the facts aren’t what they are, they are what twelve or so people decide they are.
Again. Facts are what someone else decides. They aren’t real things like the earth revolves around the sun or the makeup of water. I say the sun revolves around the earth and the prosecution says the earth revolves around the sun and then other people with no specialized knowledge of these things – people without telescopes with any range or power and people who may never have heard of Galileo they decide which is true and we have to let them.
I ask you who is born to this? To whom can this craziness come naturally? Maybe to some of us it makes more sense than to others or we have simply chosen to accept it as part of the system within which we operate. We don’t have much option, do we? So, in order to make ourselves we look to others who have already been on this wild ride a bit longer than we have. When I was a wee baby lawyer I had mentors in the District Attorney’s office where I started. I thought these people were excellent lawyers and wonderful human beings. They wore white hats and sat on noble steeds and they always did right. Ah, youth. When I jumped ship and came to the side of goodness and light I was fortunate to meet up with other lawyers who would guide me when I went astray, or just didn’t know what I was doing. I know, I know, you guys who have been here a while have heard much about Terry Kindlon and his impact on me in this law thing. But, lest you think I’ve stopped learning you should know that even now, with these years of doing this thing, I look to those who know more in order to guide me. Look, the truth is the more you know the more you know you don’t know. There are points in cases where I am so convinced I know all there is to know and when I ask I realize there are other things to know as well. And what is the harm is seeking help? My ego? Sure, it may get bruised and battered, but this thing isn’t about my ego anymore.
And so I leave you with this. I referred to it as a letter to a Young-ish lawyer.
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.
We are all getting old. Terry told me recently that he has been in practice long enough now that the folks that he had early on that were sentenced to 25-life are out and living decent lives. This is something that has stuck with me, the idea that when we let go of our clients they continue to move on just like we do. And we continue on this path as lawyers, litigators, adversaries, counselors. We all need a little help now and then. Suck up your ego. Shoot someone an email and get it for the good of your clients and yourselves.