Remember in law school when you were trying to figure out where your law career was heading? You would be the lawyer with the oak paneled conference room and the well-heeled clients to match. Or you were the flamboyant trial lawyer seeking big verdicts from those same clients, the divorce lawyer striking fear in the heart of every cheating spouse with a lot to lose, or the criminal lawyer interviewed twice a month on the courthouse steps. Great profiles, but they do not describe what most lawyers do, or even those guys do, most of the time.
By and large, most lawyers ply their craft below the radar – without the fancy offices
or the well-heeled clients – without the interviews by the local news – without the big verdicts. What is cool about that? Plenty. Lawyers make the system work. Real lawyers interface with the public much more than their television stereotypes. Their work, while not as glamorous as Arnie’s on L.A. Law, does a lot of good for a lot of people – and for society as a whole. Sitting at motion docket last week brought this to mind.
A longtime friend was standing before the Court at the end of criminal docket. His client was shuffled into the courtroom, shackled and wearing prison garb. Two or three mundane motions were heard, one being the State’s motion to continue the upcoming trial. A young lawyer sitting next to me asked why they would bring a defendant over from the jail just to watch. I guessed that this was a capital murder case. I know that my friend has spent a good part of his practice the last 10 to 15 years defending capital murder cases, where no good deed goes unpunished (for the lawyer). The facts in his cases are always horrible, the victims’ families resent his very presence and the public sees him as part of the problem. And for his trouble, the State pays him far less than he is worth. But he soldiers on, and society is better off for his work.
And he was the prosecutor on the other side of that case. Equally beat up by the State’s accountants, he comes in every day and deals with a seemingly endless docket of sad stories. And for his trouble, he gets the blame – along with the sentencing judge – every time a felon who did not serve every day of his sentence commits another crime. Perhaps, he thinks, he should have gone into construction and built prisons, but that does not seem to be much of a sell in Alabama these days … So he soldiers on, and society is better off for it.
And she is the bankruptcy lawyer who has a debtor’s practice. Even though the last round of amendments to the bankruptcy code have made it near impossible for her to get a fair fee, she still takes the time to explain everything to her clients and go the extra mile because she knows the stress that they are under. And she soldiers on, and society is better off for it.
And they are the lawyers at Legal Services who still have the idealism that they had when they got out of law school. Congress shoots holes in their budget every year and, more and more, restricts the cases that they can take, but they soldier on, and society is better off for it.
And they are general practitioners. They do everything and know everything. When their neighbor has a legal question, they know the answer no matter what is asked. They help people buy property, take care of their families and establish their businesses. They are not buying yachts with what they make, but they soldier on and society is better off for it.
Looking for heroes? Look no further.
Finally, I owe an apology to my good friend and fellow MBA MEMBER WARREN BUTLER. I mistakenly introduced him at the Bar luncheon last week as a former member. He was gracious about it afterwards, but that was just dumb on my part (memo to file – keep foot out of mou
th as best I can).