The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers. –Shakespeare, Henry VI*
As someone who spent her career as a lawyer, I’ve heard all the lawyer jokes. Some are actually funny. And while there are lawyers who undeniably give lawyers a bad name, in my career I found most lawyers to be exactly what they should be – healers. That’s right. Healers.
Someone said once that there are three healing professions – medicine heals the body, ministry heals the soul, and law heals society. As a law professor, I had a standard welcome speech for first year students. “Your professional responsibility doesn’t begin when you pass the bar exam. It begins today. The people who will be coming to you for help are depending on your expertise, your integrity, and your effort. Your education up till now has been about you, but beginning today, it isn’t about you anymore. It’s about them.”
Most of the lawyers I encountered during my career had what I considered the right stuff. They served with dedication, compassion, skill, and for the most part, not lots of money, certainly not as much as the general public thinks. I always felt pride in my profession and sober humility with the awareness of my responsibility to my clients, my students, and my society.
One of the classes I taught was a seminar on drafting contracts. Students come into law school full of a lifetime of TV shows about lawyers in court. They think in terms of drafting a contract that will “hold up” in court. Imagine their surprise when I tell them that if their contract ever ends up in court, they’ve already lost. A successful contract is not one that “wins” in court. It’s one that promotes a good relationship between the parties, that allows them to perform willingly and to receive something they value in return. If the parties end up in court, our adversarial system results in a winner and a loser, but both parties have lost the relationship they initially envisioned, not to mention the practical losses in time and money.
The United States is known, justifiably so, as a litigious society. We look to the courts to settle all sorts of disputes, from presidential elections to environmental cleanups to neighbors fighting over fences. All these lawsuits have one thing in common – other modes of resolution have failed. And while it may be true that more often than not, justice is served by the outcome in court, something perhaps more precious has been lost. An adversarial dispute costs us the opportunity we have as individuals, organizations, companies, and governments to find a way to maintain our connection with each other, to have an open hand rather than an upper hand, to find common ground rather than legally superior ground.
Justice is sometimes a sad victor.
Therefore when the Tao is lost, there is goodness.
When goodness is lost, there is kindness.
When kindness is lost, there is justice.
When justice is lost, there is ritual.
Now ritual is the husk of faith and loyalty, the beginning of confusion.
–Tao Te Ching
*This line is often taken out of context and used as a pejorative against lawyers. In fact, the speaker was a follower of an anarchist seeking to overthrow the government and install himself as king. The speaker was not criticizing lawyers. On the contrary, he was observing that any tyrant wannabe would have to eliminate the front line defenders of order and justice, that is, the lawyers, before proceeding with his evil plans.
Related posts: I’m Right – So What, One Hand Clapping, Ego Knickers
10 Steps to Finding Your Happy Place (and Staying There) is a program to help us develop habits to grow a joyful spirit. Many of us sabotage our happiness by habits that we might not even be aware of. Identifying and changing these habits can build a reservoir of well-being to enhance our happy times and sustain us during challenging times.
Saturday, February 11, 2012
No One Wins in Court
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I really enjoy knowing more and more about you. I worked for attorneys for at least 10 years. I worked for one attorney 6 years.ReplyDelete
He said the same as you. "If you go to court... you've already lost." His contracts never reached a court.
I've only heard him say that.
He and the firm I worked for were good guys. It seems to be the smaller - scrambling for cases - attorneys that give attorneys a bad name. ;)
ambulance chasers ...
What an interesting person, Galen... 5 kids and still time to follow your profession with integrity and ... well... I enjoyed reading this very much.
girl power! ;)
Carolyn, I'm sure we're not the only two attorneys who ever said that--ha! Just to be fair to smaller outfits and solo practitioners, good lawyers work in all levels of all sectors. Unfortunately, bad ones do, too, but luckily they are much rarer than people think. So pleased you enjoyed the post and thanks for the kind words.Delete
What a great Post giving credit where due. I am retired from the Local DA's office where I worked as Support Staff for Criminal Trials... and I saw daily that Prosecutors worked hard upholding the Law and making Society safer for law abiding citizens and seeking Justice for Victims... they certainly weren't in it for the money since at least in Criminal Law the majority of money is in Defense and not Prosecuting Criminals. I made more money 20 years earlier in Banking working with Real Estate Law in protecting the Bank's Interest in Foreclosures/Collections/Bankruptcies... but that was so much more boring than Criminal Law... and not nearly as much job security given the direction Lending Institutions have gone in the last 20 years or so. *Winks*ReplyDelete
Happy Valentine's Day from the Arizona Desert... Dawn... The Bohemian
Dawn, That has been my experience. When I had foster kids, they had court appointed lawyers who didn't make much money, but they were dedicated and skillful advocates for their clients, who often had no one else in their corner.Delete
Always loved that verse of the Tao. I think it has a powerful warning to today's society.ReplyDelete
It does say a lot, doesn't it? As a lawyer, I was struck by how far down the list justice is!Delete
I enjoyed reading this precisely because I have no legal training. I did have the para-legal experience of spending 18 months as an executive assistant to two infomercial producers. They were the most joyfully, willfully evil men I've ever worked for, and it was all about creating unbreakable contracts with the originators of the products being sold, in order to rob them of ownership and royalties.ReplyDelete
I learned so much about contracts from being in the room as the men and their counsel pored over each paragraph for new ways to screw their business partners. It was how they maintained their fabulous homes, cars and lifestyle. They were threatened by letter every day, but they never went to court either.
Later I worked for an independent production company that made commercials. I had nothing to do with their contracts, but they kept going to court over ambiguities in the ownership and royalties for use of the stock footage they licensed. Losing just one case resulted in the elimination of 6 out of 7 employees in my department. I was unwilling to do the work of 7 by myself, so I quit.
At least I learned the value of a properly crafted contract, and what a weapon one can be if wielded with bad intent. No kind of salesperson or scammer has been able to obligate me unknowingly since.
(I also enjoyed the film "The Paper Chase". Lots about teaching students contract law in that one.)
Mikey, I felt so sad when I read your comment. There certainly are lawyers like that, and I have negotiated contracts with more than I care to remember. For a time, I worked with high powered corporate lawyers negotiating major deals, both in the United States and in other countries. They were my teachers and mentors. I learned from them that a fair contract serves my client's interests better than a one sided one, even when my client has the negotiating leverage. If both parties leave the table satisfied that their major concerns have been respected and addressed, they are more likely to perform willingly and well. If disputes arise, and they do, the parties are much more likely to resolve the disputes by negotiation rather than litigation. Furthermore, my client's reputation would be enhanced by tough but fair dealing and would promote good business relations in the future.Delete
When I had to negotiate with lawyers like the ones you described, I had to shift to a more adversarial style. Since my client usually had the upper hand, this did not serve their client's interests at all, but they didn't see that. The contracts ended up favoring my client at their client's expense. Also, we walked away from more than one deal because we didn't trust who we were doing business with.
Obviously, your guys were successful in terms of money, but that is not the model I practiced or taught. Fortunately, most of the lawyers I dealt with over thirty years in many countries came to the table ready to deal in good faith.
I liked The Paper Chase, too! My contracts professor channeled Prof. Kingsfeld!
I've worked in law firms for over 6 years as a trainer. And I have to agree with Galen that there are the good and the bad and that lawyers are just as human as you and I and come in the same variety of "flavors". Very interesting post and hopefully it will inspire all of us to exercise goodness, kindness, and justice in all of our daily dealings whatever they might be. Thanks for your wisdom, Galen!! As always, a pleasure to read! :)ReplyDelete
Therese, So true that how lawyers negotiate in many ways reflects the variety of all us individuals in our daily dealings. We are all parties to agreements all the time. Some of us see how much we can get away with, and others strive to make and honor their agreements with fairness and integrity.Delete
My daughter is a paralegal in a law firm. What is unique about this firm is that it represents both sides. It represents the condo owners as well as the homeowner associations. Therefore, it has a reputation as being fair since it knows and sees the points on both sides. I do not know if this is an unusual set-up or not. It makes sense to me! Only one attorney in the group ever goes to court. All the rest deal with arbitration... I think that is the right term.ReplyDelete
Not crazy about the lawyers who advertise on TV. They always seem out to 'get' the other guy. I have a friend, who at one time worked with a large firm and made big bucks... he chose to move to the circuit? court and now helps those in foreclosure and other real estate problems. Also worked the divorce area. He said it was upsetting when there were children involved.
An attorney, judo... what else have you done!!
Barb, What else have I done? More than you want to know and more than I want to admit!Delete
I consider myself to be in the healing profession as an Ordained Minister. I work mostly out of kindness and have been accused of being too kind often. I was Ordained to be a minister of JUSTICE and not LAW....but I have often felt like a lawyer along the way.ReplyDelete
I just wrote a post about marriage and used a quote from Dr. Gottman the marriage expert from the U of Washington...that in a marriage there is never a RIGHT answer just two subjective answers always and without fail...
So here I find myself with a dispute about my neighbor's dangerous tree and wanting to do the kind thing and they just wanting to sell off that responsibility as quickly as possible...hmm
I will just think sweet, I had dessert at Papa Hayden's bakery yesterday - oh my....still need my cuppa with you :)
Thank you for your good words...rabbi
Patricia, Two subjective answers, so true. Someone said the world is divided into people who think they are right. Ha, I love that.Delete
Healing professions...I never thought about it.ReplyDelete
I think having also worked in the legal field that the line between right/wrong...good/bad is very blurred. I agree, no one wins in court and the legal system is made (or had evolved) to divide rather than connect or build bridges.
But there are people who want something good to come from it all...we can bring some humanity to something which more often than not is not humane. Imagine that all lawyers were evil *shudder*.
Great post Galen. I will reflect a bit on this as I contemplate my future.
Salma, I agree that our legal system is set up to divide. Living in other countries with different legal philosophies was very enlightening for me.Delete
I like to see that law is part of the healing profession - I agree - you know just like sales people a few bad apples makes the whole society to think all sales people or lawyers, or doctors are bad....ReplyDelete
Thanks for this new way of thinking of lawyers,
Kudos to you,
Nancy, So true that the bad ones make the news. Too bad.Delete
I've done battle over my grandson......it lasted a number of years...and you are right there were NO victors.ReplyDelete
Everyone of us lost something.
Jo, This is especially true in family law. I'm so sorry you and your family had to go through that.Delete
Wonderful post and nice to learn of your law background. I worked for the dean of the College of Law at a university years ago. It was a great experience and I have such respect for the profession.ReplyDelete
Cynthia, So glad you had a good experience. Just between us, law professors can sometimes be divas! Not me, of course!Delete
Love what you say about how Justice is sometimes a sad victor. It's so true. Sometimes we have to accept no one can be the winner or everyone loses.
I used to be a bit of a Dr. Phil nut (yes, I'm embarrassed!) but I still remember his warning to people not to be a "right fighter"!
Annabel, Love the Dr. Phil warning. I'm going to mention it in my discussion group tomorrow. Thanks for the idea.Delete
I was struck by this passage that you wrote:
"A successful contract is not one that “wins” in court. It’s one that promotes a good relationship between the parties, that allows them to perform willingly and to receive something they value in return. If the parties end up in court, our adversarial system results in a winner and a loser, but both parties have lost the relationship they initially envisioned, not to mention the practical losses in time and money."
The first thing that came to mind for me is Hexagram 6 "Conflict" from the I-Ching.
"If a man is entangled in a conflict, his only salvation lies in being so clear-headed and inwardly strong that he is always ready to come to terms by meeting the opponent halfway. To carry one the conflict to the bitter end has evil effects even when one is the right, because the enmity is then perpetuated."
Any conflict that is carried out to the end is a loss for both sides. Instead of working together, people become enemies and the potential that could have been from the union is lost. It is such a waste that there are many people in this world who try to win at the expense of others. If we all learned to meet each other halfway, the world would be a better place.
I agree fully with you, after you have explained it, that lawyers are meant to heal society. I suppose there will be black sheep in any profession, but lawyers who are fully aware of their responsibilities and have the "right stuff" as you say, have a vital role to play in society.
Love the quote from the Tao Te Ching. If we all knew how to live in accord with the Tao, there would be a lot less problems and a lot of professions would be unnecessary.
Thank you for sharing this lovely article!
Irving the Vizier
What a girl you are. Happy healing lawyer day and Happpy Valentines Day. Love to you.Delete
Irving, Thanks for the information about the conflict hexagram. I love that quote from the Tao Te Ching, too. It really puts things in perspective. You are right about the impact on many professions. We could all focus on professions that bring us together rather than those based on fear and lack.Delete
Manzanita, Same to you, my dear!
I never thought of the law as a healing profession...makes sense though. Our society needs people of integrity to help us sort through that which we cannot do on our own. We work with an attorney who founded the Child Development Foundation that works to eradicate commercial sexual exploitation here in Belize. Her passion is justice for the children here in Belize and we feel honored to partner with her.ReplyDelete
Alida, I have crossed paths with so many lawyers like that. What an inspiration. I am so proud to have been part of the same profession as people like her.Delete
I teach Conflict Resolution in my school and love offering my students the chance to come to a resolution that avoids a win-lose situation. Watching the children develop the tools for active listening, compromise and developing understanding always lift my heart. I begin the process with the children; it is a skill that is learned over a lifetime, but it always makes me stop and think about how I react to situations and how to resolve a conflict in a fair way.ReplyDelete
Katy, How interesting! The focus away from win/lose is key, isn't it? The skills you are teaching them will set the stage for their teen and adult lives. So nice to hear from you.Delete