Reprise: The Two Types of Lawyers
August 20, 2015 § 1 Comment
Reprise replays posts from the past that you might find useful today.
The Two Types of Lawyers
July 31, 2014 § 3 Comments
There are as many ways to categorize lawyers as there are lawyers, I suppose.
Just off the top of my head, here are a few that come to mind, presented as dichotomies: professional and unprofessional; learned and ignorant; court room and office; courtly and obnoxious; prepared and unprepared; rich and poor; pit bull and diplomat; tenacious and doormat; zealous and lazy; melodramatic and understated; scholar and street smart; and so on.
Lawyers and non-lawyers alike can come up with an almost unlimited number of similar categories.
To a judge, though, there are really only two types of lawyers: those the judge can trust, and those the judge can not trust.
If you think about it, much of our legal system rests on the trustworthiness of a lawyer in his or her dealings with the court. The judge relies on the lawyer to be candid and truthful in pleadings, evidence, legal citations, and statements.
The trustworthy lawyer never knowingly makes a false representation to the court, and promptly notifies the judge when he or she discovers that something presented proves to be untrue. He or she is timely and accurate in probate and fiduciary matters, and stays in contact with the fiduciary. The trustworthy lawyer’s pleadings are in order and are accurate. When the trustworthy lawyer cites a case, it is on point. The trustworthy lawyer distinguishes unfavorable law, and acknowledges the weaknesses of his or her case, suggesting how the court can and should address them to the client’s advantage. The trustworthy lawyer is never caught in a lie because she or he never lies. If the trustworthy lawyer has overlooked a court appointment, he or she apologizes and acknowledges the mistake, rather than fabricating a half-baked, incredible excuse. The trustworthy lawyer is in control of his or her case, and never lets a client dictate strategy and tactics. He or she will withdraw from representing a client before allowing that client put him or her in a position of dishonesty, trickery, craftiness, or misrepresentation. A trustworthy lawyer’s word is his or her bond.
A lawyer who can not be trusted is one who has proven that his or her word is worthless. The untrustworthy lawyer tells the court things that prove to be untrue, and bends the truth to the client’s advantage. His or her pleadings are full of allegations that can not be supported by any facts. The untrustworthy lawyer tries to hide the truth from the court, citing only law that is favorable, suppressing what is unfavorable. When caught in a lie, he or she persists in falsehood and makes up flimsy explanations. He or she files incorrect, incomplete and false accountings in probate matters, and regularly loses contact with the fiduciary. The untrustworthy lawyer can not be relied on to be on time or prepared; the judge worries that the client is being prejudiced by poor representation. The untrustworthy lawyer does what the client wants her or him to do, even if it is underhanded and unethical.
There are lawyers who present probate matters to me whose pleadings and orders I can skim and sign off on, confident that all is in order and proper. There are other lawyers who have proven that I must read every word and carefully consider what has been presented before I sign.
I think most reasonable people would assume that a trustworthy lawyer’s client has a head start in every case, because her lawyer is not having to overcome the judge’s skepticism about her case. Vice versa for the lawyer who can not be trusted.
The lawyer’s reputation with the court is built over time with hundreds of tiny building blocks of trust. One lie can destroy it, but so can a pattern of inaccuracies and questionable acts.
When a lawyer presents case after case as emergencies demanding urgent attention, and those cases prove to be anything but, that lawyer’s trustworthiness takes a hit.
When a lawyer’s accountings in probate matters are full of inaccuracies and miscalculations, and loses track of the fiduciary, that lawyer’s trustworthiness takes a hit.
When a lawyer files motion after motion asking the court to address minutiae and praying for sanctions to rain down on the opposition, that lawyer’s trustworthiness takes a hit.
When a lawyer wastes the court’s and everyone else’s time with frivolous matters that have no chance of success, that lawyer’s trustworthiness takes a hit.
Your reputation for trustworthiness with the court is like a treasure of precious gold. If you spend it wisely and build on it, it will stand good for you the length of your career. If you squander it over time on trifles, or blow it all in one monumentally bad act, it is gone, and you may never get it back. It’s your choice to make.
As a first year law student, circa 1975, Justice Rogers spoke to us en masse. He said there were three secrets to the successful practice of law. Three?? Only three?? We all pulled out pen and paper.
First, he said, don’t go to Court drunk. We laughed. He talked about those lawyers who practice before the wrong bar, the 2 martini lunch, the smell of ethanol on the breath, the dulling of the senses, and the loss of respect and trust that results. It disfavors the profession. We shouldn’t have laughed.
Second, he said, don’t go to court late. We put out pens up. This also demonstrates lack of respect for every post in the courtroom, from the lowliest lawyer’s assistant, to juror, to bailiff, to clerk, other litigants waiting in line, and ultimately your judge. “Your” judge, a second person possessive pronoun. Not just one who stands in judgment, but one who is yours to have and to hold for the length of a career. Being late also denotes a certain arrogance, a narcissistic sense that everyone won’t mind waiting on me. We vowed to never be late.
Third, he said, don’t pussyfoot with the Judge. We were attentive. If you have a point to make, make it. If not, don’t. Don’t feed him bull. And don’t ever embarass your judge. It’s never necessary. That judge has probably been doing this a lot longer than you have and he’ll know it when you feed him a line of bull. After that first time trying to pull a fast one, “your” judge will watch you with a microscope….forever. It’s a disservice to the judge and to you, too.
All in all, Justice Rogers gave good advice.