Occasionally but with some regularity I am consulted by a potential client who will request to engage my services as an “attack dog.” In an out of state city a few years ago I saw an ad on the side of the bus touting a lawyer as a “pit bull.” In the course of my practice, which consists primarily of civil litigation – lawsuits — it is not unusual to encounter opposing counsel who attempt to fulfill this role and engage in a scorched-earth war.
This is not what we do here. Ends are not justified by bad means, and in the overwhelming number of instances good ends are not obtained by bad means.
The courts we practice in do not welcome or reward oppressive tactics. When I am in front of a Judge the strength of my argument is bolstered when I believe my argument is based on fairness to both parties, upon the application of the facts and the law. Positions perceived as spiteful, oppressive and unreasonable are not frequently rewarded.
Excuses that a lawyer is only carrying out his client’s instruction are not really excuses. Some things are within the client’s purview and some things are within the lawyer’s purview. A retired Chancellor tells a story of a lawyer appearing before him seeking a continuance of a hearing due to his child’s life threatening injury suffered in an automobile accident. The Judge asked the lawyer why he was in court with a motion instead of traveling to the hospital to be with his child. The lawyer responded that his motion was opposed by his adversary – who then told the Judge he was only doing “what he was instructed to do” by his client. That lawyer should have remembered the importance of fairness.
Studies show that lawyers lead all of the professions and job classifications in substance abuse, depression and suicide. I think that a portion of the underlying stress comes from a lack of recognition of the importance of fairness in the practice of law. Oppression and bullying is sometimes successful but it is never right and usually contains the seeds of the downfall of those who would oppress and bully.
Part of our job is to assist clients in seeing and realizing that their interests are served by integrity and fairness to those on the other side of a controversy. Understanding that we treat our opposition with courtesy and respect, even if undeserved, clients understand they can count on us to treat them properly. We hope to engender this confidence.
Some of my very best clients are persons or companies that were on the other side of a lawsuit years ago. They have told me that they were impressed that we exhibited integrity and fairness and did things right, and that along with doing things right, obtained a good …and fair result.
Fairness is and will remain an important core of our practice.