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Don’t hate me, I’m just the lawyer

Rohn Robbins
Vail, CO, Colorado

It’s nothing personal. Really it’s not. It’s not me against you. And it’s not the lawyers waging war against one another. At least most times, it’s not.

While it’s easy to point a scythe-like finger at the “suit” who’s making your life miserable, nine-and-a-half times out of 10 ” maybe more ” a lawyer has little or nothing to do with the rancor of litigation and rarely, if ever, has anything to do with what led to the dispute in the first place. By the time we’re called, the damage has already been done. We’re more like mop-up pitchers really.

Most times ” really and truly ” lawyers like to try and fix things before they reach the point of no return, the courthouse.

While it certainly is true that, in concert with his or her client, a lawyer directs the litigation and both develops and shepherds its strategy, it is the client ” not the lawyer ” who actually “owns” the conflict and, to one degree or another, either contributed to it, fostered it, incited it, inflated it, or simply had the bad luck to bump up against the bad actor who did. Sometimes all of the above are true.

The laws of physics dictate that conflict rarely brews in a vacuum. Most of the time, conflict requires the yeast of human anger, misunderstanding, desperation, or resentment. Blend in a little sweat, threat, financial resource, ruination, and intimidation and you’re likely to ferment a powerful brew. And like a yeast swelling with its own importance, emotion swiftly renders conflict expansive, over-arching, even explosive.

The words “lawyer” and “attorney,” not surprisingly, have specific meanings. “Lawyer” is easy. Straightforwardly, it means one who applies the law. “Attorney,” on the other hand, is a more exotic species and possessed of an almost poetic pedigree. Deriving lyrically from the French, “attorne,” it means, literally “one who is legally appointed for another to act for him.” In a nutshell, then, attorneys act for others and, in so doing, they, like a balm or purgative, apply the law.

Sure, lawyers prick and goad and stir the pot. We are retained to angle ” within the guidelines of the codes of legal ethics and the bounds of common decency ” for advantage for our clients. It is our job to get our clients the best deal or best result we can. This doesn’t necessarily always mean the “most” we can. “Most” and “best” are not synonyms and the “greatest” or most muscular result and the best result are not in every circumstance the same.

Often the best result is the fairest one. With scorched earth tactics, you can win the battle and miserably lose the war, to borrow a threadbare colloquialism. If, say, in a divorce, you succeed in ruining your former spouse, you’ll likely sacrifice more consequential intangibles which may in the long run be more important than financial gain. Like the good will which will be necessary to rear happy, well-adjusted kids.

When you seek shelter or alliance with a lawyer, would you really want it any other way than to know the lawyer’s firmly in your corner and will do all he or she can do to represent you zealously? The way the system works best, if imperfectly, is if each party to a dispute has his or her own fervent and even militant proponent in his corner.

I do not employ the word “zealot” casually or carelessly. In fact, the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct, to which all attorneys in this state are bound, requires a lawyer’s zealous advocacy of his or her client’s interests. Equally, however, the lawyer must abide by the client’s decisions. And a lawyer would be a fool to internalize a client’s conflict, making it his own.

Sure, there are those who will cross the street to avoid a lawyer who has sat on the other side of the table from them. There are even those, I suppose, who invest in lawyer voodoo dolls. It’s OK. I understand.

But, in the last analysis, if you don’t like the music of litigation, don’t shoot me; I’m just the piano player.

And my keyboard is the law.

Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the Bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley. He is a member of the Colorado State Bar Association Legal Ethics Committee and is a former adjunct professor of law. Robbins lectures for Continuing Legal Education for attorneys in the areas of real estate, business law and legal ethics. He may be heard on Wednesday nights at 7 p.m. on KZYR radio (97.7 FM) as host of “Community Focus.” Robbins may be reached at 926-4461 or by e-mail at robbins@colorado.net.


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