For fear of being hated
Practicing law in a small community has many advantages and blessings, benefits which I have previously documented in this column. Yet there is one particular aspect of living and working in this valley that has begun to instill in me a creeping fear. It is not a fear of the courtroom, as I am at home there. I do not fear my clients, whom I love to help. Rather, I fear the inevitable consequence of representing one party in a dispute: The other side is going to hate me.
Although I would love to say that I do not care at all what others think of me, that is not wholly accurate. There is a part of me that really wants to be liked … by everyone. It is an unrealistic goal, perhaps even more so given my profession. A certain segment of the population automatically assumes, without ever meeting me, that I am a shark and a crook. That sort of stereotyping does not bother me, mindless as it is.
My apprehension comes from the reactions of those that know, or will come to know, me. Already, five years into my legal career here, I see past, current, and potential opponents in the grocery store, on the mountain, in restaurants, at the gym. The longer that I live here, the more my network of friends and acquaintances grows and becomes intertwined. Mostly, this is a wonderful development. But as I handle more and more cases here, the personal and the professional worlds merge. Soon, that friendly guy whose name I always forget at the gym ends up being a defendant in a lawsuit in which I am representing the plaintiff.
As I have written, lawyers working on opposite sides of a matter are, with limited exception, very cordial and even friendly with each other. The same spirit of camaraderie decidedly does not mark the relationship between an attorney on the one side and a disputant on the other. This animosity has many causes, but there are two chief factors in its creation. First, as a matter of ethics, a lawyer for one side cannot speak directly to the party on the other side. This lack of communication alone is enough to create a disconnect, but the animus is heightened by a party’s lawyer’s tendency to characterize his counterpart as mean, aggressive, and unreasonable. The second main factor is that the opposing lawyer is the instrument through which his client acts. While the conflict may be between the two parties, it is easy to view the opposing lawyer as the true enemy when he is the one drafting and signing briefs and making arguments in court.
My ultimate duty as a lawyer is to zealously advocate for the interests of my client. This mandate does not preclude acting with respect and warmth towards the other side. Even in the throes of a contentious case, I always endeavor to act in a way that will make me feel proud and not ashamed when revisited the next day, week or month. I am not professionally required to act that way, but my conscience demands it. Behaving as I do helps forestall my fear of being hated, but does not eradicate it. Despite my best efforts to not draw the ire of opposing parties, I presume that some have very unflattering things to say about my conduct. Whether this viewpoint is warranted or not, I am not naïve enough to think that it does not exist.
I am troubled that this subcategory of persons who feel wronged by me will grow. When I am feeling especially paranoid, I envision my life in 20 years, when seemingly every person in the valley will have been on my side or on the other. Will I have to only frequent certain restaurants? Is someone going to sabotage my spin bike at the gym? Will I learn to live with the glares that I encounter at the market? Fear is not always rational and clearly my thoughts in this vein tend toward the exceedingly irrational. Fortunately, they are limited thoughts that flicker through my head only occasionally.
Rather than being paralyzed by this fear, I use it as motivation to continue to practice law as I always hope to practice it — with dedication, geniality and joy. I cannot control the opinions of others, but I do have dominion over my own actions and hopefully that is sufficient to prevent my fear from becoming reality.
T.J. Voboril is a partner at Reynolds, Kalamaya & Voboril, LLC, a local law firm, and the owner/mediator at Voice Of Reason Dispute Resolution. For more information, please contact Voboril at 970-306-6456, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.rkvlaw.com.