Vail Law: Lawyers really are people, too: We listen deeply, care and understand we all are human (column)
Lawyers are people, too.
No, really. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.
Lawyers turn their heads at the sight of an attractive guy or girl, enjoy a good meal and some of them have been even known to smile. We put our pants on one leg at a time. We brush and floss and comb our hair. When we meet with clients and with other lawyers, most times we share a bit of our own lives with them. Sometimes, the best way to teach — and make no mistake about it, the best lawyers are, beside pugilists when circumstances demand, good teachers — often the best way to shine light is by an anecdote, often a personal one.
To be a good lawyer — a really good one — is to enjoy people, to take pleasure in their stories and something approaching joy in helping them out of a tough situation.
So, why do I mention this? Am I pandering for a friendly smile? Well, yeah — a little. But it’s much, much more than that.
Courtesy goes a long way
Beside the fact that lawyers sometimes get a bad rap (What’s the difference between a racoon on the road and a lawyer on the road? Skid marks.), it is this: Despite their often stressful jobs and training — many nights of midnight oil burning — lawyers generally react the same way most folks do. “Please” and “thank you” go a long way. Treating people with respect and admitting wrong works wonders. Not only are courtesy and calm effective tools (and keeps your own blood pressure down to boot), but it is the way that all people — even lawyers: even opposing lawyers — deserve, as fellow traveler, to be treated.
Little is ever accomplished — are you listening Gloria and Rudy? — by threatening, gesticulating and disrespect. Bombast is best reserved for private thoughts. Name calling? Didn’t your momma teach you better than that?
One other quick discursion, and then to my point. Judges are people, too. So are court clerks and paralegals and bailiffs and every other single person with whom you come into contact within the legal system. A smile returned from the deputies faithfully executing their jobs when you pass through security at the courthouse is just as valuable as one from Chief Justice Roberts if you could eke one out.
Law, like all human endeavors, is not a zero-sum game. In, fact, it is not a game at all. It is a human undertaking with human thoughts and emotions. We are all in this together. And that being the case, we may as well be nice to one another. It is usually best, too, for a lawyer to keep in mind that whatever thing he or she is representing his/her client about really matters to the client. Otherwise, why would he be parting his hard-earned on the lawyer? And that too deserves respect.
So my point is this.
Law being a human undertaking — and all of us have our foibles our virtues, our strengths and weaknesses — you can often make great strides through the building of relationships. If a lawyer has developed a reputation as a straight shooter, then he or she will be taken seriously. If the lawyer truly cares about his client — and, by the way, has a sincere interest in the other lawyer and her client— then a bond of trust and mutual respect is quickly established. If other lawyers know that a particular other lawyer is only in it for himself, then that, too, becomes quickly apparent.
We’re in this together
I think I’m quoting (or at least paraphrasing) Benjamin Franklin in saying, “If you enjoy your work, the week is five days longer.” If I’ve misquoted Franklin or attributed someone else’s quote to him, my apologies in advance. But still the point is apt. If a lawyer goes through one work day after another doing battle and not accepting his opponent as a equal, then life can be a drudge. Now when I say “equal,” that doesn’t necessarily mean the other guy is just as skilled. But what it does mean is that the other guy is just as human. And as a human being, he or she has the same needs and desires, hopes, fears or a reasonable facsimile of yours. And that is worth always bearing in mind.
Rather than being out to get you, the other lawyer, if he or she is conscientious, is doing exactly the same thing that you are sworn to do — zealously represent and advocate for his or her client. And rather than resent that, you should respect that. Isn’t that what you are both expected to be doing? Isn’t that the least you both should do?
Although it appears the earliest tracing of the proverb points back to the Cherokee, it became common currency through Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.” You have all heard it in one form or another. It goes like this. “You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
There’s a lot to be said about that. Empathy is worth its weight in satisfaction. And empathy — which can be defined as understanding married to vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts and experience of another — extends in all directions. A judge can have a bad day. Opposing counsel can be worried about a sick kid. A client can be stressed by things unexpressed. “Getting that” always makes a difference.
How to deal with what you only can intuit? Listen deeply. Care. Understand we all are human. Get off your high horse and get your boots a little muddy.
We are all in this together.
And if we play nice together, then more flowers of mutual understanding bloom. And problems may get solved more efficiently and quickly.
Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley with the law firm of Stevens, Littman, Biddison, Tharp & Weinberg LLC. His practice areas include business and commercial transactions, real estate and development, family law, custody and divorce and civil litigation. Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at his email address, firstname.lastname@example.org.