Robbins: In law, the fit must be just right
“If the glove don’t fit, you must acquit.” — Johnnie Cochran, O.J. Simpson trial
“The punishment must fit the crime.” — Legal aphorism
Got a shoehorn?
As I write that sentence, it occurs to me that a certain segment of the readership, having been weaned on ECCOs, Sketchers, Crocs, and Nikes, might not be familiar with a shoehorn. But I’ll press on.
A shoehorn, for the uninitiated, is a simple device — perfect for the job at hand (or, perhaps, more accurately at foot) — that helps one cozy his or her foot into the tight space of a shoe. Some are ornate, made of bone, wood, brass, or silver. More modernly, they are most times made of plastic.
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Nonetheless, they do the job.
Other than a lawyer sometimes helping to get you out of tight spot, you may be wondering — legitimately, I’ll admit — what shoehorns, new or antique, have to do with law.
Well, in my mind anyway, it has to do with fit.
In law, the same as in life, to avoid the pinch and bunions of misfortune, the fit must be just right.
The relationship between a lawyer and his or her client is one of confidence and trust. Besides a lawyer’s competence and diligence, like a foot slid in a new brogue, the fit between the client and the lawyer must be comfortable. In some areas of law, more than others, the lawyer becomes the client’s confidant and sometimes confessor. It is why, in part, lawyers are referred to as attorneys and “counselors” at law. A good attorney does more than spout the law.
Rule 2.1 of the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct provides that “In representing a client, a lawyer shall render … candid advice. In rendering advice, a lawyer may refer not only to the law but to other considerations such as moral, economic, social and political factors, that may be relevant to the client’s situation.” Other Rules of Professional Conduct deal with truth and candor. What they amount to, collectively, is trust and, by extension, “fit” between the client and the lawyer. If one is to trust the lawyer, there must be the proper fit.
A substantial part of my practice has been, for more years than I care to count, domestic/family law. Before going further, I will share an anecdote that I have shared with clients many times.
The first 10 years or so of my practice, I practiced in Southern California. In those innocent days — days for those of you old enough to remember, when the TSA did not exist and you could sashay your loved ones right up to the airline gate — there were no metal detectors in courthouses, not even in wild, sometimes wooly Southern Cal. When exactly that changed, I can’t quite accurately recollect. But what I do recall is that the first courts that got ’em were family law courts. Then bankruptcy court. Then criminal court. And then, like dominoes set in motion with the flick of social change, all courts fell in line.
My point and supposition is that the sequence that was followed with the installation of metal detectors in Southern Cal — first love, then money, and then crime — was reflective of where the greatest passion lies. And because that is where the utmost passion lies, when one is dealing with these matters, and uncountable others, one must become intimate with one’s adviser about the details of one’s life and hopes and fears and goals.
If the lawyer is to be one’s most effective ally, s/he must understand what makes you tick, what gets you up in the morning, and what frightens you into insensibility. And, in order to fully understand that — as it is based on trust and mutual respect — a proper bond must form. There must be the proper “fit” between the client and the lawyer.
Why some people “click” and others rub against each other’s rough edges is a mystery about which writers and philosophers have mused for centuries. Probably all that can honestly be said is that sometimes people mesh and other times they don’t. Most times, that’s a no-fault thing; folks just sometimes view the world through different lenses or are wired differently.
Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.
But when you put your trust in someone in things that really matter in your life, fit is equally essential to competence. If two doctors are equally skilled but I am more comfortable with one than with the other, the better fit will likely be the one in whose hands I’ll place my welfare. Same in law.
To butcher Johnnie Cochran’s well-known meme, if the relationship don’t fit, perhaps it’s time to quit.
And to seek out an adviser with whom your gears more seamlessly mesh.
Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the bars of Colorado and California who practices Of Counsel in the Vail Valley with the Law Firm of Caplan & Earnest, LLC. His practice areas include: business and commercial transactions; real estate and development; family law, custody, and divorce; and civil litigation. Mr. Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or firstname.lastname@example.org. His novels, “How to Raise a Shark (an apocryphal tale)” and “The Stone Minder’s Daughter,” are currently available at Amazon.com.