This is where I am supposed to put my “mission statement”, but “mission statement” is such an odd term. It makes one sound like an astronaut going to the moon. So, let me just say, first, I’m going to say WHAT I do. Then I am going say HOW I do it.
What I Do
I am what is frequently called a trial lawyer. That, however, fails to tell the whole story. True, I am very proficient at being an advocate for clients in trials. When I do so, I am a trial lawyer and have been for the past 33 years. Yet, over 90% of all cases resolve without a trial. So, let’s try litigator, as I handle cases which have been filed with the court. Many of those, however, are settled by negotiation. For that matter, many disputes that come through my door are resolved without filing lawsuits. The opposing lawyer and I may resolve it without even getting close to a courthouse. Thus, for a large amount of my time I would be termed a negotiator. Then there are times, all sides of a dispute may come to me to arbitrate or mediate their matter. Then I am an arbitrator or mediator. Nomenclature aside, suffice to say, I am a lawyer. This encompasses all these skills.
How I Do It
When I first became a lawyer, lay persons would ask me in what area of law I was going to practice? Obviously, I chose litigation in a big way. The very experienced lawyers, however, never asked that. They asked: “What is your style of practice going to be?” Being somewhat stumped, I’d answer: “I am going to be a litigator.” The old timers would just say: “Never mind, you’ll find out,” or some such nebulous phrase.
This kept me wondering about “style of practice.” Nobody in law school ever mentioned “style of practice.” It wasn’t on the bar exam. Was it some esoteric secret of the legal profession? Was it just something used by the experienced lawyers to mess with the minds of neophytes? Great, I thought, years of torture in law school, I had wrestled with that big gorilla the bar exam, and now I must deal with the Zen of law – “style of practice.”
Then I had an epiphany while I was reading a book about Abraham Lincoln and his “style of practice.” If the law in America is God, then the lawyers are its priests and a great prophet Abraham Lincoln was speaking to me…epiphany! That is, I had found my “style of practice”:
“Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. As a peacemaker, the lawyer has superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough.” — Abraham Lincoln
“Discourage litigation.” Prophet Abraham doesn’t say avoid litigation altogether, but discourage it. I do discourage litigation. If for no other reason because litigation is costly with no guaranteed outcome. The approach should be that the lawyers on both sides have the confidence, expertise, and knowledge, to say: “What can we do to make this work? To settle it? To make everybody a winner?” Unfortunately, some lawyers or parties don’t want to go that route. They insist on litigating the matter. In that case, I have done my duty to discourage litigation. Thus, I shall don my gladiator garb, pickup my sword and shield, enter the arena and…go for the throat!
“Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can.” — Abraham Lincoln
I sure do try, but “whenever you can” is the operative phrase. Sometimes I just cannot persuade a client to compromise. It is, however, the client’s word which is final on the matter. At other times, it is the other side who will not compromise. Fortunately, though, after a lawyer’s counsel, most people see the wisdom of compromise.
“As a peacemaker, the lawyer has superior opportunity of being a good man.” — Abraham Lincoln
I gave this one much thought. A “peacemaker”, they never taught me that in law school. Indeed, achieving peace in society is the quintessence of law. Thus, achieving peace for a client should be the prime objective of every lawyer. Eliminating or, at least, minimizing, the hostility, aggravation, and ill will that often accompanies disputes between people. That way, the clients may resolve their dispute and continue to pursue happiness in life. Thus, the lawyer who UNNECESSARILY litigates is nothing more than agent provocateur.
“About half the practice of the decent lawyer is telling clients that they are damned fools and should stop.” — Elihu Root, leading American Trial Lawyer and President Theodore Roosevelt’s Secretary of War.
“There will still be business enough.” — Abraham Lincoln
This one puzzled me when I first started practicing. Oh, I understood it, but why did the Prophet Abraham find it necessary to include it? As I gained experience, the reason became clear. An unethical lawyer in litigation can exploit a client’s emotions and make recommendations that unnecessarily generate litigation and fees. Obviously, this is wrong for many reasons. Yet, he was saying, even if profit motive or greed should surpass ethics, there is nothing to gain from taking the low road.