‘Cause You Got To Have Friends

A few of my fellow blawgers have posted “around the blawgosphere” posts this week,  WindyLammersBennett.  It’s a nice thing to do, both to share posts with readers that they might not otherwise see and to give a little link love to one’s friends in the ‘hood.  Nothing wrong with being a good friend.

This is what’s been getting me in trouble with some of my friends, and others, in the blawgosphere lately.  I’m something of a traitor.  There are other blawgs around with whom I regularly interact, and with whom I share a great deal in common.  They are my friends in the blawgosphere.  I’ve grown to like them personally, respect their views, admire their efforts. 

But sometimes, I disagree with something they write.  For some of my friends, a healthy disagreement is no big deal.  Bennett and I disagree about stuff all the time, and hash it out in public.  It’s never affected our friendship, and it’s never taken personally.  It’s our nature as trial lawyers, criminal defense lawyers, to take issue with ideas and duke it out. 

Others, unfortunately, don’t see it that way.  Not at all.  It’s not that they can’t tolerate the fact that someone doesn’t agree with their every position, but that a post, a public writing taking issue with their public writing, is taken as a personal attack on them.  Friends don’t attack friends.  Yesterday we loved each other.  Today, I hate you.

This scenario reflects a couple of fundamental flaws in the blawgosphere, and my hope is that by airing the problem, those who I’ve offended in the process will gain a better understanding of what I’m doing and why I’m doing it.  Let me start by saying, just because I may not agree with something you’ve written doesn’t mean I think you’re a terrible human being, a blithering idiot or disgusting, ugly and a bad dancer.  I just disagree with one of your positions.  I think you’re wrong about something.  So what?  Maybe I’m the one who is wrong.  You can disagree with me too, you know.

One such “issue” where I depart from the blawgosphere orthodoxy is work-life balance, a topic of particularly importance to a certain subsets of the blawgosphere.  It’s likely that those who push the work-life balance are over-represented online, their being more attuned to technology and, frankly, having more time to promote a cause that suits their desires and comports with their lifestyle. 

This creates an illusion of a groundswell of support for the cause.  It’s an illusion because the other side is grossly under-represented online, yet predominant in the real world.  Consequently, many begin to believe their own press releases, or support the cause that best suits their desires, even though it may be damaging to the profession and to them personally, when they get smacked in the face with the harsh reality that it’s a scam.  Wanting to believe in something doesn’t make it so. 

I’m asked regularly why I kick sand in the face of my friends in the blawgosphere on this subject.  Why, oh why, can’t I just stick to criminal law subjects, stay within the bounds of my niche, and leave the work-life balance crowd alone.  On one level, it’s because Simple Justice is a vehicle for things that interest me, whether within the criminal law arena or elsewhere.  But on a deeper level, it’s because there is just too much deception going on in the blawgosphere, and few people want to confront it. Indeed, much of it is self-deception.

Someone has to tell the other side of the story.  This is particularly true when people surround themselves with the chorus, like-minded wishers who keep pumping a pipe-dream because they really, really want it to come true.

Having been around the law long enough to remember when the challenge was whether lawyers should be allowed to advertise at all, I’ve watched as the professionalism of lawyers deteriorated.  Law turned from profession to occupation, from practice to business.  For many of my younger brethren at the bar, the concept of professionalism is foreign.  Today, we are deluged with marketers and marketing, all whispering in our ear that everybody does it, that it’s the only way to survive, that we all market and that anyone who questions it is a liar or a fool.

The work-life balance agenda is inextricably tied to the marketing cabal, as the former is the feeder that supposedly feeds the coffers of part-time lawyers such that they no longer need to put the client first.  I know, they insist that they do put the client first, but through their use of technology, planning, force of will, they somehow manage to do it all and do it better than old timers like me.  This, according to the people who are selling their magic secrets, is how one can make millions being a lawyer while being home for dinner at 5.  Horse hockey (h/t Jdog).

I’ve grown somewhat intolerant of those who would pursue an agenda that continues to diminish the professionalism of the law.  We are not about making millions, though a good income will come from a learned profession as an outgrowth of excellence.  We are not about kid lawyers with website touting their “expertise” when they’ve never tried a case.  I see rampant lies across the internet, and none of this seems to sufficiently trouble the chorus to either change their evil ways or speak out against the liars.

But the dream of work-life balance, the one where there is no price to pay for leaving the office at 5 and kicking back to play video games in midday, presents as great, if not greater danger, to the professionalism of lawyers as it is primarily designed to appeal to those least capable of understanding the inherent dangers.  So many young lawyers, coming out in a troubled economy and raised to believe that they are entitled to every shiny thing they see, willingly buy into this scheme. 

These are the kids who put up sham websites to suck in clients who are in true need of help, but who buy the time of people utterly incapable of providing the representation they need, and utterly lacking the desire to fulfill the obligations that once characterized lawyers.  The client suffers so the lawyer can make a buck.  The lawyer loses his dignity and integrity, but no one in the movement speaks to those issues.

Travel around the blawgosphere and see what interests people, what agendas they are pursuing.  It’s disheartening.  A wealth of marketing.  A dearth of competence.  A lack of comprehension that you aren’t a brilliant lawyer because your marketing guru says so.  Someone has to be the wet blanket at this beach party bingo, because Moondoggie is going back to his airline pilot job come September and Gidget is going to be left alone on the beach with no one to play with.  I am so sorry to be the bearer of bad news.  I wish you could all get your way.  But this isn’t like your third grade soccer team, where everybody gets to play.

There are clients, real people who suffer real consequences, as a result of the delusions perpetrated on the internet.  They come to lawyers believing them to be competent, even expert, and willing and capable of helping them, saving their lives sometimes. And the lawyer’s primary focus is to get paid and be home by dinner, with the client merely the conduit for the transfer of revenue and proof of the mastery of the secret to success.  Is any of this getting through?

So I leave my niche in criminal law from time to time to be a voice in the wilderness, that we are not selling laundry detergent, but are lawyers, professionals, in whom p
eople repose their trust.  I’ve seen their children cry when their lawyers fail to fulfill their duty.  The need to enjoy a happy lawyer life will never wipe away their tears.  I know that I’m being a pedantic old fool again as I write these words, but the truth is that, all the fun and sarcasm and humor aside, there is so much human pain belying what we do that this is no joke.  It’s just not something to keep us busy between games of Mortal Kombat or junior’s soccer game.

For those whose toes I step on in the process, it’s not because I don’t like you or respect you.  It’s just that I disagree with you on this subject, and I believe it to be important and serious.  Sorry for the hard feelings I’ve caused, but it’s something that I believe needs to be done.

I hope we can be friends even if we disagree.

18 comments on “‘Cause You Got To Have Friends

  1. John R.

    Very gracious. And I think taking up this subject IS a valuable service.

    To keep it in perspective, youthful insouciance is nothing new. Like every generation before them, the world will beat them up and they’ll see it’s not so easy.

    You’re doing them a favor. When the pain comes, they’ll remember some of the things you said, and that might help them to avoid bitterness, and maybe even rededicate themselves from a more informed perspective.

  2. SHG

    I hope it’s taken that way.  There are some very strong vested interests on the other side.

  3. jigmeister

    I have to say that I am ashamed of the state of the “profession”. The lack of esteem for lawyers is directly related to the misleading advertising of lawyers about their competence and what they can do for their clients. Our self regulation has done nothing but make the problem worse. Given the state of the law, I’m not sure what can be done about it. 30 years ago we had green lawyers, but because they couldn’t advertise, they had to get experience and build a reputation to build a successful practice. Many are in a hurry now and take advantage of the lack of meaningful regulation without regard to what they are doing to their clients and the profession.

  4. Dr. SunWolf

    Notwithstanding the fact that defining work-life balance has yet to be accomplished to anyone’s satisfaction, criminal defense work–at best–can only offer time off in between trials, clients, discovery, motions. Assuming one has any in-betweens.

    Defense attorney to client, “There’s a bunch of motions I could file that might help your case, but I’m gonna pass. Okay?” Hmmmm.

    I recently gave several attorneys a list of 26 motions they should file challenging the constitution of the venire in their various judicial districts (and, happily, useable in ALL their other cases). They were horrified. Yee gads, I say. [The appellate courts, using, apparently, the Warm Body bright line, do not require that we do all we could for a client to be competent, which doesn’t help the culture of competence most of us would prefer to dwell in.]

    If it’s any comfort [as in Misery Loves Company], when I left criminal defense work after almost 20 years for full time university scholarship and teaching, the miserable lack of personal time didn’t change. This year, in fact, Work Life Balance is the favored topic at universities around the country–and anyone not joining the cause has a lot of ‘splaining to do. [Particularly those of us who are female, the presumptive banner-carriers of work-life rallies.] Sigh.

  5. SHG

    Your point about how we had to work our way up the ladder years ago is an excellent one, and one that I hadn’t included in my thoughts.  You are absolutely right that marketing has altered the competence equation necessary to achieve financial success as a consequence, rather than a cause.  Excellent point.  Thanks.

  6. SHG

    Even though I try to keep my finger on the pulse of the academy, I wasn’t aware that work-life balance had found it’s way in.  I can’t wait to hear the normative arguments support for the new pedagogical paradigm (I love using lawprof language).  I can’t wait to hear the conversation about why should all adopt the month off in August.  After all, the defendants will still be in jail, right where we left them.

    As to your 26 motions, I bet the reaction would have been the same if you gave them 5.  One motion, one-size-fits-all, is just so much easier.  It’s not easy to discuss a culture of competence today; they just want to make a t-shirt of it and sell them on eBay.

  7. Thomas R Griffith

    Mr. G., I found your Blog via Defending People, Life at the Harris County CJC & (GFB) Grits for Breakfast. I must say that this piece is one of the most interesting I’ve read in a long time.

    With your approval, I would like to include the 3rd paragraph from the bottom in the (Quotes to Live By)chapter of the soon to be published book titled, The Griffith Files – 1984 & Beyond.

    You Sir, truly have earned your ESQ. I can see that it’s more than a label, it’s a life style. Now, I have three lawyers / attorneys that I consider to be humans first & worth their salt.

    Thank you,
    Thomas R. Griffith
    PROJECT – Not Guilty (a project, a blog in progress & a nightmare for some)

  8. Mark Bennett

    As I walked the dog this evening, something was nagging at my mind about this comment.

    There are several green criminal defense lawyers to whom I feel comfortable referring cases; none of them advertise. There are lots of green criminal defense lawyers (including recent former prosecutors or judges) in town who advertise; I don’t know of any of thsoe to whom I’d feel comfortable referring cases.

    I don’t think there’s anything intrinsically wrong with truthful advertising; in fact, I think those lawyers whom I trust _should_ advertise, and try fruitlessly to encourage them to, so that more people hire them.

    So here’s the question: why is it that the group of new lawyers I trust, and the group of new lawyers who advertise, don’t intersect?

  9. SHG

    The saving grace is that while by age and experience, some could easily fall into the trap of the Slackoisie.  But they don’t.  They work hard and maintain their dignity. The same reasons they are trustworthy prevent them from behaving in a way that undermines their integrity.  They are the future of the profession.

  10. Jdog

    I’m still puzzled, in much the same way MB is, though. There’s no good reason I can see that a good CDL shouldn’t advertise — not via a Shamwow! type commercial, but in an appropriate way. But at least some good ones (all of the ones I know that I’d pick up a phone to call if I needed a CDL, fwiw) maintain at most a minimal web marketing presence, and none of them run ads at all. Are they all so busy that, say, they don’t want to bother finding a half an hour to sign up for Google ads? (Back of the envelope says that, say, one $10K case that they wouldn’t otherwise get pays for about five years’ worth of an expensive Google ads campaign.) Or all they are as allergic to advertising as you are?

    Again: I’m not talking about anything that over reaches — just something like “NYC Criminal Defense” with the next three lines being “Need a criminal defense lawyer?” and “I may or may not be the right one” and, finally, “for your situation.” with a link to an unembarrassing web site.

  11. SHG

    The problem is that slippery slope.  If there was some sort of postive cool-aid in the water served at lawyer marketing conventions that caused lawyers to advertise with self-imposed limits, such as dignity, integrity and honesty, then I wouldn’t feel as I do.  But the point of advertising is to distinguish one brand from another, and that’s where it slides downhill quickly.

    What does the new lawyer have to say about himself?  That he really cares about his client and will work as hard as he can?  That’s very nice, but not terribly distinctive.  And so the snowball effect starts, as each tries to outmarket the next, first with hyperbole and then with outright lies and deceit, all encouraged by the emerging legal marketing industry and gurus who can’t tell you how to actually represent anyone, but can tell you how to suck clients in and then suck them dry.

    Of course, when you come up with a way to prevent lawyers from sliding down the slope, or more likely running down the slope with a silly smile on their face, I will reconsider.

  12. Mark Bennett

    An expensive Google ads campaign for something like “NYC Criminal Defense” would be thousands of dollars a month.

    Dirty little secret: I advertise. Shhh. Don’t tell Scott.

  13. Hull

    SHG:

    Getting better–but why can’t ALL of your fire-breathing man-mountain opinion holders give their real names?

    Hillbilly rape victims?

    CIA operatives?

    Battered housewives?

    Spread the word. WankFest is over. Anonymity on The Net was abused by too many people for too long–and they (mostly males, apparently) ruined it for people who deserve and/or did not abuse it.

    So time to take everyone’s toys away.

    But it looks like your blog is attracting fewer wimps these days. Bravo. But please do more, sir. Please step up and block anonymous commenters on your blog.

    Dan

  14. SHG

    Hillbilly rape victims, each and every one of them.  We met at the Ned Beatty memorial pig roast, right after the ceremonial squeal.  Please show them the deference due victims.

  15. Jamie

    This post makes me think of yet another advantage to “imaginary blogging”, which is pretty much the only type of blogging I engage in now-a-days. Imaginary blogging, aka “i-blogging”, is when I think about a subject that I could and should blog about, but then I don’t. This tends to happen a couple of times per day minimum.

    The advantage, of course, is that when I i-blog, I can also allow myself to believe that SJ would have written many paragraphs the next day about my incredibly useful and insightful post, and my fame would only increase in the blawgosphere, practical or otherwise.

  16. Thomas R. Griffith

    Speaking of motions in re:to W-L-B., A Texas CDL filed 7 of them (including a Motion for Discovery & Inspection 30 days before trial date.) Years after the trial one learns that all 7 ORDER pages are not filled out & not signed by the presiding judge.

    26 or 7, what does this say about the Orders not being filled out & signed? Or is this business as usual in Texas & the CDL was just going through the motions in order to justify being paid? Anyone got a clue? Thanks.

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