In yet another excellent post. Eric Mayer at the Unwashed Advocate explains why he’ll pass on a young lawyer who is sniffing for a job.
“You know, Eric, I’m really passionate about defending soldiers.”
I smiled and made attempts at keeping the conversation light. Though I left with the feeling that he hoped that a seed was planted for future cultivation.
The fact is, I’d never hire him. Ever.
“Ever” is a very long time. What could have caused such a reaction?
So, why won’t I hire him?
I don’t have time to deal with that crap.
But, but, but…isn’t “passion” the word that crops up everywhere these days? Aren’t we told by legal marketers and social media gurus that the key to success is to be passionate? Isn’t the sage advice to follow your passion?
I talk to passionate people all the time. Some are clients. Some are potential clients. Many are family members–moms, dads, wives, brothers, sisters, and mistresses. Others are third-party advocates (victim, veteran, and the like). They are passionate. Often very, very passionate.
They know what they know and believe what they believe. They become flustered and angry at the thought that someone could believe otherwise. When I explain that the opposing side has a logical and (generally) accepted reason for a particular stance, I’m met with the same high-powered anger and frustration.
They blurt, “How can they possibly think that?! How can you say those jerks have solid and compelling evidence?!”
Passion isn’t just the rage these days, but a dangerously misguided perspective. It goes by other names, zealot, true believer for example, but it’s all the same thing. Lawyers who have confused their purpose with that of their clients.
The characterization of passionate has become increasingly pervasive, mostly because lawyers think it sells. Clients like to think their lawyers “feel” exactly as they do, are as outraged at the injustice of it all and as utterly devoted to their self-serving perception of “justice.” The axiom is “justice is blind,” and they believe their lawyer should be as well.
Sadly, the blawgosphere has fed this misguided view. It’s congealed the sides into teams of like-minded cheerleaders, who whip each other into a fervor through hyperbole and validation. If this were merely to bolster the fortitude of lawyers who rationalized away their responsibility to zealously represent their clients, this would be a wonderful thing. But that’s not what we’re talking about. It’s about proclaiming that our side is the side of good and the other side is the side of evil. We’re right. They’re wrong. No matter what they say, they are liars and we speak truth, for we are the side of truth and justice.
It gets worse. There are lawyers who post rants directed toward the ignorant and angry, feeding them what they want to hear and in return receiving the adoration of their fans. The problem is that these dialectics are remarkably unpersuasive, often dead wrong, and guaranteed to make any reader worse for having read it.
It’s easy to mount an argument when there is no one to argue against you, pointing out every inch of the way the error of your reasoning or the failure of your foundation. But that’s not how it works in court, and that’s not how lawyers function. We aren’t pundits, pontificating in the comfort of our easy chair with only sycophants around us. We face prosecutors, judges and juries, and they get to both contradict our positions and determine whether we’re out of our minds. And they do.
Whenever someone tells me they’re “passionate,” I have the same reaction Eric does. It tells me that they prefer to shut their eyes as tight as possible and sing “lalalala” at the top of their lungs whenever the arguments against them are made. They believe. They believe too much. They can’t grasp that their belief isn’t shared by everyone, which makes everyone else either wrong or crazy. And they can’t understand why they lose.
Feeling passion makes a person think they are flawless, and they see the other side as obviously and irreparably flawed. How dare someone think otherwise.
As lawyers, we are hired to analyze everything dispassionately, call it as we see it, and make the most of whatever hand we are dealt. If we are passionate, we fail at all three. The last thing we should do is practice in an area where we feel passion.
As a person, I can be plenty passionate. As a lawyer, I cannot. As a lawyer, my duty is to be effective in providing my client with the best possible outcome, regardless of any “passion” I may feel.
You see, priests “believe,” people “feel,” but lawyers “think.”
My experience tells me that passion usually results in one of two things: poor legal reasoning or unintended pregnancies.
Keep your passion. I’m with Eric. I’ll stick with effective.
Update: Some of the comments to this post made me think of this, so I had to add it in:
Proud of his scars and the battles he’s lost…
To paraphrase Patton, the object isn’t to die for your cause but to make the other poor bastard die for his.
Check our Jeff Gamso’s post on this, where he offers a great perspective.