Sitting around a courtroom waiting for your case to be called is one of the primary activities of a criminal defense lawyer in New York City. There are many things to do to occupy your time, ranging from counting to 21 on body parts to silent critique on the latest in street fashion. One of my personal favorite pastimes is to watch young lawyers, men and women I’ve never before seen, stand up and make the most of their 30 seconds before the court.
There are occasional flashes of brilliance, guts, creativity. There is a more steady stream of lawyers repeating the typical jargon, routine sounds that tell us that whatever purpose is being served during those precious seconds, it’s not different to the lawyer than the case before it or the case after. It’s as if this was a big charade with a predetermined outcome, and they are just going through the motions. And indeed, that’s exactly what it is to them.
Most young lawyers, and far too many more experienced ones as well, have a deep desire to play the role of the yeoman. They learn in their first few weeks of practice to mouth the words that the bulk of lawyers do, so they can repeat the mantras of the law like a pro. Their last two years of law school, steeped in theory that bears no connection to anything they will ever have to do for client, they are left with only the most basic lessons of year one. The lessons of ancient history. They want to be accepted by the guild of lawyers who regularly appear, and these lawyers say the mantra so perfectly that they are the models the new kids emulate.
I was once one of these young lawyers, but had a nagging belief that if I looked harder, tried harder, thought harder, I could find a way to accomplish anything. Which brings me to Dan Hull’s post, imploring lawyers to get some fresh eyeglasses.
Few of us can have Albert Einstein’s talent for Western logic, or IQ. But Einstein’s advantage over other physicists may have been that he was a “new soul”; he looked at everything as if he were seeing it for the first time.Dan has captured the essence of what it means to be a lawyer. No, not one of those yeomen who can spout the mantras with perfection. That’s not lawyering. Every case, every client, is an original. It’s the very first time. No case has ever happened before, and it’s entirely up to you to invent it in whatever fashion best serves your client.
Work. He approached it from a wellspring of joy. There are others like him in that respect. Those are the kind of people I want as friends to inspire me, and as co-workers to solve clients’ problems. I’ll take an IQ a lot lower than Einstein’s (for associates, though, Coif or Law Review would be nice).
Reverence and a child’s awe. That’s the outlook I prize. Energy, intensity and creativity always seem to come with it.
The vast majority of lawyers, not to mention judges, view the law as something that’s already happened. Some brilliant person who died centuries ago came up with the ideas, and everything since is just its routine application, with the odd minor tweak here and there.
There are few lawyers, a handful, who create the law. Who challenge precedent. Who broaden old horizons, and see new ones that no one has ever seen before. To this handful of lawyers, no case is typical. No client is common. No scenario is garden variety. Every one is absolutely, totally, completely new. Every case is an opportunity to be a virgin. Again.
These lawyers look at a case like a child, unaware of what “can’t be done” and determined instead to just find a way to do it. They see the law as if it’s the first time, with infinite possibilities and no fear that the burdens of the past will crush their spirit. They believe that they can accomplish great things.
Which lawyer are you? Which lawyer do you want to be? It’s entirely up to you.