Judge Kopf, in his letter to a young practicing attorney, was deliberately provocative and slightly snarky, both for the entertainment value as well as to grab attention. The sweet tummy rubs that the babies prefer tend not to serve any purpose beyond validating their saddest feelings. That wasn’t what the good judge was aiming for.
Still, there were flaming nutjobs* who were literally shaking at the outrage of it all. This comes as no surprise, as baby lawyers are baby lawyers. That’s the reason why an old judge would write a letter to a young lawyer, because they will bristle and buck in reaction to being called immature. They big boys and girls! They know stuff and there is nothing that experience will teach them. Until they gain experience, but that, of course, takes time.
But there was one piece that evoked a surprising reaction.
Additionally, don’t complain about a work/life imbalance. Your clients are what matters. Your spouses and kids are secondary. If you don’t agree, get out of the practice of law.
I would not have thought it terribly hard to grasp what the judge was saying. I would have been very wrong.
the day I put my job above my family is the day I quit.
— Raffi Melkonian (@RMFifthCircuit) July 20, 2017
Raffi is an experienced appellate lawyer. Would he blow off oral argument because his daughter had a dance recital? Maybe blow a filing deadline for a brief because his son had a little league game?
The interpretation of Judge Kopf’s use of “secondary” apparently confused him, as if it meant he should stay at the office playing spider solitaire rather than go home for his anniversary dinner. Was this in doubt? Was that what Judge Kopf was saying? Does this really require gertruding, plus a full post using small words to explain?
The obvious meaning was that when there is a conflict that can’t be avoided, and something or someone has to give, the lawyer’s first duty is to the client. Obviously, if the conflict can be avoided so that the lawyer can fulfill his obligations to his client as well as go to the dance recital, he will and should. But I need to say this? Are we really that dense that this has to be spelled out? Yes. Yes we are, and so I do.
Not all lawyers will have conflicts. Some, like government and in-house lawyers, paper-shufflers and library benchwarmers, won’t understand this to be an issue because they do nothing in their job which would raise such a problem. Guess what?!? If so, then this doesn’t apply to you, at least for now.
Other lawyers have conflicts all the time and are constrained to make very hard choices. Trial tomorrow and suddenly little Joey wants you to teach him to ride his bike. Joey will have to wait, because your client is facing life plus cancer in prison and he needs you more. Does that mean you put your job ahead of your family? Does that make your family secondary? You bet your ass it does. Your client has a family too. Your client has put his life, his family’s life, in your hands. Sucks, but your client comes first.
But what is more disturbing, since I’ve little doubt that Raffi never meant to suggest that he would blow off oral argument for a picnic with the kids, is the message an experienced lawyer sends to the baby lawyers. They are hearing something very different, that their professional life is about their happiness, their feelings, their welfare. The client is just there to pay for it.
No, not all baby lawyers hear it this way. Not all are narcissists who believe it’s about them and their happiness. Not all feel entitled. But a lot do, and those are the lawyers who need to hear from experienced lawyers, and judges, that there is a responsibility that goes along with the title “lawyer.” And in those instances where a conflict arises between what they would like to do and what their client needs them to do, the client comes first.
Does that mean their family is always second banana? Hardly. But does this really need to be explained in such brutal excruciating detail? Yes, it apparently does, and that’s why Judge Kopf’s letter to a young practicing lawyer was valuable. Unfortunately, it fell short of its goal.
*Why the “vitriolic” characterization? Because when Mario Machado suggested that one unduly emotional lawyer take her grievance to the judge with the three words, “why not comment?”, she went on a seven twit tear about how Mario forced himself into her timeline and “demanded” she do so. So yeah, unhinged.