Monday, September 19, 2011

Our Crazy Civil Justice - Brave, Committed and Patient People Needed

Most of my clients are worried about going to trial, and with good reason. Being a party to litigation which culminates in trial is not pleasant for either side. It's easiest on the lawyers. Some lawyers think it is their duty to be mean and nasty and others, probably most, get a kick out of rattling the other side. Knowing what I know about how these things go, I would think long and hard before being a party to a lawsuit. I like to think I would sue, if there is a grave injustice, but I know the emotional perils of trial.

I try to tell new clients what to expect in litigation. I refuse to allow lawyers to treat my clients with disrespect in depositions. However, it's impossible to tell what can happen in a trial. The other side wants to portray my clients as a liar, a cheat, greedy, with low morals. It takes a lot of my energy to deal with this and I can imagine what it is like for my clients, who have little control once the trial starts.

My goal is to find the good things in my clients, their courage and kindness, and by the time of trial I really care about my clients the same way I care about my friends and family. My role is not just to be their advocate, but also to be their protector. I am very fortunate because most of my clients display the type of courage in the battle of litigation that I have only dreamt about. It takes quite a toll on me to protect my client and be ready to deal with the other side. But, at least I have some control over the situation. I plan the strategy, ask the questions and make the objections. My client has to sit at the counsel table, displayed before judge, jury and opposing counsel, without any control whatsoever. My clients can only talk while being questioned. They must relinquish control and trust me, even while knowing sometimes our cases don't work out.

I believe that most of my opposing attorneys are fine, upstanding people, but every once in awhile, oftentimes based on comments from the lawyers, the other side will not resolve the case until the lawyers has exacted his pound of flesh. Ironically, this phrase comes from Shylock in the Merchant of Venice, and Shylock does not portray the lawyer Shylock in a very favorable light. Insteadvof flesh, some lawyers want to make a certain amount of money off the case before they will discuss settlement. Their pound of flesh is the unnecessary pounding on my clients from which they bill their time. The more time, the more unnecessary work, the more money that lines their pockets.

I long for the days before my time when lawyers just went in and tried their cases. No whorish experts, no multiple day long depositions. The way we drag out the civil justice system today is unfair. As some Supreme Court Justice one said one day long ago, "Justice delayed is justice denied." Perhaps we need to examine why the justice process is taking so long and who reaps the benefit from this delay. Can't we do this better? I think there must be a way.

I wish I could tell my clients what will happen with their case, but all I can do is guess. I don't know the future. At some point, most, but not all cases settle. I tell my clients that sometimes I feel like my job is similar to being a professional gambler. That does not give the client much solace, since I am, I effect, gambling with both their and my money.

It takes a lot of resolve to be a client in litigation heading toward trial. I admire my clients. I admire that most of them want to make the workplace a fairer place. But, darn, this is not a path for the timid of heart nor for the half-hearted. Thank God for the courage of people to do the right thing. My clients restore my faith in humanity.

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