Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Clients - The Good, the Occasionally Bad, and the Beautiful

I have learned so much from my clients.  I suspect all lawyers have. Most of the lessons, but not all, have been positive. Here are some of the lessons I have learned, good and bad, from my clients:

:-)1.  COURAGE - Many of my clients, especially the ones who go to trial, have a great deal of courage. They turn over their reputations and emotional well-being to lawyers who want to devastate them, jurors who don't know them, and their own lawyers who try their best, which may not be good enough. 

:-( 2.  GREED - I have had clients in the past, hopefully way in the past, who have no ability to see things reasonably. There was a man slightly injured years ago in a car wreck, who insisted he get enough money to buy a new house.  We tried the case.  He did not get the house. 

:-)3.  SELF-SACRIFICE - I have had clients who truly want to make the workplace safer for others, or want to help their loved ones, or who fight for principles. They want their children to be free of the harassment and discrimination that so dogged their own lives.

:-( 4.  DISHONESTY - I had a client many, many years ago who I believed until her deposition. When she lied in her testimony, I confronted her and she said she would pretend that she had forgotten. I had to withdraw from the case. That was an important lesson in assessing veracity in clients. 

:-) 5.  PERSEVERANCE - Perhaps this is one of the most important lessons. I have had clients who persevere through thick and thin to make things right. They don't give up through trials, appeals and deadbeat defendants. They help me to keep going.  I am thinking of one client who weathered the judge throwing out her case, appealing that decision and winning, beginning the trial resulting in a mistrial, finally trying the case to a good verdict, and going back up on appeal with the court taking away part of the verdict. My client went through seven awful years.  I think she is doing well now. Seven years. 

Lately, I have been thinking about my clients who have passed away. Some of them still haunt me. There was the client who died after the mistrial and before the retrial of her case about a fall down some stairs. There was the client who died in a single car collision in the car she bought from the proceeds of the sexual harassment settlement, a single mom leaving two little boys. And there were the children of the father the police officer shot and killed, who are now grown with happy families of their own. And the one that haunts me most, the wonderful, loving couple who both died from cancer within a year, leaving the settlement proceeds to their teenage kids. I think about them almost everyday. They were amazing people with incredible kids they did not get to finish raising. I see how the kids are doing now, and they are doing amazing things. I still miss their parents, though.

I guess I am lucky. I am a plaintiffs' lawyer and I am invited into my clients' lives. I grow to love many of my clients, living somewhat vicariously through them. When I started as a lawyer, I just wanted to go to trial. My ambitions involved self-aggrandizement.  I didn't think about how my clients would enrich and change me.  I sought the thrill of victory, massaging my own ego. In retrospect, after practicing 30 years, it's really the people, my clients, who have made the most difference in me. It took me awhile to realize that these cases are not about me and how glib I can be. Every great experience I have had as a lawyer were because of my clients. I am so grateful and honored to have been a part of their lives. 

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