Monday, July 30, 2012

A Lawyer's Purpose

A debt collection law firm in Columbia, Missouri hands out the “Shark of the Month” award for employee excellence. While most lawyers try to evade this label, Faber and Brand, LLC has embraced the designation.
            Early on in law school they explained to us that because attorneys are associated with the most negative experiences in people’s lives such as, divorces, personal injuries, property disputes, wrongful firings, personal and commercial bankruptcies and criminal accusations, they are destined to own a negative reputation.
“Most lawyers have very good intentions,” Alex Edelman a University of Missouri—Kansas City (UMKC) graduate explained. “The archetype of the $1,000-suit guy at a large firm is a minority.” Edelman added. Most attorneys are at small practices. According to the American Bar Association web site, a study from 2005 states that only 1% of attorneys worked at a firm with over 100 lawyers while 76% worked at a firm of two to five attorneys.
            A lawyer’s job is, “To protect people’s rights and be an asshole…for whoever needs someone to be an asshole for them,” Tay Schumacher, a UMKC graduate exclaimed curtly. With a job description like Schumacher’s, it’s no wonder that lawyers are viewed so negatively.
A lawyer must be an advocate, do the dirty work, to perform the duties that someone whose emotions are involved is unable to do. But before a lawyer can advocate, she must counsel.
“People just want to be heard, someone to pay attention, to acknowledge that they have a legitimate problem,” Stephanie Anderson, who graduated from UMKC in 2011 and passed the bar the same year explained. The solution, “Depends on the client’s goals, the client’s priorities,” she added. What may be important to one client is not important to another. One client may prefer to have a judge or jury tell them they’re right, and another just wants the problem to go away with as little disturbance as possible, Anderson clarified. While the first client will want to go to court, the second may prefer private negotiations.
Early on in law school they told us that attorneys are gatekeepers of knowledge. Attorneys know how to spot the issues and where to look for answers. Edelman explained that a lawyer’s job is to perform the issue spotting that the public just isn’t trained to do.
After the important variables have been isolated, an attorney must determine the appropriate action, the solution.
“People get so involved in the emotional aspect and don’t know how to proceed,” so a lawyer must, “get the problem to its basic core and go from there,” Anderson testified. She added that many people do not understand the system and that they immediately assume a lawsuit is the best solution, when a personalized letter may be sufficient. Anderson asserted that part of an attorney’s power just comes from awareness of certain resources.
“Lawyers help the world go ‘round,” Chris Hawkins, who intends to work in estate planning claimed. “People need help with estates, trusts, wills and its difficult stuff to do,” Hawkins spoke thoughtfully. Hawkins described how he wants to help people control how their assets are saved and distributed, that he wants to help ensure that his future client’s desires are met even after that are deceased. A client will come to Hawkins, explain to whom and when he wants to pass his land, his money, his stocks, his record collection, his Ty Cobb rookie card. Hawkins will be charged with finding the most appropriate method, but there may not only be one answer.
Trusts and wills can interact with each other with varying results, and there exist countless options that I have never heard of. Hawkins’ specialized knowledge and research capabilities will help him determine a proper course of action, to practice appropriately, although there may be multiple acceptable solutions.  
We use the term practice to describe an attorney’s job, like they use the word practice in medicine, Angela Dudley stated, adding that there’s no one right way to perform lawyerly tasks. One attorney might omit an argument when another attorney chooses to concentrate on it. Even another attorney might vary in how she makes the same argument.  
If nothing else a lawyer brings an air of seriousness to a situation. Hiring a lawyer shows that the client is taking action, Anderson added. “[Then,] it’s not just you; it’s you and an attorney.” The attorney provides backup, the muscle and sometimes the balance.
Lawyers are necessary, Carl Scarborough explained discussing the often frowned-upon criminal defense attorney. “Their role isn’t so much to get the guilty to run free, but to have fairness in the system, to make sure it works properly. “Before I looked down on them as trying to keep scum bags on the street, but now I see the both sides of the argument.”
These attorneys provide a power check to the prosecutor to prevent a drumhead court room, to protect defendants from being railroaded. Thus, as Scarborough defended, an attorney’s presence simply allows the adversarial system to work properly. Each party needs a proponent or one party will be regularly ravaged.
However, many people rightfully complain that lawyers overcomplicate the justice system.
“It’s upsetting to me,” Schumacher stated solemnly, “when people think they know [their rights] and they don’t. Maybe it’s our fault, the court’s fault for making things so convoluted.”
Sarah Werner, a UMKC grad, told an anecdote about several individuals, opposing sides from the Universities of Missouri and Kansas, arguing over who had the first homecoming. Each rival held early homecoming-like celebration and the issue is repeatedly debated.
One party claimed their school said the word “homecoming” first, while the other insisted the word itself did not matter because their side held a homecoming-like gathering that predated the word “homecoming.”  Both claims to the invention are reasonable, but both parties would have made the opposite argument were they on the opposing side.
With attorneys the debate keeps going around in a circle, until a judge or jury makes a decision one way or the other. If both sides have legitimate arguments, then one does not have to be right and the other wrong.  Both could be right. Both could be wrong. The solution is likely to be in the middle in the mess between facts and law and not necessarily with one party or the other.
Catalina Velarde, a UMKC Juris Doctorate stated sadly, “It kills me that sometimes whoever arranges the words the prettiest wins.”

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