April 24, 2013 Leave a comment
When I was a teenager, I attended a program in Washington D.C. in the law. Though I had wanted to be an attorney for about seven years at that point, I had actually applied to be in a program regarding national politics, but that was full, so I went to the legal program instead.
The program was very interesting. We visited a juvenile correction facility, we went to the local District of Columbia courts, we visited the National Rifle Association and the American Civil Liberties Union, and though I cannot remember exactly because I’ve been a number of times, the Supreme Court and Congress. However, I recall in particular one visit to a public defender in the local courts. On each visit, someone gave a presentation and the students were able to interact with the presenter.
The attorney with the public defender’s office made a great impression on me. This attorney had the passion and zeal of a true believer. He said that people asked how he could sleep at night defending criminals. He said “like a baby.” He made one student, whose uncle was murdered, cry. He spit venom on many occasions, most memorably against non-public defender appointed attorneys whom he labeled as “soup-on-their-tie lawyers.”
Soup-on-their-tie lawyers. Meaning, a slovenly attorney, from a ninth-tier law school, who barely passed the bar exam, of questionable ethics and practices, who was never prepared, always took the short cut. The image of that lawyer is burnt into my brain. At one of my previous employers, this kind of attorney was referred to as a “generic discipline-able attorney.”
As I grow older, however, let me caution newer attorneys not to underestimate the opposition attorney. As a society, we have a tendency to overemphasize conventional wisdom. The person wearing glasses is intelligent. Or on the other side of the coin, someone who looks like they slept in their suit (or spilled soup on their tie) is incompetent.
As a lawyer, you should not underestimate the opposition attorney, even if they have made a few mistakes along the way. Even the worst attorney in the world sometimes stumbles into a great case. Remember what my Theory of Knowledge teacher taught me: even a broken clock is right twice a day. Do not be lulled into a false sense of confidence because of who is opposing you. You still need to do your homework and do your job. Particularly if you are a civil defense lawyer. You usually do not get to pick your cases. The plaintiff’s lawyer usually does get to pick their cases. Sometimes the case is better than you initially think. Thinking a good case will go away because of the opposition attorney is an easily avoidable mistake.
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