Jim Duffy, a noted attorney, mediator, and eventual Hawaii Supreme Court Justice, propounded an unusual take on the role of lawyer: it is one of the healing professions. His point was the doctor heals the body when injured or ill, the priest heals the soul when lost or wounded, but it is the lawyer who heals society when conflict arises.
It took me several years of active practice to understand this perspective. I’ve seen clients ready to kill — literally — the person who harmed them; I’ve seen suicide caused by the stress of a case; and I’ve seen too many relationships destroyed through the agony of a judicial process. It is the lawyer, and collectively all lawyers in the case, who have to remove the emotion and personal animus to find a resolution that works. This is necessary whether it is a criminal matter, civil litigation, or transactional work. It is the resolution of conflict, through the courts or informally, that diminishes open violence and creates a lawful society. It is our purpose.
When attorneys forget this larger role of the profession, they can become focused solely on winning for their client. This turns the opposing side into “the bad guy” and breeds contempt and lack of respect for process, resolution, and compromise. This is bad enough if the goal is to resolve a problem outside of judicial decree; it can be fatal to maintaining respect for the profession itself.
I believe failing to show respect to the opponent also reflects poorly on the individual attorney. Didn’t your mother teach you to treat the janitor the same as the CEO? I firmly believe that the quality of a person can be seen most clearly in how they treat those without power. How then does it look when you bully a witness? Or mock their opinion? Or treat the case as “a game” and not a real, personal, complicated problem? Your own clients may grin and cackle at your antics, but at the same time they must wonder what your attitude is toward them when they are not present in the room.
Your own clients may grin and cackle
at your antics, but at the same time
they must wonder what your attitude
is toward them when they are not
present in the room.
This type of attitude can strike directly at your business as well. The person on the other side of the case has the potential to be your next source of referrals, possibly your next client. Or they can spread the word about your behavior and attitude. I know I’ve had multiple referrals from attorneys who were on the other side of cases, and from witnesses I have deposed. Jim Duffy was one of the kindest, most polite men you could ever hope to meet, but that didn’t prevent him from being a brilliant litigator in high demand. I also know attorneys who have become “attack dogs” and maintain a practice based only on continual scrabbling for work.
Simple professionalism is not difficult behavior to model, but it can reap huge rewards for your own practice and our society. Counselor, heal thyself.
Meet Our Contributors
How did you come to attend the William S. Richardson School of Law at the University of Hawaii?
After finishing our undergraduate degrees in Madison, my wife and I traveled through Asia. On the way back, we stopped over in Hawaii “for a few days,” but within a week we had an apartment and a car, and she had a job. I had a choice between working at a rental car company or in a solo practitioner’s office. Because my father was a lawyer, working as a legal assistant came naturally. And it paid $.50 an hour more.
A few days became a few years, and I advanced in my career until my senior partner sent me to law school. William S. Richardson, the University of Hawaii law school, is unusual. Obviously, we were on an island, but you have to understand that until 1973 there was no law school in Hawaii. Given Hawaii’s unique culture and history, the law school was created to help blend the multicultural (and multi-legal) environment with the need to train legal professionals for the islands’ needs. It is the pride of the bar.
The environment at the school was cooperative and friendly. You knew there was a high likelihood that you would not only be practicing with your classmates, but that many would be the judges and politicians in the future. Members of the bar, supreme court justices (state and federal), and most of the judges in the state all contributed to classes and lectures. It was an incredible cauldron of native Hawaiian rights, Western concepts of justice, and multiethnic backgrounds.
K. Bartlett Durand Jr., Middleton.