By Mark David Blum, Esq.
Sometimes I am not quite sure if it is worth it. In the course of representing any client for any reason; the nature of the relationship brings attorney and client very close. Intimate secrets are shared and everything about the client’s life becomes a part of the attorney’s life. Obviously every client’s case is important and is zealously pursued. Yet as the Pigs were heard to say, “all cases are the same but some cases are more important than others.”
When I come into contact with a client, it is not a good time. Folks do not tend to hire lawyers as party planners. Crises bring people to our doorsteps. Quickly, we don our Superman capes, grab our briefcases, and head out to do combat. For that we earn the big bucks; or so I hear.
There is a price to be paid. Over the course of years, I have met some of the most interesting people imaginable. I have met and representing the best and worst that this nation can conjure. But I do not sit in judgment of the client. From my unique vantage point, I actually get to know the person behind the indictment or divorce or civil case. I see them where most do not; generally weakened and intimidated if not in a complete panic.
These are passionate times. Emotions can get raw. The system can at times grind on incomprehensibly slow. Or worse, the system can be in full gear and nothing you can do will slow it down. Passions on behalf of the client and attorney run hot and a bond is built.
Depending on your personality and that of the client, the lawyer ends up where bits and pieces of themselves become shared. This is especially so when you meet a client with whom you connect as a human being. Suddenly, there is an occasional dinner or drinks. An email or side conversation about life can become commonplace. The nature of the relationship remains intense and very personal.
Obviously there has be a certain distance kept as otherwise the lawyer can lose their objectivity. You care, but at the same time, you have to not care. The lawyer did not commit the crime, is not being sued, or is not the client. Instead, as I once described it to a soldier client, “you are now in a foxhole, unarmed, and surrounded. I am the one with the weapons and it is on me to take the bullets and fire the shots to get us both out of here.” It is a hard concept for some folks to swallow; to let go and let their lawyers have complete trust. Those who do and whose lawyers are honorable, generally end up with very good results.
Then one day, the case is over. Win, lose or draw; it matters not. That connection that brought you so close to the client suddenly is gone. What had started as a budding friendship one day loses the commonality. It takes just a matter of days before the client disappears into their own lives. With them, they take a piece of the lawyer with them. Attorney-client privilege goes only one way so when the lawyer opens up, a gift is being given to the client. With the client, stays that gift. Eventually, unless more trouble arises, you never hear from the client again.
It isn’t just the clients. In a long trial or an intense trial, the lawyer also can become attached to others in the work environment. Any one or number of court personnel with whom you are sandwiched 8-9 hours in an intense work day, present opportunities for friendship. Small talk becomes sharing and it takes very little time to bond. Like the client, when the case is over, the lawyer stops coming to the Court and everybody moves onto “next”.
Over the many years I have been practicing law and the umpteen zillion clients and cases with which I have been involved, I have developed a hardened shell toward clients. Usually when promises of friendship and future fun is discussed, I tell them to call when the case is over. Those wonderful offers tend to dry up as fast as the ink on a verdict sheet. This is the primary lesson coming out of my suspension: Falling on a sword for a client I had grown to like was the reason I went down in the first place. My priorities are a bit more rearranged now.
These past few weeks, I have closed a handful of files that were special to me. By serendipity, I closed files on folks with whom we shared bonds that I thought exceeded the nature of our professional relationship. Alas, it took but hours to realize that like everyone else, it is time to say goodbye and move onto “next”.
So while others are hoisting glasses of bubbly to celebrate, I quietly sip my tequila and mourn the loss of another friendship and the momentary feelings of loneliness. It is a good feeling to be needed. Until the next client comes along, the lawyer becomes meaningless.
But with each experience, with each client – each human being and situation, I come away fuller. For as much as I give to the client and the case, I take back in the experience of being able to be so intimately involved in the human condition. It is also true that when they aren’t looking, I may take a piece or two of my client’s heart with me. Fair, after all, is fair.