“I will defend anyone as long as the client gives me total control of the case and pays upfront.”
- Edward Bennett Williams
I haven’t learned that much in law school so far. This is not meant as a jab at my professors or my school. The law school model is not conducive to me learning. I learn by doing, not by sitting in a room and reciting the facts of a case that has long since been overruled. Every class thus has been an exercise in teaching myself the material a week or two before the exam, followed by forgetting 80% of it as soon as I leave the building. Despite this, I have however picked up on a few truths. One of those truths is that as an attorney my opinion does not matter. Given the swollen egos of law students and lawyers allow me to say that again: As an attorney, your opinion does not matter.
We were discussing forum selection clauses in civil procedure and the professor split the class into three groups, each group representing a different interest; corporate, consumers, and board of governors, respectively. The guy who spoke for the corporate interest started giving his reasons for why forum selection clauses were a good thing, but when the professor started to grill him he answered every subsequent question like his Valium had just kicked in. The problem was that this kid wants to be a labor lawyer, and if you were to ask his opinion on forum selection clauses he would tell you he hates them. But the professor didn’t ask for his opinion, the professor asked him to advocate for the corporations. To be fair, his arguments were sound and he answered most of the professor’s questions, but you could tell from his voice that he didn’t believe what he was saying.
Unlike presidents, clients are not chosen because the attorney wants to get a beer with them. Sometimes you take a client because a partner told you to. Sometimes you take one because you’re a young solo who desperately needs the business. Sometimes you take one because even though you may not like them as a person, you have a personal interest in the issue they represent. I imagine this may not be so much an issue for deal lawyers, but for trial lawyers—who must argue passionately for their client in order to convince the jury to give a favorable verdict—it is paramount.
Chances are you won’t be representing the client you want, but rather the client who is available and can pay. Can’t stomach that idea? Get over it, or choose another profession. If you can’t put your own opinions aside it will show in court, it will show in the deal. How is the jury supposed to believe the narrative you’re selling them if you yourself don’t? How is the client supposed to trust that you have their best interest in mind if you’re constantly at odds with him or her?
I had to write an appellate brief for my legal writing class and later argue my side in front of a panel of lawyers. I knew the facts, the law, all of the precedents, and argued them nearly flawlessly. Before the panel rendered their decision they addressed my opponent and I about the merits of our arguments. The worst thing they said about me was that I had no passion in my voice when I talked about the injustice done to my client. They reminded me that I was “an advocate above all else.” I had no passion because the case was completely made up and nothing more than a grade was at stake. I just didn’t care. And that’s the point.
It doesn’t matter if you dislike your client, or if your client is imaginary. An argument delivered with conviction is more likely to win than an argument delivered with an apathetic tone. You have to care one way or the other. If you like your client then congratulations, you got lucky. If you don’t, then you had better find some redeemable quality about them and fixate on it. Logic is a great tool in debate, but it is only one tool and it only works up to a point. Eventually, preferably sooner than later, you’ll have to get the judge or jury to care about your client as much as you pretend to.
Just be careful not to trick yourself into liking the client too much; otherwise they may end up asking for a discount.