Sometimes a quip is worth remembering

The Examiner

Lawyers can say the darnedest things.

“The law is a jealous lover.”

A prominent and esteemed lawyer said this to me many years ago when I was a college kid working for a law firm as a “runner.”

Ken Garten

I understand now what he meant. My chosen profession can be quite demanding, especially for a litigator with a full docket of cases. The weeks and weekends before a big trial can be all-consuming, and can take a toll on family and other responsibilities.

“I thought once that I might want to be a criminal lawyer. But I didn’t want to make a living taking the houses of the parents of the clients I was defending.”

This came from a lawyer who made the incredibly wise and lucrative choice of becoming a professional liability litigation specialist, and a very good and successful one at that, instead of staying in the criminal arena on the defense side, after he made the decision to leave the prosecutor’s office.

The resources and time and expense that can go into defending a serious criminal charge at trial can be enormous. And the economics of supporting a criminal practice can be daunting. Those charged with serious crimes rarely have the resources to hire top defense counsel without someone else (usually a parent) ponying up a significant portion of their assets to fund such a defense.

“How do you get a million dollar case? You take a two million dollar case and make a couple of mistakes.”

This was spoken in jest at a seminar some years ago by legendary trial attorney Tom Strong.

I and many young lawyers like me at the time were sort of in awe of Tom Strong, and when he said that I (and many others at the seminar, I’m sure) thought if there’s one attorney who would surely never make a big mistake, it would be Tom Strong.

But that was how he was when he spoke, which I was lucky to have experienced a handful of times, the perfect blend of humility, humor, and just the right amount of self-deprecation.

“If this case is about a fight over a toaster, well I’ll buy you another toaster.”

An anecdote told by a judge about what he told a battling couple in open court, and the occasional silliness of what some people want to fight about over principal in a divorce case.

“The civil justice system is there for a party to seek redress in the courts after they’ve suffered loss and damage, and have a legitimate need and desire to try to cut their loss through the recovery of damages. But suing another party because you’re mad at them – to punish them for something – well, people usually get tired of being in a lawsuit long after the anger subsides, and the legal fees keep mounting.”

This one is me. I’ve said it many times. And I’ve seen it happen that way.

Two things I’ve observed get people fired up when they come see a lawyer: fear and anger. I believe that rather than having people be motivated by fear and anger, a better approach for a lawyer is to try to defuse these sometimes powerful emotions, and make decisions based on logical, not emotional, criteria.

That’s my philosophy.

“There’s nothing worse than an angry client on the witness stand. It is a disgusting sight.”

This too came from a top-flight trial lawyer speaking at a seminar. I’ve seen it too. Anger is a tough sell. I tell my clients “Don’t act angry. Let me do that. You be humble and credible.” This I believe.

And so, these are a few of the pearls of wisdom I’ve heard from lawyers in my life that have stuck with me over the years.

Ken Garten is a Blue Springs attorney. Email him at krgarten@yahoo.com.