For October, I thought I would I would have a little fun given that Halloween is around the corner, and talk about two attitudes of lawyering that clients might encounter, using one of my favorite science fiction (fantasy?) franchises.
Disclaimer: The following information does NOT constitute legal advice and is only for general educational purposes. Each situation is different and specific legal issues usually require additional research and investigation, so do not rely on this article to address a particular legal issue; use this as a starting point to gain a general understanding. This article, although educational in purpose and substance, nevertheless, might be deemed attorney advertising, and prior results do not guarantee future success.
The Star Wars Universe
If you are up on your Star Wars mythology, the Star Wars universe contains a mysterious power called “the Force” that certain people can tap into. It permits them to move objects around, shield themselves from harm, heal or hurt others, throw lightning at their opponents, and can be useful to get stuff out of the fridge without leaving the couch. Generally speaking, there are two primary schools of Force users in the galaxy: the Jedi, who represent order, love, and goodwill and the Sith, who represent authority, power, and ambition.
The Jedi tend to be static and glacial in their approach to matters. They foster communities and care for them, but are slow to react to issues. They act morally, but sometimes defeat themselves because they are afraid to take risks which they aren’t sure fit into their ethos. Jedi are not afraid to harm their opponents, but only do so if justified. They abhor unnecessary conflict. Those who take this path of learning to control themselves and others in a positive way are called “Masters” for their ability to … well, master themselves and the challenges around them.
The Sith can scheme and execute patient plans that last hundreds of years, but are better known for taking incredibly harsh, instant and decisive action. They focus on anger and hate, and use strength, cunning, aggression, or treachery to get what they want. They cut corners. Sith are tough, and are respected or feared or both. Sith enjoy battle and even inflicting harm on others. They often get results, much faster than the Jedi, but sometimes they cause so much damage in their wake, they defeat themselves. Those that survive the harsh training and dominate their opponents are known as “Lords” for ruling is their ultimate passion.
The Jedi and Sith are very similar to each other in ability and power, but it’s their motives and how they use that power that separate them.
The Legal Profession
Lawyers don’t always get the best rap. “Why don’t sharks eat lawyers? Professional courtesy.” Haha. But, why is that? All Attorneys *do* tap into a powerful Force in our society - the Law. And it's intimidating the way they use it. And some of them use it with abandon and others unethically.
It is true, that like the Force in the Star Wars galaxy, the Law, in our country, can exert great influence on the world around us. It can get you or lose you money. It can keep out of or put you in jail. It can provide security and safety or cause uncertainty and mayhem. Like the Force, the Law is essentially neutral. It’s not what it is that makes it scary and imposing, but how it is used and manipulated, and sometimes why it is used.
Lawyer as Jedi Master
The Jedi Lawyer (JL) attempts not only to follow the law to the letter, but also the spirit. JLs will advise their clients not only of the strict legal ramifications of what they are doing, but also the ethical ones. JLs tend to obey all the professional guidelines established by the regulatory bodies that oversee the legal profession.
JLs, if they can, look for win-win solutions with their clients and their adversaries, to get it done quicker, cheaper and with better results. JLs tend to get outcomes that will stand the test of time, so that both the clients and the JL do not have to look over their shoulders for years, wondering if they will get in trouble for something inappropriate or even flat out illegal that they did to save a few days or bucks. JLs are not afraid to stand up for their clients and use “metaphysical violence” (i.e. lawsuits or other legal actions) to get what they need. But they often use it as a last resort.
Some examples: JLs will never take notarizations over the phone which are strictly forbidden. JLs, if representing two joint clients, will keep both in the loop at least roughly equally, even though only one might be paying the bills, especially if the two clients have a disagreement. JLs will not violate the law, or even the ethics rules, no matter the pressure from their clients.
JLs also strongly advise and encourage clients not to lie to them, the court, or even the other side. JLs will patiently pursue dialogue and attempt to understand the other side, and many of the best negotiators are JLs. JLs usually will seek maximum client satisfaction, regardless of their own billings situation.
Lawyer as Sith Lord
Sith Lord (SL) lawyers often don’t care about the courts, their adversaries and many times from what I have seen, even their clients. They tend to focus on the pay-day, unless they just enjoy fighting for the thrill of proving their dominance.
They do, however, tend to get results. The results are not always pretty. Many famous attorneys have carved reputations for themselves over the “legal corpses” of their opponents … only sometimes, to be in the news for having violated some law in the process or maybe cheated on their taxes, or didn’t turn over all the money they received to their clients and so on.
Don’t get me wrong. Many Sith Lawyers, while savage, will follow the law - even the ethics rules. After all, they aren't optional; you are *supposed* to follow all the rules and laws. Such SLs are not stupid and most of them are not psychopaths. However, they will exploit gray areas to the fullest, which sometimes can be a risky proposition.
Nevertheless, SLs are not only tough but brutal. And tough and brutal clients or those clients operating in tough and brutal fields (banking? real estate?) do have a tendency to gravitate toward such counsel. They want the "Tough Guy" (or "Gal") lawyer. I mean, who wouldn’t? You certainly don’t want the “wimp.” Unfortunately, folks often mistake bluster for substance, and patience or civility as weakness. I’m all for peace through strength, but, well ... you know, fire can cook your food or keep you warm at night, but if carelessly used can burn your house down.
So ... what are some examples of these practitioners of “Dark Law”? How about, not advising all joint clients equally; padding bills in questionable ways; doing legal work that while strictly not unethical to do, might have been unnecessary; not extending typical courtesies to opposing counsel in court such as reasonable calendar adjustments; agreeing with opposing counsel about one thing and actually telling the court another.
SLs also tend to be very loud on the phone with opposing counsel, especially in front of the SL’s clients (for show). My experience is that tactic rarely impresses anyone but non-lawyers. You either “got the goods” or you "ain’t got nothing." And if you do (have the goods), then you can speak softly (and carry a big “legal stick”). If you don’t, no yelling in the world is going to intimidate a well trained and experienced attorney.
Not all SLs lie, cheat or steal. Not at all. However a few do. Watch your billing statements. Watch your lawyer’s time very carefully. Also, read your settlement papers closely and make sure, as a client, you’re getting everything out of the resolution of your case you really want. SLs, can be very professional and provide excellent client care, but in my experience, they also tend to be far more self-interested than JLs, the latter of whom are even known to reduce excessive bills voluntarily for the benefit of their clients.
Are They Using the Light or Dark Side?
So, how do you figure out if your lawyer is a Jedi or Sith?
When selecting your lawyer, ask them about any ethical concerns you have. For instance, if there are two of you, don’t be afraid to ask your attorney how they intend to keep you BOTH involved. You should know how often they bill you, or how much work they will do out in front of your review.
If you aren’t sure, ask them how they go about negotiating deals or prosecuting cases with the other side. When you discuss your matter with them, listen to the types of questions they ask you, how much they ask you soft indirect questions (how did the two of you come to do business together? Oh that’s nice, so you always had an interest in that?).
Do a Google search on the firm or your specific attorney and see if they have been in the news and look at some of the articles. It’s not easy to get press in this profession, so there’s usually a reason they are there (I don’t mean advertisements that look like news stories, I mean real news stories).
Remember, Jedi Lawyers can be aggressive and decisive as well. They aren’t all suffering from “nice person” syndrome. However, they tend to be more measured, ethical, big picture oriented, and tend to use “legal force” mostly as a threat or last resort, rarely as a “go-to” winning strategy.
SLs tend to try and dazzle their clients with blustery promises of inflated results or condensed time frames (we’ll have this done in 30 days!), or fantasies how they will “punish” the other side for what they did to their clients.
Which side will you choose in your pursuit of assistance and justice?
Hope you enjoyed this and may the Force be with You!