Lately, instead of exorcising my demons, I’ve been exercising them, getting them ready for what promises to be an acrimonious year. So we’ve been in the gym, my demons and me, and we are ready for action.
We have been traversing the well worn ruts of the legal super highway often referred to as the Low Road. It’s a road I know well. It’s populated with a mix of fabricators, fibbers and falsifiers. It has several off ramps to other streets like Chickenshit Lane and Fine Print Avenue. These will eventually take you to neighborhoods like Lawyerville and Con City. If you’re just passing through and you remember to keep your windows rolled up, it can be an entertaining sojourn. If you have to stop for any reason, beware.
My melodramatic metaphor notwithstanding, it has indeed been a rocky start to the new year. Clients are always best served by a lawyer who stays above the fray, avoids the petty day to day skirmishes and takes a long term view. But an occasional romp in the mud is often too delicious to pass up. So I’ve managed to get a little dirty.
When I’m on the Low Road, I can rationalize just about every action. “He deserved it” or “it was the only way to get their attention” or “the end will justify the means.” It can certainly be entertaining. I had a hearing recently where I tried to use my iPad. Unfortunately I forgot to bring a cord I needed to display the screen. The other lawyer had a cord and his legal assistant offered to let me use it. The lawyer reached over and stopped her from offering the cord. Low Road stuff.
Typically, I am never present when there is retribution for Low Road antics. But this day I was lucky. As I left the parking garage I saw the lawyer struggling to start his car. It seems he needed a jump start. So I waved and sped away…as quickly as possible….to the Low Road.
I’m just starting to realize that the Low Road runs in circles. It’s fun at first, but it can be exhausting. It runs you round and round and never gets you anywhere of substance. Traveling the Low Road always exacts a toll. It may be indiscernible at first but the cumulative effect is harmful. A cheap shot here, a retaliatory gesture there.
But the High Road is different. First of all, it’s wide open up there because not many people use it. It’s also rather smooth once you learn to beat back the periodic allure of the Low Road. And without question it serves the best interests of your client and your profession. The High Road is inexorably long and tedious but it doesn’t run you in circles. It requires patience and perspective. It often puts you at odds with your clients but it is always worth the trouble. And it can be beneficial.
I had a collection case against an extremely difficult lawyer late last year. We were close to settling the case the Friday before trial but it blew up over some completely irrelevant sticking point. So I worked all weekend to prepare for trial and when I arrived at the court house Monday morning the opposing lawyer was nowhere to be found. The Judge called the case for trial and, since the other lawyer failed to appear, we won by default. Perfect.
That afternoon the other lawyer called and he was desperate. He explained that a family emergency had taken all of his attention and he was just unable to make it to Court that morning. He explained the emergency and it was either a fantastic work of fiction or one tragic tale. It didn’t really matter to me. But he was going to file a Motion for New Trial and wanted to know whether I was opposed. “Of course not,” I found myself saying.
This, I am sure, caught him off guard. He was granted his Motion and….he was still a jerk after that. We eventually tried the case and won. But his client received a full hearing on the merits and we were awarded a well-deserved and hard fought judgment.
Whether you’re chasing demons or riding with them the Low Road is a short cut. It may get you there faster but there is always a price if not to you then to your client or to the system.
It is reminiscent of the scene from A Man For All Seasons between Sir Thomas More and William Roper:
Roper: So you would give the devil the benefit of the law?
Sir Thomas More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get at the Devil?
Roper: I’d cut down every law in England to do that.
Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the devil turned round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat?