This article probes the perils of being a 'nice' attorney and the virtues of compassion in our business.
There I was sitting at the defendant's table with my PLF attorney. Now I would learn what it was like to be a defendant after having been a plaintiff's attorney for a number of years. The only good news was that I was in the 'second chair', another attorney being the primary co-defendant. The case was being brought by one disappointed businessman against his partners and the attorneys who represented the various businesses.
Altruism Can Bite
A close examination of what the other attorney did seemed odd, but I didn't know him nor his motivation for his various transactions. Soon, I found out. He knew that his clients had limited means and he tried to save the business entities from the poor business decisions of his clients. In short, he was being nice to his clients, above and beyond the call of duty. That altruism came back to bite him and me. Following the legal proceedings I got to know him and his motivation. It was simple altruism which created this opportunity to be sued.
No doubt there are legions of lawyers in Oregon who do pro bono legal work without the need for recognition and there are public minded, compassionate lawyers who work for legal services. Author John Perkins (Confessions of an Economic Hit Man) tells of a chance meeting with the Dalai Lama who advised him not to become a Buddhist. (The Dalai Lama was the former leader of Tibet before being forcibly displaced by China.) "The world doesn't need more Buddhists. The world needs more compassion", said the Dalai Lama to Mr. Perkins. We need more compassion in the world of our Bar organization. One member of the Disciplinary Board which supplies judges to Oregon's disciplinary trial panels made a pertinent recommendation to the Oregon State Bar Board of Governors in 2005. He formally recommended that the Bar alter its present "crime-and-punishment disciplinary orientation...(to one of) education and rehabilitation to avoid disciplinary sanction." The Board of Governors has not acted on this recommendation to date.
A New Model
There are those among us who obtain some sort of perverse pleasure or satisfaction out of the discomfort of our fellow lawyers. In some legal circles there is a remarkable lack of compassion. A vital component of our system of justice is the requirement of fairness. Is it naive to hope that fairness and compassion could guide us instead of advocacy and 'winning'?
So, I propose a new lawyer organization. AWAKH (or 'Awake') which is a rough acronym for Attorneys With A Kind Heart. There are so many attorneys out there with kind hearts that do not get the recognition and respect they deserve. Instead, they get sued! It would have been comforting to know that compassion and fairness would be the guiding beacons of our system of justice (and the Bar) as I sat there nervously in the defendant's chair several years ago. My guess is our clients and the public would be more attracted to our profession and our legal system under that new model.