Some people are just lucky, and I count myself in that column. My mind was made up not to become a lawyer, though I came from a family of lawyers, but I agreed with my father when he suggested I just try law school for one semester to see if it wouldn’t be interesting, since no other career burned in my heart. After one semester I was totally hooked. The subject matter was so interesting and the concepts a little complicated but manageable, the legal language quickly became familiar and comfortable, it was exciting to learn these new concepts, yet they were all related to how people run their lives, and they made sense. Working during the day and going to law school at night meant my life was very full and busy, and my fellow students were young people with families and obligations who wanted to improve their lives. Many lifelong friendships were forged at law school, and having a law related job during the day helped me see how the law from the school books was applied in real life. The best work was as a law clerk to Judge Allen Sharp on the Indiana Court of Appeals. Judge Sharp later became a federal judge and was a lifelong friend until his sad passing. Doing research for the Indiana Court of Appeals was a big responsibility and taught me how the review courts look at what has happened at the trial courts, and how the discussion applying the law to what happened at the trial court becomes instructive to lawyers and judges in future cases as well.
After law school and passing the Bar, I learned to be a courtroom lawyer by working as a deputy prosecutor. Starting out prosecuting small misdemeanors, fortunately the path was opened to more serious cases, which led to trying cases before juries and major felonies, including murder cases. A happy part of that experience is being part of the law enforcement community, which is a worldwide brotherhood, and to this day I can walk into any police or prosecutor’s office anywhere in the world and be treated as a friend and helped when needed, except when I have been speeding.
So, for 43 years my professional life has been new and different every day, never boring, always something new, with interesting contact with healthcare professionals, engineers, and people from all walks of life with as many different types of problems as there are people. Fascinating work which lets me help people, make a good living, know how to get things done, see and participate in community building and the decisions which create our laws and policies on occasion, teach other lawyers and non-lawyers. Most of my practice has been representing individual people with problems and injuries, seeking to gain solutions and redress so their lives can go forward for themselves and their families.
Now you know why I feel so fortunate, and why I recommend to all young people that they consider law school and even go so far as to give it a year to see if it is for them. For about 20 years I have interviewed people who are applying to be lawyers before they take the Bar exam, giving them a Character and Fitness interview for the Indiana Supreme Court and the Indiana Board of Law Examiners. On behalf of the Indiana Supreme Court I congratulate these young people on their achievement of graduating from law school, but remind them that we all have a duty to speak carefully, as people can rely upon what lawyers say and can act upon it, and remind them the public sees lawyers as powerful people who do know how to get things done, and that is additional reason for caution. Further, we talk about ethics, the role of lawyers in society, and how to be of service to the community. Continuing legal education to keep up on the changes in the law, and how to avoid problems with simple things like returning phone calls and keeping clients up to date on the progress of the cases at appropriate times. The most important issues discussed with these Bar applicants are the concepts of how a lawyer must be both independent and objective in the giving of advice and the handling of a matter for a client. If the lawyer identifies too closely with the client, wants too much for the client’s case to succeed and the client’s wishes to be fulfilled, the lawyer becomes the tool or weapon of the client’s desires, instead of offering advice that deals with the reality of the situation. No client can clearly see the situation that the lawyer is handling for them without the same amount of knowledge and experience a lawyer has, and so the overview, the big picture, the likelihood of outcomes, the long term effects of what occurs, are simply not able to be appreciated by a client in any particular situation. The relationship between the lawyer and the client must allow the lawyer to independently speak his or her mind with the objective opinion and observations of the lawyer rather than suppressing the independent advice to the stronger personality or the insistence of any particular client. Not all client’s situations lead to a positive outcome, or what the client wishes, and compromise is often the only economical way to resolve an issue or situation, and the lawyer simply must be objective and independent in order to guide the client properly through the dispute resolution process. Getting a satisfactory but less than optimal resolution is often frustrating for both attorney and client, but most clients would prefer half a loaf to a kick in the pants.
This column, which will run occasionally, is designed to transfer to you the knowledge and experience and perspective that I have gained over the last 43 years, and I hope it will be of interest and value to you. Practicing law has been a great privilege and pleasure, and I hope to keep doing so for many years, sharing with you an occasional war story, but more laying out the concepts of the substantive law and the procedural law which leads to a remedy when appropriate.