What Makes One into a Good Lawyer

What Makes One into a Good Lawyer

The head of the firm I spent over 20 years at liked to tell the story of how a friend of his had helped him define the meaning of “a good lawyer.” The friend received an appointment as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, something nobody would sneeze at since it’s the most prominent and prestigious U.S. Attorney’s office in the country.

On his second day he received a call from a woman speaking in a low voice and saying that she had information about an important matter concerning that subject which she could not speak about over the telephone but was sure he would want to know about it. She asked if he might be available in an hour, and he consented.

She arrived on schedule. He observed carried only her purse, rather than any folders or document case. She quickly explained, leaning forward and dropping her voice, that she was being spied upon by Martians, who could witness everything she did and also see through her clothes. He asked if she had contacted anyone else.

She responded affirmatively, citing other Assistant U.S. Attorneys in his office, “But they always say they can’t help or call back later and tell me the same thing. You know, I’m sure these Martians are everywhere, but the people they spy on are too fearful or just don’t know what to do, but you can bet your life that I’m not the only one that’s suffering.”

He put his fingers together in front of him, tip to tip, and reflected on what she had said. He reached for a box of paper clips that were on the desk and stood up to hand them to her. Remaining standing, he asked her to open them and put the two of them together, which she did.

“Now, you know how to make a chain out of these, don’t you?” he asked in a matter-of-fact way, and she nodded.

He sat back down and continued “Now, if you make a chain out of these that goes all the way around your waist, and then add another chain on the side that goes down your side to just above your hemline, which you can do in our ladies room before you leave the building, that will render you invisible to these Martians and they will stop bothering you. But you need to not tell anyone about this, over the phone or in person, because that will alert them, and they will take countermeasures to defeat our plan.”

She popped out of her chair and came around the desk to give him a hug of thanks, which he managed to forestall somewhat by taking hold of her by the shoulder of her leading arm and putting his other arm across his chest. With that, he helped her back around to pick up her purse, walked her to the door, saw her out with a pat on the back and she was never seen or heard from again.

“Now that’s a good lawyer,” my senior partner would say. “Takes the time to analyze the problem, considers his resources, his or hers, fits the solution to the client’s particular needs and circumstances, makes sure the client is satisfied and has no further questions, and sticks the landing.

“Who could want more? He, or she, also recognizes, courtesy of the great legal text Animal Farm, that just as all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others, all clients are crazy—because by definition they are crazy or they would never have to resort to our profession-- but some are just a little crazier than others.”

Mike Parish lives in Alameda.