Working For the Old School Guys
Burman, Critton, Luttier and Coleman LLP Blog
It seems like this is the time of the year when, on top of the usual holiday depression, my spirits are further dampened by reports of members of my profession acting like criminals with brief cases, and not professionals sworn to respect and uphold the law. Last year we were bombarded with press about "mortgaged backed securities"; – securities dreamed up by Wall Street lawyers; securities which had received triple A ratings but which ultimately proved to be worthless. This year it's the law firm of Rothstein, Rosenfeld & Adler and Scott Rothstein's Ponzi scheme. These stories leave the public with the impression that attorneys are flashy self-promoters who make outrageous amounts of money by using their knowledge of the law for nefarious ends, hurting the public along the way.
My father was an old school lawyer here in Palm Beach County for over twenty years. My father was never a wealthy man and we lived very modestly. Yet to my knowledge my father never took a dime he did not earn, never advertised for cases, and avoided the publicity which other lawyers sought with such ferocity. When I passed the bar exam, my father explained to me that being a lawyer was like being a superhero – you should always use your powers for good, and never use your powers for evil. Here are some other things that I learned from my father and other "old school lawyers" I've been fortunate enough to work for:
- Never be arrogant or disrespectful to witnesses or litigants. Juries hate arrogant lawyers and witnesses won't cooperate with a disrespectful attorney.
- 90% of the clients who come to you, hire you because they need help with a legal problem. These clients aren't interested in multi-million dollar verdicts, wrecking vengeance on the opposing party, or seeing your name in the paper discussing their cases. They just want their problem solved and at a reasonable price. 10% of clients who come to you do expect multi-million dollar verdicts, want to wreck vengeance on the opposing party, and can't wait to see their cases discussed in the press. Avoid that 10% like the plague.
- The legal system in this country is adversarial and you have to fight like hell for every client you represent, and there is no such thing as a small case. Every client's case is important to the client, no matter how much is at stake.
Many of the "old school" lawyers who provided me with this insight have moved on, and there are fewer and fewer of them around. However my firm does not advertise, we work hard for our clients, and we succeed without being arrogant, self-promoting, or sneaky. I get to go home at night with my self-respect intact, and tell my kids that I help people for a living. There's no school like the old school.