As a lawyer you see
“the oily wheels of every fortune, the hideous wrangling of heirs over corpses not yet cold, the human heart grappling with the Penal Code.” BALZAC, Honoré de (1799-1850) : Le Notaire (1840).
You also get your brain picked. Ugh! Sometimes I just want to run, keep running, especially when I meet someone, a stranger, who knows I’m a lawyer but I don’t know them.
“Um, heard you’re a lawyer. Wondering, can you give me some quick advice?” or “Hey there, how are ya? Heard you’re a lawyer. Can I pick your brain a bit? ”
Ah brain picking time again, I sigh. Then there are friends and acquaintances who tout me for free advice. Casual acquaintances do the same. Some folks I hardly know, some I’ve not heard from in a long time.
“Hey Karen, how you go’in? Just wondering, can we catch up sometime, over a coffee maybe? Just wanna maybe pick your brain a bit” or “Hi Karen, you free anytime? Let’s catch up soon. Gotta a few things I wanna ask about. I’ll buy coffee.”
Do you ever get your brain picked? Sounds like hen-pecked doesn’t it. Feels like it sometimes.
If I have time I will allow my brain to be picked – to a point. I listen, acknowledge the problem, then politely and firmly advise the person to make an appointment. That formalizes the process.
Being a lawyer often changes the dynamics of interaction, the relationship between you and the other person. Frustrating when you want to be ordinary, anonymous of professional status, an ordinary private person. The lawyer part invades your privacy, your personal space. Of course, this is not unique to the legal profession.
Imagine being a doctor “Let me tell you about my bladder” or a plumber “Hey can you drop by and fix my toilet?”
There are others in other professions who have similar experiences. The holy grail is to escape being judged by one’s education and profession. That’s why, being with strangers, can be refreshing as I’m judged as a standard issue woman, not as a lawyer, let alone a lawyer for free brain picking or, dare I say, denigration.
Social situations can be tricky especially if people are imbibing. Hallelujah! The inevitable brain picking. The requests for free advice are trotted out often with a strong view about lawyers.
Inevitably, ‘The Question’ comes first.
“How can you defend those people when you know they are guilty?”
I explain that I cannot know if a client is guilty if he or she denies it. I never saw them do the alleged act. I might think a person is guilty or not based on the evidence but it is up to the jury and the judge to decide not me. I must put forward the case for my client whether I believe in it or not. I cannot put forward what I know to be a false case.
“Honestly, how can you defend those creeps when you know they are guilty as sin?”
I explain that I’m defending their legal rights such as the right to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence. Giving them ‘a fair go’ is the Australian ethos, a fair trial. My client has the right not to be tried unfairly. I work within the rules of law and ethics of the legal profession.
To be fair this post doesn’t allow me the space to explain what motivates me to represent the criminally accused. What I can say is that it’s a combination of factors including a commitment to justice and the right to a fair trial both critical legal and ethical principles in our criminal justice system in Australia. I realised years ago when working in the USA criminal justice system that I could never be a prosecutor. It’s in my DNA to defend.
Still, the questions and comments pour out:
“Don’t you get scared? I couldn’t go to Yatala, Cadell or any prison or jail. No way.”
“I don’t know how you sleep at night. I know I couldn’t.”
Well, you can I think to myself but not until you have formally hired me. Have you hired me?
“You got time for a chat over coffee? My shout! I really need to pick your brain over something.”
“A friend of a friend’s sister recommended you. Said you were really good and got people off. You got a minute? I really need to pick your brain.”
“Oh you’re a lawyer. Um, let me tell you about my ex partner, the dirty rotten egg *%^x*!!@#!….”
“I heard you’re a lawyer. Can I ask you a few questions about my case?”
Yes, I think to myself, I’m a lawyer but not yours unless you formally, retain me.
“Let me tell you about my mother’s father’s last will and testament and that bloody, bogan brother of mine. What a lying thief he is!”
I make a mental note to, again, point out that I’m a criminal defence lawyer and that the person should see a lawyer who handles wills, estates and probate.
“Look, we all know there’s no such thing as justice. The police lie all the time. It’s all about who’s got the best lawyer.”
“Well, with all those billable hours you won’t ever be short of a quid will you?”
This comment often comes after I’ve explained two things: (1) that I’m a criminal defence lawyer and (2) that much of my work is done on a pro bono basis (for free) and includes a high proportion of legal aid clients, the undeserved members of the community.
And of course, there are the jokes, ah, yes, the lawyer jokes. You can see why I just want to be ordinary without the lawyer baggage.
“Er, you’re a lawyer then. Hey, I’ve got this great joke. You’ll love it!” or “Honestly, you gotta hear this joke.”
The revenge of the lawyers jokes …. I make a mental note to tell the person when next they need advice and representation, to contact a comedian.
Then there’s the inevitable questions and comments about lawyers’ court room clothing and attire much of it understandable. Certainly there is intrigue with what we wear.
“Why do ya’ll wear that stuff, you know, that wig thingy, the frilly white thing and that black cloak dress garb?” or “How do you stop the wig falling off?” or “Is it itchy? or “Why do you dress like a witch?”
My email handle can be attributed, in part, to lawyers’ court dress in Australia.
Lawyer scrutiny is a most popular past time for some. Those damn lawyers! It’s the lawyers’ fault. Let’s blame them. Some people enjoy lawyer bashing. Hate lawyers until they need one. Then things change rapidly. In comes the call for help any time, any day. It’s fascinating to watch people suddenly change their tune and start to appreciate lawyers.
Of course there’s no such thing as an ordinary woman whatever profession or station in life. Is anybody ordinary? What is ordinary? I’m still pondering. We are all extraordinary just like our DNA.
What about dead lawyers in Heaven?
If, at the end of my celestial journey I get to Heaven and God says,
“Hey, girl, come in! Welcome to Heaven, my pad!”
I swear I’ll shout,
“Hey God! For heaven’s sake un-trap this body of mine, unburden me of this lawya baggage, this picking of my brain that’s followed me around much of my life. I just wanna be ordinary up here, just me. Please. Please. None of this lawya shit“.
Hell hath no fury up there if God says,
“A lawya! Geez, girl, I really need to pick ya brain a bit. You know, need to know a bit o’ law stuff, to help me mate, ol’ St. Pete.”
“Say what God?”
“Yeah, just look’n for a public defender, an advocatus diaboli to help ol’ Pete. Help him in defend’n these wayward sinning souls showing up here, the ones still fighting for forensic absolution from sin at their final hearing, you know, their Final Judgment appearance. Know what I mean?”
“Hey God? What’s the deal here? Crikey! Please!?”
There I was thinking I would be in bliss heaven where I could be ordinary, plain, beige, a standard issue woman nestled in the bosom of Abraham or, perhaps, in the arms of choirs of angels, the cherabim and seraphim.
Instead, I’m still in a lawya’s body, still in the garb with all the accoutrements, lugging around law books, all in Latin of course, plus, now, miscellaneous extras like wings, harp, halo (on the wig), psalm book, missal, hymn book, bible, palm branch and so forth. Yes, spending my eternal days hanging out with bald-headed ol’ St. Pete and the sinners, trying to save them (the sinners) from the hot house. Who would have thought? Pffft!