- Honesty. From clients, opposing parties, opposing counsel, staff, and jurists. As a newbie lawyer, I remember how shocked I was when I realized clients lie to their attorneys. I went across the street, to where my experienced lawyer neighbor was working in his wood shop and blurted, "You didn't tell me that everyone lies!" (Which, in retrospect, was an odd way of bringing up the subject -- it's obvious now that I felt very betrayed by my client, who had very flagrantly misrepresented his situation.) He gave me a beer, sat me down, and explained exactly why it is clients lie.
Now I've learned to see through a lot of the BS, but it's difficult for me. I take people at face value, either because I know them to be truthful, or because I know it isn't socially productive to question what they're telling me. (I had been trained, in social situations, not to point out people's inaccuracies.) In time, maybe, I'll get more artful at my anti-lying speech, which currently goes something like this: "In order for me to do my best for you, you must be completely truthful with me, even if you think you've done or said something that could hurt your position. I need to know, so that I can deal with it."
- Articulate opposing counsel. I do a lot of written work, a fair amount of which is "pure" legal writing in response to someone else's memo or brief. Nothing annoys me more than a stream-of-consciousness, cobbled together memorandum. It's very difficult to put together an organized, thoughtful response to a chaotic piece of work - it requires a complete reframing of the issues from the ground up. Sometimes it's impossible to really tell what arguments they're making. Occasionally, it's taken me hours just to organize a response, because the opening document is so completely random - not a good use of anyone's time or money. And I always wonder if a judge reads the opening memo or brief, then throws up his or her hands and ignores mine, preferring instead to let the parties duke it out in oral argument.
But when I get a beautiful piece of legal writing to respond to? It makes my job so much easier. I can respond point-by-point to their arguments and I can focus on the substance, rather than the organization. It's heavenly.
- Civil opposing counsel. Attorneys who don't take themselves seriously are wonderful to work with. I'm talking about both courtly counsel who treat me like a grown-up, even though their bar numbers predate my parents' first date, as well as the counsel who weren't old enough to watch Charles and Di tie the knot. I blogged earlier about the good ol' boy who likes to pretend I don't exist, even though I'm making him work for his fees. Although I find that sort of thing pathetic rather than insulting, at least he's quiet about his deprecation. What drives me nuts are the guys (and they are guys) who call and start ranting about the horrible things my client has done, even before I've finished saying "hello." (Note to these guys: it takes a lot to intimidate me. That won't cut it.)
But those who are comfortable in their own skins and don't need to posture, who let the legal issues and the factual issues speak for themselves, and leave the saber-rattling for the courtroom? I so much enjoy working with them.
- Non-attorney friends. I consider it a huge victory to have kept my friends through law school, when I was a rotten friend to them. Often, when I'm feeling down on myself because I haven't done something or other as well as I think I ought, or because I feel like I should be further along in my master career plan, my non-attorney friends put it all in perspective for me. They have told me how proud they are of me, and of how nice it is for them to be able to say, "My friend, the lawyer...." and to have me around to ask questions of. It really means a lot. And oh, to be able to talk with people who don't want to talk about the law? It's wonderful. In case you haven't noticed, most law is pretty boring. I'm glad people still want to have me around, even if my conversation skills are substantially limited, and I'm known to rant on and on about the misuse of the word "foreseeable."
- Doctor jokes. Everyone's got lawyer jokes -- my father has told me the same joke, over and over, about the lawyers in the bottom of the ocean ("a good start" is the punchline). I'm not sure why people love to get their digs into lawyers, considering all the good lawyers do in the world, but the jokes are ubiquitous. (And if someone else tells me that they can't possibly vote for John Edwards because "he's a rich lawyer," I will probably hurl.)
To my mind, doctors engage in serious ethical conflicts, such that would get an attorney in my state in deep water. Most doctors take gifts, large and small, from drug companies for "education purposes," but really so the doctors will prescribe the company's drugs. To me, it screams "self-dealing" and "bias," and remember, we're talking about something that impacts whether a person lives or dies (not whether they make or lose money in a lawsuit). Many spend only five minutes at a time with each patient, while charging $120 (or more) for the "visit" (OK, I know they may only get $60, but it's still a lucrative 5 minutes.) They don't hire RNs to assist them, but marginally trained "medical assistants." Here, at least, they do an abysmal job at policing themselves via their state board, and it's very difficult to get a malpractice claim to stick.
But the strangest bit yet, they blame lawyers for their malpractice insurance. So yes, I love my doctor jokes.