My profession puts me in a situation where I’m required to be ‘aggressive’. Most people seem to have this misguided notion that the more aggressive a lawyer is, the higher their chances of winning a case. Million dollar question is, is that the reality or is it just a mere fallacy? I vouch for the latter.
A couple of years ago, when I was in my second year of law school, I was seated in court following proceedings during my clinical attachment. There was this ongoing personal injury case, where the plaintiff was seeking compensation for injuries he had sustained in a car accident. The defendant’s lawyer was a young energetic man, who had this awfully intimidating tactic…
So intimidating was he, that the plaintiff kept contradicting himself during his cross-examination, because he was incoherent with fear. I imagined if he was calm, he wouldn’t have kept fumbling over his words… Ordinarily, the court setting is extremely unnerving. Therefore it goes without saying that if the lawyers are too harsh on the witnesses, their trepidation is aggravated and as such, their testimony might be a tad compromised.
Still, from a novice lawyer’s perspective, if aggressiveness helps win a case, who cares whether the witnesses were too freaked out to be coherent? Every competent lawyer’s hope is for the court to rule in their client’s favour, and sadly, seldom does it matter how that case is won.
I remember a lecturer during an evidence law class telling us that a lawyer has the power to convince the court that a white board is actually black. That furthermore, it is not the truth that helps a client win a case, but about who of the lawyers is crafty enough to convince the court their client is the victim.
This was the concept in the ‘Justice’ legal drama produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, starring Victor Garber and Kerr Smith. In the show, an incident would occur, then the parties concerned would get legal counsels, who would battle the matter out in court.
After the court’s verdict was given at the end of the show, they would reveal what actually transpired, and if justice was served. As one would imagine, the actual victims were not always the ones winning cases. This is what happens in real life. Sometimes the offenders are the ones who get away with their wrongful acts.
Growing up, I thought the harsher a lawyer was, banging tables and all, the more effective they were. I still had the same notion in law school because that is how successful lawyers are portrayed on tv… This went on, until I actually started my pupillage and interacted with real people. Now I know, that aggressiveness doesn’t win a case; humility and preparedness does.
When I was doing my pupillage, one of our clients called, saying his cousin had been arrested for assault. At the time everyone at the law firm was engaged, so I was asked to go bail him out. I had met our client only once before in a different matter, but thankfully when I saw him he remembered me, and so did I.
Interestingly, before I got there, he had already warned everyone who cared to listen that his lawyer would really deal with them. He had issued numerous threats based on what he imagined I would do… However, when I finally arrived I started talking to him, and the police officers just to get an idea of what had transpired.
At the time our client’s cousin was already behind bars, so I requested to be allowed to talk to him as well. Unlike his cousin who was championing for a ‘smack down’ between me and the police officers, he just wanted the matter to end there. Therefore I talked to the complainant, asked what had happened and what he expected to achieve from filing the complaint, so I could get his side of the story…
Turns out it was just a relationship between a landlord (our client’s cousin) and his tenant (complainant) gone awry… The landlord wanted to exert his dominance over his tenant, who owing to hard times had defaulted on payment… and consequently, the tenant wanted ‘justice’ for the assault occasioned to him.
By the time I was leaving the police station hours later, the complainant had agreed to drop the charges, and we had come up with a payment plan to cover the rent arrears. Everyone, except our client (landlord’s cousin), walked away happy. See he had hoped I would deal with the matter aggressively… but in my quest to find an amicable solution between the warring parties, I had poured cold water over his wild expectations.
Before I arrived he had been such a bother, that no officer at the station wanted to deal with him. Eventually, when we posted bail and his cousin was released, he seemed happy. However, when my pupil master called to commend me for my good job, he added, “But I was told you were not aggressive”.
That had me wondering, “If being aggressive means ones barks out threats mindlessly, and subsequently widening the chasm between the parties, isn’t it better to solve matters diplomatically?” That incident helped me realize I don’t need to be aggressive to succeed as a lawyer; and neither do I need to employ hard-line bargaining tactics to win cases.
I just need to be humble, yet assertive. That way I’ll bridge barriers without stepping on people’s toes. There’s no harm in resolving matters peacefully… In bar school, one lecturer posed a hard question: “Can a good lawyer be a good person?” I think, yes! Maybe it’s my inexperience misguiding me, but I truly believe a good lawyer, who’s skilled and successful, can also be a morally straight person; one who does not win by sharp practice.