Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Cognitive Dissonance.

Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz once said that attorneys must do things professionally that they would find distasteful personally.

I observed an example this week. Waiting for a law and motion calendar to commence, two attorneys in front of me were catching up. They evidently were old friends from law school, and shared some laughs over their shared experiences.

The guy on the right presented himself as especially jovial and avuncular. All of that abruptly ended when his matter was called. Once before the judge, he became belligerent and rude. Unlike in the conversation just minutes before with his law school buddy, this guy repeatedly interrupted the court (which resulted in a somewhat belated censure from the judge). He failed to listen to the court's statements, failed to respond to them, and refused to accept that the ruling had long since been made. The matter ended with the attorney threatening to take the matter to the appellate court with a writ, an insulting manuever.

One of my mentors in the law likened the practice of litigation or trial work to a diplomacy. Over the course of a case you want to develop rapport with the court. You want the court to see you as trustworthy and reasonable. Part of achieving this status requires one to pick his or her spots. Knowing when to argue and when to listen is valuable discernment.

I never have seen a judge change his or her mind simply because the attorney overcame the court's patience with long-winded speeches that would rival Clinton's infamous 1988 polemic at the Democratic Convention. If anything, the opposite effect is engendered.

In the final analysis, though, I don't think that an attorney needs to act contrary to, or outside of, his or her character to be effective. Nevertheless, the jovial guy apparently believed so.