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VaLawyer_Feb2012

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Reflections An Education in Client-Centered Law Practice by John H. Crouch At 44 I am the youngster in this group. I can't stand arm in arm with Joe Condo upon the pinnacle of the legal profes- sion, nor pass you the baton of public service like Frank Brown, nor dispense the wisdom of Job like Brian Hirsch. But I am just old enough in the law to be able to speak with authority about legal education—that is, about what parts of my education I have found useful in meeting the needs of clients. Some of my most important educa- tion for law practice came from my col- lege summer jobs as a park ranger at the monuments in Washington. The work was a lot like what I do in my law office. My primary mission was to tell peo- ple what the government wanted them to know—not trivia like how many bricks were in the monuments, but about Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln. I learned to compose and deliver talks without notes, including a 69-second history lesson I gave while driving the elevator up the Washington Monument. Laying aside my cherished Naw'un Vuhginyuh mumble, I learned to project, talk fast, and articulate every sound. I also had to really engage with whomever I was talking to, whatever their age, class, race, etc.—which doesn't come naturally to most young people. For example, if there's someone in a wheelchair, you look him in the eye and talk with him, not whoever is pushing him around. But we also had to tell people what- ever they most urgently wanted to know: where's the bathroom, or a place to eat, and how to drive around Washington— which most people who live there don't even know. We had to learn fiendishly complex ways of getting around on often unnamed, unmarked roads, then figure out how to effectively communicate them to bewildered, disoriented outlanders. We also had to enforce laws and reg- ulations, including some that neither I 70 VIRGINIA LAWYER | February 2012 | Vol. 60 nor the tourists liked. Probably the biggest thing I learned was how to tell people what they didn't want to hear; but politely, respectfully, and in a way they could understand. Some rangers loved to rush out at tourists, waving their badge-holders, shouting in bureau- cratic lingo that meant nothing to the tourists—well, it meant that the rangers were far smarter and more important than the tourists. Lawyers habitually do the same thing, but I have always tried to do the exact opposite. Enforcement also included dealing with very slippery media people, who would always assure you that they had someone's permission to do whatever they wanted to do, wherever they wanted to go. That teaches you brutal lessons in how to "trust but verify," to nail down the specifics, not take things at face value, and not get manipulated, played, or placated with nice-sounding verbiage. And finally, writing it down. I was already a good writer, but the way I had to write as a park ranger completely turned around how I wrote, and made me start thinking a lot more realistically about being a lawyer. In the daily log books we had to record significant inci- dents and accidents. We had to put down all the relevant facts—and just the facts. None of the literary impres- sions, analogies, adverbs, exaggerations and streams-of-consciousness that I was so fond of in high school. What we wrote might be introduced as evidence in court, I might be cross examined under oath about it, and it could make the difference in who won a lawsuit, or whether there was a lawsuit in the first place. And printing it in pen, in a book, you had to keep it short, know how you were going to finish before you began, and get it right the first time. In law school probably the most important classes for everyday law practice were mediation and William & Mary's legal skills program. I learned many skills from mediation that I use with clients and lawyers every day. My most important moment in law school was in a role-play with another student, Bill Pincus. He was the client, I was the lawyer, and there was one question I didn't ask him: "Why?" By assuming, not asking, why he didn't want to do what was clearly in his legal interests, I charged ahead with the legal solution I knew was best for him. It would have either ruined his life or gotten me fired, or both. That taught me to always "peel the onion" until I get at the client's real interests and goals, and to ask "stupid" questions—which often get surprising answers. William & Mary's great legal skills program was centered around clients, counseling and dispute resolution as the lawyer's main concerns, with litigation as the small end of the pyramid. That's the exact opposite of the rest of first-year law school, which trained students to think like appellate judges, not trial lawyers, let alone lawyers who could help clients settle their case or avoid having a case in the first place. Our first big assignment was to meet with the "client," and try to talk with him in a way that uncovered his real situation and what he might need. (My client, Jon Brownlee, helped me by answering one question with, "It was a … Mr. Herring. Mr. Red Herring.") The next phase was learning how to settle a case based on the client's most important interests and goals. I don't think we went to "court" until sec- ond year. I studied economics in college and had heavy doses of "Law and Economics" in law school. I resisted valiantly, but was dragged kicking and screaming into recognizing how markets work. The eco- nomic perspective is crucial for under- Reflections continued on page 69 www.vsb.org

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