What Would You Do If . . . ?


Bryan, Texas criminal-defense lawyer Stephen Gustitis wrote last week about The Seeds we Sow, pointing out that “we lawyers have it pretty good.”

Indeed. This is something I think about often. Consider . . .

What would you do if you went out to start your car tomorrow, and your car wouldn’t start? How would you get to work? What if you needed $1,000 to fix the car? Where would you get it?

On our way home from a date the other night, Jennifer and I stopped to help a lady whose car was breaking down. My guess, from the noises the engine was making and the clouds of steam coming out of the tailpipe, was that the head gasket had failed. Jen provided cover while I got out and pushed the lady’s car into a gas station parking lot. Then we gave her and her young son a ride home. She told us that she and her husband had just bought the car three days before, and she was hoping that the used car dealer that sold it to them would fix it. The car was the family’s only form of transportation, and they were living from paycheck to paycheck and didn’t have the money saved for expensive repairs.

If you got sick, would you be able to pay for medical care? If you couldn’t get to work, would you lose your job? If you lost your job, would you have a safe place to live?

The ex-wife of an old client came in to the office a while back. Her new husband was charged with assaulting her. They both denied the assault. When questioned about why the police came out to the house, they told me that his father had called for an ambulance because he had suffered a seizure, and the police had come with the EMTs, seen the house looking trashed, and deduced that there had been a fight. I questioned him about the seizure; he has them regularly, but has always just “gotten over it.” He has never seen a doctor or even gone to the ER because of the seizures. To him, a trip to the neurologist would be an unaffordable luxury.

If a loved one got arrested, could you hire a lawyer who would fight for him? Would you then be able to make his bail?

Lots of people who seek to hire me can’t afford me. “Carolyn,” responding to New York criminal-defense lawyer Scott Greenfield’s Beating the Lawyer Part 2 post, wrote, “Lawyer fees are outrageous. Most people live pay day to pay day and simply can’t afford to pay them. You may be speaking drug dealers and thieves and I can’t speak to that. But for the rest of us, think about charging less.” And, while I will take a case for little or nothing if I think that a) I can make a real difference; and b) the client is going to get badly screwed if he doesn’t have my help, I can’t take many such cases and represent my clients well.

Do you like the work you are doing right now? Would you like to be doing the same work in five years? Ten? Twenty?

Stephen Gustitis writes of returning to his hometown to find friends and family, after 30 years, “still struggling to find meaning and satisfaction in their work.” Lawyers are not immune from this — most corporate and insurance defense lawyers I know, and some prosecutors, strike me the same way (representing unPeople — corporations and governments — is, I think, an act intrinsically empty of meaning). But lawyers who help people, trying to make them more free, can scarcely avoid finding meaning and satisfaction in their work.

We criminal-defense lawyers are truly, as Stephen writes, privileged. We are privileged because most of us have the resources to repair the car, the wherewithal to go to the doctor, the money to hire the lawyer. In other words, we have the material things that help us weather the storms that life sends our way.

More importantly, though, we are privileged because we find meaning and satisfaction in our work — it is hard not to — and we enjoy what we do enough to picture ourselves doing it for decades to come.

Most of all, though, we are more privileged than the vast majority of people because we belong to a profession that brings us into daily contact with those who are less fortunate than us. We are given the opportunity, every day, to appreciate the gifts we have been given, and to share them with others.

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