Compassion Revisited


One commentator to Scott Greenfield’s recent post, The Battle Lines are Drawn, wrote:

If you are worrying about harm to others you are in the wrong line of work. Your sole duty is a duty of zealous advocacy to the client. We don’t have a duty to do justice. Harming others is part of the job if it serves the client.

While I agree withe the last two sentences — we don’t have a duty to do justice (even if we knew what justice was, we wouldn’t have a duty to do it), and harming others to help our clients is occasionally part of the job — I couldn’t disagree more with the overarching sentiment. I’ve written on several occasions about how compassion is a part of the profession; criminal-defense lawyers are compassionate — they have to be to take care of the people whom the rest of society condemns.

The commentator suggests that there is something wrong with a criminal-defense lawyer feeling compassion for people other than his clients.

To the contrary, a lawyer who truly feels compassion for his client is going to feel compassion for others as well.

I don’t want to hurt anyone else; I try to avoid hurting others in my practice. Generally, by good fortune and skillful practice, I succeed. Sometimes, however, it is inevitable that someone will be hurt. When it is inevitable or necessary I accept it, but I regret it.

The federal government has created a system in which people can benefit themselves by harming each other. It’s an unethical, unjust system, and it’s neither necessary nor inevitable. We’re not, in the main, talking about getting rapists or arsonists off the street; we’re talking about putting people in prison for drug crimes, for commerce. This is one of the great evils of our time.

When people let the government pit them against each other, they give up power (freedom) to the government. Criminal defense lawyers, who are supposed to be fighting for freedom, become the government’s accomplices in usurping freedom. I’m looking at the big picture, and, with all due respect to those lawyers who choose otherwise, I decline to participate.

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0 responses to “Compassion Revisited”

  1. I, too, feel that compassion is an essential part of our job. There are many ways to protect the best interest of our clients without the “scorched earth” type of attitude. Not that I haven’t done that when necessary but I only do that when there is no other option and I never feel good about it.
    Your blog always makes me think and while I don’t always agree with the views they always challenge me to constantly evaluate my actions and thoughts. I am a better lawyer because of this. Keep up the good work.

  2. Pam,

    Thank you for the kind words.

    When you disagree with me, please leave a comment to let me know. Consider it the cost of admission.

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