2015.38: Greenfield Takes a Hill He Can’t Hold


Scott writes:

Keith is friends with Jeena, and saw no reason to attack her post too strongly and turn a friend into an enemy. So in concluding, he threw her a bone with some praise. Of course, it contradicts his point, renders his post pointless and is facial nonsense. Jeena didn’t remind anyone to structure behaviors so as not to do a disservice towards clients, but to not be a jerk because that’s not how she wants to be personally and therefore believes it to be intrinsically better.

“Jerk” is never used as a word of praise. Why? Because not being a jerk is intrinsically better than being a jerk. The world would be a better place if nobody was a jerk. Not being a jerk makes the lives of those around you easier, it lowers your blood pressure, and it satisfies the categorical imperative.

The point that I think Scott is trying to make is that we lawyers are not allowed to choose to do the things that make us feel better—things like making the lives of those around us easier, lowering our blood pressure, and satisfying the categorical imperative—over the client’s interests. If that’s Scott’s point, it’s a very good point, and one that bears making over and over.

What matters to the client is winning. We are not hired to be nice. If the client wants to put “be nice” above “win” in his list of priorities, that’s his choice and not the lawyer’s. If you’re not prepared to do unpleasant things when it is required for the good of the client, don’t get into the profession. If not for clients, attorneys wouldn’t even exist.

But by making the patently false claim that not being a jerk is not intrinsically superior to being a jerk, Greenfield loses the plot. It isn’t that one way of being is not intrinsically superior to another; it’s that sometimes we have to do the things that are intrinsically inferior—to spit on our hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats—for the good of the client.


5 responses to “2015.38: Greenfield Takes a Hill He Can’t Hold”

  1. “Jerk” is never used as a word of praise. Why? Because not being a jerk is intrinsically better than being a jerk.

    Or perhaps it appears that way because the word “jerk” is a pejorative word. Characterizing conduct by use of pejorative word is the sort of thing that goads people who are overly concerned about appearances: “Oh no, I would never want to be a jerk. That’s a terrible thing to be.”

    But if one characterized the same conduct as being tough in the face of pressure, of being firmly behind one’s client’s best interests despite having to be disagreeable or uncooperative, suddenly being called a “jerk” isn’t such a bad thing.

    Don’t let the pejorative semantics throw you off your game. You should know better than to be goaded by a loaded word. People call criminal defense lawyers mean names all the time; don’t take the bait.

    • … and so, as people tend to do in our narcissistic postmodern age, Greenfield argues that words don’t have meaning, so that no assertion can be said to be wrong after all.

      I reject the argument. We’re talking about self-assessment, not other people’s views of us. When you are being a jerk and when you are not is a lesson you presumably learned in kindergarten. Even if only you know when you’re being a jerk, you know when you’re being a jerk; better not to, unless you have a responsibility to.

      • Too facile. The use of jerk here is a characterization that Jeena Cho placed on conduct that she distinguishes from being kind. You’re still allowing yourself to be goaded by semantics. You know better.

      • OK, you two, stop being jerks. Nobody is saying words don’t have meaning. However the meaning depends on the circumstances … like here where I use “jerks” to refer to dear friends whom I respect.

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