Laughing When Others Fall Down

I have to admit that I sometimes tune into Tosh.0 or go to YouTube to watch ridiculous videos of people doing stupid things. You know what I mean; the guy who crashes his pricey crotch rocket because he got the bright idea to stand on the seat to “surf” down the highway only to find out that the laws of gravity don’t care how cool you think you are. Some of the people – mostly guys – faceplant on the cement or take a shot to more sensitive areas. Usually, I wince and laugh and think, “Man, what is wrong with people?!” I really wonder why people hurt themselves either through reckless or intentional acts. Perhaps even more puzzling is the fact that their friends and family members often stand idly by watching, laughing, or even filming while these daredevils reduce their arms, legs, or faces to ruin.

It’s not just the daredevils who hurt themselves. We frequently see politicians, pundits, professional atheletes, and celebrities hurt not only themselves, but others through careless words or acts. Just look at the recent Rush Limbaugh tirade, or remember back to the <insert politician here> sex scandaI, or the Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, and Randy Quaid meltdowns. They hurt themselves, their families and others around them while they spiral out of control. Meanwhile, everyone gets to tune into TMZ on their t.v. or new iPad 3 to watch the carnival sideshow.

To make matters worse, the people around them often enable their self destructive behavior. They do it through tacit acceptance or by failing to give them a reality check.  I mean, if I stand around and say nothing while you hurt yourself instead of saying, “Look man, don’t be an idiot; you can’t keep doing _______________, if you do you’ll not only hurt yourself but ___________ too,” it’s the same as saying everything is ok. Right?

It just doesn’t happen on t.v. or the internet. It happens in real life, every day, with the people around us. I read about a potentially self destructive moment yesterday on Facebook. Apparently, a fellow attorney in the middle of a hearing told the referee that his client had basically admitted to all of the allegations in the petition. In those few words, he not only undermined the attorney-client privilege, but also betrayed his client’s confidence. In doing so, he hurt his client and himself.

Another local attorney witnessed it and instead of giving the other attorney feedback after the event, she recounted the events on Facebook. Thankfully, she didn’t share the other attorney’s name, or the names of anyone else at the hearing, but she joke that the other attorney must have missed the law school ethics class on client confidentiality.

This troubled me. Monroe is a small community; everyone seems to know everyone else. This is especially true in the local legal community. Many of us have Facebook accounts and we have each other friended. I wondered – even though the one attorney didn’t mention the other attorney’s name – if the post would make it back around to him. I can only imagine the humiliation he would feel at that moment. No one likes to be made out to be an ass or incompetent, especially in public. Later that day, I ran into the attorney who had posted the event on Facebook. I asked her if she had taken the other attorney aside to talk with him about the issue. She chuckled; then, said something about laughing in court when the guy made the statement.

Perhaps I am being overly critical. Maybe her chuckle to me and her laugh in court were both brought on by nervousness. Maybe she – a bright, young attorney – was merely saying on Facebook, “shew, I’m sure glad that wasn’t me. I hope I never do that.” Still, I wish she had foregone the Facebook post and talked to the other attorney in private. There, she could point out his mistake, save him some embarrassment, and help him learn a valuable lesson.

As attorneys – and as human beings – we can build people up or we can tear them down. Each one leaves a legacy. I strive to build people up; especially, other attorneys who are in need of help. I want them to succeed. I remember being in my first year of practice. I was, like I am now, a solo practitioner. I felt terrified about what I didn’t know. Law school only teaches us so much. The rest we learn over time by taking our lumps in court, reading all the law and treatises in practice areas, and by the grace of more experienced attorneys who share their knowledge with new attorneys. All are important, but the latter is critical. An attorney I respect, Gary M. Wilson of Grosse Pointe, once wrote, “[I]t is by teaching that we learn, and by helping others that we prosper. These are immutable laws.  If you deprive us the opportunity to offer whatever help we may … we all lose.” If she had taken the time to help that attorney, she would most likely impact that attorney and his practice in a profound way. She would have also helped raise the level of practice in our local bar association.

I realize that everyone does not share my view, or Gary’s for that matter. I wish that they did; life would be much more rewarding. Others might argue that the world, and specifically the practice of law, is about survival of the fittest. They might argue that that one attorney’s mistake, while potentially hurting him and his client, will clear the field for better, more capable attorneys to practice. It will ensure that only the best get the business. To which, I respectfully disagree. I believe that view is near-sighted. A person with that mentality forgets how much help, advice, and guidance she got right out of the gate as a new attorney.

All philosophical discussions aside. When people seek legal representation, they should make sure to ask any prospective attorney to explain what the attorney-client privilege means and what the limitations are regarding confidentiality in the attorney-client relationship. They should ask whether the attorney would ever divulge a client’s confidential information to someone else and under what conditions. Perhaps they should even tell any prospective attorneys that they expect to be provided with a written waiver for any information provided by the client to the attorney if the attorney plans to divulge it to anyone. Information management is important in criminal cases; where a breakdown in negotiations can impact trial strategies, future negotiations, sentencing recommendations, etc.

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2 thoughts on “Laughing When Others Fall Down

  1. Excellent thought here… I think that sometimes the laughing and more the putting attention on afterwards is a little bit of “there but for the grace of God go I” relief… in a professional setting even moreso is my thought – that sounds like a not easy gaffe to make but if the mind is ahead of the words, anyone could possibly no? Especially the inexperienced and the not so sure are quick to point them out because of the relief they feel it was not them. I like your philosophy of building up not tearing down. 🙂

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