In order to keep the focus on what is right, what is working, in the legal profession, I am introducing a new feature entitled Legal Highlights. At least a couple of times per month, I will ask a person who works within the legal system a set of questions. The questions I ask each Highlight will be the same, those you see in today's interview. I may add a follow-up question or two as you see below but the skeleton questions will remain constant.
One of my goals with Legal Highlights is to balance out, perhaps round out, all that we read and hear about what's wrong with the legal profession and system. With the Highlights, let's focus on the uplifting, the affirmative, the effective, the professional, the gratified, the decent, the good.
And to christen Legal Highlights I now post an interview of US District Court Judge John L. Kane. When you read it, you will see why I am quite pleased to start with Judge Kane and why it was so appropriate for him to be the inaugural interview. I thank him. Here is idealawg's first Legal Highlight . . .
1) Think about your recent experience in the legal profession or system and think of a specific incident or event that made you feel extremely satisfied or proud. Give a brief description of the incident or event, if you would like. The reasons I felt that way were . . .
The best recent experience I've had as a judge, or for that matter the best from law school to the present, was in presiding over a national class action in which the class consisted of wheelchair and scooter bound shoppers at K-Mart stores. Jurisdiction was based on the Americans With Disabilities Act. The case was vigorously contested, but the lawyers behaved both honorably and civily. No insults, no sarcasm, no ad hominum attacks, no phony citations; just vigorous and civil representation at the highest level of competence. Moreover, the class representatives were not greedy and the defendant corporation was responsible and concerned with being fair. The case wended its way through pre-trial motions and extensive discovery and then settled in full accordance with the intent of the Act. I was impressed by the integrity of all counsel and parties and felt that the final consent decree achieved the indefinable, but realized result of justice. This case and the conduct of all concerned made me realize why I wanted to be a judge in the first place.
2) I attended law school because . . .
I attended law school because I wanted to become a trial lawyer.
Follow-up question: What about being a trial lawyer appealed to you?
What about being a trial lawyer appealed to me? Being in the courtroom. In college I was active in theatre and majored in English Literature and Philosophy. I was also very active in debate. The drama of the courtroom, the exchanges and the rhetoric of arguments and examinations of witnesses, and the challenges thus presented appealed greatly. To be candid, I also liked the limelight and the recognition. I never thought of trial law as work: it always seemed to me to be rehearsals and performance. It was fun. The risks of defeat and the joys of victory were the catalyst for the thrill of it.
Soon after graduating and trying a number of cases as a deputy district attorney and then as a public defender, I realized I wanted to become a trial judge. I have never regreted the choices I made.
Follow-up question: What about being a trial judge caused that realization?
What about judging? Much along the same line, but add to it the challenges of directing and writing. More to the point, perhaps, judging means I am in the thick of trials more often than I would be as a lawyer and there is a greater sense of freedom and creativity in judging --- one does not have to worry about billable hours and overhead and, indeed, pressures from clients and partners to do anything other than what my best judgment tells me is right. Sometimes these pressures make it difficult for a lawyer to be honest; for a judge it's the easiest thing in the world and there is absolutely no excuse for being otherwise. While judging involves a great deal of work, especially reading material that is often boring or inarticulate or both, it is very rewarding. I wake each morning with the thought that I have no expectations other than to do my best to reach just results according to law. Sometimes the law does not permit one to achieve justice in a particular case, but the drive is always present to do just that. Looking from the outside, judging can appear to be very boring, but from my coign of vantage, it is a theatre of the mind and the source of the material is history itself.
3) I would recommend the practice of law because . . .
I would recommend the practice of law only to those who have a fire in the belly, a sense of mission to pursue justice and a sense of joy in the adversarial contest.
4) My colleagues who practice law (or are judges) appreciate doing so because . . .
My judicial colleagues appreciate judging because of the opportunities it presents to achieve purpose and meaning in making decisions.
5) The benefits lawyers contribute to society are . . .
The benefits lawyers contribute to society are entirely dependent on the attitude with which they practice. Practicing law can be a selfish, narcissistic way to do much harm, or it can be a genuine service to others. The principal benefit lawyers provide is clear thinking for and on behalf of clients who cannot do so themselves because the subjective experience that brings them to the lawyer in the first place is too emotional or too befuddling for them.
6) The factors that make up the heart and the soul of law are . . .
The factors that make up the heart and soul of law are precedent, persuasion and perception.
7) Think of a lawyer you consider a role model. The traits or values I respect or admire about him or her are . . .
The traits or values I admire in a lawyer are: 1. Candor. 2. Preparation and 3. Understanding.