A Personal Statement About Professional Fortitude

Today’s tone will be a little earthier and more personal than I am normally willing to indulge here.  If coarse analogies offend, please go read this vulgarity-free light reading instead.

Lawyers far more skilled and dedicated than I have taken risks in their profession over the two centuries of the practice of law in this country. Would that I had learned more of their good examples in law school, and less about the useless trivial intellectual speculations of some of my law professors, who “opined deeply” while drinking down our tuition.

Lawyers who defended the targets of lynch-by-alternative-means in the South. And not only in the South, let’s be clear. Atticus Finch was a brave attorney in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, but his real-life counterparts have at times needed to worry about starvation for defending those whom “local justice” pre-determined as guilty – this in the pre-Gideon days when the right to counsel was even more theoretical than it is now, and local attorneys were ordered to take on cases at no charge and at the risk of considerable opprobrium in their communities.

Radical lawyers like William Kunstler who had the nerve to go inside Attica State Penitentiary during a prison riot (or, as some would maintain, an uprising). The lawyers who contributed sweat, treasure and sometimes blood to the formation of highly controversial organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP and (much as I myself reject their Marxist roots) the National Lawyers’ Guild, and who litigated and organized despite real fear.

Some have taken smaller, but still real, risks. Conservative stalwart Ted Olson made a lot of his fellow conservatives unhappy by standing up as an appellate attorney for same-sex marriage as subject to the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, and therefore by logical conclusion lawful. Liberal stalwart Alan Dershowitz has stood up for the free-speech rights of Nazis and Holocaust deniers to speak freely and even opposed private censorship of their speech. Whether same-sex marriage or free speech by antisemites is a “good thing” isn’t the issue; the issue is whether attorneys have the courage to get up and do their jobs when someone else tries to turn up the heat.

My examples have leaned “lefty” as a sample pool, but many examples of staunchly conservative attorneys who took risks in their professional lives in the midst of conservative legal advocacy also exist.

As some of my readers (or am I now down to “reader” in the singular?) may be aware, my law office is now involved in a case of some modest public note. This is not the place for discussions of the specifics of that case, but rather of some of the surrounding environment of that case. Many reports of “SWAT”-ing – the practice of filing or calling in false criminal reports as a harassment and intimidation tactic – have emerged in the growing narratives surrounding the “greater metropolitan case”. Who exactly is doing the “SWAT”-ing isn’t entirely clear, though I certainly have my suspicions. For me as a practicing attorney, the issue is whether I continue to do my job like a professional, or whether I start letting myself get “nervous” about having the police greet me with tactical shotguns at my front door because a “dead body” was, per some fraudulent report, being dragged out of my apartment. The positive examples of attorneys of generations past, attorneys who were also public citizens, urge maximum fortitude.

Fortunately, my local police captain was extremely receptive to my letter faxed to him describing my concerns; he assured me in his manifest professionalism today that he has gotten these sort of foolish calls before and has a highly disciplined squad who are simply not going to go “stormtrooper”, and who have been fully briefed and directed to check with him first before they assume that any report about me might be true. I had occasion to work with two of his detectives and one of his uniformed officers in January when two other community members and I got robbed at gunpoint outside my apartment; I will be seeing them again in August and September when the three suspects stand trial or plea out. So I am not particularly worried about getting “SWAT”-ted; whatever is out there doing the “SWAT”-ing should fear the police captain’s irritation, as he is clearly not in the mood to put up with any games.

I do know that there have been some petty efforts to interfere with my relationships with some legal referral sources of mine. But when I tell you I don’t care, I don’t care. I have no boss to “harass”; this law shop is mine for my clients’ welfare and I answer to no one but my clients and the courts.  That’s that.

Either you have the courage to do what needs to be done as an attorney, or you don’t. Fortunately, I do. At the risk of ungentlemanly coarseness, mine are made out of high-quality tempered American brass, and that fact settles the discussion.  Indeed, the best way to discourage this sort of nonsense is to respond to it with moral fortitude, measured, reasonable responses and, to the extent strictly lawful, vi et armis.

PS – welcome all of you visiting from Instapundit – sorry I didn’t clean up the place a bit better. Wish I had some beer to offer but alas, we don’t have “Google ColdDraft 1.0” yet installed on the site….

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