Less is often more. That’s one of the reasons that I’m a fan of Irish understatement.
If you’re not familiar with Irish understatement, here’s how we refer to 30 years of devastating violence that, depending on one’s point of view, was either a freedom fight or terrorism: “The Troubles.” Enough said.
Anyhow, I don’t know the names of many of my favorite Irish thinkers. Most are people with whom I shared space in dimly lit pubs, doing our best to keep conversation to a minimum before heading our separate ways.
One of my favorites, however, is someone who I never met: Oscar Wilde. To me, Wilde’s insight, intelligence and wit make him the master of Irish understatement. I won’t bore you with Wilde quotes. But one strikes me as particularly relevant to topics oft discussed in this space:
- “There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.”
I suppose we could debate Wilde’s meaning. Some might interpret it as a “tragedy” to achieve everything, only to realize that’s there’s nothing left to do. You know, reaching a metaphorical mountaintop only to ask “is this it?” Fair interpretation, but not mine.
To me, the message is a question that we must ask on the way to getting everything we want: “at what cost?” And the message applies to (at least) two different aspects of professional responsibility.
First, civility is a professional responsibility. As I’ve blogged, Don’t Be a Jerk.
I’m not the only lawyer who spreads that message. Twice a year, the Vermont Bar Association puts on its Basic Skills seminar. It’s an opportunity for new lawyers to satisfy the CLE requirement associated with admission to the bar. I join many other dedicated lawyers to present on different topics and practice areas.
Almost to a person, we include the same message: Vermont is a small state. The lawyer who is on the other side is one with whom you will likely deal often throughout your career. Be civil, or it could come back to haunt you. Stated differently, sure, you got what you wanted in THAT case, but at what cost? The reputational hit might not be “tragic,” but it ain’t great either.
The second area to which Wilde’s quote applies is attorney wellness. I will not spend paragraphs rehashing the dozens of posts in which I’ve addressed the staggering toll that the profession takes on us. Suffice to ask, at what cost to your emotional, physical, and mental health are you willing to achieve career goals? Look no further than here and here for numbers that reflect the tragedy.
I can hear the pins dropping.
Leave it to an Irish basketball coach who pines for summer to go all melancholy on a weekend that includes (1) the first sunny, warm Friday in ages; (2) UVM basketball playing for a spot in the NCAA tournament; and (3) St. Patrick’s Day!
I want to end this post on a more uplifting note. Thankfully, there’s plenty of Irish-related material to do just that.
For instance, Wilde also said “true friends stab you in the front.” I think it’s funny to use that quote in a post that appears on the Ides of March. Et tu, Brute?!?!
Even more uplifting, especially during Lent, let me leave you with a story that reminds me of my brother and our Irish-Catholic relatives & friends:
Michael moved into a tiny hamlet in County Kerry, walked into the pub and promptly ordered 2 beers. The bartender raised his eyebrows, but served Michael two beers, which he drank quietly at a table, alone. The next evening Michael again ordered and drank two beers at a time. Soon the entire town was whispering about the Man Who Orders Two Beers.
Eventually, the bartender asked what the town wanted to know. “I don’t mean to be prying but folks around here are wondering why your always order 2 beers at a time?”
“Ah, it’s odd, I know,” Michael replied. “You see, I have a brother, Patrick, back in the US. We promised each other that we would always order an extra beer, whenever we would partake, as a way of keeping up the family bond.” The bartender and the whole town were pleased with Michael’s reverence for family.
One day Michael came in and ordered only 1 beer. The bartender served it with a heavy heart. Word flew around the hamlet quickly. Prayers were offered for Patrick’s soul. The next day, after Michal again ordered only 1 beer, the bartender said “folks around here, me first of all, want to offer our condolences to you for the death of your brother”
Michael pondered for a moment then replied, “I appreciate it, but I’m happy to report that Patrick is alive and well. It’s just that I, myself, gave up drinking for Lent.”
Onto the quiz and GO CATS GO!
- None. Open book, open search engine, text/phone/email-a-friend.
- Exception – but one that is loosely enforced – #5 isn’t open book. (“loosely enforced” = “aspirational”)
- Unless stated otherwise, the Vermont Rules of Professional Conduct apply
- Team entries welcome, creative team names even more welcome.
- E-mail answers to firstname.lastname@example.org
- I’ll post the answers & Honor Roll on Monday
- Please don’t use the “comment” feature to post your answers
- Please consider sharing the quiz with friends & colleagues
- Please consider sharing the quiz on social media. Hashtag it – #fiveforfriday
True or False.
A lawyer cannot be disciplined for trying, but failing, to violate the Rules of Professional Conduct. That is, discipline can only be imposed for an actual violation.
Aside: imagine being too incompetent to be incompetent?
Which does not belong with the others?
- A. the time & labor required, as well as the skills requisite to perform the legal services properly
- B. continued representation will result in a violation of the rules.
- C. the lawyer is discharged.
- D. the lawyer’s physical or mental condition materially impairs the lawyer’s ability to represent the client.
Lawyer called me with an inquiry. I listened, then said: “it depends, did you receive information that could be significantly harmful to that person?”
My words “that person” refers to:
A. a prospective client who met with, but did not retain, Lawyer.
B. a prospective juror
C. an opposing party who mistakenly emailed Lawyer
D. a current client who intends to commit a crime
Generally, a lawyer “shall not acquire a proprietary interest” in the client’s cause of action or in the subject matter of the litigation that the lawyer is conducting for the client. There are two exceptions.
Rule 1.1 requies an attorney to provide clients with competent representation.
Although he did not prevail on his argument, one of the more competent self-represented litigants in movie history was an Irish kid from South Boston. He represented himself at an arraignment on a charge that he had assaulted a police officer, even arguing his own motion to dismiss:
- Character: There is lengthy legal precedent, your honor, going back to 1789, whereby a defendant can claim self-defense against an agent of the government, if that act is deemed a defense against tyranny, a defense of liberty.
- Prosecutor: Your honor. . .
- Character: Henry Lloyd Beecher in Proverbs from the Plymouth Pulpit, 1887 says, and I quote . . .
- Prosecutor: 1887? This is the 20th century, your honor.
- Character: Excuse me, excuse me.
- Prosecutor: You’re making a mockery of the Court!
- Character: I’m afforded the right to speak in my own defense, sir, by the Constitution of the United States. This is the same document that guarantees my liberty.
- Prosecutor: Hey, don’t tell me about the Constitution of the United States.
- Character: Now, liberty, in case you’ve forgotten, is the soul’s rights to breath. And when it cannot take a long breath, laws are girded too tight. Without liberty, man is a syncope.
- Prosecutor: Man is a what?
- Character: Ibid, your honor.
- Judge: Son, my turn. I’ve been sitting here 10 minutes now looking over this rap sheet of yours. I just can’t believe it. June ’93, Assault. September ’93, Assault. Grand Theft Auto in February ’94, where you apparently defended yourself by citing Free Property Rights of Horse and Carriage from 1798. January ’95, Impersonating an Officer, Mayhem, Resisting. All overturned. I’m also aware that you’ve been through several foster homes. The State removed you from three due to physical abuse. You know, another judge might care, but you hit a cop. You’re going in. Motion to dismiss is denied. $50,000 bail.
- Character: Thank you your honor.
Soon after the arraignment, Character was released to the supervision of a co-worker, an MIT professor. Character’s conditions of release required him to attend therapy sessions with the professor’s college roommate, a psychology teacher at a local community college.
Name the movie.