Passionate? I’ll pass.

September 23, 2012 § 5 Comments

The other day, I had a halfhearted conversation with a young lawyer assessing his options outside of the military. At one point, he jokingly (at least apparently) mentioned that he could work for me.

“You know, Eric, I’m really passionate about defending soldiers.”

I smiled and made attempts at keeping the conversation light. Though I left with the feeling that he hoped that a seed was planted for future cultivation.

The fact is, I’d never hire him. Ever.

Oh, he’s a smart kid, good heart, and presents himself well in the courtroom (for his level of experience). He demonstrated, in a short time, the ability to learn quickly and efficiently.

So, why won’t I hire him?

He’s passionate.

I don’t have time to deal with that crap.

See, it’s fine to be passionate about things. For instance, I’m passionate about my kids and their futures. For that reason, I’d make a crappy lawyer for them if one was needed. They’d need someone who is dispassionate who can calmly evaluate options and make learned decisions and recommendations. I’m not that person because I’m passionate about the subject.

You might assume that I’m not passionate about military law and courts-martial. If you did assume this, you are correct. Gold star for you.

I’m not passionate. I’m happy to be in this sector of the profession. I like doing the work. I appreciate what I do and how I am able to do it. I enjoy the challenges and always look forward to announcing my appearance in military court.

Any time I achieve a positive result for a veteran, I feel good, and even a bit proud.

Happy, appreciative, enjoying, and proud? Yes.

Passionate? Absolutely not.

Occasionally, to get a response from opposing counsel, I’ll act passionate, but it’s all an act. Acting passionate takes a lot of energy. Being passionate takes even more.

But I’m not passionate about what I do.

My experience tells me that passion usually results in one of two things: poor legal reasoning or unintended pregnancies.

I talk to passionate people all the time. Some are clients. Some are potential clients. Many are family members–moms, dads, wives, brothers, sisters, and mistresses. Others are third-party advocates (victim, veteran, and the like). They are passionate. Often very, very passionate.

They know what they know and believe what they believe. They become flustered and angry at the thought that someone could believe otherwise. When I explain that the opposing side has a logical and (generally) accepted reason for a particular stance, I’m met with the same high-powered anger and frustration.

They blurt, “How can they possibly think that?! How can you say those jerks have solid and compelling evidence?!”

Well, as lawyers, our job is to understand why and how the opposing party thinks. We must look at their logic, identify flaws, and identify ways to present our side as more logical and less flawed. Sometimes, it is possible. Often, it is not.

Feeling passion makes a person think they are flawless, and they see the other side as obviously and irreparably flawed. How dare someone think otherwise.

As lawyers, we are hired to analyze everything dispassionately, call it as we see it, and make the most of whatever hand we are dealt. If we are passionate, we fail at all three. The last thing we should do is practice in an area where we feel passion.

So, if you are looking for a job, or a partnership, feel free to be passionate about model railroading, or modern art, or the evolution of body art, or animal husbandry, or crumbling Detroit architecture.

Just don’t be passionate about military law.

If you are, take your passions elsewhere. I have no time for them. And neither do my clients.

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§ 5 Responses to Passionate? I’ll pass.

  • Bill Doogue says:

    Does everyone you know really get flustered and angry when challenged? How strange.

    I hope you are just getting carried away with your own bombast. I can not see the dilemma in displaying genuine passion about a case in Court but also dispassionately explaining the strengths of the Prosecutor’s case to your client. That is what criminal defence lawyers do. It is not every case that you are passionate about but in my experience is they do come along fairly regularly.

    • Eric says:

      So, let’s start with this…

      Where did I say that everyone I talk to becomes flustered? Did you check my qualifiers?

      Where is the bombast, defined as “high-sounding language?” I’ve often been accused of being to simple in language, but never bombastic. Which words or phrases did you feel displayed bombast?

      I didn’t say I had a problem with displaying passion. Use whatever act is most persuasive to your audience. But feeling passion is something that our clients and their family/friends have covered. They have oodles of passion. From us, they need dispassionate working-class effort.

      I sincerely hope you wrote to debate the merits of passion in advocacy. The alternative is that you are looking for a little SEO and link love. The former is welcomed here. The latter means that you are anything but welcomed here. How will I know? Let’s see if you respond to my questions.

      So, did I avoid bombast enough in my reply to your comment?

  • Bill Doogue says:

    You describe classes of people and then say they get flustered. What i wrote was how I understood you to be stating. I accept your point about your qualifiers.

    I consider your tone bombastic because I like to think that you are adopting an over-blown position for argument rather than it being a true representation of your view. The thought of lawyers who eschew genuine passionate advocacy makes me sad.

    Most criminal defence lawyers here start in this work from a belief in Social Justice and to help right wrongs. This may fade over time but it is still important. Maybe that is not the same path over there.

    The most powerful advocacy is not feigned. I have seen many examples of it and it grabs you like nothing else. Passion, without doubt, helps your clients.

    A great example of how an address with passion works is the Prime Minister here swinging into the leader of the Opposition two days ago for being a sexist plonker. It works because of the passion.
    http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/1700187/Awesome-Julia-Gillard-speech-goes-viral

    • Eric says:

      You’re a real fucking person! That’s such a refreshing twist from what normally comes here to comment.

      First, you’re not allowed to give your own definition to bombast. Not even down-under. You mean bluster, which I, admittedly, am apt to do on occasion when I seek to appear passionate.

      Passion here in the US has become a marketing term and something motivational speakers say to excite audiences. At the same time, I watch “passionate” folks get so carried away with their feelings that they forget timely objections and other necessary legal judgments. They forget that a jury (and judge) must say to themselves “OK, that makes sense.” Appearing to have drank the proverbial cool-aid is never persuasive.

      Oh, I write what I mean. When someone tells me they are passionate, I presume one of two things.

      1. They are much too emotional about the areas of practice and would sacrifice some or all of the dispassionate necessities due to their emotional attachment, or

      2. They are trying to bullshit their way into a job.

      Either way, I don’t want them.

      • Melbourne Criminal Lawyers says:

        In Australia we are allowed to make up definitions for bombast.

        Especially as I remain the last person in Australia pompous enough to use the word.

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