In The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery wrote, “Love is not gazing at each other but looking outward at the world together.” This strikes me as a way to describe my job as a lawyer—to stand with my client, shoulder to shoulder, and see the world as he sees it. For me, this is the best (and often easiest) part of being a lawyer. I can see the client’s problem. I can feel it. I can articulate it. If I cannot do this whole heartedly, I know I should not take the case. I am simply not as effective as an advocate if I cannot see the world from my client’s point of view.
This does NOT mean that I do not point out how the world looks from MY point of view as an attorney, which will inevitably be different. In fact, clients depend on us to point out things that they do not see. If we fail to do this, we are not doing our job.
Lawyers sometimes make the mistake of trying to get love, or admiration, or respect from clients. To use the metaphor from The Little Prince, we enjoy the client’s gaze. Have you ever avoided telling your client you made a mistake because you were afraid they would lose respect for you? Have you ever discounted your retainer, knowing it was not enough to cover the job, because you wanted your client to like you? Have you ever neglected to spell out the most realistic outcome for your client because you didn’t want to appear “weak”? Have you ever unreasonably refused a discovery request because you wanted your client to see you as a “fighter”? Have you ever failed to ask your client what is most important to him because you are attached to a result that would make YOU happy?
Well, we are all human. But the best lawyers are not merely advocates but guides, who not only understand where the client wants to go but who recognize and identify what it will take to get there, the consequences of taking that road, and the difficulties the client may encounter along the way. Let us, therefore, stop using clients as a mirror of what we wish to see in ourselves. Let us not merely advocate, but illuminate.