Do You Love the Law?

Are you passionate about the law? Do you think the law is a beautiful thing? Do you adore it?

Not I.

The law is a street fight. It’s trench warfare. There’s nothing beautiful about it. It’s inelegant, messy and dangerous. Sometimes the right side loses. Often everyone loses.

Our justice system’s the worst possible — except for (to crib shamelessly from Churchill) all the others that have been tried.

Justice? Justice is a whore. Some people think they can look at the offense report in a criminal case, investigate, interview witnesses, and know what the accused deserves. These people are delusional about their own abilities and importance.

Other people write articles for the Texas Bar Journal about their fields of law; if the articles not about trial law or criminal law, or if they’re written by people who call themselves “litigators” I generally skip them. I don’t care who the next State Bar of Texas president will be, or who’s running the Texas Young Lawyers’ Association. Most months I read the Texas Bar Journal only to see who’s been disbarred and who’s died, and to make sure that I’m still on neither list.

Any area of the law becomes much more interesting to me when it intersects the criminal law — I once became an expert in a narrow area of real estate law when I had a client who was accused of stealing houses from widows. I’m not entirely incurious about other areas of law, but they rank pretty high on my list of Things I Don’t Want to Learn More About Unless I Have To. Right up there with . . . .

Hmm. They seem to be at the top of that particular list.

It’s hard for me to think of anything less relevant to a general criminal defense trial practice than probate law. Except maybe oil-and-gas law. Quantum physics is more relevant. Herodotus is more relevant. The commedia dell’arte is more relevant. Dog training is more relevant to a general criminal defense practice than most other areas of law are.

I am passionate about defending people, and feel fortunate to be a criminal-defense lawyer, but I’m not proud to be a lawyer qua lawyer. If I couldn’t be a criminal-defense lawyer, I think I’d hang up my spurs and be a mechanic.

I generally don’t even like lawyers. Most of them are stultified and depressed. Here’s a clue: if your business card describes you as an “attorney” you’re probably taking this law thing way too seriously. If your stationery carries the abbreviation, “esq.” you’re way past “taking it too seriously.” The lawyer jokes all have some basis in fact; most of the bad things people think about lawyers are too often true.

No, I don’t love the law.

About Mark Bennett

Mark Bennett got his letter of marque from the Supreme Court of Texas in May 1995. He is famous for having no sense of humor when it comes to totalitarianism.
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15 Responses to Do You Love the Law?

  1. Jigmeister says:

    You need a vacation.

  2. Leviathan says:

    Luckily, my friend, love is not a prerequisite.

    When I read AHCL’s blog, I just shake my head that he/she has not a clue how little the DA’s race means to most of us who work in the CJC. Do we care? Well, I know we’re mildly curious, but caring may be stretching the point.

    For many of us, our everyday work is like a game or puzzle that has its own peculiar set of rules and we show up each day to see what new twists await. You try to see that some form of justice occurs in your corner of things, but at the end of the day we all return to our lives.

    If you’ve carved a life beyond the law, more power to you.

  3. Ron in Houston says:

    Somewhere along the line, I shrugged my shoulders and said, “eh, what the hell, there are worse ways of making a living.”

    No, I don’t love it. However there are times where you feel that you helped justice prevail. There are also times where the system goes crazy and you’re left shaking your head and saying, “WTF?”

  4. Other Steve says:

    I don’t have business cards. I once worked in a (non-legal) position where I would have been justified in having them, but decided against it so as to remind myself that the job wasn’t about me feeling important.

    I take it you have business cards and stationary, though – might I ask how they read?

  5. PJ says:

    What I want to know is: How big of a truck did your client need to haul those houses off?

  6. AHCL says:

    Marky Mark,
    I’m in complete agreement with you for once. I have often said that I’ve never found any sort of “majesty” in the law, and I’ve often thought that lawyers who think they are special just for the mere fact that they are lawyers, are actually just pompous morons. They way I look at it, speaking “law” is often very often not so different from being able to speak a foreign language.
    My question to you, my friend, however, is what brought this rant on? I’m a big fan of rants, and Dennis Miller is one of my comedic idols. I’m just curious as to your motivation.

    Leviathan,
    Sadly, I actually understand EXACTLY how unimportant the DA’s race is to a lot of people. That’s why I run my blog. Hopefully I will make it interesting to SOMEBODY. I mean, if some lonely guy in Ponca City, Oklahoma can devote a blog to his cat, why can’t I write one about the DA’s race? :-) And by the way, Leviathan, I wish you posted more often. Even though we don’t always agree, I do miss your insight.

    PJ,
    I rarely (if ever) agree with you, but that was pretty funny.

  7. Mark Bennett says:

    Jigmeister, this is me after a good vacation. Not to worry, though, I’ll be going to Costa Rica this summer to visit my brother. I may even return.

    Leviathan, criminal defense intrudes into the rest of my life in a way that I can’t imagine any other area of the law doing.

    Ron, I’m not sure which I enjoy more: feeling that I might’ve helped justice prevail, or feeling that I’ve stuck it to the government.

    Other Steve, my casual (paper) cards say “Bennett & Bennett / Just Lawyers Helping People” and my formal (etched stainless) cards say “Bennett & Bennett / Criminal Defense Lawyers / Abogados Defensores”. That’s on the front, along with our telephone number. On the back the stainless ones have five other ways to contact us (address, toll-free number, fax, email, Mexico number) and the paper ones have seven (address, fax, toll-free, two websites, my email, Jen’s email) around the corners and “Because people need lawyers they can trust.” in the middle. Stationery is paper (the stainless stationery was too hard to fold), and has the same content as the casual business cards.

    PJ, it’s funny you should ask that. There’s apparently a consumer fraud trial going on in the courthouse now in which the accused is accused of actually stealing houses, which is what had me thinking of my client, who was forging deeds to himself and then getting cash loans against the deeds. Allegedly.

    AHCL, we got two copies of the worthless Texas Bar Journal today, filled with all sorts of pompous asshattery.

    So you’re comparing Kelly Siegler to a cat in Ponca City? I refuse to take that straight line where it deserves to go.

  8. I don’t understand your comment about lawyer jokes.

    As everyone knows, there are only three lawyer jokes.

    All the rest are true stories.

    I think I was lucky in that I started law school at age 36, after a career in entertainment engineering. Those kids who go from high school to college to law school, then think they are competent to judge everyone else’s life when they’ve never had one of their own, generally annoy me. Their judgment is poor; they have no perspective; they cannot communicate with adults. No wonder so many go on to work in the DA’s office (where knee-jerk reactions pass for considered judgment), while most of the older students (if they go into crim law) go to the defense side.

    Most good business schools won’t admit someone to get an MBA unless they’ve worked for a few years; why law schools admit children with no real-world experience at all is beyond me. (I think it is because they need the tuition money.) Nothing is more valuable to a lawyer than real-world experience — the sort that is almost impossible to get while hiding behind a bar card.

  9. SC Barrera says:

    I completely agree with you. When I went to law school, it was for the sole purpose of becoming a criminal defense attorney. While I was in school, I started getting offers for jobs at civil firms. I thought “Well, the pay is good and I’ll still be in a court room. After all, lawyers are lawyers, right?” Wrong! The work was boring, the subject matter was boring and the other lawyers were boring. Since I’ve been out on my own practicing criminal defense, I now remember why I spent three years of my life in law school.

  10. Mark Bennett says:

    Clay,

    I’ve written before about the detrimental effects of prosecutors’ lack of real-world experience. It’s funny you should say “perspective.” Very recently a misdemeanor chief got all snitty with me when I pointed out said chief’s lack of perspective, which will result in a case being tried that doesn’t need to be.

    SC, your path through the law to criminal defense resembles mine.

  11. Greybear says:

    Love the law? Not hardly. It is at best a flawed system for determining truth and consequences. More often, it’s a charade played out to accomplish a pre-ordained result.

    While my card does use the word “attorney”, my private description of what I do is “Hostage Negotiator”

  12. Jigmeister says:

    You guys are stereotyping again! This looks like assault/insult the “hostage taker” week.

    I went into prosecution after the army, college, marriage/kids, law school and a year of trying to collect fees from clients.

    Yes, I like the law (hated law school). Loved the courtroom. Hated the preliminary rounds. Enjoyed most people in the criminal justice community, but hated some of the fools including the mass production TV guide types.

    Even once played golf with a defendant and his attorney during a continuance. Don’t tell Johnny.

  13. Mark Bennett says:

    Jigmeister,

    You are the exception. As you know, I’ve written somewhere about those with some real-world experience being better prosecutors (all else being equal) than those without.

  14. Pingback: Monday Morning Jumpstart | a public defender

  15. S.C. Ruffey says:

    Interestingly, I am currently working on a case that involves probate law (a client is the subject of an adult guardianship action by the alleged victim). Sooner or later almost all other areas of the law cross over into criminal law.

    I was kind of a UCC nerd in law school – I even voluntarily took secured transactions and commercial paper. I have had UCC principles turn up several times in defense cases – such as in the dubious charge of “endangering a security interest.” If you know your UCC, you may find that the security interest was never properly set up in the first place.

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