By: Adam Heuett
As students, I think we often get side-tracked by the logic, the arguments, and all of the legal minutiae. It is so easy to forget what the law is really about; why it was (and is) made. At both its most fundamental and extravagant levels, the law is about relationships. The law defines how people can interact with one another, how the government can interact with the people (and vice-versa), how the government can interact with other governments, etc. These are all relational delineations. Though the legal lines are not always clear, the law weaves significant patterns in the way that people interact with one another. Lawyers are known by many names in this country: lawyer, attorney, prosecutor, defender, advocate, barrister, jurist, practitioner, legal eagle, etc. Because of the true nature of the law, as relational, none of these terms are as important as the attorney’s name/role as counselor.
We live in an era where attorneys are sometimes loved and, unfortunately, at times reviled. The adversarial nature of our business leads many to dwell on the negative. People sometimes label us as cutthroats or brigands who charge outrageous prices and take our roles as “zealous advocates” a little too seriously. How easy we forget that diplomats, ambassadors, and peacemakers the world over are often lawyers. They use their knowledge of the law to counsel peoples and countries back into right relationship. Every day that we work for justice, every day that we work for the good of our clients, we are counseling people and society back into right relationship.
It is not hard to view our mentors as counselors. They advise us on academics, counsel us through difficult situations, nudge us in the right direction, and question us in order to help us grow and someday be strong attorneys. They help us develop our moral compasses as they relate to legal matters, and help us to see our clients as people, not cases or claims. When we are struggling with difficult concepts, or sometimes even life issues, they are there to listen and provide support. This is a role they play not only for their protégés, but for their clients as well. Every day lawyers guide their clients through difficult relationships. Every day, lawyers act as counselors. If the public understood this role better, if we all understood this role better, I think the profession and society would be a lot better off. The most important work we do as attorneys is counsel, because when we counsel, we fulfill the very purpose of the law: to guide and build relationships.
I encourage you to talk with your mentors and colleagues about the attorney as counselor. How do we act as counselors? How can we be better counselors? How can we, as a profession, make the world a better place through the facilitation of right relationships? We can be the movers and shakers, we need only shift our focus from the negative, to the positively amazing works we can, and are, accomplishing every day.