Not Your Therapist – The Specific Role of An Attorney

Welcome to Lawyers & Liquor, your now infrequent home for legal crap that comes out of my mind, with that being the mind of the Boozy Barrister though frankly these days does it really matter? I mean, is anyone really reading this for the author or is it more for the frankness and cursing that comes with it? Does anything I write here even matter to the extent that it helps some of those dipshits with degrees and not much else in their forlorn foray into the practice of law as a profession? Hell, nobody listens to me when I’m acting as an attorney, why the hell should they listen now?

Jesus on a Ritz Cracker, that’s about as maudlin as we can get, eh? That motherfucker has some mental problems from the sounds of things. Maybe some depressive episodes, a bit of anxiety, just one of those people that need an ear to listen to them and tell them everything’s gonna be okay.  Right? And who  better to provide that ear and shoulder to cry whiskey-soaked tears on then you, dear reader of the newly minted attorney variety, right? I mean, you’re a lawyer which means that, obviously, you’re an authority on a wide variety of topics. Surely you are the appropriate person to let me vent all of my emotional and mental turmoils on and spread oil on the troubled waters of the soul.

No. The answer to that rhetorical question is “no,” asshole. Or even “No, Asshole, Esq.” Either way the answer is a loud, resounding, and unequivocal “no.” Because being a lawyer qualifies you to do one goddamn thing: practice law. It does not qualify you to do any other form of service for your clients you dipshits. And that’s the point of today’s post: What being a lawyer isn’t.

Is This Really Necessary? I mean…

Shut the fuck up because yes it is. 

Too many people out there get a goddamn law degree and think it makes them some sort of subject matter expert on every subject on the face of the earth. Law? I got the answer! Taxes? I got the answer? Strange boil on your ass cheek? Drop the pants and bend over Jimmy my boy, because you know damn well I got the answer! Technically it’s a doctorate, right?

And the problem of hubris that seems to infect the legal profession is merely compounded when you take into account that our clients, when they come to us, are more than willing to allow us to be their unlicensed professional on every topic under the sun as well as the topic they’ve specifically hired us for.  This is a big fucking issue when you represent the common man more often than the corporation, or the small business owner who relies on you for every aspect of their business advice. I mean, these people, many of whom couldn’t wipe their ass correctly even if you wrapped both their hands in heavy duty Charmin and told them just to go to town, are coming into the office for legal assistance, and in doing so often ask for your advice or guidance in any variety of other matters too. Because you’re their lawyer and therefore an educated professional whose opinion on a number of varied topics carries weight!

And that shit’s fine if they’re asking you about shit like your opinion on current events tangentially related to a field of practice, somewhere you can speak with some degree of authority.  It’s less okay (and in fact not okay at all) when they’re asking you, their attorney, for relationship advice on their floundering marriage or something similar.  Because, and this may be a hard one to wrap your tiny “just out of law school” brain around, being an attorney isn’t a statement of general competence and knowledge in all areas.

If lawyers were automatically better at relationship advice, most of the guys I know would still be on their first marriages.

Boozy, We Know We’re Not All Around Oracles Already!

Do you, Debbie Can’t-Be-Wrong? Fucking do you?

Because it’s something I run into time and time again with people who are either new to the practice of law or new to the one-on-one practice of law, the type of down and dirty legal representation that only happens when you aren’t insulated by five layers of paralegals and managing partners that hand you sanitized pieces of assignments. And when it’s that sort of practice, you’re going to be giving your clients advice on non-legal matters even when you absolutely don’t fucking intend to do so simply because you aren’t watching your goddamn mouth at all when talking to them.  Don’t believe me? Okay, let’s do a thought exercise.

A client comes in for a bankruptcy. The client is elderly and should have retired long ago, but instead is supporting their kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids by essentially subsidizing their lifestyles.  This client is now the obligor on two mortgages, four car notes, and three unsecured loans and can’t meet their day-to-day living expenses because they’ve done all this shit for their kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids to have things. You look at the case and know they can do a bankruptcy. You also advise them to speak to an elder support agency and in fact discuss that this may be elder abuse of a financial sort. Further, you start telling them how they should talk to the family members to explain they will no longer be living off of the tit of old age and need to go find some jobs.

All of that sounds reasonable, right?

Except what the fuck do you know about the family or the family dynamic? Perhaps you just put this elderly person at risk of absolute abandonment by strongly and repeatedly advising them to tell the family to fuck off, something that will negatively impact both their mental and physical health as well as their general welfare. Or maybe you’ve taken the great-grandkids and, by ensuring your client will listen to your advice, put them in a situation where they won’t be fed. Yeah, I mean, it’s the common sense thing to do, to look out for them, but you really shouldn’t be offering that advice because, and I can’t stress this enough, you’re retained for a goddamn bankruptcy, not life counseling courses.

The Problem Is…

The problem is law school, and the practice of law in general, teaches us that we should not stand for a client questioning us as we, goddammit, are the professionals in this fucking house. It grows out of the adversarial nature of the practice of law as it exists in these United States, where we advocate and litigate through taking the position that we, and by proxy the clients we represent, are always in the right. We take a position on a legal matter through a review of the law, and with our big ass brains craft arguments in support of that position which dare others to combat us in a ring of persuasive assholery. But we’re not too damn good, when asked for our opinion, to remember that not every issue is like the arguments we craft.

Your law degree is good for the practice of law.  But it doesn’t make you a life coach, a financial advisor, a tax consultant, or a relationship counselor. It most fucking definitely does not make you a mental health provider or a doctor. It makes you a lawyer.

And that means all your stupid ass needs to be doing when you’re in that office is dispensing legal advice.

-BB

3 thoughts on “Not Your Therapist – The Specific Role of An Attorney”

  1. This reminds me of when I was buying a house and the realtor told me “Just so you know, I’m here to help you buy a house, not be your financial planner or relationship counselor.” When I asked her about that she said “You wouldn’t believe the number of people who think that I’m an expert on these things or that I should be the final answer for them.”

  2. Respectfully, Counselor, I disagree.
    First, most of what people bring you has totally, absolutely NOTHING to do with the practice of law. Second, for those who do, pursuing legal recourse is often the worst option among many. Frankly, in the thirty plus years I’ve been doing this, I seem to most commonly don the hat of “Captain Obvious”. Common sense seems to be in remarkably short supply. A lot of people need to be lead by the nose to where they need to be and what they need to be doing. Will I take your money for your ongoing, self inflicted problems? Hell, yes! But I think I’d be remiss if I didn’t point them out. Remember, we fulfill two roles- advocate and counselor. Sometimes the counselor role is the more important of the two. One does in fact pick up certain valuable insights in the course of dealing with the same problems, day after day, and year after year. Then again, I actually DO have a background in both psychology and social work. I jumped ship when I figured out that I could do more as a lawyer than to just suggest that people reflect on their issues.

  3. Draw boundaries. If the sign on the door says you’re in from 10:00 to 6:00 w/ hours by appointment, let the phone go to recording after 5:45. And insist on appointments. Don’t give your home phone or cell phone to clients. You’ll regret it.

    You are not your client’s friend, either. You’re the lawyer.

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