Client, Heal Thyself?
February 18, 2005
How many times have you heard a lawyer mutter that this would be a great profession but for the clients? Truth be told, we lawyers are society's first line of defense against the ravages of those ravaged by mental illness.
I have been begging for years for more training on how to recognize, cope with and respond to the mental-health issues that arise in so many cases. Still nothing.
We are trained as lawyers to counsel the rational actor. Yet every lawyer has an intuitive grasp of the following aphorism: You can lead a client to the court house, but you can't make him think.
I sometimes think the law school curriculum should be recast. We ought not to divide courses along fussy jurisdictional lines. Rather, we should teach it in terms of the passions and emotions that fuel our cases. Why not devise a curriculum around the seven deadly sins? Greed, anger, lust, they are all present aplenty in any practice. Often our task as lawyers is to talk clients from the precipice of excess.
The problem is that nothing in our training prepares us to do this. We learn hit or miss how to become diagnosticians. Should DSM IV-R become required reading? Or perhaps Aristotle's Ethics? Maybe both.
Of course, our goal is not to heal, but to represent our client's interests, however conceived. It creates tension when a client adopts a course that is sane and comptent, but otherwise troubling. Consider the Michael Ross case in Connecticut. A client wants to die, his former lawyers oppose the death penalty. Who should speak for the client?
Any suggestions out there about CLE opportunities or courses to take? I nearly left the law not long ago out of the frustration of being held hostage by the rage of clients. I decided to remain, but I am so much more wary about the cases I take. I am not altogether comfortable with turning away so many cases of people in such pain.