DENNIS BEAVER – WHO IS HE, REALLY? WHAT MAKES HIM TICK?
Let me share with you who I am through an understanding of what I do not like about the legal profession. We will begin with one, simple, crucial word that for too many lawyers is a concept they would rather forget: Fairness.
When it comes to simply being fair, so many of us attempt everything possible to prevent a fair and just outcome, justified by the statement, “I am zealously representing my client.”.
While zealous representation means that a lawyer must act with competence and diligence, the term is seen by many lawyers as justification for willfully helping clients do very bad things which are, not just unfair, but morally disgusting.
Lawyers who see themselves as hired guns often proudly admit that, to them, morality does not matter, that they are providing zealous representation and doing what their client has instructed and paid them to do. This is most commonly seen in Family Law, where, instead of using our skills to bring about a fair and reasonable settlement, so many attorneys delight in fanning the fires of hatred – so long as the money keeps on coming in.
Fairness–basic right and wrong morality–has become a 4 letter word, a joke, and pity the lawyer who just wants to help solve a legal problem in an equitable, just and fair manner. Should that lawyer dare to stand up in court and tell opposing counsel, or the judge But that just isn’t fair! It’s not right! What do you think is likely to happens next?
That lawyer will likely hear the sound of laughter from other attorneys waiting for their cases to be called. And, sadly, by a lot of judges as well, as, in our system of justice, judges come from the ranks of attorneys.
Yet, we have the training and experience to know what a fair outcome should be in most situations. Law school teaches us, not only the law, but how courts have taken highly complex situations, and crafted just results. We have the same ability if–and it is a big if–if we seek fairness and not simply do what our often unreasonable clients demand, happy to pay us to frustrate justice, and to get even.
Yes, it is important to see and learn how to argue all sides in a dispute, but when presented with the significant facts of most cases, there is rarely a mystery. If A owes B money and hasn’t paid, “why” is usually clear; perhaps there are valid reasons, such as B not delivering what was promised, which might call for a price adjustment.
Maybe A has financial problems and can’t pay in full now, but could given time. Or, perhaps A is just a crook.
Given two reasonable, objective, fair minded lawyers who seek the truth and have the strength of character to tell their clients what they need to hear, most disputes can be settled before they become lawsuits. Often, going to court is an admission of failure – or justification to run up a bill which could have been avoided if one or both lawyers focused on helping their clients instead of fattening their own pocketbook.
But, when all you care about is an hourly fee, dancing so long as the client keeps on paying, then it’s full steam ahead into becoming your client’s own worst enemy.
“Don’t Ask Me to be Fair”
In one divorce case, I asked opposing counsel, “What do you think would be a fair settlement?” Her reply floored me:
“Don’t ask me to be fair. I am representing my client.”
In divorce and custody cases, so often our clients are distraught, depressed, don’t know up from down and are given advice from well meaning but frequently uninformed friends and family.
They need our guidance, and we owe these tortured souls the truth. We have an absolute duty to impress upon them how critical it is to be fair to each other at all times, and especially if they have children.
For our clients are the roll model of children who, one day will be parents of their own kids. They can be just like us in good ways, and in bad.
How I Got To Where I am Today
After graduation from Loyola University School of Law (Los Angeles) I moved 100 miles to the north and 75 very good years back in time to Bakersfield, in California’s San Joaquin Valley, where oil and agriculture dominate the local economy. It was a job offer as a Deputy District Attorney which brought me here, to this place that still reflects the good of America.
While a Deputy D.A. I founded a Consumer Fraud Division, and that led to becoming a legal affairs, on-air reporter for local TV as well as my own talk radio program.
After several years in the D.A’s Office, I opened the doors to my own law firm, and have been in private practice ever since, keeping two paralegals busy. Radio and TV became fond memories, as the time demands of law are significant.
“Why not write a newspaper column?”
Early in my practice one client was the son of our letter carrier. The boy was home–in Hanford, California–during a break from his studies at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas where he was on a sports scholarship.
He had a temper, a bad temper, got into a fight and faced several felony charges. His dad hired me, and over about a year, I made 13 trips to Hanford, discovering this jewel of community, a place straight out of the Twilight Zone where the community rallied around their local hero, young Mr. Horn, and paid my bill.
The case was resolved appropriately, Horn accepting responsibility. He vanished from my radar, but Hanford remained in my memory such a unique, wonderful small town, with genuinely friendly, helpful people.
Years would pass, and then, an idea; why not write a newspaper column, kind of a print version of what I had done on TV?
Newspapers are constantly bombarded with requests to run a column, so when I phoned The Hanford Sentinel and spoke with Publisher Neil Williams and editor Leah Leach, the reaction was, “Send us an example, and we’ll get back to you in a few days, don’t call us, we’ll call you.”
So, I wrote a story, faxed it, and within ten minutes Neil called, saying, “Your column begins next week – you can have articles for us, right? Right??
2013 marks the 26th year that my weekly syndicated column, You and the Law, has run in The Hanford Sentinel, and many other newspapers.
Both Neil Williams and Leah Leach gave to me one of the greatest gifts of my life, the chance to use my education and experience as a lawyer, to help, just to help, as corny as that may sound.
I hope you enjoy reading these stories, and I’m always happy to hear from readers.