Tag: legal profession

Law from a legal assistant’s point of view, week 51

Law from a legal assistant’s point of view, week 51: Should you be a legal assistant?

By Quinton Lister, legal assistant  

One question you might be asking yourself if you have been reading my blog for the past year is, “Should I be a legal assistant?” Even if you are not asking yourself this question, I will answer it anyway because it is something that I do not merely feel, but know that I am more qualified now to address (and that I won’t get fired for addressing honestly). 

If you want to know if you should be a legal assistant, consider how you would answer the following questions: 

  • Do I want to learn more about what it is like to be a lawyer? Then you would likely benefit from being a legal assistant.  
    • In my mind, if I did not want eventually to be a lawyer myself, I would not gain much from doing my job as a legal assistant.  
    • Many times, legal work can be a thankless job, even for attorneys, so if you have no curiosity about what it is like to be a lawyer or what it means to work in a law practice, you can make the same money doing a different, less demanding job than that of legal assistant. 
  • Am I willing to humble myself and learn another culture and “dialect”?  
      • The legal profession can feel like landing in a foreign country when you first start. It has its own culture and it’s own “language”. And even though we’re still speaking English (with a little Latin mixed in) and living within a few miles of each other, the language and culture of the law is shockingly foreign.  
      • As is the case with learning and succeeding in any new culture and with any new language, you become immersed and fluent. That requires humility and patience. If you have those two things, coupled with an honest desire to work, you will do all right. 
  • Are you willing to make a lot of mistakes, get the wrong answer to questions, and learn from when you are wrong? The mark of a good lawyer, and by extension a good assistant is the ability to admit when one is in the wrong and to acknowledge that being in the wrong is often the result of being ignorant. The best work we can do comes when we are willing to make mistakes, report the mistakes (not waiting for our mistakes to be discovered), admit to the mistakes, and then learn from those mistakes so that we don’t repeat them. The faster and better you can do all that, the better legal assistant you will be. 

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277 

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Law from a legal assistant’s point of view, week 47: The Healer’s Art

By Quinton Lister, legal assistant  

One thing my boss, attorney Eric Johnson, has told me that has had an impact on my view of law is the idea that law was traditionally supposed to be a healing profession. I myself will be starting law school soon and will be learning more comprehensively the ins and outs of the legal profession, and I think that the best lawyers that I have seen seek to bring their clients healing. 

There is an important distinction I need to make here. I am afraid that there are some out there who would think that what I am saying is that good lawyers get their clients what they want or avoid conflict. That is not what healing is in my opinion. You would not want a doctor who only performs you the procedure that you want at the expense of the procedure that you need. To truly bring about justice and appropriate mercy, a good lawyer must uphold the law, and that means not just giving the client what the client wants. It also means not running from conflict every time it arises because conflict is part of life (and some conflicts can be resolved only by confronting and overcoming them, not avoiding or compromising them). The healing comes from doing what is right by your client but also what is fair to the opposing party. Healing comes at times through conflict, but keeping an eye on what the absolute truth of any given situation is, at least when it comes to the law. 

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277 

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Would you want to groom your children to become lawyers?

Would you enlist your children into a pre-law school program which grooms them to become top notch lawyers? 

No. I have gone in the opposite direction. I have told my children (who love dogs and want dogs because their mother and I do not want a dog and have never had a dog) that I will buy each of them a dog, if they promise not to go to law school and become lawyers. The “legal biz” can, and often does, ruin good people who become lawyers. I don’t want to risk my children being ruined by the legal profession. There are some good people in the legal profession, but there aren’t enough good people in it to redeem it, in my opinion. 

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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Law from a legal assistant’s point of view, week 9: Hail, Clarity!

By Quinton Lister, Legal assistant

Before I was a legal assistant, I was an undergraduate in Philosophy at Brigham Young University. One of my logic professors said something to me that I feel is important in both philosophy and in law. In order to avoid logical fallacies in any argument, you need to define your terms. So (and I am paraphrasing this a little bit), my logic professor stated, “It’s not about what you say, it is about what you mean by what you say”. The point being that you must be rigorous in your definitions of the terms you are using. For instance, in an ethical debate one must be clear on what is meant by the terms “good” or “bad” or “moral”. If you do not know what is meant by what you say, it is hard to defend what you say. 

This applies in legal communications directly because I am finding that there is so much jargon and terms of art used in the practice of law. I need to grow accustomed to the fact that at this point, when I am a legal assistant with (so far) no formal legal education, I can’t assume that I know what is meant by what is said or written. My boss, being an experienced attorney, often can call me out when I do not know what I am saying. This has been fascinating because I am not always aware of my incompetence. So, if I cannot define or understand a term or a principle, I am learning that I just need to say, “I don’t know”. This is challenging because I am not accustomed to admitting I do not know something because it feels like a cardinal sin. From kindergarten to college we are rewarded for “knowing the answers” and punished when we don’t. All through my growing up years that held true everywhere else too: not just school, but church, extra-curricular activities, my part-time job as a teen, etc.), but now, at least in the legal profession (though I have reason to believe it’s the same in other professions), it is not about looking or sounding informed, but actually knowing how to solve all or even just part of a given problem. And you can’t solve the problem if you don’t know what it is or how to describe it fully and accurately to other legal professionals and to your judge.  

I need to know what I mean by what I say and ensure those with whom I am communicating know it too. To do that, whether I am writing a simple email or an appellate brief to file with the court, successful, persuasive communication starts with learning to write and speak clearly.  

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277  

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Did you ever go to court and realize for the judges and attorneys it’s kind of all a big game?

Yes, in my experience, there are aspects of the legal system and the practice of law that some lawyers and judges see and treat as a game. You see lawyers and judges who observe, regularly that “that lawyer/that judge did this to cause delays/burden or inconvenience the opposing party and not for the stated pretextual reason offered for doing it.”

Many bad lawyers file frivolous lawsuits and motions for fun and profit. That’s no secret.

I was shocked as a young lawyer (I’m not shocked anymore) when a lawyer who represented the losing side of a case called me up and threatened to file a meritless appeal. When I got upset with him about it he responded with, “Hey, calm down. Even if I lose, we’ll both still get paid.”

And many lawyers and litigants have experienced a judge violating the law and/or rules knowing that he/she can get away with it because the victimized litigant can’t afford to appeal the judge’s decision or complain about his/her decision for fear of retaliation. Yes, it happens. Not with all attorneys and judges, but with many.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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What’s your opinion on lawyers defending someone they know is guilty?

What’s your opinion on defense lawyers defending someone whom they know is guilty?

The unavoidable fact is that defense attorneys who knowingly* abet a guilty defendant in avoiding justice are doing wrong, and they know it, but they have either willingly thrown in their lot with the criminals or allowed themselves to be brainwashed by the legal profession (“everyone has a right to a good defense,” “it’s the prosecutions’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt”), so that the cognitive dissonance can be conveniently ignored.

Defense attorneys were never intended to prevent the guilty from avoiding accountability and justice (the innocent deserve protection from meritless prosecution and the guilty deserve protection from malicious prosecution), but now cheating justice is the modern definition of what a “good” defense attorney does, is expected to do, and is expected to take pride in doing.

There are circumstances in which an attorney can with a truly and perfectly clear conscience defend a person he knows to be guilty. One such situation is when the prosecution seeks an inordinately harsh punishment that is not commensurate with the severity of the crime.

Another situation is when the defendant is guilty of one crime or another, yet being framed for a different crime that he/she did not commit.

Another situation is when the law itself is unjust such that the “guilty” defendant does not deserve to be punished for disobeying the unjust law.

Bamboozling the judge and/or jury into an acquittal, however, is not a defense lawyer’s job and never has been.

*While it is true that “it’s the prosecutions’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,” it is not the defense attorney’s duty to create an illusion of reasonable doubt.

Unless an attorney is ordered to defend a defendant (and that happens in many, many criminal defense cases where the defendant is appointed counsel and the appointed attorney has no choice in the matter), he/she has the choice as to whether he/she takes the case.

So why defend a person you know to be guilty?

When you see a situation you cannot understand, look for the financial interest.

— Tom Johnson (1854-1911)

It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.

— Upton Sinclair

Never argue with a man whose job depends on not being convinced.

(attributed to H. L. Mencken)

*If a defense attorney does not know whether his/her client is guilty, and if the defendant professes innocence, then the attorney’s job—which the attorney can do all day long with a clear conscience and with honor—is to cast reasonable doubt on the prosecution’s claims of guilt. That, in a nutshell, is the defense attorney’s purpose.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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