What it Truly Takes to Be a Good Leader, Good Lawyer---- My Advice to the Aspiring Young
Without going into details of names and jurisdictions and suffice it to say that as a longtime member and now a Regent of the NCDD, I am privy to the politics of great leaders across the country… It came to my attention recently that two lawyers I dearly admire (one a lawyer, one a judge) are dealing with what lawyers should never deal with: one a grand jury subpoena, the other a grand jury investigation. Bottom line, my opinion, both will probably rise above the fray on legal grounds but regardless, I strongly believe both could have avoided their plights. The key ? Do your job. Just do your job and refrain from negative comments and backlashing. There is no reason to engage in personal attacks. Although it is very hard sometimes to hold back, calling someone by name “a bully” (whether or not it’s true) or threatening an FBI investigation will sometimes get you just that: bullied into a grand jury investigation to see if something sticks or the FBI investigating YOU whether or not there is anything to investigate.
I started reading books on Founding Fathers 7 years ago (http://foundingfathersfervor.blogspot.com/2011/01/mimi-coffeys-reading-list.html ). It all started when I read Joseph Ellis’ Founding Brothers book. In just one book I got a snapshot of the lives and interactions of the greatest men in our country who risked everything and worked together to create the world’s greatest democracy. I was hooked. My quest for studying Founding Father literature began with that book. I NEEDED more. Not only did my mind go back in history and give me firsthand the reasons why various constitutional provisions are what they are, I could stand up in court and better argue the law. Brilliant, right ? So I have kept on nonstop for 7 years always reading in my nonworking spare time a book which I believe helps me understand the spirit of the Founders and this country. This has expanded into Washington’s Generals, the ladies behind those great men, etc. even encompassing a study of the history of the French Revolution that happened at the same time. What made our leaders smart enough to bypass the masses dying via the guillotine versus the French ? This endeavor truly made and makes me a better lawyer. What I did not realize at that time or all these years, was that reading these Founding Father books was the perfect training ground on politics and diplomacy. Being a criminal defense lawyer, is being a professional beggar (mitigating damages) and diplomat the majority of the time. Only 20-25% of my cases go to trial, the other 75-80% require skill in negotiation. The Constitutional Convention- one of the greatest lessons in diplomacy that exists in this country for us to directly study (massive details left by works like the Federalist Papers, and biographies into the lives of those Founders). When I sit across a DA who holds the key and upper hand in negotiation most of the time or with a judge who has their own inner agenda, it is a HUGE responsibility for me to maximize all my diplomacy so that at the end of the day justice happens- my client benefits. Many a time, I have felt my blood pressure skyrocket and have had to leave to return on another designated day, a day more suitable once proper seeds have been planted and better understanding exists to finish the deal. Reading how Alexander Hamilton, although a prodigious financial genius and industrious government visionary, stifled his rise to the Presidency or had some of his biggest plans go awry because he lacked people skills in negotiating and was eventually killed by his political rival in a dual is great lessonry in diplomacy. Or studying how Andrew Jackson through an innate genius in managing how to appeal to the masses could work magic with his political enemies , or how Thomas Jefferson being the visionary personally picked out and trained two protégés James Madison and James Monroe to continue his Presidential doctrines and agendas as they took office is prime example of how if you want to be great, study the greats. This really applies to all fields but the politics and diplomacy have particular relevance to lawyers. Many people in their zeal, although their hearts are unquestionably directed towards the benevolence for others, do all society an injustice when they communicate hateful messages for example towards President Barack Obama or Texas Governor Rick Perry. They forget the most important things which is policies don’t define us, working together for everyone’s good does. No public servant, whether the President, the governor, the judge, or the DA (especially) does it for the money. No politician, judge or DA takes office instantly knowing all the right things to do. We all learn through trial and error, all jobs have a learning curve and smart people never let that curve stop. It is unfair to criticize a person maliciously for the decisions they make in their job. I can attest to the fact that some assistant DAs that I initially disdained (not that they would ever know of course), through time and experience have turned out to be some of the best and I their biggest fans. None of us can be effective by being thin skinned. We can’t take disagreements in our job personally against others, this attitude will never help others to see it our way or learn. To effectively negotiate we must first, no matter what, see the value in others despite their positions.
If my lawyer friends had let their zeal calm down, they might have thought twice before making statements that had no productive use other than to pin others down in a corner for which no one benefits. I’m hoping everyone involved in that, takes a few to deeply think about what is relevant and moves on productively. I respectfully disagree with President Obama’s statement that law schools should be two years versus three. Not only do we need internships (like doctors after schooling for real life training), we need to add diplomacy classes and training. The best lawyers are the best diplomats. The most effective judges, DAs and defense lawyers are those who know how to get along with everyone. Only when there is mutual respect can there by possible change. For those public servants who don’t belong in office, what goes around comes around. Life has a funny way of shaking things out---- many times the right way. So young people aspiring to be lawyers, watch your FB posts, Twitter posts, and Instagram shots- be diplomatic. Don’t let disagreements be a reason for hatred and unwanted posts that no one desires to see. Be mature and although you can’t see the big picture yet, know that there is one. For example, the greatest politicians have capacity to bounce back and do- look at first Supreme Court Justice John Jay: after the Paris Peace Treaty his effigy was being burned in the streets (he feared for his life) only to later be elected Governor of New York. So key words: DIPLOMACY, DIPLOMACY, DIPLOMACY. As for me, I will keep taking a breather every time someone sends me a disrespectful political email or I pass an uncouth bumper sticker- because even for them, there is always hope.