I’ve recently found room to philosophise and look back on a long career as a litigator.
What stands out is that one was engaged more than anything upon devising and providing excuses. Countless hours would be spent conjuring arguments to excuse behaviour of every kind, from personal to criminal, hoping to discover in the recipient of these excuses some measure of understanding, leniency or mercy.
That these arguments succeeded to a greater or lesser degree depended, of course, on the type of tribunal. To try and find some novel excuse, to prevent the closing of minds on the basis of having ‘heard it all before’ – and frankly ‘argued rather better’ – was a constant torment.
As a family lawyer, there was the temptation to champion behaviour in a husband or wife client that would have horrified your family or friends in ‘real life’.
Trying to distance oneself just enough was difficult, the more so when one’s opponent took to screaming down the phone that your husband client had left the matrimonial home after stripping out all the wiring.
Where to draw the line between support for a client and abject identification was a lifetime struggle; the lawyer’s perpetual nightmare.
This could spill over into one’s private life, where you would drive your family mad by being able to see every side of an argument and insist that ‘everyone has their reasons’.
It is hard to conclude that some people are just bad, or totally neurotic, or inherently self-obsessed and selfish. We have all known them and painted a rosy view of them to others because it was our job.
I remember the parents of one youngster who my client had brutalised and frightened to death asking me how I managed to sleep at night. At the time I brushed this off. Perhaps I should have taken it more to heart.
John Greenwood, retired family and criminal lawyer, Chippenham, Wilts