I feel elated when I am able to affect the lives of my clients on micro-personal levels as well as delivering the results they expected. It makes the clients realize that their problems matter to me and that I am not just interested in working with them mechanically, while dissociating myself from the troubles that propelled them into my office in the first place.
I recall the case of a father who was wrongly accused of abandoning his two young children after their mother died of cancer while the children were in her custody. The county’s children’s services as well as the families of the deceased colluded to ensure that this man would permanently lose custody of his children. They fabricated stories of abuse, physical and sexual against the father, they accused him of intentionally abandoning his children while the mother was stricken with the terminal illness, when in fact, he was never made aware of the nature of her illness or the seriousness of her ailment because he lived several states away.
By the time he consulted with me, he had been denied custody and frequent access to his children for over three months while the children were placed in the custody of their maternal aunt. It was a shock when I appeared at a scheduled hearing because my client was never expected to fight back, simply because they believed he could not afford representation as he had showed up on two prior occasions without a lawyer.
My investigation and discovery requests later revealed that the basis upon which my client was being denied access and custody to his children were nothing but fabrications. I clearly remember the smile on the client’s face as the court delivered the good news, acknowledging that he is on the right side of the law and that he deserves to see his children and to have them in his custody, after being kept away from them for over six months. His countenance of thanksgiving, his sister’s effusive gratefulness and his brother’s generous display of appreciation were much more than any fees they could have paid. The entire case was later dismissed and the children were reunited with their father.
Cases like this make me realize that practicing law is in deed “practicing.” You have to practice how to manage people. You have to practice how not to give clients and their families false hopes. You have to practice how to be realistic with clients without being pessimistic. You have to practice how to encourage clients. You have to practice the art of empathizing with clients without making them objects of pity. You have to practice how to do the best with the facts you have. You have to practice how to work hard to get fair results in difficult cases. You have to practice to earn the trust of your clients. You have to practice to love what you do and the people you represent. You have to practice not to sacrifice your integrity. You have to practice to always continue to strive for excellence in your practice without jeopardizing your integrity. You have to practice how to discern when your clients are not completely being honest with you. You have to practice how to turn down a non-meritorious case without hurting the client’s feelings.
You have to practice to be civil and cordial to opposing counsels. You have to practice to be open-minded and be willing to see the point of views of the opposing side. You have to practice to continue to learn and update your knowledge without ceasing. You have to practice how not to take litigation losses personal as long as you did your best.
The practice of law has indeed imbibed in me practical life experiences and lessons that can never be taught in law schools or any academic institution. The practice of law itself is a series of abysmal lessons and practical life courses one can never complete. Every lesson learned adds a feather to my professional cap and makes me a better lawyer, a better person and better equipped for the next challenge.
Emmanuel Olawale, March, 2011