One of the most important skills I've learned as a lawyer is listening politely and non-judgmentally to the people I am serving. This skill was first useful when I was a federal prosecutor. The INS agent would call to say that his team had taken down an alien smuggling drop house, and that they had fifty people in custody, and that he believed that 45 of them were coyotes and 5 of them were pollos, and that he would like for me to prepare a complaint and material witness application accordingly. I would listen politely and non-judgmentally and ask them nicely to go count again. Similarly, it's useful now to muster this ability when clients go on thirty-minute rants premised on views of the law derived from TV and views of reality derived from, as far as I can tell, orbital mind-control rays.
A key element of the lawyer's listening skill is the capacity to suppress laughter.
This came in very helpful this morning, when I spoke with a new client by telephone. The new client's dilema is not risable. Nor is his approach to it. However, the new client sounds exactly, uncannily, bizarrely like Burgess Meredith playing The Penguin. Right down to the weird "waaah-wah-wah-wah" bit. It took a while before I decided that the new client was not a prank at my expense.
I did not snicker. Not on the phone, anyway.
Last 5 posts by Ken White
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