Doctors and lawyers and priestly ways
(Posted by Laurel Halbany)
The legal system’s often a mystery, and we, its priests, preside over rituals baffling to everyday citizens. (attributed to Henry Miller)
Anyone who tells you that people like filing ‘frivolous lawsuits’ because it’s easy money also probably believes that women have abortions for recreational purposes.
Law school is initially disorienting because you’re having your entire brain rearranged to a different way of thinking; when they’re done with you, though, you can’t imagine having been different. (It’s a bit like “The Colour Out of Space,” where the farmed humans come to prefer the aliens’ strange, ill-tasting food to normal Earth produce.) It’s easy to lose sight of how opaque–and terrifying–the legal system is to people who are not lawyers.
I work in an area of law where my clients are people rather than corporations. As with doctors, people come to us when they need answers, or help, sometimes when they need that help very badly and they’re very frightened. Like doctors, we have a weird language all our own, we may not seem to understand what it’s like to be in their shoes, and we have to hedge everything we say with scary things. “This will probably be just fine, but there’s always a small chance that…”
Doctors have the advantage that, sometimes, they can make their patients better, or whole. In the law, “better, or whole,” means getting money. I can’t arrange for a settlement where my client’s stage-four lung cancer will be taken away, or where he will be awared another four years to see his grandchildren grow up.
When I talk to our clients, I imagine that doctors must play part of the same role we do, as confidants and confessors. Because of that famous attorney-client privilege, people know they can tell us things that will never go beyond the walls of the law firm, even if those things are not “necessary” to their lawsuit. They tell us things they won’t tell their spouses or their children, even though that may not be anything that’s “relevant”. And we listen, and we assure them that we will make things better. Most likely. We’re working hard on it, certainly. But, like doctors, we can’t say for a hundred percent sure that the treatment will work.
Doctors, of course, are fighting against disease and injury. We’re up against other lawyers. I’m not sure who has it worse.