Winning cases that can’t be won for families that can’t afford to lose. We made it our mission in the law to live up to that idea.
About ten years ago, I overheard my paralegal, Rayna, talking to a client. Rayna and I have been together since the beginning of my career. This client was worried and scared, as many of our clients are. Winning or losing can mean the difference between life and death, and other law firms had already told them that his case could not be one. “Don’t worry,” I heard Rayna say, “We’ve got a bad habit of winning cases that can’t be won for people that can’t afford to lose.” Wow. Winning cases that can’t be won for families that can’t afford to lose. I know why she called it a bad habit. It’s bad business, that’s for sure. It takes a toll on us, our families, and our lives. But wow, I can’t imagine any better kind of law practice. And in that moment, we made it our mission in the law and in life to live up to that ideal.
Rayna and I had both been taught to look at the law this way. My partner, Bob Kelly, was my first boss. Rayna and Bob, and I tried my first case together. We had a very tough decision to make, a decision about playing it safe or taking a risk. Taking a risk to try to make the world better, to change how fuel systems in cars get designed, to save lives. “We have such a beautiful thing in our civil justice system,” Bob said, “Let’s be worthy of it. We’ll come into court on the wings of angels.” He really did say things like that. His father was a minister I knew because I heard him tell a jury while fighting a witness, “I know what the truth is. My daddy was a preacher.”
So, all you lawyers out there who went to law school to make the world a better place, and I know it’s almost all of us, that’s why we went to law school; I want to talk to you about something. Lawyers have been at the forefront of every major advance this country has ever made. Thurgood Marshall would take a train riding into places where men were waiting to lynch him, and he knew it. These were cases that couldn’t be won, but still, he would get on that train. He would ride that train through the night, and he would get off that train. His only sword was a piece of paper called the Constitution. That Constitution means nothing without lawyers. It means nothing without you. Someone needs to stand up to the insane wealth of these global apex corporations and stand up for the victims of modern-day power. Someone has to take cases that can’t be won for families that can’t afford to lose; let it be us.