I have started watching the new TV series Harry’s Law starring Kathy Bates. I love her as an actress. I thought she nailed the “Betsey” character in the movie Primary Colors. The premise is she leaves her $600,000 a year patent attorney practice to open a storefront in an emerging neighborhood where her clientele have been, so far, characters accused of murder, drug dealing, armed robbery, and discrimination. The premise is far-fetched and the characters are wacky as one might suspect from the creators of Ally McBeal, but I enjoy it for its entertainment and my personal “what if” value.
It caused me to remember my friends who took jobs with the Public Defender or practice “people law” like my dear friend Basil. Looking back on them, I think they got it better than most of my law school classmates, including me. They represented their clients with a compassion without sentimentality, as much as anything else. They never seemed to romanticize the “homeless, the losers, and the scum” they worked for daily, or seemed to let pity or empathy distort their clarity with which they saw them for no more or less than what they were. There was a sad gaiety about the way they went about their work. The sadness originating from the hopelessness of their work – the problems were so vast, their resources so meager. The gaiety from the hope that in the long run if not the short, all would in some holy an unimaginable way, be well. I suspect they looked at me as less committed than they, farther away from where the real battle was fought every day. They were right, of course. But they seemed less to hold the difference against me than to leave it to me to come to terms with it as best I could.
They would bristle at the notion that they were “good” or “saints,” although in a way they were. They would react like Jesus when he was addressed as “good teacher.” Jesus said, “ No one is good but God alone.” I believe they know they aren’t really a legal elite, not really better than other lawyers. They are just luckier.
Your friend, Webb