Trusting the Experts

One of the most frustrating aspects of a lawyer’s life is that he doesn’t control his clients.
This may be a little hard to believe, given the difficulty involved in doing anything. And it’s always lawyers cited when some new silly restriction comes up–“Well, y’know, the lawyers are making us do it this way, we don’t want to be sued.”

And oh, I doubt there’s a lawyer in the country who has never wished he could make the client do what he was told. But it’s just not a power lawyers have. All they can do is advise, and then watch in horrified fascination as the client does whatever the hell he was planning on doing anyway.

I saw it in a divorce case, once, with the lawyer I interned for. I never got all the details, but I was sitting in the audience in court while the judge was hearing the case. The client had made an awful lot of money before the divorce started. He’d gotten arrested somewhere along the way, and was still serving. (Though he’d gotten changed into a nice suit for court.) And the fight, naturally, was over division of assets.

The judge spent a hell of a lot of courtroom time literally yelling at this guy.

I forget what most of it was–the guy was kind of a self-impressed jackwagon, and the judge wasn’t really much different. But the big explosion was when it turned out he’d hired another lawyer specifically for the purpose of handling (which I, and I suspect the judge, read as “hiding,”) the money.

Ohhh, that tirade lasted for ten minutes. “And instead of feeding and clothing your children–YOUR CHILDREN–you hire A LAWYER…!”

So, let’s just say that the judge was not happy with the client, which is never, ever a good way to start.

And then everyone went to chambers. Or, well, my lawyer-boss, the wife’s lawyer, and the judge. They may have even brought the wife in with them. The husband stayed outside with his guard.

And finally, after what seemed like forever, my boss came out with some terms they’d all come up with. Emphasizing how she really thought they were more than generous, and better than anything he was likely to get after a trial.

His response: She didn’t earn any of this, she doesn’t deserve any of it. I’m not giving her !@$%.

My boss tries another time or two to sell the deal. “You need to know,” she says, “that if the judge feels like any of your actions have been beyond the pale”–she used the actual legal term, I just can’t remember it–“he doesn’t have to stick with the equitable division formulas. He can force a split much more beneficial to your wife.”

!@#$ that !@#@#$. I’m not giving her !@#$@.

It was a train crash in slow motion. Given his position with the judge already well determined, and the fact that he was doing things with his assets that weren’t just paying regular daily expenses (kind of a gigantic frickin’ no-no when you’ve got a divorce in process–or even suspect one to be coming soon)… this wasn’t going to go well for him, at all.

So what did my boss do?

She nodded and brought back his refusal to the juidge.

(Final result? The decree of divorce was granted, the division of assets would continue to be litigated in the absence of an agreement. There weren’t any more court dates with that internship, so I never got to see it play out the rest of the way.)

And the thing is? I agree with this. It’s not the role of a lawyer to make decisions for his client. It’s the role of the lawyer to give his client all the options, and to pursue the client’s best interests to the best of his ability–as defined by the client. And thank God for that, because you wouldn’t believe how often lawyers get the best interests of the client just wrong.

You don’t believe me? I understand. Best interest is a really straightforward thing, and lawyers are smart people. How can they get something like that wrong?

Probation.

It seems that every criminal lawyer in the world wants to get his client a nice deal that involves however many years of probation in lieu of jailtime. Which sounds pretty sweet, right? Rather than spending six months in a holding cell, for instance, all you have to do is keep your nose clean for two years and you’re home free. Keep going to your job, hugging your kids, whatever. Who wouldn’t want that?

Well… screw-ups. (Which happens to account for a lot of the people getting arrested.)

When you’re dealing with a screw-up–someone who’s not going to stop drinking, won’t refrain from a fistfight if they feel like they’re being disrespected, or even doesn’t have reliable transportation to visit his probation officer (or enough of a clue to make arrangements)–you’re not giving him two years of restricted freedom instead of six months in a jail cell. You’re giving him two years in a jail cell after he blows his probation in two months. And I don’t know if it’s just being eager to get cases off their table or if probation looks better in their defense-lawyer statistics, but it just doesn’t seem like anyone gets that.

(Please note: I’ve actually not interacted with criminal law at this level, so I haven’t seen it myself. But I’m loosely acquainted with enough screwups to have heard the stories a lot.)

So. Here’s where I get to the point of all of this.

The Guardian–ever a bastion of respectable journalism (*ptui*)–recently posted a column called “The Charlie Gard case is heartbreaking, but society can’t shun its experts.”

And I’m not going to fisk it, because it’s an absolutely infuriating bit of writing that I don’t want to pore over closely enough to give it the treatment it richly deserves. It’s a ridiculous, toxic combination of the premise that society breaks down if we dare trust our own judgment instead of those uplifted souls qualified to make decisions for us, and the premise that sometimes it’s just necessary to kill children so that they don’t risk suffering.

(I debated between “kill” and “let die,” but in this case–where they’re actively preventing any of the several potential outcomes that result in continued life–“kill” seems more appropriate.)

And it’s bullcrap. Because that’s not what experts do. And more to the point, a philosophy that does erect experts to the level of head decisionmakers in the lives of the plenty… well. You ever wonder how you get societies with so little respect for human life that they fill mass graves with the living instead of wasting bullets on so many condemned? Or, to go a tad less extreme, individuals like Josef Mengele or Shiro Ishii? That’s where it starts, the idea that people are widgets to be moved around and controlled, rather than actors with any agency themselves.

You can call it populist all you want, insofar as the term has any meaning whatsoever. But the fact is that experts work for you, whoever it is that actually needs something done. They are facilitators. They are helpers. They get you closer to your goal.

They do not decide what your goals are for you and then dictate how you’ll get there.

Now I need to go drink heavily.

Today’s sketch is just playing with hatching and textures.

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