Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 48

LAST WORD

LEGAL SPECTATOR

EDITORS' NOTE: To honor the memory
of Jacob Stein, Washington Lawyer
is reprinting some of Stein's "Legal
Spectator" columns, which appeared
on this page for nearly 25 years.

By Jake Stein

AN EXCLUSIVE CLUB
A

prospective client is in the office. He has an
interesting case. He needs a lawyer. Without
good legal advice he will be in real trouble.
He cannot afford legal fees. The lawyer listens. He
repeats to himself his personal resolution not to
take on another no-pay case. But he makes the
fatal mistake of continuing to listen to the facts.
He peruses the documents. He asks more questions. He knows the scheme and he knows the
swindlers. He shuffles the documents into chronological order. It is likely that this poor fellow will
lose the little he has. The lawyer is hooked. Vanity
enters the picture. The lawyer thinks (and says)
he can outsmart the swindlers.
There is an exclusive lawyers' club whose
members cannot turn away an interesting case
just because the client has no money to spend
on legal fees. I am told that a lawyer seeking
admission into this club must satisfy application
requirements that far exceed those of Harvard,
Yale, Georgetown, and Stanford. Here they are:
* The applicant must have lost a respectable
number of civil and criminal cases. He must
know where the courthouse is. He must know
all the litigation tricks. He must believe that
occasionally right defeats wrong.
* He must have a roving commission that
gives him the freedom to do as he pleases
concerning what cases he decides to take.
He is not subject to an approval committee
appointed by the executive committee,
which itself has been appointed by the
management board, which has final authority
over what he can do.
* He must not keep hourly billing records to
prove he is pro bono virtuous.
* He must have read William Wordsworth's
poem "Character of the Happy Warrior."
* He must see the futility in much of what he
does. He must pray for the end of the sentencing guidelines. He must be willing to
48 WASHINGTON LAWYER

*

listen to disturbed people oppressed by those
with temporary power, people misused by
the judicial system. People ready to give up.
* He must know that the initial enthusiasm that
arrives with a new case will be tested by wellfunded opposition lawyers. He must know
about the law's delay and the likelihood that
he will not have the time to give the case
what it needs. He must know that the Club's
work involves bad people. He must keep his
emotions under control.
* He must refresh himself by reading what the
Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius noted in his
diary. Marcus begins each day by saying, "I will
meet the corrupt, the greedy, the arrogant,
the deceitful, the envious, and the boastful.
Therefore I shall not be unreasonably disturbed by it all, no more than I am disturbed
by changes in the weather." (Stein translation
from the original Latin.) Club members add
to this such things as injustice, economic
oppression, bureaucratic arrogance, harsh
judges, and assorted bad acts identified in
Rule 404(b) of the Federal Rules of Evidence.

been an acquittal but for the fact that the
lawyer did not find and subpoena an alibi
witness. In one case of this kind when the socalled alibi witness eventually was found, he
was in jail looking for his own alibi witness.
Club lawyers do not take no-pay cases of
people who, although wronged, seek vengeance. Such people are dissatisfied with a
reasonable settlement. They must get everything they want and then some. They must
inflict injury on their adversary. When they
have power they are as bad as the people
they despise. Club members will not help
those who live for litigation.
The reward that comes to a Club member is
not in terms of money or fame. It is in the form of
an approach to life, best described as optimistic
disenchantment that survives injustice, bad acts,
special prosecutors with press agents, deadlines,
and all the other slings and arrows. Club members secretly aspire to the aristocracy of E. M.
Forster: "Not an aristocracy of power, based
upon rank and influence, but an aristocracy of
the sensitive, the considerate and the plucky."

* He understands he must occasionally tell the
truth to a claims adjuster. He must be lucky
enough to get a continuance when he is
unprepared to try the case.

I am told the Club's meetings are unscheduled.
Members meet by chance while out taking a
walk. They reflect on how much self-delusion
and good luck contribute to a successful career.

* He must believe that the meaning of things
does not lie in the things themselves but in
the judgments he makes about them.

They agree that in their line of work they
often have to give bad news to their clients.
A member brings up the names of lawyers who
charge big fees, really big fees, for consultations
containing nothing but bad news. These legal
pallbearers look the well-heeled client in the
eye and announce that all is lost. Not only that,
things will get worse. A Club member says,
"What an interesting specialty. How does one
get into that club?"

The clientele of the Club includes people caught
in a minor violation of the law and who are being
pursued by a mean-spirited, relentless prosecutor needlessly spending the government's
money just to ruin a small life.
It defends good lawyers in cases that may
involve a complaint by a hardened criminal
asserting that the lawyer (underpaid of course)
did not get an acquittal. The guilty defendant
asserts in his complaint that there would have

NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2019

Meeting adjourned.
This column first appeared in the December 2006
issue of Washington Lawyer.



Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019

Digital Extras
Your Voice
From Our President
Practice Management
Calendar of Events
Going Above and Beyond feature
On Safer Ground feature
Casa Ruby Profile
Pro Bono Effect
Member Spotlight
Worth Reading
Media Bytes
Attorney Briefs
Ask the Ethics Experts
Disciplinary Summaries
Community & Connections
Last Word
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - Cover1
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - Cover2
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 1
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 2
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 3
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - Digital Extras
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - Your Voice
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - From Our President
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 7
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - Practice Management
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 9
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - Calendar of Events
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 11
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - Going Above and Beyond feature
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 13
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 14
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 15
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 16
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 17
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - On Safer Ground feature
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 19
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 20
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 21
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 22
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 23
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 24
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 25
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - Casa Ruby Profile
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 27
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 28
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 29
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 30
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 31
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - Pro Bono Effect
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 33
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 34
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 35
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 36
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - Member Spotlight
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 38
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 39
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - Worth Reading
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 41
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - Media Bytes
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - Attorney Briefs
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - Disciplinary Summaries
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - Community & Connections
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 46
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - 47
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - Last Word
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - Cover3
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2019 - Cover4
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