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Clients and I are all in this together, and Wallace Shawn spotlights people beyond their roles

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I once got a glimpse of how clients feel trusting me to fight for them when I frantically called for help to a former client who became my contractor, to fix what became a temporary burp in an important part of my firm’s administrative/technological operations. I have ended up using the services of a few former clients, overall with much better results than choosing someone out of the yellow pages or relying on a referral. Merely having been charged with crimes, that does not diminish their talents.

When I finally reached this former client/contractor on the phone, I told him how relieved I was to be in his good hands. He responded that it is the same way that he felt when I defended him so many years ago.

Roles get played and reversed. Role reversal is a key element of psychodrama. Director/actor/playwright Wallace Shawn — of Aunt Dan and Lemon, Manhattan, and Princess Bride fame — talks of the "cashier in her oddly matched pink shirt and green slacks" — and the rest of us — as capable of harnessing the "infinite vastness hiding inside."

Whether it be the cashier wearing pink and green, a sales manager for Muzak, Inc., or one charged or convicted with a vile crime — and everything in between, Publius Terence aptly underlined: Homo sum: humani nil a me alienum puto./I am human: nothing human is alien to me. Thich Nhat Hanh takes Publius Terrence a step further in his poem "Please Call Me by My True Names," recognizing that but for his fortune in experience, resources, compassion and wisdom from an early age, he could have become the child raped by a pirate as well as the pirate who raped her, "my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving." Similarly, Mitakuye Oyasin. We are all related, and it is an illusion and delusion to think otherwise. There is no them versus us in the final analysis. It is all we, including our perceived and actual opponents and enemies. Connectedness with each other is not some sort of touchy-feely approach to life, but a reality that, once recognized by more people, will reduce wars, violence upon others and trespasses against others, and will bring us towards a much better world where people will open their hearts to each other and share with each other of themselves and of their resources.

I recently bought Essays, by Wallace Shawn. The first time I took notice of Wally Shawn was in his short appearance in Manhattan, in which he plays the Diane Keaton character’s ex-husband, whom she describes as being found by women to be devastating in bed. Then he walks on the screen for the first time, making the audience wonder how this most ordinary, not particularly handsome man could be the one that Keaton had just described, followed by the no-less unremarkable-looking Woody Allen’s character scratching his head over it all. How superficial that such lookism rolemaking was, but likely intended to teach a lesson against such superficiality; yet I bought into scratching my own head over that scene for the next three decades.

When I finally met Wally Shawn, by sheer accident in Grand Central Station around 1989, I noticed the man, not his looks. I told him how deeply I liked his play Aunt Dan and Lemon. He happily responded, "Really?". Then, getting stuck in my role as a law student and not feeling worthy enough in the presence of theatrical greatness, I deep-sixed my compliment by saying: "Well, my view probably does not mean much." He asked "Why not?" I replied, "Because you are up here, and I am down here." If you are reading this blog entry, Wally, I fully meant my compliment, still do, and should not have watered it down.

In his Essays, Shawn points out that "to spend one’s life as a so-called ‘creative artist’ is probably the most comfortable, cozy, and privileged life that a human being can live on this earth…" Similarly, I feel deeply blessed to be spending my career as a criminal defense lawyer, getting to exercise creative persuasion in the courtroom stage all the time.

A big focus at the National Criminal Defense College’s Trial Practice Institute (attended 1994) and the Trial Lawyers College (attended 1995) is to find and summon the powerful magic within ourselves to be the best people and trial lawyers we can be. The goal is not to emulate others but to be our most powerful real selves. Skilled trial lawyers can inspire their clients and everyone else to do the same.

Being all connected, everyone can transcend their so-called roles, and should not be pigeonholed by those roles. My clients and I are ordinary humans before we take on the roles of client and lawyer. Once we see beyond the roles of ourselves and others, we will transcend many of the hurdles that can otherwise constrain and strangle each of us and the possibilities for ourselves and others.