May 18, 2016 On the invigoration of serving criminal defense clients, and simply serving
Recently, a criminal defense lawyer colleague and I greeted each other in the courthouse hallway. I asked how he was doing. “Living the dream,” he said almost with a sigh; most people who say this phrase seem as insincere as those who reply “another day in paradise”. I told him that the owner of his three-lawyer firm answered the same thing to me not long ago. He replied: “You are probably more realistic than I.”
What if these two lawyers’ clients had heard them say “living the dream?” Then again, their clients do not need to hear them say this to feel those vibrations.
These are not the only criminal defense lawyers sounding jaded about their work. One went as far as to respond in nearly upset disbelief to learn I still love my work after two decades. Many judges are also dissatisfied with their work.
What do these two lawyers dislike about their work? Do they want to earn more money or work less hard? Do they prefer prosecuting if not for any pay cut involved in doing such work, if they could even get it? Do they find no challenge if they are usually defending the same kinds of criminal charges, even though serving each client and their unique needs is a privilege and new challenge in itself? Do they feel under-appreciated by their clients (challenging clients give us another opportunity to rise to the occasion) or misunderstood by their family members and friends about the work they do? Are they not winning enough? Are they simply dissatisfied with their lives in general?
To me, criminal defense is the most satisfying of lawyer work. Criminal defense is combat on the side of the angels, at least when snitch work is declined. The only real relevance to me of these two lawyers’ “living the dream” lament is to remind me how grateful and rewarded I feel about doing criminal defense work, and to recognize why so many lawyers are dissatisfied with their work if even doing what for me is the most rewarding kind of work — criminal defense.
When people do work and tasks they do not like, they feel drained of energy and empty. With my work, I feel the opposite.
Being a trial lawyer is a demanding profession. I remember one lawyer who simply could not handle the transition from the predictability of doing insurance defense litigation in-house at a car insurance company with a manageable work schedule, to defending injury victims and having much longer work hours and client challenges ahead of him as a result. This lawyer lasted but two to three months at the plaintiffs personal injury law firm, and soon joined an insurance defense law firm. When I commented to him that it sounded like he would have some interesting work at this new firm (even though my bias is to the plaintiffs’ side in physical injury cases), he replied: “I do not want interesting,” parroting a version of the so-called Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times.” To each his or her own. Bring on the interesting to me.
The invigoration I feel from my criminal defense work is in some ways comparable to what I have witnessed about the so-called hugging saint Amma, born Mata Amritanandamayi. As much as my being in her presence and being hugged by Amma on two of her visits to the area were positive experiences, I have no need to go out of my way to repeat it — particularly when considering some of her overbearing handlers, although likely only well-meaning to give everyone equal time with Amma while protecting her — other than marveling at how she goes for hours giving hugs to endless lines of devotees, past midnight, before taking any bathroom or food breaks. Amma clearly is invigorated by spreading the message and action of love, with people running from experiencing the depths of pain to the pinnacles of happiness. She must feel their love back, to the point that the love energy simply grows for everyone in the room like a snowball.
Keys to happiness and satisfaction with work and life are service, generosity and gratitude, which all focus outward rather than towards one’s ego and selfishness. It also helps to love what you do and do what you love. Ego and selfishness are dualistic and about samsara, which at best will only provide temporary bouts of satisfaction. The selflessness of serving, being generous, and expressing gratitude are non-dualistic and bring one closer to satisfaction.