As I was replacing some of my business cards in my wallet this morning, I noticed the words “Attorney At Law” beneath my name. In itself this wasn’t surprising, since I have been actively practicing law for nearly 25 years, but it got me to thinking: am I more “attorney” at law, or “counsellor” at law? And: is there a difference?
In the not-so-distant past, families had a trusted lawyer, a counsellor, who administered to all or most of the family’s legal needs. That lawyer wrote wills, managed real estate transactions, advised about business ventures and handled criminal and other matters as they arose. Often, the lawyer would be called on discuss other sensitive matters, and asked to offer advice on the best way to proceed.
In today’s overheated economic atmosphere the practice of law has become, and continues to become more of a business venture for both client and law firm than a relationship of trust. Firms tend to see their cases (which are brought by people) as inventory. Clients now tend to see their lawyers and their firms as representatives paid to achieve a certain, pre-determined result. Rather than being counsellors, most of us are now just attorneys: legal professionals paid to produce.
Today, more often than not, the human aspect of the practice of law has been lost.
The concept of the family counsellor was one thing that moved me to become a lawyer. Another was Atticus Finch, the fictional lawyer made immortal in “To Kill A Mockingbird.” Finch was more than just a man educated in the law: he was a trusted father, community member and man, someone to whom others would come to for advice (and not just the legal kind) and who practiced his profession as he lived his life: honestly. And yet, he was also a strong, committed advocate for his clients, especially for those he believed had been wronged.
So, after this meditation, what do I consider myself, counsellor or attorney? Or both? My practice demands that I be both, at different times and to different clients, depending upon their needs. And I believe my practice is better for the demands that both place upon me. The ability and willingness to counsel first, and then advocate later (if necessary) are the keys to serving my clients, my profession, and myself, well.