“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
What is a lawyer’s responsibility: to “win” or his or her client, or to achieve “justice?” Every client carries his or her own expectation of success in a legal matter. Some clients deemphasize pursuing justice, choosing instead to focus on winning a given issue, argument, or case. However, part of the value a great lawyer is to provide a client with objectivity in analyzing whether a client’s goal in a matter will result in a just resolution.
Whether representing a client in a divorce, in business litigation, or with transactional matter, it is important to recognize the difference between merely winning an issue or case and achieving justice in that matter. Ideally, the two concepts align, and a favorable outcome can be reached for the client. However, often there is conflict between a client’s wishes and a just result. As such, an open and honest relationship needs to exist between attorney and client, allowing the attorney to objectively counsel the client on likely outcomes and advise on a proper course to be taken in a given situation. Blindly marching into court on a client’s wishes without providing candid and objective advice is a sure recipe for failure. A successful lawyer will analyze the pros and cons of a position or argument with his or her client before entering court or filing a pleading.
One of the most difficult aspects of lawyering is telling our clients what they don’t want to hear. Failure to do so when such conversations are honest, however, is a sure path to an unhappy outcome. The mark of great counsel is knowing when to “hold them” and when to “fold them.” Strategically working together—attorney and client—builds strong and open relationships based on trust, hard work, and careful analysis that ultimately pay off in the courtroom.
Aligning justice with “winning” is our chief goal as lawyers. If we build candid relationships between attorney and client, justice-based definitions of “winning” can be achieved in the vast majority of cases. It is when we ignore what a Judge or other objective observer would consider to be justice — in the interest of winning a case – then we are likely met with poor outcomes and disappointed clients. Martin Luther King’s sentiment that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere may overstate our judicial system’s ability to universally achieve just results; however, by encouraging open relationships, thorough brainstorming, and realistic goal setting with our clients, we strive to maximize just, winning results in all of our cases.