Saturday, January 17, 2015

Why I Became A Lawyer

I do what I do to protect economically vulnerable people from exploitation because they don't know their rights or how to assert them.  Due to study and experience, I also know that helping people is not as easy as it sounds.  Inherent in choosing to protect a Client is the implication, that in my judgment, the Client is either unable or unwilling to protect themselves perhaps because of a self-image that says they deserve the treatment they are getting because of their own mistakes and/or character flaws.  My good intentioned offer of legal counsel meant to make a client better off may not be received as such.

If Clients are thinking short-term in crisis management mode, they are not thinking about long term implications and lack perspective.  That is part of why I prefer to do an estate plan for every Client.  There is nothing like thinking about one's own death to put a situation in perspective.  Thinking about who is important to you, and what you want to leave behind, is also useful.  The things left behind are not the most important.  It is the feelings and relationships among surviving loved ones that is important.  Getting in touch with that recognition is useful and helpful when dealing with debt issues because of the natural tendency to devalue oneself because of being in debt.

Helping Others Take Control.

Another reason I prefer to do estate planning for every client is that signing a Will, Trust, Power of Attorney for Health and Finances, and a Living Will is taking, not just control, but responsibility for what is possible to take control and responsibility for and letting go of the rest.  Planning for ones own death is the ultimate recognition of human limitation.

When these principles of taking control of what is possible to control and taking responsibility for what is possible to be responsible for, and knowing the difference between the two, are applied to debtors in bankruptcy possibilities emerge.

Enlightened View of Responsibility.

One possibility is the enlightened recognition that being responsible does not always mean continuing to pay creditors no matter what.  There is real strength required to face the fact of being unable to pay all of one's creditors in full and responding by filing for bankruptcy protection, paying creditors as much as you can, if you can, and starting fresh.  There is no honor in continuing to pay creditors in a futile effort at repayment if it means not meeting the basic needs of your children or your self.  There is also no honor in not paying creditors when you are able to do so (and especially when you are legally required to do so, if under the bankruptcy code your ability to pay has been legally determined).

They key insight that I hope to assist Clients in discovering for themselves, is that true control and responsibility requires self-analysis to uncover the limits of each, so that every Client will find the place of peace knowing that they did everything they could to make the best choices for themselves under their particular circumstances.  Honesty about those circumstances is critical. Omissions of assets, income, or debts or misstatements of any kind undermine the process and make finding peace impossible because of the lack of justice.

Also inherent in my choice as an Attorney to represent a Client is the implication that the Client is worth representing.  If I became a lawyer to protect economically vulnerable people, and those people are lying and are not economically vulnerable at all, it undermines why I do what I do and dramatically decreases my job satisfaction. 

Just because a Client is economically vulnerable and has rights that are either being violated or at least not asserted, does not necessarily mean that the Client is deserving of my time and effort.  If a Client fails to tell me that they have taken an action that may harm their interests, that creates potential liability for me (or at least embarrassment and damage to reputation that can affect outcomes in future cases).  It also makes representation very difficult and stressful.  Being invested in the well being of a Client who is ignorant of and/or reckless with their own interests is one of the scary things about being a lawyer.

Another potential implication of helping someone is that they, at least at some level, don't have to take personal responsibility for themselves because their lawyer is responsible for them.  This can be an even scarier part of being a lawyer.

Justice Takes Work.

I do what I do because Justice is not automatic.  It takes constant and diligent work.  The work is never done at all, let alone done perfectly.  Justice is a blind balancing act.  Justice, to me, is not about representing debtors assuming that they are deserving of help, and assuming that creditors are overreaching.  Justice in the context of creditor debtor relations is about seeing what is important and what is not, what can be controlled and what cannot, and seeing what responsibility and accountability really means for each debtor.

A more expansive view of one's place in society that leads to positive choices is what I hope each Client achieves.  That place is faced ultimately in estate planning with the realization that life is borrowed.  It is a debt that will be repaid sometime with absolute certainty; the question is to figure out what matters for each person in the meantime.

The loss of a house, a car, money and property to creditors in bankruptcy does not necessarily mean that a person's life is lessened in any way.  In fact, the process of making one's possessions less valuable by paying creditors or surrendering property to creditors may lead people to discover what is really most important to them.  The increased happiness, peace and well-being that comes from "rendering unto Ceasar what is Ceasar's" will hopefully free people's time and energy from worry about money to spending their time in a way that is consistent with their most deeply held values, and is ultimately a more satisfying legacy.

The bottom line is that I want Clients to be surprised and delighted to discover unexpected benefits in the least likely places of estate planning and bankruptcy, so that they see the silver lining of the dark cloud that was there all along just waiting for attention.

 14205 SE 36th St Ste 100
Bellevue, WA 98006-1553
Phone: 425-649-1190
Fax: 425-223-3197


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