Lawyers love conflict. At least they would appear to, given their choice of career. For trial lawyers in particular, conflict is the name of the game. We have an adversarial judicial process and your job as a trial lawyer is to go to battle on behalf of one of the adversaries. But, speaking personally, I don’t enjoy conflict. Instead, at times, I find it rather distressing. Having said all this, I still love being a lawyer. The question becomes: how do I reconcile all of this?
The answer, I’ve realized, lies in distinguishing different types of conflict. Going back to my days as a philosophy student, I relish the opportunity to participate in intellectual conflict. By this I mean matching wits in the marketplace of ideas. To me, that’s just fun. And on top of being fun, its societally beneficial. By moving the ball forward toward a more perfect understanding of the world around us, intellectual conflict serves us all. At its heart, I think that’s what being a lawyer is about: intellectual conflict. For some lawyers, like contract lawyers, their job is chiefly to anticipate conflicts and head them off through wise legal drafting. For litigators, especially appellate attorneys, the intellectual conflicts are part and parcel of engaging in such work. However, wrapped up in these intellectual conflicts are often emotional conflicts. This is particularly true in the family law context.
Divorces are difficult, even when necessary and in both spouses’ best interests. This is because, while divorce is nominally the legal dissolution of a legal bond, in reality it is the culmination of a history of a chiefly emotional and intimate relationship. Thus, the parties come to the negotiating table with emotions infused into all aspects of the intellectual discussion. As a family law attorney, one of my jobs is to listen to and validate my client’s emotions as it relates to their case. But another one of my jobs is to help the client place their emotions to the side, as best as one can, and move through the divorce process in a somewhat more clear and dispassionate way. That is not to say that that is easy to do. But ultimately, removing or lessening emotional conflict allows the intellectual conflict to proceed at a brisk and efficient pace.
Today, someone got angry with me. I’ve thought about it pretty much the whole day since. I don’t think I did anything untoward to inspire the anger, but I understand it nonetheless. But that doesn’t mean that this person’s emotions, nor my emotions, are serving either of us particularly well. Best would be to return to the substance of the intellectual conflict, shedding whatever emotional baggage has become attached. I hope I always remember to do that.