23 October 2008

The Devil’s in the Details

I love the detailed nature of legal work. I love how you take a fact situation and immerse yourself in it, looking at it from all angles, trying to determine the best way to proceed in order to put your client's interests first. A legal problem is like a big puzzle all jumbled together, waiting for you to put it together correctly. Some people say that lawyers spend all their time trying to find loopholes in the law, and in many ways I think that is an accurate statement. And I think that is where lawyers get into trouble.

The first question many people ask me, when I discuss criminal law, is how can defense lawyer's defend scum like that. Quite honestly, that's one reason I don't think I can ever practice criminal law. The standard answer may defense lawyers give is that everyone is entitled to the best defense they can get. Our justice system is adversarial, and to find the truth, both sides need to state the best case they can. That answer has never satisfied me, and I think a truer answer, but harder to explain is that they love the challenge and puzzle of it all. There is something exhilarating about taking a problem that seems unsolvable and solving it. Don't get me wrong, I'm not defending the position, but something happened today that makes me understand it in a way I never thought I would.

I'm taking family law this semester. It's not a course I wanted to take, but my principle for articling told me to, and every firm I interviewed with suggested it was a good idea. I went into the class planning to hate every minute of it. Instead, it's my favorite class of the semester, and quite possibly of law school (although I don't know that anything can ever beat tax). My prof is excellent; very witty, cynical and sarcastic, but he knows the law inside and out. He's making me want to reconsider my decision to never practice family law. We were discussing the valuation, exemptions and exceptions with regard to family property today. The whole goal is to frame your client's assets in a way that gives them the greatest share they can possibly get of the family property during the divorce. And it's all detail work; knowing your case inside and out.

I caught myself thinking tonight "I could do this, I could practice family law." I love how detail oriented it is, and how it all fits within a precise framework. But I can't; and I lost sight of that for a little while this evening. I'm not against practicing family law because it's messy or boring; I'm against it because large parts of it violate Catholic teachings. That's not something I can ignore, but for a few minutes tonight, I let myself get sucked into enjoying the details; the puzzling nature of it, and forgot all the ethical issues that arise around it. The church doesn't allow divorce. Marriage is a sacrament and is the joining of two people by God. It's not a legal institution. As a society, we have given it a legal nature, but at its core it is a sacrament that creates a bond that cannot be dissolved.

But working through the details is such fun! I didn't want to let this go, so I googled it, thinking that maybe I could find a way around this problem. (That's what lawyers do after all; search for loopholes) But there is no loophole to be found here, and I'm ashamed to say that I actually spent time trying to find a loophole in God's laws. (That's the whole pride thing) Instead of finding a way to practice it, I ran smack into a 2002 pronouncement made by JPII that essentially asks Catholic lawyers to refuse to handle divorce cases. He called divorce an evil spreading like a plague through society, and said lawyers should not aid that evil.

See: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/1787106.stm

While divorce is not all that is involved in family law, it certainly makes up a large part of the practice of family law. I certainly cannot hold myself out as a family law lawyer and not do divorces, so I guess I will just have to find another area of law that needs the same detailed, problem solving approach. Yet, I know that I'm going to have to do some family law for my articles. How do I reconcile that with my faith and avoid serving evil as JPII asks of us? I don't know, but I trust that when the situation arises, I won't be alone in trying to figure it out, and I will just have to cross that bridge when I come to it. And will just have to enjoy the intricate details of tax law.

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