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The Primary Goal of the Practice of Law

My lawyer friend, John Crouch wrote a wonderful piece recently about lawyering that appears in a Virginia magazine for lawyers.  The piece is about lawyering, to be sure, but it focuses the readers’ attention, not on litigation (where almost all non-lawyers and many lawyers themselves think the practice of law is centered) but on how lawyers’ real professional purpose in life is to help solve their clients’ problems; and, therefore, “lawyering”, as many people should understand it is actually secondary to the primary aim of the practice of law which is problem solving.


Like, John, I practice family law, and as I was reading what he wrote I was reminded of a story that Sun Tzu wrote (yes, him, the author of the ancient Chinese treatise, “The Art of War”, wherein an even more ancient story was retold):  “A physician, whose reputation was such that his name became synonymous with medical science in China, said,  “My eldest brother sees the spirit of sickness and removes it before it takes shape, so his name does not get out of the house. My elder brother cures sickness when it is still extremely minute, so his name does not get out of our village. As for me, I puncture veins, prescribe potions, and massage skin, so from time to time my name gets out and is heard among the lords of the whole country.”  Perhaps, then, the better questions for all of our prospective clients to ask of lawyers and others about which lawyer might best represent them in a family law matter are these two: “How well does this lawyer solve problems and at what emotional and dollar and relationships’ cost will be involved for all concerned?” and “Is there some lawyer who is better at doing that?”


Like those ancient Chinese doctors that Sun Tzu spoke of so long ago, many lawyers today are wonderful litigators and, perhaps, for some of those litigator-lawyers, it is because litigating is the best (perhaps, the only) tool in their lawyering tool bag.  We hear of those litigator-lawyers every day but almost never hear of those lawyers who helped solve their clients’ problems without litigation and at much lower emotional and dollar and relationships’ cost to those clients.  John, though, is one of our lawyer-stars and his name ought to be spoken of well beyond our village.

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