Rules for being a great chaplin or great trial lawyer from william barclay

William Barclay, my favorite religious writer, in his book Day By Day, writes about chaplains in the military and what the troops wanted in them. One characteristic was treating the soldiers as individuals. Barclay says the tendency nowadays is for the individual to be lost in the masses. He points out:

"It is easy for the individual to cease in any sense, to be an individual and to become a number on a form, an entry on a file, a specimen pigeonholed in some neat classification. Paul Tournier says that the doctor’s great danger is that he ceases to think of a man as person, and begins to think of him as a gall bladder or a lung case."

When I read that I thought of the fact that lawyers do exactly the same thing. They tend to forget their injury cases are not about them, but about some poor soul who has come to them for help. Nor are their cases about getting a big verdict so they feel good. They are not some prize they brag about to their fellow lawyers over coffee as some "whiplash case" or "broken arm" case. They are people who have come to us asking us to use our skill to obtain fair justice for them. Our client’s interests always come first. Before every decision we make as trial lawyers regarding a client’s case, we must think first of what is best for this individual client.

As Barclay says: "Our fundamental human need is to be treated as person…A man may be a mere number in the world. To God he is a person with a name, and, in the church of God each person must be a person." Well, in the office of trial lawyers, each client must be a person and not a file.

Barclay also says that another characteristic of a great Chaplin was one who understood what the soldiers were going through. He observes: "They would not have any use for a man who had no knowledge and no understanding of their problems, their experiences, their temptations." He cites the example of Ezekiel who brought the message of God to those in captivity as reported n Ezekiel 3:15:

"Then I came to them of the captivity at Tel-abib, that dwelt by the river of Chebar, and I sat where they sat."

That is the secret of relating to any person, to know what they are going through, to sit where they sit. All trial lawyers must learn to understand what who are clients are and what they are going through before they can represent them well. This is the idea expressed in the often cited words from the novel To Kill a Mockingbird when Atticus Finch tells his daughter Scout:

"First of all," he said, "if you can learn a simple trick Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kids of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view- until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."

All great trial lawyers I know, have learned to do exactly that. At the Spence Trial College, psychodrama is the technique taught to lawyers to accomplish this best. Internalizing your client’s situation is essential to representing their case as it should be represented.

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