One of the most beautiful Christmas gifts I have ever seen was a piece of scrap paper that my grandmother showed to me after my grandfather’s death. The paper was dated during the Great Depression, when my grandfather was younger than 10. At that time, my grandfather already had a dozen siblings, and his farming family was financially poorer than most of us alive today could imagine.
The paper was clearly a torn corner from another document. On the paper, my grandfather had written a note in pencil to my great-grandparents. The note included an apology from my grandfather to my great-grandparents for not having any tangible Christmas gift to give. More touching to me, my grandfather promised to pray several prayers for my grandparents and their family as my grandfather’s “gift” to his family that Christmas.
My grandfather gave an immeasurable gift to others that Christmas. In contrast, we can sometimes work hard, often through the legal system, to try to exert immeasurable harm on others.
There are two reasons that attorneys and the civil justice system are not good at causing revenge/harm to others. First, attorneys are trained to help clients and society, not to hurt others. Second, I believe that hurting others is part of a necessarily short-sighted philosophy of life.
First, the legal profession began as and remains a resource to allow people to navigate society’s laws.
Nobody has an obligation to look past his or her own rights. However, in civil litigation, when one party wins a lawsuit, the losing party usually does not publicly confess to wrongdoing. The best the winning party can usually get is money (minus attorneys’ fees) along with possible bragging rights at a local coffee shop for a day or so. Such an outcome is great if it helps a client. But if an outcome hurts someone else without helping a client, the outcome will almost never be fulfilling to the client.
Second, I believe that attorneys are also poorly equipped to help exact revenge on or harm to others because the attitude of revenge and maximization of material goods in our society is shallow and short-sighted.
Society tells us that if we do not aggressively exercise all of our rights in all contexts, we will be shortchanged, and our lives will be failures. “Never get cheated” is a common mantra in our world today. Navigating the legal system and seeking fairness is one thing. Pushing every opportunity to maximize financial success, especially to the detriment of others, is another thing.
We attorneys help clients succeed and avoid being taken advantage of. Clients are often frustrated by attorneys when the only outcome sought or received is getting even with someone else.
I believe that we attorneys are poorly used as a resource to punish others, if only because punishment and revenge are philosophies so inconsistent with the eternal gifts of love, compassion and encouragement that we are reminded of this weekend. In honor of my grandfather, I will pray for you this weekend. Merry Christmas!
Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at Lee@LeeSchroeder.com or at 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.