Star Wars

Never tell me the odds!

That’s Han Solo’s response when C-3PO tells him in the middle of “The Empire Strikes Back” that the probability of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately 3,720 to 1.

And for the record: no, I didn’t have to look up that number.

Now, that line sounds cool when spoken by a renegade smuggler known for his cockiness, but the sentiment can be a mixed bag if you’re a lawyer. As an attorney, you’re taught to objectively gauge the chances of success for your client. At the same time, however, you must still be prepared to argue passionately on behalf of your client, even in the face of overwhelming odds.

So how does one reconcile these two seemingly contradictory requirements? The key is realizing that they are actually just two sides of the same coin–the coin being an attorney’s duty to competently represent his or her client. Each side of the coin directly impacts the other, and the coin wouldn’t be complete without both. The objective duty to your client is necessary to ensure that they ultimately have all of the facts that they need to make well-informed decisions about how they want you to handle their case. The subjective duty exists so that a client gets the most vigorous representation throughout their case even if they ignore all the objective advice that you offer them.

Since I’m currently in the dwindling days of the 2014 legislative session, I’ll draw a comparison to the state legislators who are hard at work trying to pass laws in Annapolis.

While they swore an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States, our legislators have also made an unofficial promise to their constituents that they will objectively judge the merits of all the various issues that come before them while also fighting passionately for the topics that especially concern them. It’s this balance that keeps the legislature from devolving into a body where either everything gets passed because no one cares enough to argue against something or where nothing gets passed because everyone cares too much about their own personal issues and not enough about the facts.

And it’s that kind of balance that you must strive toward in your dealings with clients when the odds of success aren’t exactly in your favor. You don’t want to be the kind of lawyer who settles everything with less than a 50% chance of success just because you’re afraid of failure. On the flip side, you should also avoid taking every case to trial regardless of the odds because it would result in a lot of unnecessary work (and probably put an incredible strain on your office’s resources).

Unfortunately, that’s not the kind of skill that you can just learn right at the beginning of your career. It will take years, or maybe even decades, before you can truly master it.

Perhaps the best advice I can give you is to not let others try to force their idea of the perfect balance on to you. Maybe you’re more confident playing it safe, or maybe you’re okay with taking some risks in court. It’s a balance that only you can find.

Odds are, you’ll figure it out eventually.

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