“’I beseech ye in the bowels of Christ, think that ye may be mistaken.’ I should like to have that written over the portals of every church, every school, and every courthouse, and, may I say, of every legislative body in the United States.”
—Morals in Public Life (1951), Judge Billings Learned Hand
A couple of weeks ago, I went to brunch with a table full of lawyers, all two years out of law school. Of course, we discussed our jobs and, naturally, the conversation devolved into a debate about a legal topic about which we all knew virtually nothing and with which we had no experience. I stayed out of the conversation because I did not know the group well and I tend to be shy in those circumstances. In observing the devolution of the conversation, I took stock of the table and realized that all the participants seemed to take issue with any notion of reconsidering their strongly held opinions and listening. They all wanted to be “right.”
I understand that a law degree requires hard work and a certain level of intelligence and that those who hold such degrees should feel confident in their intellectual capacities. Confidence is important in this profession, though we all know attorneys who are so confidently wrong that they lack credibility (and whose reputations unfortunately precede them). I believe that as young attorneys it is critical that we listen more than we talk, and that we consider the possibility that we may be wrong about a point of fact or law.
Naturally, our ego compels us to believe that as juris doctors and officers of the court, our interpretations, based on law and fact, are correct. However, I implore us all to think back to law school, where we were forced to examine all sides and to understand why multiple conclusions could be drawn from a set of facts and law. This is not only a great exercise in analysis, but also a substantial step toward being a better lawyer — and an even better person.
Maureen Edobor is an associate with Goldberg Segalla LLP in Baltimore.