Learning Why Some People Need or Want Power
Abraham Lincoln once said: “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” The phenomenon called “power” changes most human beings lives and personalities. We see what can happen to the personalities of some lawyers when they assume the powerful role of judges. We can even see what happens to some lawyers when they become successful – some forget what enabled them to become successful to begin with, often times humility, extremely hard work and extreme preparation and an openness and willingness to learn from others.
As effective advocates for our clients we should make an effort to understand what can happen to a person when they are appointed to be a state or federal prosecutor. What pressures are on them? Do they get judged by their superiors by the number of cases they take to trial or are they judged by the number of trials they win? What pressure would be on us if we worked in their office? How much discretion do they have over their cases? By understanding them better, I believe we can be more effective advocates for our clients.
Different Personalities of Prosecutors and Lawyers
The following are brief descriptions of a few basic personality types of attorneys I have experienced as opposing advocates. This short list is not all inclusive by any means. I must also qualify what I say about “opposing advocates” or prosecutors applies to defense attorneys as well. I have had more than one co-defendant’s lawyer in a multi-defendant jury trial exhibit these same character traits to the detriment of my client or other co-defendants.
A. The Look Good Attorney
For some lawyers their self-centeredness is “advanced” enough they use the justice system to provide them a stage upon which they can show “their stuff.” They have little allegiance to fair play and are more concerned about how they appear to other lawyers in their office, their bosses or how they appear or sound in the local newspaper or television. To them their own career is paramount to anything else. They have little compassion for the citizen and human being they call “the defendant.” They consider themselves far above the “criminal milieu.” Perhaps they haven’t lived long enough to appreciate the maxim that “there but for the grace of God, go I.” Perhaps they never will. I think people whho sit on juries can see through this and, if given enough time, can see the lawyer who “postures” for who he or she really is. Placing more emphasis on looking good and not being real or genuine causes people on the jury to lose trust in the lawyer. If you watch the great trial masters, I think you will find that their “out of the courtroom” personality is not much different, if at all, from their courtroom personalities. Most of the very best trial lawyers are compassionate, credible and respect the opinions and viewpoints of other people. As trial lawyers, if we strive to maintain our credibility and don’t over react to the inappropriate behavior of opposing counsel, we become the person in the court room that the jury can trust and believe. I think some cases are lost by the government because the government’s attorney or opposing counsel has been overly zealous, obnoxious and offensive yet at the same time they themselves believe that they “look as a lawyer should” to other people in the courtroom. Although justice is what people on the jury truly want to see in most cases, I believe occasionally juries find against a party because they truly dislike that party’s attorney.
B. The Self-Righteous Attorney
Other lawyers and prosecutors are more concerned about always being right. After all they are the Government fighting for the good against criminals. I once had a prosecutor tell me during plea negotiations when I questioned whether I could simply rely on his word in a plea agreement that “I was just going to have to trust the United States of America” meaning I was just going to have to trust him. He considered himself the United States of America. (The last time I checked, both he and I were merely citizens of the United States). Some of these prosecutors believe all defendants and their attorneys are equally bad characters. They do not see shades of gray – only black and white. They will ignore critical evidence that defense counsel provides them that makes it clear the State’s case is not well-founded or lacks a good faith basis to proceed. Nothing will deter this prosecutor or opponent from their original position that your client is guilty as hell. I believe often times, these lawyers are fearful of being wrong – they can’t accept that they may have made a mistake for if they do their own self-esteem will be eroded. Ego gets in the way of the real truth. When the case becomes more about the lawyer than the facts, the truth can’t be told in a congruent fashion where the jury will believe the advocates story. Some of the best trial lawyers “make themselves invisible” in a sense – the facts and witnesses are paramount and are what the jury remembers, not the lawyers posturing, great oratory or dazzling “brilliance.” In my opinion, the verdict in O.J. Simpson’s case may have been different if the prosecutors’ concern for their clothes, hair styles and personal relationships hadn’t become a significant feature in the case.
C. The Need for Power Attorney
Then there are those lawyers who have a personal need for power. These people generally enjoy the power they have over your client and you. Bullying witnesses and defense lawyers gives them joy in and of itself. Being a prosecutor may give them a measure of self-esteem or self-worth. Sometimes for the first time in their lives it seems like people respect them. They had finally become somebody when they became prosecutors. People who seek power to make themselves feel good about who they are often feel very inadequate personally and professionally. The self-esteem they obtain as a result of their position isn’t healthy self-esteem. Perhaps that’s why when these prosecutors lose cases they sometimes take it so personally – they think that losing the case is their personal loss. They don’t consider the facts may have something to do with the outcome. As we defense attorneys know, there are certain facts in our cases that we cannot change and must accept. Sure there are things we can do to present the facts in a way most favorable for our client but we can’t change the facts. It is sometimes horribly difficult to emotionally deal with, but our losses in trials are no more our losses than a when a doctor loses a patient to cancer. The cancer was not the doctor’s cancer anymore than our client’s cases are not our cases. I try to remember, when I do my absolute best, I never lose. My cases are not about me. Once I begin viewing my cases as about my client and his or her situation, I become a better lawyer. I get stymied by fear when my clients’ cases become nothing more than extensions of my own ego.