“Give a Damn” Lawyering

If you count my time as a visa officer in the State Department, I have been immersed in immigration law for 22 and a half years now.  I was thinking about the lawyers I’ve met over that time, and they range between the Jedi Masters of immigration law to public menaces who should be disbarred retroactively.

Among the skilled immigration attorneys, I’ve noted a subtle distinction in the underlying qualities which in effect define them, to me, as “good attorneys”.  They boil down to two camps:

1- Those motivated by a sense of justice and

2- Those motivated by fear of malpractice/getting in trouble

I should note immediately that despite the obvious innuendo in the distinction I am drawing, legal competence does not appear to be limited to either of these camps of  “skilled immigration attorneys”.  Nor am I saying that those I view as “fear-based” give less of a “damn”; some of the very best attorneys I’ve met operate out of what I would call “fear-based” excellence…a desire for justice underwritten by a very internalized CYA perspective.  Conversely, some lesser skilled but still competent immigration attorneys are all the better for their clients because of their innate appetite for demanding fair results.  Both categories of skilled immigration attorneys are zealous advocates and get the job done, but the former, I submit, accomplish something greater. Robert Kennedy put it this way at a speech at Day of Affirmation at the University of Capetown:

 “Let no one be discouraged by the belief that there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills — against misery and ignorance, injustice and violence… Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation…It is from the numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man (or a woman) stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he (or she) sends a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” [Emphasis added.]

Ultimately, achieving the desired results for the client is the immediate objective, but it sure is cool to think that one’s actions might actually cause that ripple effect which could lead to a tsunami of justice.  I suppose that the Yodas of our profession, people like Ira Kurzban, have done precisely this through their Supreme Court victories…they’ve swept “down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

Besides this element of the greater good, there is the simple fact that fear-based decision making is rooted in anxiety and negative karma, no matter how brilliant the lawyering.  Getting indignant, spitfire, smoking-out-the-ears mad like Regina does now and then certainly seems more fun…and a bigger splash/ripple in the big Immigration Pond of Life.

I must say that it is nice to once again be in the company of kindred spirits. 

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