Seeking Quality in the Practice of Law
by DOUGLAS O. LINDER and NANCY LEVIT (Oxford University Press, 2013)

The Good Lawyer

About The Good Lawyer


Introductory Note

The Good Lawyer is Courageous

The Good Lawyer is Empathetic

The Good Lawyer Has a Passion for Justice

The Good Lawyer Values Others in the Legal Community

The Good Lawyer Uses Both Intuition and Deliberative Thinking

The Good Lawyer Thinks realistically About the Future

The Good Lawyer Has Ample Willpower

The Good Lawyer is Persuasive

Seeking Quality


Random Facts

The Happy Lawyer
Excerpt from Chapter 7:
The Good Lawyer Serves the True Interests of Clients

            Estate planning is a practice area where the potential difference between the asserted interest of the client and the true interest of the client can sometimes be obvious. Consider the story told by my father-in-law, Orville, who practices estate and tax planning in rural Iowa.

            Hilda announced, in a voice that held no hint of doubt, “I want Harold taken out of my will. I’d like you to rewrite my will so the farm goes only to Nancy and Glen, not Harold.” Orville had done legal work for Hilda for over thirty years, and this was small-town Iowa where secrets didn’t last long, so he didn’t need to ask the reason for the change, but he did anyway. “It’s Donna,” Hilda said. “I just can’t stand that woman he married. She shows me no respect whatsoever. The thought of even a penny of my money going to that woman makes me sick.” “Hilda,” Orville asked, “what will Harold feel like when he finds out you’ve left him out of your will?” “Well,” Hilda replied, “he won’t like it, of course, but he made the decision to marry that arrogant woman.” “How about your other kids, Nancy and Glen? Will they think it is fair when their brother gets nothing and they each get half? Do they want their brother punished because of Donna?” “Well, maybe not, but they’re not the ones that have had the run-ins that I have.” “Let’s talk about our overall goal. Do you think our goal should be fairness? Is that what we should be shooting for? Or is it more important to tell Harold how upset you are?” “Well, I guess fairness is more important—but I do want to send a message.” “You know, Hilda, when someone thinks they haven’t been treated fair, they often think about suing. Now, I’m not sure Harold would do that, but you are in your late 80s and sometimes questions get raised. When there’s a suit, the will becomes a public document that anyone can see, and lots of money ends up going to lawyers. All of your kids could pay a price, in time, stress, and money.” “I see that; it could make a mess of things. But I just have to—maybe I’m not as good a person as I should be—but I just have to get back at Donna for what she’s done to me.” Orville paused before proposing a solution to Hilda’s problem. “How about this, just as an idea: Let’s leave the rest of the will the way it is for now and we add a provision telling Harold how disappointed you’ve been with the way Donna’s treated you. You could write whatever you want, anything you’re comfortable with, and we can put it right in the will.” Hilda thought for a minute before she answered, “That seems good to me. I’ll write something up.”

            Let’s consider what happened during this brief exchange in Orville’s office. Rather than immediately agreeing to Hilda’s request to remove Harold from the will, Orville first sought to determine the reasons for his client’s request. He then asked her to consider the effects that her decision would have on others—to imagine the future she was creating. Then, once he thought he understood her true interests, Orville suggested an inventive course of action that left Hilda satisfied and prevented harm to others. In proceeding as he did, Orville sent Hilda out of his office happy and most likely averted a lot of family divisiveness and disappointment in the future, but the skills he used to do so are not those generally taught in law schools. The typical Trusts and Estates course explicates rules relating to intestate succession or revocation of wills, but rarely will a professor take the time to discuss when it might be a good idea to encourage a client to write for a will a provision that has no legal effect whatsoever....