My practice, one way or another, is all about compliance . . . or noncompliance. This is as true of the litigation side as it is of the regulatory counseling side. I typically face the question of which of those terms best describes the situation a client brings to me. It’s always been true that the practice goes beyond the mere facts or law at hand. The real world also includes the client’s culture and values, politics, and economics. These aspects, and others in varying proportions, have usually controlled process and outcome.
Today I am witnessing what appears to be an unprecedented unraveling of these foundations. I see it in the words and actions of regulators, consultants, other attorneys, judges, and clients. Obviously this imposes itself on the lawyer’s task of figuring out what the problem is, on the one hand, and, on the other, what the best advice for a client might be, specifically how (and when) to address the problem. The path forward these days seems to be influenced, often significantly, by two related things: widespread mistrust of government/science/etc., and a social media rife with rumors, innuendo, assumptions, and the like. So I find myself asking: of what value is advice derived from traditional avenues of carefully established fact, well-analyzed law, professional judgment, and years of relationship building?
I find the answer in the first week at my first real law job clerking for a federal district court judge. On the third day of that job, I stood behind my desk, looked out the window, and thought, with despairing certainty: I don’t have the tools to do this job! I will never make it as a law clerk! I will never make it as a lawyer! Why did I ever go to law school? Time passed. Things cleared up. I learned how to begin to apply what I knew to what I had to do. And, while the view may be new, the path forward is the same as ever. Now, as I think about the potential unraveling of fundamental policies and foundations upon which we have rested for a generation, I’m looking out of that same window, in a sense.