I learned a new word the other day, and it reminded me of some attorneys I have had to deal with over the past several decades:
eristic, (from Greek eristikos, “fond of wrangling”), argumentation that makes successful disputation an end in itself rather than a means of approaching truth. Such argumentation reduces philosophical inquiry to a rhetorical exercise. Eristic argument is closely associated with the Sophists and was ridiculed by Plato in his dialogue Euthydemus. The term is often used more broadly to characterize arguments that rely on subtle but specious forms of reasoning.
There is a kind of lawyer that shows up on the other side of a case, and I feel instantly ill in the pit of my stomach. Because of that lawyer I know that the fees incurred by the parties will be exacerbated by a multiple of three or four times what is necessary. I know that no matter what solution I may suggest, it will be met with derision, argument, and opposition. This type of lawyer soon has a reputation in the community and in the courts. Such a lawyer will rely on an abrasive personality to wear down opposing attorneys and clients, without regard for costs to the clients. In some cases these attorneys are employed by clients who share the same personality type. In others, they curry their client's favor by representing emotions, rather than interests. These eristic attorneys see themselves as hired guns who will be rewarded by the number of shots fired and they are seldom interested in the long term consequences of such divisive behavior, to parties and their children.
In an effort to deal with such attorneys the State Bar promulgated the Rules of Civility and the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers issued the Bounds of Advocacy. Fortunately, such attorneys (I distinguish them from Counselors at Law) are in the minority. Most lawyers find them repugnant.It is because of such lawyersthat the State Bar spends ninety percent of the fees it collects in disciplinary proceedings against attorneys. The Bar has created its own internal system of Bench Officers, Prosecutors, and Defenders. They occupy thousands of square feet of office space in high-rise buildings in several cities around the state.
The system is layered and complex, and occasionally fails to serve those that support it. Some lawyers get sucked into the system when they make an effort to collect delinquent fees from former clients. When this happens, prudence and financial considerations must be weighed in making the choice to defend oneself endlessly, or to capitulate and compromise. Over twenty years ago, I was caught in such a situation. I was advised that I would likely win the case, and to that end spent tens of thousands of dollars in attorney's fees. The former client was, of course, represented by the Bar at no cost. After months with no end in sight, I realized that the better choice would be to accept private reproval, rather than to proceed with my defense. I had a young family to support and as a practical matter simply could not afford the time and money. I was also assured that Private Reproval was just that: a private matter between the Bar and the attorney. I was told that in order to research the matter, an interested party would need to travel downtown to the State Bar office, pay for parking in a public lot, and wait in line for a clerk to bring the file from some distant storage facility.
You see, this was before the Internet, computers, digital record keeping, and other technologies that have developed in the past twenty years. At present, if I am looked up on the State Bar site, the Private Reproval is listed. What was represented as "private" is then mindlessly repeated and published globally without explanation by third party online services unaffiliated with the State Bar. Understand that if I had committed a crime, I could have had it expunged. Not so with the State Bar. It is disheartening that my attempt to defend myself is now represented as a mark against me, but I will not allow it to sully my reputation. The fact is, I have volunteered hundreds of hours of Pro Bono service to the local Court. I have received dozens of Service Awards from Supervising Judges in my community. I have been voted a Super Lawyer by a jury of my peers the last six years in a row. I hold an AV rating with the Martindale Hubbell Law Register, which is the highest rating given. The 'A' signifies the highest level of legal ability, while the 'V' denotes 'very high' adherence to the professional standards of conduct, ethics, reliability and diligence. I served as a U.S. Naval Reserve Lieutenant Commander in the Jag Corp from 1956 to 1970 and as Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy's Judge Advocate General's Corp. I am a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and an arbitrator for the American Arbitration Association and the Los Angeles County Superior Court. As an Associate Professor of Law and an adjunct professor of Law and Ethics, I've taught at colleges and universities statewide and abroad. In September of 2010, the very same State Bar that twenty years ago gave me private reproval, honored me in a special celebration for Thirty Years of Service to the Board of Legal Specialization. Based on the true nature of my hard work, my unwavering dedication to legal ethics, and my diligent care and attention to the best interests of my clients, I believe that the State Bar will cure this inequity in time. The State Bar is not eristic.