Lawyer or liar?

A few weeks ago, my husband and I were watching an NBC show called "Parenthood". The show chronicles the life and times of a family with four siblings, who now have children of their own. One of the siblings, Julia, is a successful corporate attorney. Her husband Joel stays at home and cares for their daughter, Sydney. One afternoon, Sydney breaks a vase and when Julia asks her what happened, Sydney lies. Julia tells her not to be a liar and Sydney says, "but that's what you are." Her mother corrects her and says, "No honey, I am a lawyer, not a liar," carefully stressing each syllable. Sydney replies, "Harmony's mom says they are same thing" and walks away.

As the scene came to a close, my husband slowly turned his head to look for my reaction. I grimaced and said nothing. Later that night I was still thinking about this comment. I realized that this was a television show and the comment of a four or five year old, but it still bothered me. I realized that many professions have stereotypes, but this one bothered me.

This made me think about why so many people seem to believe this stereotype. Certainly the opposing side in most of my divorce cases would suggest that my clients are liars and as their representative, if I repeat their claims, I am a liar too. The more I consider this, I realize that I am not a liar, but rather a zealous advocate for my clients. I work hard to ferret out the truth, as best I can. I make every attempt not to get mired down in the details of who said what to whom during each argument between spouses. Being an advocate usually does not require this analysis. I find I better serve my clients by helping them find a way to calmly communicate with each other.

We need to go out into the community at large, or even just our community at home and make sure that we are not thought of as liars. My daughter knows that I am a lawyer. She often asks me what I do at work. I always tell her that I help people. Perhaps I should tell her that I am a zealous advocate for my clients. She's almost three. I think that I will stick to basics and keep telling her the truth -- that my job is to help people.

Tamara Garwood practices in the area of family law and is also a mediator in domestic relations matters. A past Washtenaw County Bar Association Director at Large and chairperson of the WCBA's Friend of the Court Committee, she is a member of the State Bar of Michigan's Family Law Section and Women Lawyers Association of Michigan. Ms. Garwood is an author of a chapter in ICLE's Michigan Family Law.

Published: Fri, Dec 31, 2010


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