“The practice of counselor at law is more than a mere trade or business, and those who engage in it are the guardians of ideals and traditions to which it is right that they should from time to time dedicate themselves anew.”
Hugh Patterson McMillan, Scottish lawyer, Ethics of Advocacy, 1916
Recently, I was sitting in my office and happened to glance up at my law license which reads “Attorney and Counselor at Law”. I paused for a minute and realized that I had never given much thought to the “Counselor” aspect of my profession.
After doing some research, I realized that this is an important part of our profession. The public views attorneys as warriors. “Hired guns”. Sometimes, that is true. Law school teaches us to be that way, and courtroom fights are glorified on television, movies, in the press, and often sensationalized to the point that what is being portrayed in those mediums is beyond reality.
The role of attorney as counselor begins when a client comes to the office to discuss what their legal problem is and to rely on the attorney to give them a solution to the problem. An experienced attorney and counselor is a good listener and gathers the necessary information to help the client achieve their goals. This may or may not involve litigation. It could involve asking your spouse to attend counseling. If your spouse is willing, it has been my experience that sometimes families stay together with the help of an experienced counselor. In any event, this initial consultation is an opportunity for you to tell your story to an independent professional who actually cares about your legal problem and your situation. The attorney’s expertise and insight are critical to helping you, the client, make an informed decision. After hearing your story, the attorney can discuss options and develop a litigation strategy. It is critical that you are honest in your consultation with your attorney so he or she can develop a plan for you.
Even if litigation occurs, the attorney’s role as counselor continues in the form of guiding you through the complex legal process of a divorce, discussing strategy, settlement options, and other emotional issues that may arise.
It is not an overstatement to say that in this way, as counselors, we use our skill in an effort to heal–not just the immediate problem presented to us, but the person as well. In a very real sense, society benefits as well from this counselor approach. And we should not underestimate the professional fulfillment we derive from our privilege to serve in this capacity.