The lessons they tried to hammer into us as 1L’s were incredibly revealing. They told us a lot about the professor doing the teaching, and even more about the practice. My favorite one: behind each of these cases you’re reading is a real-life human being with a problem that required a lawyer to solve.* I thought of that humanity when ConLaw turned to Korematsu, which made me even more pissed than my semester-long rage against the felony murder rule. I recognized in Property class that, without the Shelley family and the case that bore their name, my African-American neighbors wouldn’t have been able to buy the house next door in our very nice, yet historically segregated, neighborhood. When I was a 3L (an old 3L), UMKC Law hosted a symposium involving the actual litigants from famous education law cases, most notably the Tinker kids. I happened to be standing in a hotel lobby chatting with the former superintendent of the Hazelwood School District, who told me that he was looking forward to seeing the lead plaintiff, who he hadn’t spoken to since he’d handed her her diploma some twenty-five years earlier. Thirty seconds later, she walked into the same lobby, and that case became more tangible than anything else I read in law school.**
When we study Supreme Court opinions as students, it’s hard to humanize the dense text. They can’t be real, can they? Do we really care who owned the pelt of some wily quadriped that stumbles into somebody’s yard after a hunter shoots him, or who’s liable when a toddler is negligent?
Behind each of these cases are human beings, with real-life problems that require lawyers to solve.
That informs everything we do as lawyers, and in that light, makes it imperative that everything we do for a client has an eye toward making them whole. Or at least, as whole as a court can make them. So when a lawsuit is filed, we have to plan the route to actually getting a check into the client’s hands. An eye toward enforcement of a settlement or judgment is absolutely critical.
Proper planning is essential, especially in the transnational realm, where enforcement may have to be sought overseas, without the benefit of Full Faith & Credit. Even though the rules may say it’s perfectly fine to serve a defendant by mail, that small detail may be the only basis necessary for a foreign court to reject an enforcement action. Likewise the extraction of evidence from an offshore third-party without the consent of the courts in the third-party’s home country.
A trial lawyer may give the most brilliant oration any jury has heard since Clarence Darrow, but it won’t mean anything to the litigant until enforcement puts the award in her hands. That must be foremost in the lawyer’s mind from the initial consult.
It ain’t over ’til it’s over. And that’s when the client gets a check.
* Hat tip to my torts professor, Nancy Levit. She and my ConLaw professor, Doug Linder, authored two must-reads: The Happy Lawyer and The Good Lawyer.
** Yes, an awkward moment. The superintendent showed grace and class. His former student, not so much.