At the risk of sounding schizophrenic or appearing to be suffering from multiple personalities, I must say that during my many years in the practice of law I was, at various times, an idealist, a realist, a skeptic, and a cynic.

In an ideal world, the practice of law and, in particular, trial work should be all about the search for the truth.   The rules of evidence and the give and take of examining and cross examining witnesses are designed to flush out the truth by putting the testimony and evidence to the test on the theory that the best way to find the truth is through our modern day version of trial by fire.  The search for the truth should be the goal of all of the attorneys and the court.   The trial should not be about winning or losing since, presumably, everyone wins if the truth wins out.

In reality, the practice of law and, particularly, litigation is all about winning.   Yes, the truth is still important, but in time you realize that truth is a relative term that is subject to interpretation.   Your truth may not be my truth and the jury often deals with just the perception of truth rather than some elusive absolute truth.   This is the case even in criminal prosecutions where a person’s life is at stake instead of just mere money.   How often have you heard prosecutors say that they intend to win a conviction or defense attorneys say that they will win an acquittal?   Where is the truth in all of this winning?

When I first interviewed a potential client, I started with the assumption that everything he was telling me was the truth; however, I would also need to have a healthy dose of skepticism before I completely bought into his version of events.   It is not just about whether or not he was lying since it is a fact that a person’s perception of events can be influenced by such things as emotions and bias.   Sometimes, your client honestly believes what he wants to believe even if it is not completely accurate.   It would be in my best interest and that of my client to, whenever possible, independently verify the key components of the case before any action was started.

Finally, when you encounter witnesses and even clients that have not been truthful or situations that seem to be unjust and far from the honest pursuit of the truth, you can easily become a cynic about the system and the basic goodness of people.   This may be an occupational hazard of being an attorney but you must not let it get the best of you.

When you are a litigator it seems that all of your emotions are also on trial.