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36 Litig. 64 (2009-2010)
My Son the Lawyer

handle is hein.Journals/laba36 and id is 136 raw text is: Literary
My Son
the Lawyer
by Peter Baird

Editor's Note: Our friend Peter Baird,
a senior editor of this journal, wrote
about everything in his life. His read-
ers knew him well. From his doctor
father, he learned the medical credo,
which he applied to lawyers, who also
have the opportunity to misuse power.
Here is Peter, transcending death, with
a final caution to us all.
Dear Tom:
On Saturday, October 19, 1996, you
will be sworn in as a member of the
State Bar of Arizona. You may wish to
remember that date in years to come. It
will be the anniversary of your entrance
into a great profession.
You have been blessed with intelli-
gence, diligence, education, and oppor-
tunity. And, you will have, I am sure,
an interesting and rewarding career in
the law.
Nobody may have told you this and,
if they have, it probably did not sink in
because it is something most of us have
forgotten or have never even stopped
to think about: Lawyers have power.
Consequently, you, as of Saturday, will
have power.
Please understand that your power
will be very real. It will be officially
vested in you by the state and federal
governments and it will be unofficially
accorded to you by society in general.
Indeed, the reason why lawyers are
so often scorned and made the butt
of hostile jokes is not that some of us
are bad or unethical because there are
bad and unethical people in all profes-
sions. Rather, it is because we have sig-
nificantly more power than most other
citizens and we sometimes abuse that
uncommon power.
Just think after you are sworn in
on Saturday, you could draft a com-
plaint; fill it with destructive blather;
name anybody or any institution as a
defendant; file it next Monday with the
court without anybody's consent; trig-
ger toxic publicity; and destroy a repu-
tation, marriage, business, savings, or
future that took a lifetime or many life-
times to build. You, single-handedly,
could do all that before the judicial
My Son the Lawyer was originally published
as A Lawyer's Letter to his Son in LITIGATION
(Summer, 1997).
Literary Trials is edited by Robert Aitken, an
Associate Editor of LITIGATION, who is a lawyer
in Palos Verdes Estates, California.
Winter 2010  6    4         Volume 36
LIIATO                                'ube

system could finally get around to deal-
ing with what you had filed and before
the media eventually would report the
outcome in a back-page squib hidden
away among ads for trusses and dating
Next Monday, you could also have a
subpoena issued from the court to any-
body within range. You could force
the person you subpoenaed to appear
at your convenience in your office or at
court where you could cross-examine
the daylights out of him or her with-
out their permission. It happens all the
Although your power could be
extreme if you became a criminal
prosecutor who indicts or a judge who
extinguishes life itself, the power I'm
talking about can be far more subtle
than that and it is not restricted to law-
yers or judges who handle litigation.
For example, transactional lawyers can
cut corners in their due diligence, with-
hold vital information, undermine pub-
lic markets, and fleece investors out of
their hard-earned savings. Moreover,
all lawyers, whether litigators or non-
litigators, hold the power that comes
from knowing clients' secrets, which,
if divulged, could create incalculable
Given all this new power that you
are about to have, I commend to you
a negative exhortation that new physi-
cians have been hearing for centuries
and that new lawyers should hear as
well. In Latin, the negative exhortation
is, Primum non nocere. Translated
into English, it is, First, do no harm!
For lawyers this commandment
does not mean that we should be timid
or wishy-washy or shrink from ethi-
cally and zealously representing our
clients just because there may be pain
or loss or controversy ahead. Rather, it
means that we should never abuse our
power or use it mindlessly or for purely
destructive purposes no matter what
the personal, financial, or professional
incentives might be.
If you make this commandment your
credo and if, before you take any pre-
cipitous legal step, you ask yourself
whether you are doing harm, then you
will care well for your clients. At the
same time, you will elevate your pro-
fession and ennoble yourself.
Congratulations, I am very proud of
Love, Dad L



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