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  • Writer's pictureBrian Foley

Good Lawyers don't spike the football.

With some hesitancy and acknowledgment of my own failures, I offer this advice to other lawyers after being overcome by a sense of respect for the rule of law.

Don't spike the football.

Almost every legal matter is an emotional and difficult matter. Lawyers can be competitive and the problems and differences between real people can seem like a game. As a lawyer your great victory is another's agonizing defeat. While our system of law is adversarial, it is not a game to be won. It is a legal matter that should be tried within the law, with respect for the law, and with respect for your legal adversary.

As a prosecutor I have shaken the hand of a person I'd just convicted, offered sentiments of hope for someone sentenced to significant prison time, and given sincere appreciation of the legal skill of opposing counsel after being defeated.

As a defense counsel I now have a closer view to what I previously imagined was the difficulty imposed by our system.

There is no room for grandstanding, gloating, or plain rubbing it in, after a legal victory. People often say the only winners of a lawsuit are the lawyers. This has the ring of truth to it because legal battles seldom right wrongs or make someone truly whole again. Often times the best we can do is simply bring an end to a dispute. Opposing sides almost never agree that the right result was reached. But they can agree that the matter is concluded.

This conclusion should not be a celebration. We settle things in court precisely because we know that a cycle of continual revenge carried on outside of the judicial process leads to chaos and unrest. Spiking the football ignores this purpose of law and gives fuel to the fires of chaos that would otherwise reign. It serves to undermine the finality of the judicial process by reducing it to a competition.

If lawyers can ever be said to be admirable, it is in their ability to uphold and respect the process of law that allows human freedom and prosperity. Winning for your client happens when they receive a favorable verdict. Winning for a lawyer happens when the rule of law is strengthened through the honorable and zealous practice of law by both sides.

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