Justice Might Also Be Deaf

Driving around the Central Valley of California, I got an insight.

I did not want an insight, I wanted an external conflict in my next book. I’m always in need of those, always in need of practical, believable stubborn problems to visit on my protagonists, problems that will drive them apart and bring them together, both. When I come up with one, you’ll hear about it because I’ll be happily reporting progress on some book or other.

The insight that befell me has to do with why the courtroom has become an increasingly difficult place to earn my living. Part of the trouble is that my jurisdiction is laboring under the same budget difficulties as the rest of the planet, so child welfare cases aren’t coming to court until things are dire, indeed.

Much like a health care system that doesn’t emphasize prevention, the challenge of making a meaningful difference for a family in trouble gets tougher, the longer that intervention is denied them. I’ve dealt with some really crappy cases this year, one after another, and that’s hard.

Everybody else involved—the social workers, judges, opposing counsel, therapists, psychiatrists and so forth—are all stressed by the same factor, and that’s hard too.

I think what’s most difficult, though, is that the court room is a place where everybody but the judge is allowed to not listen to each other. Each party is concerned only with putting their version of the facts before the judge, each lawyer wants only to make the most convincing closing argument—myself included, on a bad day.

If we listen to one another at all, it’s to better plan our rebuttals, objections, and cross examinations. We’re not listening to understand, we’re listening for strategic advantage.

This is a chancy way to solve complicated problems. It gives the judge not varying versions of the truth to work from, but varying self-interested perversions of the truth.

In a love story, part of the character arc for the protags is to learn to hear each other, despite all the temptations and self-interest to the contrary. The result is a happily ever after, for two reasons. First, only by hearing each other can the parties work together to safeguard the child, find the missing document, or otherwise defeat their problems.

The second reason a happily ever after results is that a person who’s intent on listening for understanding is a person who has admitted to a hope—a difficult, vulnerable thing, to hope—that a mutually agreeable solution exists. Somebody who listens is mature and secure enough to set their own agenda aside for at least a few minutes, to elevate a human connection above the need to win

Those are the people who earn happily ever afters. I haven’t found too many of them in courtrooms.

If you were going to write a romance about a lawyer, what problem would you give him or her to solve on the way to their HEA? To one person who comments, I’ll send a $25 Barnes and Noble gift card.




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23 comments on “Justice Might Also Be Deaf

  1. A single woman living in what she thought was a deserted and abandoned house with her 3 much younger half siblings. She takes in wash and other people’s children to pay for food and other necessities. However, the house is owned by an aristocrat who was out of the country and is now back and is determinded to see her and the children out on the street. Enter…. her savyor and would be “protector” the lawyer…. gorgeous, rich and very single.

  2. I think I would write one that would prologue with something that happened to the lawyer as a kid that would make them want to do something to advocate others in the same situation. Then move it to years later when they have compromised their principles and are suddenly faced with someone they had feelings for long ago who find themselves (or someone they must take care of) in a similar predicament, so that the lawyer realizes why they wanted to practice law in the first place. Just in general… I don’t know though. Can’t wait for October!

    • That is a fine premise. Practicing law is one of those things like parenting and buying a house. You can’t really know going in how it’s going to turn out, but it’s really had to decide after seven or eight years of education, passing a bar, and paying your dues, that you had your career ladder on the wrong building.

  3. … because Our Hero owes a debt of honor to her late brother, with whom he served on the Peninsula… though she doesn’t have a legal case, so he’ll have to resort to providing practical assistance, DESPITE the fact that he abhors noisy little children…
    Betty, do you know something about driving across California that I don’t?

  4. A lawyer is handed a case where a beautiful young lady is trying desperately to take care of the young child she had by a wealthy man who got her pregnant and left her to fin for herself and the baby. The lawyer tracks the father down and finds out that he has married a socialite who can’t have children-She wants him to get the baby for her. The lawyer not only has to help the mother fight for her baby but also has to deal with his feelings for the mother.

  5. I was just discussing with my son this week the possibility of him going to law school. The one thing he knew for sure is that he didn’t want to go into corporate law. I think the biggest dilemma of a lawyer would be who to serve. The better a lawyer is the greater the lure to work for his own advancement rather than for the people. Doctors have the same dilemma. Do they become concierge doctors or go among the poor? Ratchet up the choice with a rich woman (very attractive) on the one hand and a woman working with the poor (also attractive)on the other. What woman and what life does he choose to achieve his HEA? Done before, but always topical. Some real legal situations of the time period could be worked in to give it historical relevance.

    • Valerie, the practice of law can be very satisfying, and allows for the possibility of doing good while doing well. I know some attorney who thrive on it, and who would be miserable doing anything besides running their own solo general practice firms, which is a hard road.
      I enjoyed corporate law from one perspective–to a significant extent, you’re in the business of preventing problems, not trying to litigate a solution to them. I liked regular hours, I liked having benefits.
      I did not like working for Fortune 100 companies. Not at all.Didn’t like the commute when I had a small child, didn’t like the idea that I should be willing to uproot that child for the convenience of the guys (sic) at headquarters. Into private practice, I did go.

  6. The oldest sister trying desperately to raise her younger siblings in the country with a small farm and the Lord of the Mannor deciding to dam up the water supply. She can’t afford to fight him, but uses all of her savings to go to London to try to find a lawyer who will help her.

    • LaQuita, interesting premise. We hear all the time about the enclosures and clearances, but His Lordship was not above creating artificial lakes to enhance the beauty of his park. Though again, there’s no legal recourse. Water was considered the common nuisance (tell it to Southern California) and any landowner could do as he pleased to deal with it.

  7. How about something to the effect of “star crossed lovers” where he is the attorney for the other side of an inheritance case. He is representing the reprehensible older, richer relative who thinks everything Marquis the Grandpere left in his estate (not just the entailed portions). Said attorney falls desperately in love with the younger, female relation who is in sore need of the bequest as she’s shabbily genteel and needs to escape her place of employment before the Young Lord of the family has his way with her. But … she needs either a trust fund or employment because she’s raising a young cousin/sister. So, Our Heroine sees Our Hero as the devil incarnate, and he needs a way to fulfill his professional obligations while saving the damsel.

    • The best hero-dilemmas to me at the ones where he must choose between the competing demands of honor. This scenario is full of that tension–also practical difficulties. A barrister could not turn his back on a wealthy client without trashing his legal career.

      Has the possibilities, yes?

      • oh yes, indeed. And it could make the reader root for both characters in different ways, and I suspect, has some real possibilities for both rousing arguments and funny misunderstandings.

  8. Hmm, I am not much for coming up with ideas…that is why I am a reader not a writer. I think stories where the lawyer has to defend someone he does not believe in are always interesting….either the woman who he’ll finally fall in love with or his best friend.

  9. Or maybe the lady who is his best friend, whom he must defend, and who–in the course of preparing the case–he realizes he never really knew at all but is falling in love with? My, my. More possibilities.

  10. I hope it is not too late to contribute (leave me out for the gift card anyway, as I don’t think I would able to use it).

    Maybe it’s just possible for the regency era to have a clever lady having studied law – privately within years and years to read and/or being encouraged/tought by an older well educated and openminded lawyer-relative (papa or grandpa). Somehow -now being all alone without that papa- our lady finds herself having a law problem and defending herself HERSELF in court, a highly unusual if not impossible thing of course!
    Our also very clever hero made it all up to being a relatively young but respectable and passionate judge sitting in the courtroom being unable to not admire that special heroine but not being permitted by society rules to just let her have her way and correctly apply the law in her favour as it is not the thing at all what she is doing.
    To work out how he will be able to help her will be the authors task to do now…
    And if becoming a judge in that time means having approached an age beyond procreative capacity then let the hero be a newspaper writer (an unwilling or just working aristocratic heir; by knowing Hazlit we know they existed…) sitting in the courtroom and subtly and secretely help her by gathering information for her as he can’t help himself trying to unravel the mystery and also finding it unfair that she stands there all alone. She only discovers that he is the one helping her in courtroom, as he is forced to secretely give her some information right there but fails to remain undercover just for her.
    Can you maybe work that up somehow???