It’s a Good Time to be a Lawyer

I am pleased to host a guest blog today from Jason Giannetti, a 2003 graduate of Boston College Law School.

I have been an immigration attorney in Massachusetts for fifteen years and I’ve never been as proud to be one as I am now.

Let’s face it, in American popular opinion, lawyers are not exactly considered super heroes.  In fact, in films such as The Incredibles, lawyers are the anti-superhero.  It is due to them and their litigation and lobbying that the “supers” have to renounce their superpowers to be like all the rest of us.  In the 1993 film Philadelphia, though attorney Joe Miller (played by Denzel Washington) turns out to be the hero of the film, Andy, his client (played by Tom Hanks), asks, “Joe, what do you call a thousand lawyers chained together at the bottom of the ocean?”  The answer: “A good start.”

Be that as it may, America is one of the most litigious nations on the planet.  Perhaps Americans have low regard for lawyers because they are such “a necessary evil” in the eyes of most.  The only profession with lower regard is politician and, as we all know, many of those politicians are themselves lawyers.

However, I think that besides hemming in people’s exercise of strength (Incredibles) and creating bureaucratic and structural obstacles to swift justice (Philadelphia), the real source of America’s collective ire with attorneys is that they seem to disregard the truth: they are mercenary warriors, defending whatever position (right or wrong, truthful or not) that pays the bills.  The most egregious example of this to date is Rudy Giuliani’s statement, “Truth is not truth.”

This popular conception is difficult to overcome.  One reason for this is that, contrary to the European “Civil Law” tradition, the American system is designed to be adversarial, with the underlying assumption that through conflict truth will out.  This means that attorneys are required to be zealous advocates of their clients, even if their clients have done despicable deeds or represent deplorable positions.

Here I offer an anecdote from my own experience.  I was once retained to represent a client who was a defendant in a certain matter.  Going into the case I knew two things: 1) My client was innocent of the charges levied against her; 2) My client was not a nice or good person and she had done many bad things, just not any that corresponded to the charges in the case.  After the hearing in which I successfully defended her, she and I happened to run into the opposing attorney and his clients in the parking lot of the court.  This is never an enviable position to be in.  The frustrated and angry people bringing the case against my client started yelling at me saying, “You represent a lying low-life!” and other invectives.  To his credit, opposing counsel stepped in and rebuked them saying, “No.  He is not representing her.  He is representing the law and that it be upheld.”

Though, strictly speaking, I was representing my client, my brother at bar was correct insofar as I was doing so in order that the legal system uphold her rights.

Nevertheless, the fact is that for most of the decade and a half that I’ve been a lawyer, most of that time I would only admit to being so with caution, trepidation, and occasional self-deprecating humor, for people have tended to cast aspersions on my chosen profession.  But all that has changed in the last year and half; that is, in the era of Trump.

It is indisputable that Trump has led an assault on our democratic system, on our system of checks and balances, on the environment, and on the constitutional rights of immigrants, women, minorities, accused criminals, convicted criminals, and the press.

As a result we have seen not only throngs of people taking to the streets in protest, but all manner of organizations and non-profits leap into the fray to resist Trump’s policies, actions, and associates in court.  I am told that the number of law students interested in my field, immigration law, is rapidly increasing.  And, when making introductions, I am well aware of the profoundly different reaction I get to the statement, “I am an immigration attorney.”  Sometimes the person I am meeting responds as if meeting one of the legendary superheroes she’s heard about in legend face-to-face for the first time.  I won’t deny, this feels good.

I’ve always been proud of what I do and how I do it (well and ethically), but let’s face it, immigration law was never front page news.  Few knew much about immigration law other than the fact that it was an intractable, but politically polarizing policy issue that got bandied around Washington and seemed to be a pain in the butt to everyone.  Something that we’d all rather just deal with later.

However, now, we all are seeing that lawyers – from Robert Mueller, to the great attorneys at the ACLU representing immigrants’ rights, to the many attorneys general of so many states pushing back against Trump’s policies – are the standard bearers of the Rule of Law.

I recall seeing a poster years ago that read, “If you enjoy your freedoms, thank a veteran.”  That holds true when the enemy of freedom is a foreign state.  But when the American system is under siege from within, then lawyers become our first line of defense.  Without the lawyers to zealously advocate for the ideals and procedures articulated in the Constitution and Bill of Rights, those documents would have as much force and effect as the Soviet Union’s constitution, which, if you read it, enshrines many of the liberties we value in the US.  The difference is, in the former Soviet Union there was no meaningful way for lawyers to uphold its laws.

Fortuitously, in the US we still have some meaningful mechanisms to enforce the law.  Of course, as we all have come to realize to our horror, those mechanisms themselves are not automatic.  They cannot defend themselves and, over the course of many decades, they have become corrupted and degraded.  (Here I speak, among other things, of the disastrous Buckley v. Valeo case of 1976 that set the precedent that money=speech in political campaigns.)  Our system is far from perfect, but if it is to become a more perfect union, then fighting on the frontlines of that war will be lawyers.

It is not a good time to be a lawyer; it is a crucial time to be a good lawyer.

Jason Giannetti ’03 founded his own firm, which has been helping people find solutions to immigration questions and problems since 2003. Find him on the web at the Law Offices of Jason Giannetti, Esq.

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