Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

My friend Lisa Sommer Devlin represented one of these executed men, and shared a piece of bacon
from his last meal with him. The whole story is interesting, but it's hers, so I won't tell it here. Instead I will note that for all its frustrations our glamour profession sometimes offers us opportunities to confront our humanity that can be unique if we are open to them. I can't say if these opportunities make the practice of law worth it, but they are there. As I reflected on the shared piece of bacon this morning I was reminded of the times I've sat in on criminal proceedings and considered how extremely precarious our lives are, and how we are mostly oblivious to this. In my daily practice I am frequently reminded of the Flintcraft Parable, from The Maltese Falcon, a terse little diversion that isn't in the 1941movie, but may be my favorite part of the novel.
There are a number of different ways to understand Flintcraft. There is, first of all the question of why Spade tells the story to O’Shaughnessy in the first place; and of course there is the question of what the take-away is supposed to be. Is Spade telling us that life is uncertain? That people are chiefly creatures of habit who live inauthentically? ("I don’t think he even knew he had settled back naturally in the same groove he had jumped out of in Tacoma. But that’s the part of it I always liked. He adjusted himself to beams falling, and then no more of them fell, and he adjusted himself to them not falling.”) I think about the things I've done that turned out one way and could have turned out differently just as easily; I think about friends who, by virtue of their race, or age, or sex ended up having their parents pick them up at the police station instead of spending the night in a holding cell, or being arraigned, or entering a guilty plea to something they didn't understand, and how their paths would have been different from where they ended up. We are all, always, a lot closer to sharing a piece of bacon with our lawyer-- maybe the last soul on the planet who recognizes our fundamental humanity than we ever care to think about. Every day is a close call, and if we pretend it isn't we are denying ourselves a view of our own humanity.

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