No. You’re not the next American Idol.

Objective advice, whether it’s from a lawyer, a mechanic, or someone telling you that you cannot carry a tune in a bucket, is as difficult to give as it is to receive.


Every year on American Idol, there is a contestant who earnestly auditions for the judges.  This Sally Songstress usually appears early in the season, before the talent has been narrowed down.  After her performance, the judges tell her–with varying degrees of tact–that she has no talent and is not going to Hollywood after all.

“Sorry, dog.  It’s a ‘no’.”

Sally stands and stares in disbelief at the judges. Then the waterworks start. Or the dumfounded blinking. Or the profanity that reflects her assurance that the judges do not, in fact, know what they are talking about.  It’s a shallow pastime to watch a train wreck of human emotion.  But it makes for riveting television.

Did she really think she could sing? How could someone become so self-deluded? What made Sally so sure that she had talent while she was strangling a cat in front of a national audience? Perhaps arrogance, perhaps an inner ear infection.  But most likely she had been told she had talent. Since she was young, family and friends chose flattery over honesty. I mean, who thought Sally would end up singing in front of a national audience?  Tell her what she wants to hear.

Flattery may get you on television, but not in a good way.

Tell her what makes her feel good.  Faced with a lifetime of expectations, Sally simply expected the judges to echo what everyone else had told her all of her life: she had talent and would go far as a singer.

The truth is she did not.  And she will not.

Legal disputes often produce the same personality, in the form of litigants who believe that their cases are flawless, that there is no risk of losing, and that justice will surely see everything from their point of view.  If Sally has a personal injury dispute or landlord/tenant matter or a divorce, she will walk into her lawyer’s office and explain her side of the case, ready for the attorney smile and say, “Wow! You have a great case. You cannot possibly lose! [You’re going to Hollywood!]” Instead, the attorney is too often the first and only voice of doubt, and perhaps the first to offer more than just sympathy and a friendly shoulder to Sally.  The reactions are often Idol-like: disbelief, shock, and even resentment can follow.

But everybody at work said I would win.

But my cousin had a case just like this and he won.

But I thought that the law said . . .

Expectations are tricky things.  It’s human nature to hear what we want to hear.  I tend to believe the mechanic who only says my car needs a tune up and not the one who insists it needs a transmission overhaul.  But that’s not an objective way to determine which mechanic is correct.

Despite what is portrayed in the movies and on television, legal matters are almost always decided on the law and the facts. (To the extent other factors may occasionally be involved, it’s unlikely these variables can ever successfully be predicted or manipulated to any party’s advantage.)  Objective advice, whether it’s from a lawyer, a mechanic, or someone telling you that you cannot carry a tune in a bucket, is as difficult to give as it is to receive.  But there is value in it.  Before an attorney is of any use as an advocate for a client, he must be objective with the client.  Attorneys who skip this step and proceed immediately to advocacy have clients who are not well-served.

Author: T. Andrew Perkins

I have practiced law in Rochester since 2001. My practice is varied: appellate law; general civil litigation; real estate; family law; and probate and estate planning. I am an active member in the Peru Grace Brethren Church. I have also served on the boards of various community organizations, including: Fulton County Community Foundation, Fulton County Leadership Academy, Fulton County United Way, Rochester Kiwanis Club, Fulton County Council on Aging, and the Fulton County Chamber of Commerce. You can reach my office from the Links page.

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