Professor Purr Monster: Legal Lessons I Learned From My Cat

I’m not one to spend all day explaining to people how intuitive my cats are. But at the same time, I think there are a few lessons my brood has taught me over the years. I don’t just mean that they will pee on my bed in retribution for me going away for a long weekend. I mean some practical legal tips that I would like to share.

It’s Not Possible to Read Minds

Sometimes, when my cat sits looking blankly across the room, I presume that she’s rolling the mystery of existence over in her quiet mind.  More likely, she’s reminiscing about the twenty minutes she just spent licking her hindquarters and wondering if she should give it another go.  I just don’t know.  There is no way to know the depths or contents of her thoughts.

I have discovered that it is equally  impossible to know the minds of the people in my professional life.  You’ll never know whether the judge hammered your client because he kept calling her “sir” or if it was that she took offense to the word “HATE” tattooed upon his hand.  You won’t know whether your opponents would have offered more money after you accepted the settlement.  And, most of the time, you won’t know if your client is lying to you.  The important thing is to let it go.  Your cat might be thinking about birds or imagining how delicious your fingers would taste.  Your client’s neighbor may have slipped Oxycodone into his soda, or he may have stolen it from her and snorted it off of her laminate countertops, as she claims.  You may never know, so it’s best to keep your mind open to the unexpected scenario.

You Can Learn to Tolerate the Smell

The smell of cat pee is strong and terrible.  It’s strongly terrible.  Anyone living with an indoor cat knows that you have to scoop or change the litter on a regular basis.  Unless you’ve trained your cat to use the toilet or have no olfactory functions, you’ve learned to tolerate the smell long enough to dispose of the toxic substances on a regular basis.  My cat is decidedly old fashioned and when I suggested potty training, she killed my favorite plant.  Therefore, I have learned to tolerate the smell enough to be able to scoop the litter.  This is a useful skill in our profession.

Lawyers do a lot of whispering.  We’re often thrown together in the back of courtrooms, performing one of our chief functions: waiting.  As we wait, we take the opportunity to discuss important matters with opposing counsel or unimportant matters with anyone who cares to listen.  In order to avoid the wrath of courtroom security, we whisper.  This is when you learn that lawyers have bad breath.  Whether it is attributable to coffee, garlic or stomach ulcers, it is the unpleasant reality that we must deal with.  If you are one of the chosen ones who get to speak in low tones with jail inmates, then you’ve been inducted into the upper echelons of tolerance.  It is widely believed that they serve poop for lunch in most jails.  The unpleasantness may seem terribly daunting at first, but don’t give up.  You can learn to tolerate the smell.

 It’s Often the Little Things That Make an Impact

My cat needs exactly three things to be happy: petting, playing and portions of wet cat food.  There are other things that she needs to be healthy and alive but she doesn’t purr when I apply her flea medication.  As long as I supply those three things, I’m confident that she is satisfied with my services as her lord and master.  Would she enjoy it if I arranged a weekly mouse hunt, with sacrificial targets purchased from the local pet store?  Sure.  But that’s just not practicable or humane.

Some cases work out the same way.  There are battles that you just can’t win and your client doesn’t expect you to.  They hired you in order to mitigate the damages.  You won’t be able to keep Johnny out of jail after he burned his boss’s house down, but you can haggle with the insurance company over whether he has to pay restitution for 200 silk pocket squares, lost to the flames.  Such clients are satisfied if you do 3 things:  listen to them, sympathize with their past bad decisions (no matter how absurd), and let them see you give your opponent one truly piercing glare.  If the little things are all that you’re left with, it’s really important that you embrace them heartily.

Sometimes Love Hurts

If you love a cat, as I do, then you have been scratched.  They have twenty razor-sharp claws that are attached to four corners of their bodies.  Playing “chase this feather” with a cat is equivalent to juggling with pruning knives.  It’s inevitable that you’re going to shed a little blood.  There’s no need to overreact, though.  The scratches always heal with time.

If you represent clients and zealously advocate on their behalf, you will eventually care too much.  It is not love that you feel, but a sentiment within the same family of emotions.  Your heart gets involved in your client’s cause.  Sometimes this leads to significant pain.  You just weren’t able to convince they judge that she should have custody of her kids.  It was an unattainable goal to keep him out of jail.  It is perilous to care a great deal for your clients because they wouldn’t have hired you if they weren’t already in a bad situation.  They’re walking around with twenty knife points surrounding them and you’re going to get stabbed a few times if you get too close.  But these gashes will heal, too.  It’s the cost of doing business when it’s a business worth doing.  You just have to know when and how to treat your wounds.  It may just be a marketing ploy thought up by Neosporin, but they say that cat scratch fever is a real thing.

[Image: cute cat teacher via shutterstock]

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