This week I found myself glued to the television watching an old Richard Gere movie: Primal Fear. In it, Richard Gere, a slick, hotshot lawyer takes on the seemingly unwinnable case of young alter boy accused of murdering an eminent catholic priest. To do so, Martin Vail must go against the formidable Assistant State Attorney, Janet Venable.
As I was drawn into the scenes of outrageous court-room antics, witness testimonies, and long winded arguments and battles with the judge, I couldn’t help but think about the juxtaposition between the public’s perception of what it is to be a lawyer and the realities that exist for the present practice of law. I was reminded of stories my mentor Spencer Aronfeld told me when I first began as his Law Clerk. About how as he was considering becoming a lawyer, he was inspired by the lifestyles portrayed of lawyers in LA Law and Miami Vice – the preeminent depictions during his time as a young lawyer. For me, that inspiration always came from A Few Good Men. Whenever I encountered difficult times in Law School, I soon found myself slipping in the well-worn DVD and fast forwarding to the infamous duel between Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson. Please forgive the profanities:
Jessep (Jack Nicholson): You want answers?
Kaffee (Tom Cruise): I think I’m entitled to them.
Jessep: You want answers?
Kaffee: I want the truth!
Jessep: You can’t handle the truth! Son, we live in a world that has walls. And those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinberg? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know: that Santiago’s death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives…You don’t want the truth. Because deep down, in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall. You need me on that wall.
We use words like honor, code, loyalty…we use these words as the backbone to a life spent defending something. You use ’em as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide, then questions the manner in which I provide it! I’d rather you just said thank you and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon and stand a post. Either way, I don’t give a damn what you think you’re entitled to!
Kaffee: Did you order the code red?
Jessep: (quietly) I did the job you sent me to do.
Kaffee: Did you order the code red?
Jessep: You’re goddamn right I did!!
That always did it for me; gave me the inspiration I needed to read those last twenty pages or prepare my opening statement for an upcoming Mock Trial Competition.
Almost two years later, I find myself confronting truths of my own; truths about the realities of the practice of law. Truths lacking long-winded arguments with judges and duels with Marine Corporals the likes of which I have only seen on television. Yet I still find motivation in those words. It is a motivation to endure my moments of doubt born from the ever-present desire to eventually find my place in the courtroom.
A great television character once said, “There’s no fate but what we make for ourselves.” The life depicted of the young lawyer on television and in movies is often not the reality of the real-life practice of law; and certainly not the reality I have found as a young lawyer. But I still believe that reality – that fate – it exists. And so, the dream of the young lawyer lives on. The dream to one day find myself in the courtroom, in the throes of a heated direct examination with the star witness, demanding one thing and one thing only – the truth.