What are the three rules of life?
March 9, 2012
I like rules that come bunched in threes.
So this Friday as we consider writing tips about matters legal, I thought I would share the three rules of a lawyer’s life.
First, a word about the list’s origin.
Many years ago, I had some business with an old attorney who was nearing the end of his career. On this particular day, he was in a philosophical mood. After we finished our work, he told me a story about a conversation he had with another lawyer, a legendary prosecutor from Central Texas.
According to my acquaintance, the prosecutor shared with him the three things he had learned about life as a result of practicing law for more than twenty-five years.
So this is my version of a second-hand list that may have been edited along the way.
Rule One: Blood is thicker than water.
A lawyer doesn’t have to handle very many cases before he understands this one. Family connections are dynamite. And they can cut both ways. If the relationship is good, no one need think he can dilute it with the niceties of the law. If there is bad blood between family members, no one will ever change it. Don’t even try.
Rule Two: Sin ain’t sin if good people do it
This is my favorite of the three. There are laws written in books and laws written in our hearts. Sometimes these match, sometimes the written law gives way.
In East Texas, where I live, people go to church on Sunday morning and say ‘amen’ when the preacher rants against gambling. Then they get in their cars and drive to Shreveport to spend a few hours “at the boats.” For those of you who don’t understand the expression “at the boats,” let me explain. Texas doesn’t have casino gambling. But in Louisiana, they have casinos built on waterways, floating crap games. So if a person says he “went to the boats” last night, he means he spent the evening gambling.
Sin ain’t sin if good people do it. You get the point.
Now for the grand finale.
Rule Three: It Ain’t No Crime to Shoot a Sonofabitch
Once I was the first assistant DA in a rural Texas county. The first assistant is the guy who runs the grand jury. The grand jury is a group of citizens that makes the decision whether to indict a person for criminal activity.
I had a case where a local resident started to pull up in his driveway at his home in the country when he saw a guy loading stuff out of his house into a pickup. It was a burglary in progress. The resident didn’t call the cops. He waited on the side of the road, and when the burglar came out of the driveway, he opened up on him with a deer rifle and killed him.
I presented that case to the members of the grand jury. They deliberated about three minutes and returned a “no bill.” In other words, they didn’t indict the homeowner. The reason for their decision was simple: Rule Three.
So, when you are writing fiction about legal matters, remember the three rules. They will come in handy.