This is not going to be another one of those columns about whether Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg should retire from the Supreme Court–she should.
So why doesn’t she? My guess is that it’s a combination of the facts that she likes the job and it makes her feel special. Better in her mind to have a Republican name her successor than to resign now. I can’t imagine how special being a U.S. Supreme Court Justice makes someone feel. Just practicing law can make you feel special.
Practicing law can stroke the ego if you aren’t careful. A run of good jury verdicts, and it’s hard to not feel like a genius. Win some tough trials, resolve some tough cases, and it’s easy to start thinking we are doing something that others can’t do.
Sadly, we are mistaken. Lawyers (and judges) are imminently replaceable. I used to not get that. It hit me watching another lawyer argue a legal issue at a trial that I was not involved in.
I would have been arguing the motion differently. But better? Who’s to say? The lawyer was getting it done. I doubt that the judge would have ruled differently no matter who was arguing the motion.
There is more than one way to skin a cat in the practice of law. Lawyers work cases up differently and present them differently in court. But they are limited by the facts in a particular case.
I like to work on cases where I can at least believe that I can make a difference. Without getting into specifics, there are some types of cases that when competently litigated, the lawyer makes little difference in the outcome.
Sure a lawyer can screw up any case. But if you have a variety of a simple case that boils down to a swearing match, how much influence on a jury do the lawyers really have?
A lot of lawyers don’t believe this. I haven’t even heard the issue discussed much by other lawyers. When I figured it out, it changed my view of the profession and my place in it.
I used to think I would practice law for 50 years. I now have a target number in my head that is much lower than 50 years. As of now, I’ve got 20 years in and counting.
I may miss my work when I retire. I probably will, in some ways. But someone will be getting that work done without me.
Justice Ginsburg is replaceable too. But like many lawyers, I bet she doesn’t feel that way.