Saturday, June 15, 2013

Trust No One

There's no trust,
No faith, no honesty in men; all perjured,
All forsworn, all naught, all dissemblers.

“Nurse,” Romeo and Juliet, III.2
One of my mantras when teaching legal writing is “trust no one.” I pepper the semester with bone-chilling tales of real-life missteps that befell some law student or lawyer who trusted WestLaw’s KeyCite function to tell them all they needed to know about the state of the law or trusted someone else’s explanation of what happened in a case that they were relying on as a key authority or trusted themselves to catch all of their own typos when finishing a draft just before an electronic filing deadline. Therefore, I was delighted to get an email from a former student this week sharing his own near-horror story. He was saved from being unfairly maligned as incompetent by a voice shouting in his inner ear, “Hold on a minute, buddy. Don’t trust that other lawyer! Before you press ‘Send,’ go check the status of the proposed rule you were asked to analyze. . . .”  He did so, and, as he put it, “SURE ENOUGH, the ‘proposal’” he had been provided was “only a draft and did not resemble the most recent version” that was to be the subject of a pending meeting. What if he had proceeded on trust?! Would the supervising lawyer who had trusted him to do the analysis have taken full responsibility for giving him an outdated rule to evaluate? I trust not.
Shakespeare certainly does his bit to caution us against trusting others. In Measure for Measure, for instance, all hell breaks loose when the Duke trusts his most seemingly upright deputy, Angelo, to run things while the Duke (pretends) to skip town. In Othello, trusting Iago’s reports about Desdemona prompts Othello to murder an innocent and seal his own doom. Perhaps the “Fool” in King Lear (which is all about misplaced trust) says it best: “He's mad that trusts in the tameness of a wolf, a horse's health, a boy's love, or a whore's oath.”
The point is: a healthy bit of terror is good for every lawyer. If you make a habit of relentless skepticism, you wouldn’t necessarily evade every mine waiting to explode underfoot; but at least vigilance and a certain amount of second-guessing will mean you will only have yourself to blame in the end—and will not be tempted to indulge the grievous sin of blaming someone else, usually someone below you in a hierarchy, after it turns out that your blind trust is really what caused you to trip in the minefield.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting post.

    Did you intend the paradoxical title (a variation of, "All Lawyers are liars," said the lawyer.)?