Circles of Life: How Lawyers Bridge the Gap Between Clients and the Courtroom

By: Steven Hendryx, Fall 2018 HeLP Legal Services Clinic Intern

Recently in the HeLP Clinic, our class was asked to do an exercise that required some reflection on the relationship between the legal system, lawyers, and clients. It was not terribly complicated—we were charged with creating a Venn diagram that showed the goals of each of those groups, as well as how their goals were similar or different. Though it was not complex, the exercise did make an impression on me that I think is worth discussing.

As the class finished the Venn diagrams and looked at the results of our work, we noticed several things. The intersection of the lawyer’s circle and the client’s circle showed that those groups shared many of the same goals: we both want the best outcome for the client, we both want the case/issue to be resolved efficiently, and we both want zealous, client-focused advocacy. As well, the lawyer’s circle and the legal system’s circle intersected with common goals: we want an effective legal system, we want the system to be open to everyone, and we want the system to be just. However, to almost a student, there were no shared goals between the legal system and the clients themselves.

This makes sense when you think about it. Clients are focused on winning. They want their case to be resolved in their favor. On the other hand, the legal system inherently does not concern itself with individual client’s goals. Instead, it is an institution focused on administering a justice system to the most people in the most efficient way that it can muster. These interests and goals are diametrically opposed by their nature.
I do not intend this blog post to be an indictment of our legal system, however. I am not writing to make a statement about the distance or accessibility of the justice system. Instead, I took this exercise to represent the importance of lawyers in society.
In my view, lawyers are the bridge between individual clients and the legal system. It is the job of lawyers to take the goals of clients and move them through their circle in the Venn diagram into the shared space with the legal system. Clients are not placed in a position to know the intricate mechanisms of the law, but it is what we are trained to do as lawyers.

The HeLP clinic exemplifies this dynamic in my opinion. The clients that come to us often have no concept of what their legal problem is. They just know that the government has reduced their disability benefits, or that their child’s asthma is getting worse because of mold in their apartment. Their goal is not to file the correct paperwork, or to write a letter to the landlord to prove that they have taken the proper steps and complied with their lease. Their goal is to solve their problem, and it is our job as lawyers to take those goals and do everything in our power to use the legal system to achieve them.

Though this may seem like common sense, it is a fact that can become lost in the day-to-day grind of doing legal work. Participating in the HeLP clinic offers the chance to reflect upon a lawyer’s role in this process, which is a luxury that is generally not available for lawyers. With this mindset, lawyers will be able to more effectively represent their clients, and blend the goals of them with those of the legal system.