From: Winnipeg, MB
Like any small town lawyer, I had the incredibly gratifying experiences of helping people in desperate or important situations. There are some cases I look back on with tremendous satisfaction.
Like most of the sentiments expressed here, though, I found the law "a jealous mistress" that required too much time, too much attention, and too much adversarial stuff (I love debating; I love exchanging ideas; I love fighting for "the right," but I grew to detest ill will). But there was one case that, for me, broke the camel's back....
Back around 2002, I had burned out on practicing law after about 16 years of general practice in a great town. I wanted to address my attitude, so I decided to look for more opportunities to do pro bono work (I was already doing a fair bit). Lo and behold, a nice, elderly grandma who worked at a restaurant owned by friends had an important legal matter and couldn't afford a lawyer. Her 20-something daughter, who was a mess (drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, no job, no life) had given grandma custody of a baby girl. The grandma was doing her best to raise the child when, out of the blue, daughter decides she wants her daughter back. Grandma knows its not for the best and decides to contest the case.
So, I agree to represent grandma at no cost. Here's a case I can sink my teeth into - try to work with the biological mom or the court to keep that child in a safe environment. Bio mom refuses to be reasonable and so we go to court to decide if she can get back the child she had voluntarily given to grandma. The law is against us, but the facts are with us; as every lawyer knows, that can be an acceptable situation.
Long story short, I do my job at the hearing. I do it well. Bio mom takes the stand. I cross examine her vigorously, eliciting testimony that proves she is unfit in every way to have custody of her child. Clearly, that infant girl is better left in the custody of grandma.
....and, all the while, I know that the last thing that horrible excuse for a young mother needs is some stranger humiliating her (in a good cause, of course) in front of an entire courtroom. What she needs is good people to surround her and do their best to help her. I was doing the worst thing I could possibly be doing. And that severed the last shred of desire I had to practice law.
I was doing right. Most lawyers strive to do what's right. Some lawyers really like the profession. But at that point I was done.
Professor Morris Massey [I forget which big US university he was at] had a thesis that nobody permanently changes their behaviour unless they have a "significant emotional event". For an addict, this usually occurs when they hit "rock bottom", and decide that their life really is more important than their addiction. [Those who do not make this decision are doomed anyway.] Your attack on the addicted mother may have been the push she needed to realize that if she wanted to have a life with her child, she needed to first get clear of the addictions and other lifestyle habits. Either way, adults are accountable for what they do with their lives and you just called her on the failure to be a true mother. The situation called for it and you must put aside your empathy for the child's and the mother's sake.
I had similar feelings when laying off people who were in jobs they hated [and did poorly] but stayed because they "needed the work". In most cases they found work they enjoyed much better, often at better pay. And my workplace became better for everyone too!
No matter how bad a situation is, you can always make it worse. - Chris Hadfield : An Astronaut's Guide To Life On Earth