From the Otago Daily Times
The death of the leading criminal defence lawyer Greg King was a wake-up call over the pressures facing some defence lawyers, Prof Mark Henaghan said yesterday.
Prof Henaghan, who is dean of the University of Otago Law Faculty, was commenting yesterday at an outdoor memorial service on campus, attended by about 50 people, including several senior Dunedin lawyers.
At the early evening service honouring the memory of Mr King, an Otago law graduate, a kowhai tree was planted near the Water of Leith to mark the occasion.
The Society of University of Otago Law Students said it had organised the event to honour one of the most esteemed graduates of both the faculty and the university.
The coroner found in October that Mr King’s death in Wellington in November 2012 had been self-inflicted. And a note left by him described being “totally burnt out” after taking on so many criminal defence cases.
I read that Greg King took his own life after suffering what the coroner’s report called a “massive breakdown”, describing his own state in his suicide note as “exhausted, unwell, disillusioned, depressed and haunted”.
It really saddens me to think of one of our country’s brightest lawyers coming under such strain and pressure, and seeing no way out. Terribly sad.
My heart goes out to Greg King’s family.
The real ‘costs’ of litigation
Having myself been involved in pursuing a civil litigation in the past (for copyright infringement) I know it can be stressful (and expensive) for the parties involved … but I had not seen it as such for the lawyers.
With all due respect to lawyers (and no reflection on Greg King) there’s something about the way the system works, particularly in civil litigation, that sometimes sees legal professionals emerge as the only ‘winners’ in a dispute — their clients milked of whatever fees can be wrung out of them, the parties exhausted and disillusioned.
By a drip-drip-drip, lawyers bill their clients. Fair enough. Sometimes the process is necessary and even educational. I learnt the word ‘lacuna’ from one of my lawyers, when he was describing why the (relatively) quick-and-easy legal strategy we’d initially decided on might possibly not work … putting us on a more expensive path. Rats!
Clearly, there’s far less at stake in a civil dispute than there is in a murder case of the sort Greg King specialised in, or even, say, in a ‘white-collar crime’ case (e.g. fraud, embezzlement, criminal deceit, conspiracy, using a document to deceive, etc.) … those cases the Financial Markets Authority, the Serious Fraud Office, and the Commerce Commission have been pursuing with such élan lately in their ‘clean up’ efforts.
There must be enormous stress in a court prosecution, where the defendant doesn’t have the option available in most civil disputes: reaching a settlement agreement to shut things down.
But, as the plagiarists in our case learned, once legal proceedings are filed, a formerly private dispute can become a public affair. All kinds of material becomes ‘discoverable’ (an expensive, time-consuming business in itself), and things can get … messy.
I remember our lawyers explaining to us that once the parties are said to have ‘engaged’ in the court process, everyone’s options are reduced. My own observation was that things tended to get a momentum of their own and the heat (and the bills) went up.
Add into the mix any intransigence, aggression or bullying, as in our copyright case, and things can descend from bad to worse fairly quickly.
These are wise words among wise words … “As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.”
Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be critical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful. Strive to be happy.
© Max Ehrmann 1927