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Parenting as a matter of law.

The chief benefit of legal training has nothing to do with the practice of law; it equips grown-ups to raise children.

I concede that legal training is not a prerequisite to parenthood, and some perfectly suitable parents have been nonlawyers, but these are exceptions. Good lawyers make good parents just as readily as good fences make good neighbors, and for much the same reason.

Lawyers are trained to view people with guarded suspicion. We assume that every person, given half a chance, will cheat, steal, and bear false witness to gain an advantage. Armed with that attitude, we help to arrange harmonious human relationships. When we breed, we apply that same healthy cynicism to our domestic charges.

Lay parents go around spouting such drivel as "Out of the mouths of babes comes truth." Sure it does: Babes cannot speak. Once they learn to form sentences, however, children quickly become masters of deceit.

"De minimis non curat lex," lawyers say, which translates as: "The little ones don't care about truth." My judgments are not based on supposition or prejudice, but on empirical evidence.

For the past several years, I've shared my residence with three small female children, currently age seven, six, and two. To safeguard their privacy, I'll refer to them here as Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia (collectively, the Menendez Sisters).

The Perfect Lie

All children lie, but these girls have perfected the practice to the level of high art. I can remember that look of radiant pride when Goneril, the eldest, discovered the power to tell a whopper and escape unscathed. I imagine that same look appeared on the faces of the scientists at Los Alamos the day they tested the first atomic bomb. Goneril seemed to understand that she had been able to master a great and mystic force.

For some time after her discovery, Goneril enjoyed a monopoly among her siblings over this power. She put it to good use, blaming Regan for everything that went wrong in the house. But she blamed Regan so often and so blatantly that Regan, an astute observer, figured out what Goneril was doing and developed her own capacity for prevarication.

A period of stalemate followed during which Goneril and Regan blamed each other for every household misfortune, with neither child gaining any advantage from their reciprocal salvos. Then Cordelia entered the picture. Goneril and Regan immediately negotiated a detente. They promised to stop lying about each other (a promise they sometimes keep) and agreed to blame everything on Cordelia. Cordelia, now two years old, was grateful for her older sisters' attention.

Case Studies

Using Professor Christopher Langdell's case method helps to illustrate how lawyers make superior parents.

In the following case, the child, C, wants dessert. There is one parent, P, at home. The other parent is out at some sort of club meeting or something. P is willing to comply, but only if C has finished her dinner.

P: Did you finish your supper?

C: Oh yes, I've finished all my meat and potatoes.

The lay parent is quite satisfied with this response and gives C a bowl of ice cream. But the parent with legal training is not so easily gulled; he quickly recognizes the response as an example of the "negative pregnant."

By declaring only that she had finished her meat and potatoes, C has admitted that she has not touched her vegetables. Moreover, since the vegetables are not in plain view, the lawyer/parent reasonably suspects that C has hidden away the vegetables in the crumpled napkin on her lap. A quick search (legally justifiable in these circumstances) vindicates the lawyer/parent's suspicions.

Use of the negative pregnant in questions is widespread even among famous, older children:

P: Have you ever used drugs?

C: I have never in my lifetime broken the laws of my country.

The lawyer/parent immediately deduces that the child has smoked dope in England.

In the following case involving the Menendez Sisters, P has served all three children dessert. The other parent is out playing tennis with a friend. P leaves the kitchen because someone is at the door selling raffle tickets. When P returns, the two older children are calmly eating their ice cream, while the youngest child is screaming inconsolably. Her bowl is completely empty.

P (to Goneril): Did you take away Cordelia's ice cream and eat it?

GONERIL: Oh no, Father.

The lay parent accepts this seemingly sincere denial and fetches another serving for Cordelia. But the legally trained parent recognizes Goneril's response as an example of the "conjunctive denial." Goneril has denied that she has both taken away the ice cream and eaten it. The shrewd parent recognizes that this means Goneril has committed one of the acts of misconduct (probably stolen the dessert), and that Regan is probably the one gorging on the stolen goods (presumably, Regan has agreed to repay Goneril later).

Beyond Original Intent

Lawyer/parents understand that longrange interests sometimes justify flexibility in domestic law.

In the following case again involving the Menendez Sisters, dinner is done and dessert is on the table. The house rule, well known by each daughter, is one cupcake per child. Each has had her quota, and each, of course, wants another. Here is how each one tries--and fares:

CORDELIA: Daddy, me want a cupcake.

P: Have you already had one?

CORDELIA: Yeth, Daddy, me want cupcake.

In this case, the attorney/parent will be wise enough to deviate from the house rule and permit a second cupcake to reward the child for her honesty and to reinforce candor.

Here is how the six year old tries:

REGAN: Dad, can I have a cupcake?

P: Have you already had one?

REGAN (quickly wiping frosting off her chin): No.

P: Well, o.k. But, remember, you should say, "May I have a cupcake."

The attorney/parent, unlike the lay parent, appreciates the need for constant improvement of the child's oral advocacy skills. Now, here's the eldest child:

GONERIL: Father, I had an argument with my teacher this morning. She was telling the class that Oliver Wendell Holmes was America's greatest lawyer, but I stood up and told her you were.

P: What rubbish. Can I offer you another cupcake?

The Politics of the Home

Lawyer/parents with experience in drafting commercial agreements are more sophisticated than lay parents in understanding intrafamily transactions. For example, lay parents tend to get irritated when their efforts to placate one child with a toy, dessert, or allowance are met with cries of "Me too!" from the others.

Lawyer/parents, in contrast, recognize that children living in the same residence commonly enter into joint ventures that include "Most Favored Nation" clauses. Under these provisions, a parent who offers better terms and conditions to one child must promptly offer the same to the others.

The strongest evidence of the superiority of lawyers as parents emerges from our national political experience. Our leaders are our civic parents, charged with the constitutional responsibility of ensuring our domestic tranquility. To whom do we entrust this duty? Time after time, we turn to attorneys, from such father figures as Richard Nixon to modern, yuppie couples like the Clintons.

Why do we trust lawyers with this role? Because every voter was once a child. We remember what we were like as children--deceitful, fawning, untrustworthy. We recognize the need for leaders who are as schooled in identifying chicanery as we were in engaging in it. No coincidence lies in our bestowing upon our leaders such schoolyard sobriquets as "Tricky Dick" and "Slick Willy."

Some might consider offensive the analogy of voters to children. But astute observers, like the readers of this publication, will understand that the author intends the analogy as a sincere tribute to the sagacity and innocence of the populace. Now can I have a cupcake?
COPYRIGHT 1994 American Association for Justice
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1994, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Siskind, Lawrence J.
Date:Sep 1, 1994
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