Borenstein's Law

21 June, 2005

Around the time of my birthday in February, my dad came up and visited me in Portland. We had a great couple of days doing things in the city and spending time together. We don't always get along famously, but this time we did. One of the things we did while he was up here was start him a blog.

He's always written. Fiction, movie reviews, essays, whatever is on his mind. He's got one almost finished novel, one completely finished one, and enough insight squirelled away in old Word Perfect documents to make a Borenstein Reader not the worst buy in the college bookstore. He's been a defense attorney for more than thiry years from the Manson case through countless death penalty defenses and a successful argument in front of the California supreme court. One of the things he writes about is the law.

But he's never really had a public venue for any of it, so he wanted a blog. I helped him set one up on Blogger with the name he had all picked out for it: Borenstein's Law. Then months passed with no posts. I subscribed to the feed, but it stayed empty, until today.

I am not my dad's most generous critic -- he gives me his fiction to read and it starts fights -- but I have to say that this first essay is terrific. It takes on one of the central questions raised by his substantial experience in the criminal justice system, as he puts it, "Why our clients act the way they do?" Another way to say that would be: What is the origin of crime? A tough, if not outright intransigent topic that he takes on with clarity, insight, and, hard as it is for me to believe, wit.

So what's his answer to the question? I'll let him tell it:

It boils down to what I have called Borenstein's Law: our clients are more likely than others to act in ways contrary to their best interests. That is how they have become our clients and that is why they often lose their cases, and come to a bitter end.

And in reality, most of us have acted impulsively against our best interests at one time or another. Mostly, we get away with it. Drink and drive, unsafe sex, cheat on exams. Adolescence would not be worthy of the name without these "experiments." An athlete endangers career and the millions that he dreamed of and worked for all his life in order to get high with the homies. A man risks love, family, security for a fling. He might even lose the presidency over it.

Which brings us to a deeper question: why don't our clients learn from their bad experiences with the law? Why aren't they deterred by terrible consequences they know or should know are to come from misbehavior?

He proceeds to wrestle vigorously with these questions, but you the value of his perspective is plain: it lets you see people who commit even the most heinous crimes as human. Not with condescending pity or righteous anger, but with mundane compassion.

I don't know how many readers he'll end up with, but as for me, I'm hooked.

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