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Estrich: Sitting on the other side of the table

My week has been consumed, more than I'd like, on the other side of the columnist's table, with me as the subject. I love writing: I just hate being written about. Usually, it's not good news when you're the subject of a column.

In my case, the occasion is my representing a longtime friend who was sued for sexual harassment. Sexual harassment happens to be one of my "sweet spots," which is to say, one of the areas of law I know best. I write about it, teach about it, talk about it and even on occasion get involved in litigation. But I have never been involved on the defense side. Until now.

What do you do when a close friend needs your help? What do you do when initial newspaper accounts sound more like a smear campaign than anything else? What happened to the presumption of innocence? What happened to "innocent until proven guilty"? Is that not the bedrock of our system? The burden of proof always falls on the one making the charge.

What do you do when you come home to receive messages looking for you?

This is what I did: I said, "Here I am."

It goes without saying that a lawyer should not be judged by his clients. We do not sit in judgment of our clients. Many years ago, when I was a law student and didn't know better, I rejected a law review article by professor Charles Fried that analogized the role of the lawyer to a specially educated friend. Thankfully, the Yale Law Journal was smarter than I was. Fortunately, I have lived to have enough experience as a partner at Quinn Emanuel, practicing litigation for the last 10 years, to now know how right professor Fried was.

An individual who is under the microscope of a court case, whether civil or criminal, suddenly finds their world shrunken beyond belief. The people they talk to each day—customers, clients, tradespeople—everyone becomes off-limits.

"Don't talk to anyone about anything in any way related to this," is every lawyer's first instruction. "But that means I can't talk to anyone," is the usual response. "You can talk to me." And our clients do. For a brief, and sometimes not-so-brief, time in their lives we become part of their lives. They put their trust in us.

We are not there to judge them. We are not the truth-finders in the system. That role belongs to the judge, to the jury, to the commissioner or to the arbitrator. Our role is to stand by our clients, our friends, and make the best possible case for them.

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