By Christine Connolly LeBlanc • February 04, 2015•Writers in Residence
Mardi Gras! Fasching!! Carnevale!!! Yes, it is that time of year again. Time for revelry, parades, dances, and dressing in costume. If you have ever stood among the families catching beads in the Garden District of New Orleans, Louisiana; or been crushed in a throng of Germans watching Fasching floats; or watched the regally dressed people with masks walk by at Carnevale in Venice, Italy – you know the true meaning of Carnival!
I recently visited Venice, Italy with my family. It wasn’t the first time I have visited and hope it won’t be my last. No matter how many times you go, Venice draws you in. She is mysterious. You want to keep walking…just one more bridge to cross, one tiny street to walk down, and another marbled church to visit. But you contently sit at a café and watch others scurry by behind the steam rising from your cup. You ride the water taxi with wind biting your face and watch her dirty water turn from gray to a dazzling blue.
And the masks. Walk into a traditional store making masks from hand is truly walking into a kaleidoscope of color. Carefully, tenderly the mask maker layers the papier-mâché. They need to allow time for the layers to dry. Then the mask can be painted, embellished, and made unique.
While standing in the store among the beautiful masks, I was immobilized. Immobilized with delight. I wanted to try all the masks on! Which one should I start with? The one shaped with cat eyes and pointy ears? The Columbina that would cover only my eyes embellished with crystals and feathers? The plague doctor mask with its long pointy beak? The bauta that covers the whole face gilded in gold? Or the jester with its jingly bells? I tried them all. That is when I understood why I – dare I say we – are attracted to the law.
Venetians in the past wore masks to hide their identities. Whether used to cast an anonymous vote or allowing those of various social classes to operate on equal ground. Not only does the idea of wearing a mask flirt with notions of equality, it quite simply affords the wearer to see the world through a different set of eyes. Try on a different identity. Relate to someone or something in a new and unique way.
To truly and effectively practice law we have to try on the mask before us. The mask of our client. While I was an attorney representing wounded warriors fighting for their disability rights I needed to try on their masks. What does it mean to be a Soldier and lose an eye, to not be able to see where you once saw, to have your world tilted due to an improvised explosive device? How do you function when you are a woman warrior, mother of five, driven to excel, only to find out your life expectancy is short due to cancer? Where do you go when you no longer can be a Soldier and do what you love as you are missing a limb? These are the questions I had to ask myself, the questions my clients demanded to be answered. As the old song is sung, walk a mile in my shoes. Or really in our case, try on the mask. See what your client sees. Feel what your client feels. Understand what your client needs.
But be cautious. Much like the Venetians had to create laws so citizens would not wear masks every day of the year, you cannot always wear the mask of our client. You need to wear the mask to understand your client, but carefully remove the mask to provide excellent legal counsel. You cannot get mired down in wearing the mask and blind yourself to where you need to lead your client. Where you need to fight zealously.
To be a good lawyer you need to know when to wear the mask and when to take it off. It is only then than you can truly, honestly, effectively represent your client.
So carefully, gingerly, put on the mask. See how it feels, look at the world through a new set of eyes. Now you understand. Now you are ready. Take off the mask, lace up your gloves, and go fight for your client.