The 3000 Foot View

It was the contrast between a morning of field work – a few hours listening to the drone of the tractor and watching the newly mown grass be transformed into bales of hay – and an afternoon of flying – an hour or so spent just drilling a hole in the sky, shamelessly taking advantage of the offer of the use of a new plane for just the cost of gas, enjoying the view from 3000 feet – that brought to mind the oddities of perspective.

For the farmer, harvest can be a time of shrinking perspectives. Once conditions are right, one’s vision narrows to singular focus on the 10 feet of field immediately in front of you through to the implement 6 feet behind you. All else fades away as the process of transforming plant to product encompasses you and your headspace narrows down to this field, these furrows, and this task.

For the pilot, harvest can be a time of expanding perspectives. The CAVU skies and cooler temperatures promise smooth flights and simple, visual navigation. Once the ground is left behind, one’s vision widens. The chart on one’s lap becomes writ large on the earth below – the cardinal directions drawn out by the section lines made visible by the farm fields and fence lines below. Your perspective widens to encompass the entire horizon as you perform an intricate dance with the physics of flight.

The morning had been spent driving a tractor by sight, by ear, and by feel – making adjustments by the sound of the grass passing into the baler, by the bump and lurch of the tractor, and by the relationship between windrow and tire – a system almost as accurate as the tractor’s rudimentary instruments. Unlike my morning’s workhorse, my stead for the afternoon was a marvel of technology – instruments capable of mapping my location and orientation with pinpoint accuracy, a synthetic vision system displaying a 3D representation of the terrain flown over, and an autopilot powerful enough to fly from take-off to landing. Yet, that day, I flew by sight, by ear, and by feel – by the sound of the air across the wings, the bump and lurch of the plane and by the relationship between the plane and the horizon.

Both tasks could have been performed with a different perspective – I could have put the hay up by watching the wider world – maintaining a steady speed on the speedometer and steering straight lines from field edge to field edge and I could have flown with my head nestled deep in the plane’s cockpit with my attention fixedly attuned to the wealth of digital information – but to do so would be to defeat some of the task’s expectations, to lose a little of the art of the task.

God does not play dice with the universe; He plays an ineffable game of his own devising, which might be compared, from the perspective of any of the other players, to being involved in an obscure and complex version of poker in a pitch dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a dealer who won’t tell you the rules, and who smiles all the time. Terry Pratchett

For the client, a case can be a time of  non-existant perspective. They  find themselves in that pitch dark room, forced into an obscure game, and focused so narrowly they cannot a future or a past. This lack of perspective neither good nor bad, it just is.

For lawyers, a case can be a time of infinite perspective. The boundless possibilities of a new matter quickly have a lawyer’s perspective traversing the vast scale space –  from the minutiae of statutory interpretation to the wide expanses of legal strategy – that is part and parcel of the lawyer’s realm.

In isolation, neither perspective is very efficient – the client’s narrow focus leads down the road to positional, non-strategic thinking and often leads to frustration on the part of the lawyer; while the lawyer’s perspective tends to be overwhelming to the client. The key is to set the proper expectations – explicit expectations help to widen the client’s expectations and to focus the lawyers. The cool thing is that by establishing a proper perspective, things become more efficient and (here’s the real bonus) it becomes easier for the client to see the lawyer’s value.