When I was in law school, I had a professor who encouraged his students to “always wear the white hat” whether in front of the bench or the jury or when dealing with opposing parties. The phrase has stuck with me over the years. Essentially, his point was that while advocating there is an importance to being the hero or the “good guy.” While the verbiage is somewhat dated, the symbolism of the phrase has been used often in modern times. The hero in westerns is often the one who wore the white hat. Olivia Pope in the television series “Scandal” was initially shown as the character who wore the white hat as she was the initial reflection of good conscience in the show. Hackers who are hired to breach security by companies to find weaknesses and develop fixes are called “white hats.”
Throughout my time in the bar, I have kept this phrase in the back of my head when navigating through difficult cases and I often encourage my clients to do the same. The idea is to always remember that as you move through handling matters for your clients that there is something to be said for knowing when to let small slights slide, when to extend yet another professional courtesy, and when to bite your tongue on a responsive insult to opposing counsel even though they are insulting you. When you “wear the white hat,” you remind yourself of the great responsibilities that come with this job and with being in the courtroom. You put the practice of law and the reputation of the profession before yourself and your ego.
There is a reason that CLEs in ethics are required each year in our profession. Beyond the basic tenets to protect confidential information, secure client funds, and to avoid conflicts of interest, there is a compelling need to remind each other that even as we engage in “zealous advocacy,” we must continue to play the part of the good guy. In a society where division and vitriol run rampant, there is no greater skill than navigating through advocacy while wearing the white hat. I encourage all of us to pick up our hats, scrub off any dingy spots, and put on our white hats as we move forward. Move through your career trying to maintain the gleam.
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About this article: This article was originally published in the Communiqué, the official publication of the Clark County Bar Association, (June/July 2022). See https://clarkcountybar.org/member-benefits/communique-2022/communique-june-july-2022/.
About the author
Nedda Ghandi, Esq. is a partner with Ghandi Deeter Blackham Law Office. Nedda’s primary practice area involves bankruptcy for both individual and business debtors. She also litigates complex family law cases that often involve family-owned businesses or complicated financial battles. Nedda serves as the president of the Clark County Bar Association through December 2022.
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