Over the weekend I shared a story on Twitter about an experience I had early in my career with an opposing attorney.
Here's the Tweet thread.
For easier reading, here's the text of the story:
People frequently crap on lawyers (often for good reason) so here's my story--one I've never shared before: I was in my first couple years of practice and had taken on a pro bono civil rights case. I was super nervous but excited to do it. I had a big hearing coming up.
I had filed a 60-page brief, including hundreds of pages of exhibits prior to this hearing; the argument over this particular motion was expected to take a whole afternoon because it was so fact-intensive and substantive.
I was terrified in the weeks leading up to this because this was going to be my first big hearing in my career. It was in federal court. And I very much did not want to be the reason this poor client of mine didn't get justice for a thing that happened to him.
I prepared for *weeks* leading up to this, including drafting a 4-page outline of my arguments with tons of quotes and citations to the record and case law I knew I would be asked about by this federal judge.
The afternoon of the hearing I walked into the courtroom, honestly feeling like I could faint from nerves. I said hello to the State's attorney and then sat down at my table to wait for the judge to enter. Then I reached down into my bag to pull out my outline.
To my absolute *horror* when I looked in the bag I saw that it was completely empty. Not a scrap of paper. No pen. Nothing. I had placed everything I thought I would need on a desk intending to then put it in my bag just before leaving for court and I completely forgot to do it.
I didn't even have a phone on me. I mistakenly thought we couldn't have those in the courtroom (we could). In my panic, and without thinking, I turned to the State's attorney sitting over at the other table and whispered "my bag is empty. I forgot my notes."
My face must have been completely white. I literally started shaking. I can only imagine how pathetic I must have looked.
Well this State attorney, whom I did not know well, immediately retrieved a copy of my brief from his bag, ran over to my table, handed me a notepad and pen, sat down, and started frantically dictating notes to me from my own brief.
I scribbled while he said stuff like "Ok, next heading is [this] . . . and I would write down this quote . . . oh this is a great argument for you. I would make a note of this, too." He was flipping through pages and highlighting stuff I had written. My handwriting was a mess.
Sorry for the comparison but it was honestly like that scene from Miss Congeniality where all the contestants realize Sandra Bullock doesn't know how to put on makeup so they all flock to her to help right before the Miss United States Pageant starts.
We did this for about five minutes, until I had a full page of handwritten notes that roughly summarized my briefing. The judge came in and the hearing began. We argued, all afternoon, as scheduled. As is usually the case, I hardly looked at the notes anyway. I would have been fine without them. I had practiced the argument so much that it was all in my head. Nonetheless, I will never forget someone who was supposed to be my adversary sprinting to my table to help me in my panic when he absolutely didn't have to.
I won the hearing. (I ultimately lost the case, though, a couple of years later). I don't know what would have happened if that guy hadn't helped me. I think I would have been so anxious I would have been completely incoherent. Fortunately I'll never have to know. In my experience, although there are some bad eggs, attorneys tend, by and large, to be more like that guy and less like the other kind.
I've thought so much about that experience over the years. So many times within my career or personal life if I find myself tempted to be selfish or petty in some way, I've suddenly thought of that dude rushing over to my table to help me beat him. And I did--except I really don't feel like either of us lost that day.
I think I'm going to spend the rest of my life struggling to be that guy.
Thems my thoughts tonight. Now please enjoy truly an outrageously funny story this week on Strangerville:
This time in Strangerville, Meg and Eli are married to men who make them feel like bad, selfish people. And a woman gets much more than she bargained for when she agrees to give a woman a ride to a service project.
Rideshare, by Karissa Lemme (music by Ayla Nereo)
Production by Eli McCann & Meg Walter
~It Just Gets Stranger