When someone asks me why I am a trial attorney, I am still at a loss for words. It’s like trying to explain the ocean to someone who believes sharks are messy eaters. Or the love you have for your dog to someone who has been afraid of dogs all their lives. Why bother? I have plenty of practical experience justifying myself to myself. Why justify myself to somebody else?
What I always forget is the bottomless fear most people have of speaking in public, persuading strangers to do anything, let alone speaking truth to power to somebody in a black robe sitting up on a bench purposely set higher than them.
The better question is: When did you decide to be a trial attorney? This is a question I can answer as I still hear the split-second it was signaled to me by the sound of a cheap door buzzer bleating twice in an otherwise quiet Orange County courtroom. Buzz, buzz, your calling is calling.
It was late June afternoon in a second-floor courtroom in Santa Ana when the foreman announced a verdict after the jury had deliberated for a total of twenty-three seconds and rung the buzzer twice to signal their decision. The sound of the second buzzer was like a snap of white-hot electric shock to my exhausted, empty, dozing mind with all the cold synapses firing as one, the dead circuits of my lower brain buzzing from the back of my head down my neck and spine. A verdict that quick could only mean we had won. And everybody knew it. Even our dour judge with plastered black hair was looking down at his lap, smiling to himself up on the bench.
Plaintiff’s attorney was a cocky little Irishman named Kennedy with a round, barrel chest, tiny waist and startling, bright red ties which offset his wiry, ginger hair. He had been strutting around the courtroom for six days like a bantamweight fighter in the tiny ring of the courtroom well, impatiently waiting for the biggest purse of his career. Nothing was going to keep him – and his client – from a big payday because nothing could go wrong.
Kennedy had caught the defense flat-footed at the start of the trial and he knew it. With every minute, every witness, every piece of evidence and every word he had been closing in for the kill with months of preparation and every fact at his fingertips for one straight week. The jury was in his thrall, mesmerized by his delivery and rocking at his quick wit at all the right times. They were now his personal laugh track, primed and ready to chuckle at each knowing wisecrack he made. (continued)
Law Offices of Kevin M. Smith • 2330 Marinship Way, Suite 230, Sausalito, California 94965 • Telephone (415) 234-7191 / Facsimile (415) 234-7162