Tuesday, October 11, 2011

When I No Longer Feel the Butterflies

If I ever stop feeling those butterflies when I'm about to go into a jury trial, make an opening statement to a jury, a closing argument, or an argument to an appellate court, I'll know for sure the time to quit practicing law has come.  I mean it.  To me, any attorney that can go into a jury trial or to oral argument on appeal not feeling them either does not know what he's doing or simply doesn't care anymore, ... and I really don't know which is worse.

But there is something magical about those butterflies.  If you have prepared well -and I usually overprepare- the moment you get into your opening statement to that jury, or that oral argument to the appellate judges, or the closing arguments they just seem to go away, at least for that stage. Oh, they'll be back, that's for sure.  But you start realizing what they're all about.  They are a reminder that you want to do well, that you have really serious business to take care of, that a human being's liberty may depend not only on the facts but on how well you perform.  Above all, they're a reminder that you care about what you do, and you care about that person you are representing, yes, your client, the one who has all his hopes and prayers placed on you.

Every trial I go to is the same, and they're all different. The same in the sense that my wife always tells me (several times as it gets later and later into the night), "Tom, you've been preparing for this forever, and you just can't let go. You need to come to sleep or you'll look lousy in front of that jury tomorrow morning. Don't worry, I'll wake you up really early."  She simply doesn't understand that I will not get any sleep unless I feel I'm ready or too exhausted to continue getting readier. Sooner or later, usually later, I follow her suggestion.  The same routine is played at several different stages.  "Dear, I need to get this just right. I have to argue that Rule 29 motion. It's really important."  Or, "I prefer to be tired than not ready. Tired I can perform; not ready, no way!"  They're also different in that some trials you go into feeling there is a real fighting chance, whereas other times you know that the deck is really stacked against you. You know it, yes, but you still give it all your best. Even criminal trials where the deck is stacked against you as defense attorney have a funny way of playing out once you're into it, and you just have to be ready to make your moves.  Simply, you have to always be prepared.

And don't worry, the butterflies will be back even when you don't have to do much of anything, ... such as when you're standing there waiting for a verdict to be announced. You look at those jurors as they march into the courtroom, try to read them and hope they look at you or your client with a sympathetic eye. If they don't look, I usually worry a lot. But that's not always justified. I've had jurors look at me and convict, and others look away or down and acquit.  But when even one of them looks at you and smiles gently just that teeny little bit, as if to try to calm you, to reassure you, ... oh boy!

In another post I'll write about the time I hugged my client before they even announced the verdict. That was funny!  Well, the Judge didn't think so, ... but that's why he became a judge and I a criminal defense attorney.