Border Collies and Trial Lawyering
It’s been awhile since I’ve written about my dogs, Odysseus and Penelope, but I swear they have been giving me tutorials in the law, teaching me about loyalty and zealous advocacy, the two most important qualities any criminal defense lawyer must have. I’ve learned more about lawyering from my dogs than I have from any book.
They are wonderful companions, and true friends. They turn nine this month. They are both part of the same litter, a frolicking and rambunctious pac of six border collies born on or about one Thanksgiving Day in Pennsylvania.
We settled on border collies because of their intelligence. We did not know that they have more energy than a classroom of manic pre-schoolers. These dogs need work, and plenty of it. They have settled on me as their work. I am much loved, observed, herded, and heeded, from the moment they first see me in the morning, until last light of day.
They are wild with excitement when I put on shoes and socks. They stare holes through me, somedays nipping at the socks as I try to put them on, hurrying me along so that we can get to the day’s activity. When I return home in the evening, they meet me at the door, in a predictable frenzy, squirming, barking, and then sighing, as I greet them. When a meal ends, Penny is at my side, begging for lap time. Ody flops over on his back, tongue drooping from a contented lip, tummy presented for petting.
When my foot his the first stair to go upstairs, Ody leaps to his feet, to accompany me, prepared, as always, to fend off any threat. If I walk into the bedroom, he leaps onto our bed, beckoning me with gentle eyes, to come and to loll with him. On walks, they keep an eye forever on me, always alert lest some stranger, or, worst of all, some other dog, try to steal my affections.
No matter what success or failure the day may bring, they are always the same, no questions, do doubts, fast and true friends.
I think of these dogs more and more often while sitting in court. I may walk through the valley of the shadow of death and despair, but they are always with me, they comfort me, they restore my soul. Enemies may be round and about, but in a moment I see the eyes of these collies, fixed on me, awaiting a gesture, a command, a sign of what I need, so that they can give it. They will never let me get lost.
What’s this have to do with lawyering?
Defending folks accused of a crime is a high-wire act. Yes, the law guarantees a fair trial, and the presumption of innocence is said to apply unless and until the state proves its case. This is the high-minded verbiage we paper over the hatred and scorn most folks feel for the accused. Sit next to a man or woman charged with a notorious crime, and then behold the smug sneer of the prosecution, the state’s investigator, the victims’ advocate, and the gallery.
A man on trial is alone. He needs a lawyer with the soul of a border collie, someone with eyes only for him, someone who will follow him anywhere, and give all that he has to the task of defending him.
Increasingly, I sit in the well of the court with the accused muttering a silent thanks to the fates for giving me two dogs on whom I can count for complete loyalty, and every bit of energy they can muster. Then I pause, and try to be as good a companion to my client in the fight at hand. Ody and Penny are my tutors, you see; they are to me what I can only hope to be to a client.