A Long Pause ...

A funny thing happened this afternoon as I was driving home from court. I am in trial in an arson case. We adjourned early today, and will not resume evidence until Tuesday. It is likely that we will give closing arguments that very day.

It's hard at the end of a case, when the evidence is largely in and all that remains is closing arguments. The facts dance like dervishes in your head. You try to name the dancers, identify their patterns, and match the images to some beat or music that fits. Trial lawyers orchestrate chaos. When a trial nears conclusion, all is nerves and apprehension.

Since last Labor Day, every trial of mine has ended with anxiety plus. I've been in difficult run of cases that ran back to back to back as follows: murder, manslaughter, child sex abuse, First Amendment violation, murder, child sex abuse, arson. Each has been difficult. Preparing for them amid the push and pull of a busy practice has been hard on my staff, my family and me.

So as I drove home from court today I thought, what next? What trial do I begin next week or the following? And it snuck up on me from alongside of nowhere: I have no trial scheduled until September. That's a long time.

Of course, it's possible a judge will call and I will be all scramble again between now and then. But it would be nice to take it slow this summer. To sleep, to dream, to get to the bottom of my desk.

I've been clearing piles on my desk this afternoon, and I came across a stack of thank you cards. I read them with silent pleasure worth sharing. One client thanked me for listening, another for saving her life. Another for trying my best, although I failed, to set her son free. These cards are reminders I cherish that despite the law's difficulties, there are rewards in the form of human warmth.

I kept the cards because I am so constituted that I almost always focus on what is hard and unpleasant, never on what is good and easy. I have a cruel streak, and it is often directed at myself. I also keep the cards because they are a counterweight to those cases in which I fail to please a client. I've learned long ago that the law is like marriage: Not all attorney-client relationships work. No lawyer can be all things to all men and woman.

I was putting the cards aside when I came across an anonymous note. It lambastes me for my failings. I am sure I failed the writer, and the writer is on a mission to remind me of my failure. Everyone needs a mission in life. It is sobering to have become a target of fury.

Practice makes perfect, we say. You are never perfect in the practice of law. Some clients love you, others hate you. It goes with the turf. But the anonymous scorn of strangers is like a dry desert wind: It kicks up cactus and tumbleweed, and it blows dry dirt. It sounds, for all the world, like the dry screech of a lonely psychiatric ward. For every wound we can treat in the law, many go without relief. Some we inflict, and others are inflicted on us.

As I get off the crazy train that's carried me from trial to trial these past nine months, I am happy to still be standing. And I am grateful for the support of those who love me. I ask for no more.

Comments: (2)

  • That sound close to impossible to do without burni...
    That sound close to impossible to do without burning out, enjoy a little downtime.
    Posted on May 27, 2010 at 5:23 pm by Lee Stonum
  • I will. Thanks. It has been a strain but I enjoy t...
    I will. Thanks. It has been a strain but I enjoy trial.
    Posted on May 27, 2010 at 5:37 pm by Norm Pattis

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