That’s the name given by Matt Brown, who is feeling the rush of adrenalin as he comes closer to the edge.
I had a long weekend of work, but I’m ready for trial. The work I completed over the weekend wasn’t trial prep, though, because that was done long ago. I spent the weekend tying up loose ends.
Trial is like a really shitty vacation. You have to make sure all your ducks are in a row so you can take some time off. Instead of dipping your toes in the water and watching a sunset with your adult beverage of choice in hand, however, you get to endure grueling combat all day every day for days on end. It’s a break from your daily stress during which you forget about your normal troubles in favor of some more pressing troubles. Did I mention that I love it?
The point of the job is often trial. Negotiating and writing and analyzing are frequently the point too, probably more so, but trial is the most obvious display of skill. Lawyers phone in motions and avoid other important work altogether. People watch you at trial.
Some lawyers feel a sense of dread, cold fear, as the judge turns to them and asks, “counselor, would you like to give your opening statement?” Others embrace it. The blood pumps, and sense become hypersensitive. This is the moment they live for, to stand up before the jury, all eyes on them, and feel the rush of owning the courtroom. If the words, “you may inquire” thrill you, then you are a trial junkie.
For most criminal defense lawyers, this is the epitome of our work, where everything is on the line. This is what people want to hear about at cocktail parties, and where we regale the groundlings with our glory. Or our crashing defeat. Sure, everything else we do matters too, but it’s not the same.
Different lawyers approach trial different, with some walking down Main Street as gunslingers, no more thought than a challenge demanding a quick draw. Others plan their assault as if it was Omaha beach, meticulously parsing evidence, inspecting crime scenes, preparing witnesses and making sure each document is premarked and ready to be offered.
Like Matt, I prepare long and hard for trial. My clients have no idea what goes into their trial, as they don’t seen the long, often boring, nights spent pouring over somnambulant papers to find the sentence, maybe only the word, that will destroy a witness’ testimony. Or read page after page and find nothing. But you do it because there’s someone’s life on the line. And because you want to win. Every thought in your head is to win.
But this isn’t a universal approach. I cringe when I read about some lawyer going to trial tomorrow who has spent the past month doing nothing to prepare. Daily announcements of how wonderfully busy you are going to court on cases of every sort but the one on trial, desperately trying to tell the world how cool you are. Yet not a word about preparing for trial. It’s disgraceful, and only fools think this makes you an admirable lawyer. Your neglect shames you. This is a trial. Do you really think it makes you look good to tell the world that you’ve utterly neglected your client?
When I saw this twit, I was astounded.
@kreyes 22 murders in a year and a half—something like that. Badass.— Mark W. Bennett (@MarkWBennett) June 21, 2012
To the trial junkie, this might at first blush seem cool, or as Mark put it, “badass.” And if this was a sporting event, it might very well be. But this isn’t a sporting event, but a process by which someone’s life could well be destroyed.
No one can try 22 murder cases in a year and a half. No one. Not the best lawyer ever. Not anyone. At least not competently.
That this was viewed, discussed, as if it was incredibly cool reflects a horribly misguided focus. It’s never about how a lawyer is such a gunslinger that they can go from trial to trial to trial, toughing it out and not breaking a sweat. It’s about 22 defendants whose children may never again see their father. Every one of those children deserves a lawyer who takes the time to make sure their father receives the best possible defense. Not one of those children care about how cool it is that a lawyer can rack up mind-blowing numbers of trial over the course of 18 months.
It’s so easy for lawyers who run from case to case, being as much a part of the dehumanizing of defendants as the prosecution, the police, and the system, to think only of their interests as trial junkies. The names and faces cease to matter, and it’s just the rush of trial that counts. They harbor irrational belief in their abilities to cross a witness to death, without ever having put in the time or effort your client deserves.
To extol the lawyer who tries 22 murders in a year and a half is insane. This isn’t cool. This isn’t badass. This isn’t awesome. This is wrong. This is the trial junkie taken beyond reason and acceptability. This is where the trial junkie has lost sight of what trials are about, and what they exist to do.
From the plea junkies, the ones who seek obscurity and dread the light of courtroom, I learned that the point of the job is to do every part of the job as well as possible. A big part of that job is trial. Whether that’s where you actually end up or not, it’s something no lawyer worthy of respect should fear. A lawyer’s time and advice may be his stock in trade, apparently, but some of that time is probably going to have to be spent in the well. Fear can lead to injustice, and that fear just as often comes from the lawyer as it does from the defendant. The fear I saw in many of my colleagues was disturbing, but the overall effect wasn’t all bad. A desire to resolve cases short of trial can inspire a powerful desire to fight for an acceptable non-trial resolution, and the plea junkies taught me that what makes it onto the record is often just the tip of the iceberg.
The trial junkie despises the plea junkie, and looks down on him as if he’s worthless dirt. But the trial junkie who thinks of trial only for his own rush, who fails to do the boring preparation, is worse than the plea junkie. No criminal defense lawyer is more destructive to the lives of defendants than the one who tries a case without having done what’s necessary to give his client a decent chance. You are not a badass.