As Above the Law searches for new revenue streams, they will be throwing the Academy for Private Practice this coming weekend. Yes, it seems kinda nuts in a batshit crazy sort of way, given the lack of speakers who have either created or maintained a successful private law practice. But only an unpleasant person would get hung up on such details. Don’t be that guy.
In anticipation, Elie Mystal sent me a somewhat defensive email, asking if I would be canon fodder on his podcast with Joe Patrice, ironically called “Thinking Like A Lawyer.” That was awfully darned thoughtful of Elie, who I hasten to add is both a smart and very funny guy, though he anticipated that I wouldn’t be particularly interested in participating. I’m really not a big fan of podcasts, considering that I find listening to them only slightly less pleasant than root canal.
But for my bud, Elie, how could I say no? I just had one tiny condition, that he write me a post. He hasn’t spoken to me since. Nonetheless, that’s not going to stop me from helping out my pals at Above the Law, because that’s the kind of swell guy I am. So, had I happened to wander into one of their APP presentations, and had somebody yelled out, “yo, Greenfield, go up there and say something,” this is what I would have said:
How many of you have ever tried a case to verdict before a jury?
[One hand, everyone else in the room staring at their crotches with deep fascination.]
A criminal case? A felony case?
[One guy and two gals try to quietly slip out of their seats; sounds of feet shuffling.]
It’s stressful, right? It’s hard, and it eats you up as you think, and think, knowing that when you rise and speak, a roomful of people are staring at you, expecting you to say something, anything, that matters. After all, you hold another person’s life in your hands, and it doesn’t get more stressful than that.
[Heads start to nod in unison, eyes now looking up, but avoiding eye contact.]
And you’re lawyers, and every expects you to be [use weird mocking voice] perfect, right? Always perfect, as if you’re not human, as if you can’t make a mistake.
[Heads start to nod with greater vigor. Woman who left room returns to her seat.]
Maybe something, meditation perhaps, can relieve you of this stress, help you focus better, take away the fear and loathing of that perpetual sense that you blew it when the judge asked you why he shouldn’t allow a line of questioning, and you had nothing. It destroyed your client.
[Heads are now bobbling about with recognition; oh, yes, been there, been there.]
The stress can be overwhelming sometimes, and that’s what made you feel the need to eat that quart of ice cream the night before trial, watching Real Housewives of New Jersey in the hope of picking up some trick you could use at trial. Sure, you could have been reviewing Jencks Act materials, or grand jury testimony, or the caselaw that would have answered the judges questions, but you couldn’t. You just couldn’t, as the stress was killing you!
[Some clapping, one woman with a tear rolling down her cheek, mouthing, “yes, oh yes.]
Now let’s do an exercise. I want you to close your eyes and clear all thoughts from your head.
[Eyes close immediately, while some assume a posture somewhat reminiscent of the lotus position if one’s flexibility was traded for spanx.]
Picture your client being led away by the court officers after the one word verdict, the cuffs being snapped tightly against his wrists. See his wife and three children in the gallery, silently weeping at the loss of their loved one, their breadwinner, the spouse knowing that she will soon be homeless, unable to feed her babies. He looks quickly at her with pleading eyes, but she can do nothing.
[Silence. Then a sound, reminiscent of flatulence.]
He’s pushed and pulled in a waiting van, chained to others. He’s taken to place that stinks of ammonia, corrections officers laughing as he’s forced to spread his cheeks while a guard toys with his club. Then he’s taken to a cell, where he meets his bunkmate, a white supremacist with “death” tattooed on his forehead.
[A few heads shaking side to side, one guy clutching the working buttons of the suit jacket his mother bought him.]
In the shower, his bunkmate and three similarly shaven men throw him against the wall, nearly cracking his skull open as they anally rape him. The guards watch with delight, as the four take turns teaching him who runs the block. He looks longingly at the guards to help him, to stop the flow of blood and feces, and they turn away as if nothing was happening.
[A whimper, followed by the nervous rustling of feet and that sound reminiscent of flatulence again.]
And picture that night, the night before trial, when you were eating ice cream, watching TV, rather than preparing. You, the one person in the world he relied on to save him from conviction, from the cell, the white supremacists, the guards, the blood. You, who told him with the utmost sincerity how much you cared about him, who took his money, who promised his wife, his children, that you would do everything in your power to win his case. They trusted you.
[Heads again shake side to side. The fat kid up front moving his finger toward his nose, but then thinks better of it.]
And you’re here today, seeking peace and absolution from that terrible stress of knowing that you failed him. How hard it is to be you. How miserable it feels for you. You sit here in this conference, in this room, while he sits in his prison cell wondering if they will beat him or rape him or both, and it’s killing you.
[A yawn, followed by a few more.]
Now keep your eyes closed, and wipe the image of that client out of your head. Instead, think of butterflies, beautiful butterflies, perched atop a used but well-kept Mercedes E-Class, and you hold the key in your hand.
Aren’t you entitled to be happy? Aren’t you entitled to make a mistake, to not feel the dread of trying to be perfect.?
You’re just a lawyer. You can’t be perfect. There’s no shame in worrying more about yourself than about him. After all, you can’t be the best, the happiest, the most peaceful you if you spend all your time worrying about your client being raped in prison. Don’t you deserve to find peace and happiness too?
[Walk off stage rapidly before they open their eyes, past a young woman sneaking a peek at her iPhone. Don’t look back.]
The most important thing one must be mindful of when starting a private practice is that it’s about the client, not the lawyer. No matter how stressful the lawyer feels, the client will suffer more.
This may be a bit bleak and unhappy for an “academy” designed to make attendees feel validated and motivated, particularly given the very sensitive nature of ATL readers. But then, private practice isn’t all about being happy, even if that’s what sucks in attendees and persuades them to part with the few bucks left after paying this month’s student loan debt. Then again, only curmudgeons worry about such things as clients, while others focus instead on revenue streams for internet websites.
Maybe next year, Elie will invite me to go to the Academy for Private Practice. Maybe.