Sunday, April 7, 2013

Trial and Error

There was never any question for me upon entering law school that I should be a trial attorney.  Anyone who knew me prior to starting law school also knew I would come out the other side a trial attorney.  Like being a mom, being a trial attorney is just sort of what I was meant to do.

My heart has been in criminal law since I understood the importance of law.  For 27 years my mom was legal secretary to arguably the best criminal defense attorney that Bakersfield had ever seen, and for as long as I can remember, I've wanted to be Stan Simrin when I grow up.  I want to be the kind of lawyer who practices with the burning belief that every person accused of a crime deserves a defense.  I want to be the kind of lawyer that MAKES opposing counsel prove their burden, and who argues every case with the fierce zeal that we are ethically bound to demonstrate.

Over cocktails and karaoke one evening, a fellow attorney who passed the California bar exam the same year that I did said to me, "I can't believe you're doing worker's comp.  You are a criminal defense attorney at heart.  You believe in it.  I respect that."  As he slurred his way through a David Allan Coe song I thought wistfully about what he'd said.

Criminal defense isn't the most respected area of legal practice, because it's frequently misunderstood.  There's a belief that if a person would defend a criminal, they must somehow approve of crimes, think victims are "asking for it," or that the lawyer must also be a crook and a criminal just trying to rake in retainer fees.  I think some people must think we are vulnerable fools, or at least that's what I gather every time I comment publicly about the Jodi Arias trial.

"I can kinda see how things happened as she describes," I'll say, and jaws hit the floor.  It's undoubtedly easier to believe that Arias is just a sociopath and a liar - we know at least the latter part is true and likely so is the first.  But, as they say, as children prosecutors and plaintiff's attorneys like to build things, and defense attorneys like to tear them down.  From the time I was a child I was picking cases apart and I know that I was just a born defense attorney.  If there's reasonable doubt to be found, a defense attorney can spy it.

After years of dreaming about what my first "real trial" would be like, the real thing couldn't have been more anticlimactic.  Though I had done hearings in civil court where there was action and interaction with witnesses, and come very close to taking a case to jury trial, my first actual trial was a lien trial.  At lien trials, stipulations and issues and a list of exhibits are read into the record, with the parties appearing to either approve or dispute what was read on the record.  Then everyone just sorta goes back to their office.  Brilliant, lengthy arguments aren't delivered.  No one stands up.  The parties aren't even all lawyers.

A lien trial isn't what I envisioned for my first trial.  Then again, life isn't really what I planned it to be either.  Life, both professionally and personally, has been full of trial and error.  I never thought I'd be practicing administrative law, but I love it.  It's never dull - except when it is.  My colleagues are bright, adept attorneys; the firm that employs me is respectable and good to me; the applicants are interesting; I get to travel; and I love going to work every day.  I'm not just biding my time with this position. I love my job and so I'm giving it an honest shot.

I know eventually I'll find my way back to criminal defense.  It's in my heart.  It's who I am.  I wonder sometimes if I'm just a fool, clinging to romantic notions of justice.  Why can't I just be satisfied with what I've got?  How can I have so much, and still want more?  But in my heart, I believe the time was just wrong for me to be in criminal practice right now.  Someday, the time will be right.  Until the it is, I suppose I'll just keep trying to make the most of what I've got right now, and learning all along the way.

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