Thursday, October 23, 2008

I Get Paid To Do This?

In general, the work that I do on a daily basis isn't glamorous. Forget everything you have seen on television about the life of a lawyer. Television lawyers talk - they argue with opposing counsel in the courtroom, in the judge's chambers, in their office, in opposing counsel's office, they argue with each other, etc. Real attorneys don't actually do that much talking - even, if not especially, the litigators. What we do is read a lot and write a whole lot. We hardly ever get to appear in a courtroom, and even then it is often just for a minute or two so the judge can ask us if we want a continuance (yes, we always want a continuance). We do wear suits . . . but usually only when we have to appear in court, which again, isn't very often.

So my day to day job is often rather tedious - an exercise in staying on task and paying attention to detail. I'm not crafting new constitutional norms or harassing a witness on the stand until they break down and confess. (Trust me, no one was more disappointed than I to learn that this was not normal, everyday behavior.)

But the firm that I work for is pretty generous, and part of that generosity is allowing us low-level associates to do a lot of
pro bono work -- unlike some firms, there is no limit on the number of pro bono hours that count toward our yearly billing requirement -- and there is a lot of very interesting pro bono work out there if you want it. I have done, and continue to work on, quite a number of different pro bono matters - assisted a client in obtaining an order of protection against an abusive ex-boyfriend, helped an immigrant who fled from a small African country in order to protect herself and her daughters to navigate the bureaucratic nightmare that is our immigration system and gain asylum status here in the United States, helped another immigrant who was denied adequate medical treatment while in custody seek redress from the people in charge who should have known better, and others. But this year I've had one big pro bono case that has dominated both my time and attention.

It is a criminal appeal before the Seventh Circuit. I was assigned by the Court to serve as the attorney for a man convicted of felony possession of a firearm. It's a relatively simple and straightforward charge, but the facts of his case and his trial were anything but simple and there were actually a number of issues to explore in his case and a strong argument to be made that the handling of his trial had been unjust. Over the course of about six months I -- with great help from some more senior attorneys at my firm -- scoured the record, met with the client (in a very John Grisham-esque scene at the Terre Haute federal facility in Indiana), and put together a brief to the court laying out our arguments for why my client deserved a new trial. The government put forward their response, and we countered with our own reply. -- See. Lots of reading and writing.

Yesterday though . . . yesterday was oral argument. Yesterday, I got to be Perry Mason, Jack McCoy, Eugene Young, and maybe just a touch of Cousin Vinny thrown in for good measure. Oral argument is where myself and opposing counsel go before the three-judge panel who will decide the case and who have already read our briefs, and present our best 10 minute argument for why we should win and the other side should lose. I've been told that you rarely win a case on oral argument, but that its entirely possible to lose one there.

Argument went well. I served my client, and made a good case for his interests. The weeks before were filled with an incredibly amount of stress for a 20 minute total performance, but . . . I must admit . . . it was also a heck of a lot of fun.

So today I'm back, reviewing draft pleadings and reading cases for a memo that I have to write - not very dramatic. Yesterday, though, . . . yesterday was all about the drama. More please!

1 comment:

Stephanie said...

Cool! I'm glad you love what you do!

What do you say to lawyers to wish them luck? Break a leg? That seems a little too theatrical. Good luck with your good work!