An interesting question, isn’t it? Clarence Darrow had some thoughts on that. He famously said, “The only real lawyers are trial lawyers, and trial lawyers try cases to juries.” I like that answer. The core of lawyering is to stand up before a judge and (in Illinois,) a panel of twelve people and argue your heart out.
And, given that we just got off a three-day jury trial in Cook County, I got to do just that very recently. Because the matter is still pending – sentencing is in September – I won’t go into the details of my first trial experience until after the case is closed. And by the time that case is closed, I’ll have at least two, likely three or four more trials under my belt. I’ll be a seasoned vet, right?
Anyway, I got a call this morning as I was preparing to get out of bed and get ready for work. It’s Ramadan, so I’m getting up around 3AM to eat a quick meal, and then I try to snatch a few hours of sleep before heading in. That’s why office days are nice; I can fall asleep after Fajr around 4AM, and not have to get up again until 8:30AM.
So I was about to get up when I got a call. It was my boss, which wasn’t all that unusual. We’re basically always texting or calling each other about various things – we’re a two-attorney, one paralegal-operation, so we’re basically tending the whole farm.
“Hey!” He sounded really cheerful and upbeat, and didn’t bother with any sort of preamble. “You know what I forgot to tell you last week?”
Last week being our jury trial on a ten-count felony indictment, five charges of Dog Fighting and five charges of Aggravated Cruelty to Animals.
“No…?” I was still kind of sleepy and it took me a minute to catch up.
“You’re a real lawyer now!” he exclaimed. “Do you know what makes you a real lawyer?”
He didn’t wait for my response, which was good, because I had no idea what made a real lawyer. I had a feeling that “being sworn in” wasn’t the answer he was looking for.
“It’s not going to law school, it’s not passing the Bar,” he was saying. “It’s not even getting sworn in. It’s not doing any of the other stuff – motions and court appearances and hearings, all of which you’ve done.”
I was awake now, and interested in his answer to the question.
“No, it’s not any of that. What makes you a real lawyer … is getting yelled at by a judge during trial!”
He sounded so pleased that I had hit this benchmark, and it was so funny, that I just burst out laughing. I was basically cackling. Because oddly enough, it’s true. I can totally see what he meant by that.
“Up until now, you’ve been . . . a wannabe.” I could hear him smiling as he said it. “And now you’re a real lawyer!”
I was still just cackling as I remembered that point in the trial, in my redirect of my witness, when I had the State on its feet, and both the State and the Judge SCREAMING at me as I sauntered back to my seat the defense table, my point having been made.
It was a hell of a tense moment, I’ll tell you that much. I’ve never been yelled at by a judge before. I mean, I’ve been yelled at while sitting with my boss, but that was kind of different. For one thing, that Judge had been yelling at the both of us, together. And he had also been simultaneously yelling at the Government. Which is good, because you never want to be the only party getting yelled at. If the Judge is mad at everyone in the room, then you’re fine.
But that moment, during trial, was the first time I’d ever been yelled at by a judge, and it was the first time I’d ever inspired such a . . . spirited reaction by the State.
And my boss was correct: in that moment, I felt like a real lawyer.
Real lawyers get screamed at, y’all, but they make their point and, just as importantly, they make their record.