I am so happy to have back to back court appearances which were complete opposites.
On Friday, I represented a family member in a custody hearing. I had been so nervous, because I really didn’t want to let a family member down. But I got lucky, and there was no lawyer on the other side, so the arguments were fairly easy to make to an Attorney Referee.
Monday, I attended a hearing on another lawyer in the firm’s case. Although I drafted the answer and met with the clients briefly to obtain their signatures on the affidavit and brief that I submitted, I hadn’t really considered it my case. I hadn’t expected that I would be the one to argue it. But on Friday, the other attorney brought the file in to me and asked if I would feel comfortable covering the hearing since he had another hearing to attend. I agreed, feeling confident because I had already done all the prepwork by writing the brief. Long story short, despite several minutes of argument from myself and the other attorney and a lengthy opinion by the judge on the matter, the judge agreed with the opposing party. And I can’t blame him. As my former judge once told me and I have heard repeated since: if the law is on your side, argue the law; if the facts are on your side, argue the facts. I think another attorney added: if neither is on your side, just argue. So I was on the side of the facts in this matter, but the equities really seemed to come out on the side of my client. And I felt good in my argument. The judge commented afterward that he could see that the parties were passionate in their positions and that it was well briefed and argued by the parties, and he appeared to be looking meaningfully at me when he made those comments, so I choose to take them to heart. It made me not want to give up.
One thing that I realized later though is that in neither of these scenarios did I attempt to settle the matter, although I thought about it. In the first case, I asked the family member if she would be interested in trying to reach a deal with the ex and she responded emotionally by stating that she would have tried to work something out before he’d filed this, but now she wanted to fight. And unfortunately, I didn’t have the confidence and/or the skills to try to talk her out of it. In this matter, I came up with an idea that I thought would be a reasonable settlement and made a note to discuss it with the other attorney. Unfortunately, I lost my nerve. I suspected that it if it was as easy as settling the matter, the other attorney, having far greater experience than I have, would have already attempted to do so. Now I realize what I hadn’t at the time..the difference between settling and not is the difference not just of the money, but also of having a judgment on your record. I’m not sure how that affects an individual, in what circumstance such a judgment would come up, but it’s there nonetheless.
I also realized the difference in client management. With the family case, I was managing expectations ahead of time, letting the client know that I was hoping X would happen but that Y could happen and that would be okay, we’d just go to the next step. But in this matter, I found myself just kind of repeating what the other attorney was telling me and what I had written in my brief. We would prevail, because it was the right thing to have happen. Surely the law wasn’t in the right here. So when I realized in the end that the judge was not going to decide in my client’s favor, and I turned around to see them sitting in the gallery, I realized that I had to swallow my own disappointment and manage theirs. The client immediately jumped on me and asked why I didn’t raise a certain point that had been very important to her. Although it kind of embarrassed me to have her talk to me like that in front of other attorneys, I didn’t let it get to me. I took the couple into one of the conference rooms and explained to her that A) That judge had been extremely well versed in the facts and arguments before him (I didn’t tell her this, but he had a better understanding of a case that I had cited than I did), and B) the point that she was fixating on was not legally relevant. I was as nice as I could be; I tried to be sympathetic and understanding while explaining what had happened and what would happen next. I don’t think she’ll ever appreciate the nuances of what happened in that courtroom, and that’s okay. I just have to convince myself that I did the right thing. I did my best.
The hardest part of all though, was returning to the courtroom to sit and wait for the next case that I was appearing on to be called. I had to sit there in front of everyone that had watched me lose while the court took a brief recess. After the second hearing, the attorneys present on that matter talked to me in the hallway. The slightly more experienced of the two commented about how factually interesting the arguments were, and I knew that I had done a good thing by getting up and arguing for what was right, even if I lost. Not just for the sake of equity, but also because it showed the other attorneys who were in that room that I am articulate and dedicated. I followed the judge’s hypotheticals and corrected his understandings, I believe with grace. And I hope I gained some respect, for myself and my firm.
In the end, my loss taught me a lot more than the win did. A win is a confidence booster, but a loss is a lesson. I hope the two continue to balance themselves out, so that I never become cocky, but I never feel defeated.