Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Special People I Have Had the Honor to Represent

I have been a lawyer a long time and through the years I have represented many people.  Most cases are settled, but there are those clients with I have had the pleasure of representing in trial.  Going to trial with a client is not how it is portrayed on television.  Those clients of mine who have the fortitude to sit powerlessly through a trial, confined for the most part at the counsel table, after years of intense scrutiny, invasive questions and worse, while they must blindly trust me, the judge and the judicial process are courageous.  Their seat at the counsel table is not one that I would want.

Since I have been trying cases for many years, I am now fortunate to see what has become of many of my clients.  With the invent of Facebook, I can follow their lives and live vicariously through their victories.  The clients with whom I am still in contact, have by and large, gone on to lead interesting, productive and exciting lives.  I am precluded from being more specific without getting their permission, to expand.  However, I am moved by their courage they continue to display after they have sued their employers and what they choose to do professionally and personally.  These are not people with repeat lawsuits or those who see themselves as victims.  They start businesses, contribute to the community, pursue spiritual and religious goals, raise their adorable children in healthy houses and continue to live happy, productive lives.

I have no first-hand knowledge of what impact the act of baring ones soul up to complete strangers in the jury box and behind the bench has on a person, since I have never been a plaintiff or a defendant in a trial.  I wonder if I am brave enough to have their fortitude and then trust that strangers will be fair and just.  I believe that most jurors are courageous themselves, take their important role seriously, and do everything in their  power to see that justice is done, but there are no guarantees.  I can just watch and hope for the best for them.  My clients surrender their beings to the civil jury system, and that takes much courage.  The jurors take their jobs very seriously, and that is why the system works, because people are basically good, and  fair, and have group intelligence.  But the act of surrender is not an easy one.

Most of the time, my thoughts are consumed with looking at the cases and clients at hand.  But when I encounter or read or contact the clients of my past, I am so happy for them and so honored that I was given the honor of representing them.  What I see of the lives of my former clients after litigation makes me happy.  I am so fortunate to have been honored to know these incredible people who draw strength from their struggles and make this world a better place. the end of my career, which hopefully is a few years away, I can reflect on my years as a lawyer and the special place these wonderful people have had in my life.  Thank you for inspiring me.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tomorrow we celebrate Dr.Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday.  Although he was murdered in 1968, his impact is timeless.  In history, there are few heroes who have impacted America and Western Society.  Throughout history, there have been many brave people who have made a difference.  Dr. King undoubtedly knew that his life was in jeopardy, and he did not stop.  He was a leader unprecedented in American history.  What set him apart for me was his insistence on protesting nonviolently.  His commitment to nonviolence, during violent and turbulent times was not only brave, but also revolutionary in our country.

Years ago, I purchased and have read, over and over, "The Autobiography of Martin Luther King."  He never wrote an autobiography.  The book is a reprint of his speech and writings and it is brilliant.  Dr. King's influence benefited all oppressed or disfavored groups in the world.  Since he marched, America has been transformed.  Not only was he instrumental in the passage of The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act, his movement caused major upheavals in power structure in the world.

Dr.Martin Luther King, Jr. was a leader for all Americans, in fact for all people.  There have been few people who have benefited humanity more than he did.  He belongs in the ranks of Gandhi, Lincoln, Mandela, Mother Theresa, George Washington and other courageous crusaders throughout history.  We are all better for his work.

Monday, January 12, 2015

What If We Died Tomorrow?

Sometimes, especially lately, I feel tired.  I have been "practicing" law for thirty-one years and each discrimination case is a potential fight, brawl, or multi-year quagmire.  Most people are unfamiliar with litigation, and may not really fathom the magnitude of  emotional consequence, caused by reliving events, lawyers attacking their stories, and opponents bent on defeating them.   Discrimination cases are tougher emotionally, with nasty smears of one's honesty, character, sanity and motives.

This last week, I hoped to hone "counseling" skills and hone alternative lawyer skills such as listening rather than haranguing or tricking opponents.  I was to attend a three day mediation seminar out of town, but after the first day, back in the hotel room, karma had other plans.  Within minutes of returning to the room in the evening, I became nauseous, weak, and finally overcome by a virulent case of stomach flu.  That night was one of my worst nights in recent memory.  I did not leave the bed and bathroom of the hotel room for 38 hours.  The weather was bitterly cold, with wind chills below zero and I was so weak that I doubted I had the strength to stand erect, let alone, dress and drive to an emergency room.  The nausea was so intense that television commercials repulsed me and I was forced to close my eyes so as not to regurgitate the bile that solely remained in my gastric system.  Finally, by midnight, my son arrived from Kansas City, most of the nausea subsided, and I slept for 13 hours.  It was another day before I felt strong enough to drive home.  I was so thankful he came.  I had been scared, panicky, and irrational, worrying that death was imminent, or, if it was not, perhaps hoping just a little that death, or his cousin, unconsciousness, would visit.  I felt worse than I ever remember (except for childbirth - but that has a happier by-product).

I lived.  I feel better, almost completely better.  Once the nausea subsided and only weakness sidelined me, I took a look at my life.  I am 62 years old.   My father died at age 59.  I have been a trial lawyer for most of my adult years. I know much about how to be a trial lawyer. I focus on employment discrimination cases. I want to know, has my life, my years in this chosen professional been worthwhile?

After 31 years, I have had clients who were never satisfied, no matter if their employer gave them the moon and all the corporate money.  What these clients sought, was something I could not attain for them, to go back in time and get a do-over- no discrimination, no money loss, no humiliation.  Money simply cannot right all wrongs and we have little to work with other than money.  And a lawsuit cannot mend pre-existing or childhood injustices, or build self-esteem where the building blocks are lacking.  Some people can never be satisfied, because they have never forgiven others or themselves for unrelated transgressions.

Other clients are satisfied, no matter what.  I try to understand these people, too.  Maybe they have such healthy self-esteem, the willingness to fight for what they felt was right is the most important part of their voyage.  They settle cases sometimes that I would like to try, but it is their decision. They move on and usually live well.

There are some clients who simply want their day in court, and are willing to accept the outcome. Those are some of the bravest clients, since juries get verdicts right most of the time, but not all of the time and there is no guarantee of justice in this world.  Those clients join me on the riverboat  of life and step up to the poker table.  The reward is often so glorious the risk is worthwhile, and not because of a big verdict (although that does not hurt) but because there is satisfaction in slaying the dragon.  However, the flip side . . . losing . . . SUCKS. There is benefit for me the lawyer, because I continue to learn.  But, for my clients, this is usually their one shot.  I feel that I fail them.

I know that there are oftentimes good people on all sides of cases.  Rarely in life, is good pitted against evil.  But bigotry still exists, as current events sadly show us.  I  believe that most of us operate with prejudice that we do not, and perhaps, cannot, acknowledge.  Take the IAT test, a test that looks for unconscious bias, and most people are biased towards others like them in gender and race.  Implicit Bias Test - Harvard We need to set goals destroy the last vestiges of bigotry or we will always have a wealth gap and societal disorder and dissent.

Sometimes, especially after reading about war or visiting war museums, I despair, "What does any of this matter.  Humans have no natural enemies, outside of each other, so we wage war and destruction to cull the herds.  We are greedy, so there is corruption in government and politics.  What is the purpose of this existence?"  I think about Rwanda, slavery, the horrendous acts on this earth in the name of colonization  such as conquering indigenous people and slaughtering them, and I feel hopeless. I know that there will always be people who abuse wealth and power.  The poor will be downtrodden.  The powerless  will be oppressed.  The weak will be abused.  So, why should we attempt to better the plight of others?   What is the point? We are all going to die anyway, some sooner than others.

I watched the movie "Selma" today, hoping the film would be inspirational, and it was.  I remind myself, spring will come, even long after I am gone.  More babies will be born, and they will grow up and re-inject hope, hope for humanity with them.  Maybe, we can make this place better for future humans by instilling in the ones on this planet that no one is a less human than the other.  We are all part of a group, we are all humans.  And as humans, we need to learn to love and accept each other, foibles and all.  That is our goal.  When others work to eliminate war, or poverty, or famine, their goal is the same simple one, to respect and cherish one another. Being an American, or any other nationality is an artificial classification.  Even being born into a religion is artificial, based on how ones parents were raised, or where in the world you were born.  We are not all men, or women, or Christians, or Muslims, or Jews, or Hindus, or Buddhists, or Asians, or Americans, or Russians, or engineers, or Caucasians, or Africans, blah, blah, blah.  But we are all human and we all live on this planet.  Maybe, just maybe, being a human will be enough to feel connected to other humans, simply for being a fellow human. Maybe the act of simply being human will foster compassion and acceptance.

Isn't that the goal for which we all strive.  We want love, acceptance, and meaning in life.  We want others to love and acknowledge our humanness.  We want to nourish and enrich other humans, because, by nature, humans are compassionate and caring creatures.  It's just that on the way we get diverted.  Okay, I can give this little quest of mine another day, or two, 4,000.  I hope.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Do Trial Lawyers Make Good Negotiators?

Trial lawyers are different from most people. They live their lives embroiled in a battle, ethically bound to fight, non-violently in most cases, for their clients. Yet, the tactical and oratorical skills that make lawyers fine trial lawyers, may differ from those of a master negotiator. But, trial lawyers serve a dual function.

In today's day and age, there are fewer lawyers who battle in a courtroom all the way from jury selection through verdict than there has ever been. Civil cases can cost a lot of money and require skill and strategy from a lawyer and monumental grit from parties to a lawsuit. Jury trials take emotional and physical tolls on the parties and on their lawyers. As time for trial approaches, the parties and lawyers lose the little objectivity they can possibly have.  As trial looms large, any normal trial lawyer thinks, dreams and imagines only preparation, strategy, and arguments. The lawyer acts as playwright, actor and director of his or her client's case/story/play, except the other side has a competing play and the outcome is determined by strangers legally compelled to judge the play. The necessary talents of a trial lawyer differ from those of a negotiator. Yet, more often than not, the trial lawyer is called upon either during the preparation of the case, or, even more unnervingly, during the second act of the play itself.

Negotiations and jury trials require entirely different skill sets. Perhaps that is why there is a distinction between barristers and solicitors in Great Britain. It is unnerving to switch gears from trial to settlement.  Can you imagine a runner being removed from competition to negotiate with another runner who will place first or second. In battles of war, which has some similarities to a trial, it would be ludicrous to expect a commander to leave the battlefield to negotiate with the opposing commander before the battle is concluded.

Later this week I am attending mediator training. I see much benefit of mediation in most cases. It's better for countries to enter into treaties than to engage in war. Yet, there are some times when war is inevitable, and occasionally necessary. Hitler could not be stopped by skilled negotiators. I believe negotiators should be students of the human condition, schooled in conflict resolution, by means more peaceful than trial. Of course, jury trials are far less significant than a real war. Lives are not lost in trial and the outcome usually affects a very few people. But, to the individual litigants, a trial can be of the utmost importance. Lives are altered through civil trials.  Some lawyers say there are no winners in trial. That's balderdash. But, there are sometimes that the parties are better served by avoiding conflict. We need more peaceful conflict resolution in this world. But are the warriors the best choice for peace-makers?  I don't know. I guess it depends on the person. I will see if I think I have the empathetic qualities of a peace-maker. I hope that the emotional toll of being in charge of mediating a case is considerably less than that of trying a case.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Troll Busters - Coming Soon To A City Near You

I know its New Year's Eve and it would be nice to reflect on the year and lessons learned, the variants acts of others, the tragedies of the past twelve months. But, I don't want to talk about that. I want to talk about TROLLS. Trolls live everywhere now a days, not just under bridges where they belong. Modern day trolls are those cowardly, snidely, weasel-like creatures who, under the protection of anonymity post such vile racist and sexist dribble that it makes your skin crawl. These creature are not normal people of average intelligence.  They are cowardly mean creatures who derive a perverse pleasure from anonymously harassing others. What sort of person is so vile as to harass others online seemingly without consequence?  Did their mothers routinely kick them as babies, where they chosen last for dodge ball, or are they merely the product of a noxious genetic mutation than makes them unloving and concomitantly unloveable?  Who knows?

My friend Tony of TKC is a staunch believer in the First Amendment and refuses to edit or delete Troll comments on his blog. I believe in the First Amendment, too. I am following Tony's lead and weathering the Troll storm, while realizing how pathetic and sad these people must be. However, not everyone reacts so passively to trolls. In Sweden there is a television program called Troll Hunters where a team of Internet investigators search and uncover trolls and ambush them in television interviews. When caught, some trolls resort to crying and bawling or trying to run away from the cameras. It seems that many trolls lack courage when faced with exposure. 

What would happen in this country if Troll Hunters  caught on?  Sure, we have the Bill of Rights, but free speech has its limits. In fact, in Missouri it is a crime to harass or threaten others online. I just read the statute, MO. Rev. Stat. Sections 565.090  and following. Mo. Criminal Harassment Statute Hmmmm.  Do you think these racist, sexist, despicable trolls would fare well in jail?  It's something to think about.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Discrimination and Justice - From A Certain Point of View

My law partner and another lawyer we work with got a large verdict in an age discrimination case last week. I think the jury got it right. My partner told me that she felt the Cosmos, or something God-like if not God, was in their favor. I reminded her of the Martin Luther King, Jr. quote, "the moral arc of time is long, but it bends toward justice."  The quote resonated with her. I considered a case I tried where I disagreed with what the jury decided. I felt no Cosmic aid, no ultimate Justice.  Everything about Justice, or life, really depends on one's point of view.

I try, unsuccessfully most times, to consider all points of view in my cases, and, hopefully, in life. Everything in which I believe depends on a certain point of view. Police officers shooting unarmed Black men disturbs me. I am White and a woman, and no one has ever pulled a gun on me or anyone in my family and I hope no one ever does.  Yesterday, two New York police officers were randomly gunned down by a deranged man upset by the Ferguson and Staten Island killings. This was another horrible and senseless killing. I have people with whom I am "friends" on Facebook who, like me, are outraged by what happened in Ferguson and New York. Today someone wanted me to participate in a group called "Police Lives Matter."  I agree that police lives do matter. Yet, I found the request ironic, since this person had an unarmed, white, loved one who was shot and killed by a police officer. I suspect the person advocating the group identifies with white police officers more than the unarmed African-Americans who were shot, even though the person's loved one was killed in a similar fashion.  The only difference I can see in the advocates allegiance with the new group is the police officer victims were not Black, so this person whose White loved one was also gunned down by a police officer doesn't relate to the Black victim in Ferguson. Race appears to be the only difference. It's apparent that our feelings are dependent on our points of view, this time about race.

When I was a kid, Vietnam was the biggest issue. I, as a child, believed, like the sayings on posters, that there would be no war if no soldiers showed up. That was a very simplistic and naive notion. Yet, the notion remains with me that people would be more merciful, and less insular, if we all could just understand the points of view of others. Empathy and compassion are the key to most of society's problems. It's hard, when filled with anger, to step back and try to understand what motivates others with whom we disagree. But, if we do not try to understand what it's like to be a Black youth, a White police officer, or anyone who is frightened or scared or angry or defeated, we cannot progress. Without empathy and compassion, there can be no resolution. Our prisons are over-crowded.  Our streets are often dangerous. Our criminal justice system is dysfunctional. We need to change. I hope Dr. King was right, that the arc of time bends toward Justice.  We all need to expand our points of view. Otherwise, this society will continue to fail.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Are You An "Unconscious" Racist?

When I was a kid, adults I encountered use the "n" word not infrequently. Those people are either quite elderly or dead. It is no longer politically correct to be a flagrant racist. White people rarely identify themselves as racist. Being racist has gone undercover. How can you judge today if you're racist, when you swear you are "colorblind?"

Here are some ways to determine, however begrudgingly, that you might be racist:

1.  You think or have said that white men are the real racial victims today.

2.  You think America has no racism because we have a Black president.

3.  You believe the world is "colorblind."

4.  You think that if Black men would just be respectful to police officers, they wouldn't get stopped, or beaten, or killed.

5.  When you see two or more African-American youths on the street, you want to get away from them.

6.  You wonder why "they" have more crime, or fewer fathers in the household, or beat "their" women more than whites.

7.  You don't like interracial relationships, and never consider why.   You explain that it's much harder on the kids.

8.  You don't like "Black" names like Jamal, Andre or Mo'Ne and can't understand why anyone would choose a name like this for a child.

9.  You think Affirmative Action is unfair.

10.  You get tired of hearing about slavery, since it was abolished in 1865 and what's the big deal.

Many recent studies indicate while being openly racist is frowned upon, we still harbor racial stereotypes and feelings. America is not colorblind.  We need to deal with racial feelings in this country. Ferguson is a wake up call.