Friday, January 22, 2010

Being a Lawyer - It's Not About Me

  When I was a young lawyer, I was thrust into the battles of trial preparation - depositions - with little training.  I was young then and it seemed like I was "fresh meat"for the old lions of the trial bar.  I was not into being devoured, so I developed a strategy for my self-preservation.  I concentrated on the way I walked and sat.  I made chit-chat with the opposing counsel, smiled a lot, sat in a comfortable, nonchalant pose and acted like I was unafraid.  A weird thing happened, when I acted unafraid, I started to feel unafraid.  Just like the song says, "Whenever I feel afraid, I hold my head erect.  And whistle a happy tune, and no one can suspect, I'm afraid."  It worked.  I started feeling the same way my body language reflected.
    I no longer need to play-act, but through the years, as a trial lawyer, there is one principle that has served me well. Whatever the other side pulls, it is not a reflection on me, but on them.  What I mean is that I strive to take NOTHING personally.  It's not about me.   If the other lawyer is nasty to me, he or she must be insecure or have some issue.  If the other lawyer yells, that means I am winning.  I don't yell,  that's a sign of weakness, that I have lost my cool and allowed something get to me personally.  I represent a person and need to protect that person.  I can handle myself and need no protection.
     This past week I was in depositions with an attorney whom plaintiffs' lawyers in this area disdain.  He is rude, cold and uncaring.  He was that way with the two witnesses whose depositions he took this week.  This lawyer proudly exclaimed that he only defended cases with catastrophic injuries or deaths.   What a sad way to make a living.  He was nasty in the depositions, and I objected when he tried to trick or cajole the witness.
      Man, did the lawyer get ticked.  So what.  It was not about me.  I protected my witness, through legal objections, but really just to made sure there was a level playing field so that this lawyer could not intimidate the witness to get favorable testimony by twisting words.  I didn't take his harangues personally, because it was not about me.  Sure, he wants to get an advantage in the case, and I prevented that.  But, what makes this guy tick is beyond me.  Maybe his father was mean to him, maybe he was rejected as a child, maybe his mother favored one of his siblings, I don't know.  But, knowing his attacks weren't about me helped.  And even if he hates me, even if I remind him of an ex-wife or mean teacher, that does not matter.  I don't care and that is so freeing.  I am free to represent my client.
      One of the many things Gerry Spence says that I wholeheartedly agree with is that we must know who we are to be good trial lawyers.  I have spent years trying to understand me.  What a liberating experience this is as a lawyer and as a person.  Eleanor Roosevelt said, "No one can make you feel bad about yourself unless you let them."  I believe that.
       In my experience, to be a good and effective lawyer, one must not let his or her ego get in the way.  It is not about us.  That is probably the lesson that has taken me the longest to learn.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Whistle-blowing - To Thine Own Self Be True

  For most of us, what we do for a living affects so much of how we feel about life. If you sell out at work, do things to get ahead and betray co-workers, it takes its toll on your soul. I don't know any CEO's of gigantic corporations, but my prejudiced view is that many of those on top did things to others to climb the ladder that changed who they were.  I believe it's human nature to rationalize what we do so that we do not own up to the consequences of our actions.
   People compromising values happens not only in the workplace, but in all types of social settings.  We are social beings and how we interact with each other can present challenges. People act differently in groups than individually.  Would there have been the slaughter in Rwanda if it were not for mass hysteria? I am constantly reminded of how important it is for me to  have the support of other human beings.  I have done things in my life of which I am not proud to "get along" or to advance myself in a group.  Life is like high school for many of us, who want to be part of the cool kids or be in the popular group.  My mother, who is approaching 80 years old, and I talk about how evenly elderly woman can be "mean girls."  That is why it is so refreshing when a true rebel, a true whistleblower, comes along.
   It is really hard to stand up to authority and speak out.  Whistleblowers oftentimes risk everything, not just their jobs, but also their friends, and sometimes their families.  It takes a lot of courage to speak up.  As I write this, I think of one of my clients, a woman who is dear to me because she risked and lost so much.   This woman was a leader, and she sacrificed so much.  I am not going to mention her name, or even give her a pseudonym, because to do so seems like it would trivialize or cheapen what she did.
   My client is a nurse.  She, like all of the nurses I know, went into nursing because she wanted to tend to and care for others.  A good nurse is not only smart, caring and efficient, but a good nurse is also a stickler for details.   My client was a very good nurse.  My client really cared about her patients.  My client cared about her friends.  Her friends were nurses, too.  The friends really cared about their patients, too.  Unfortunately, the hospital where they all worked did not care so much about their patients.
    After very contentious litigation, tens of depositions, scores of sleepless nights, the case was resolved.  However, the story did not end there for my client.  Her husband worked for the same company that she did.   Her marriage of over twenty years deteriorated and failed, leading to a divorce even more contentious than the lawsuit. She vacated her lovely home and left it to her husband.  In just over two years, my client lost the job she loved, the home she loved and the marriage she thought was secure.  Did she help her co-workers and the patients of the hospital?  Undoubtedly.  But at what personal cost?  
  I hope the story does not end here.  I hope that my client gets some real justice for her.  She has the love of her children and her former co-workers, but I hope it does not stop there.  One of my other clients is working at another area hospital where I visited with my daughter who suffers from debilitating headaches.  My client was my daughter's nurse and she was wonderful.  My daughter's care was superb and our nurse, my former client, told her co-workers that we were like family to her. I felt very good about that.
   Next year, at the annual celebration concerning the case, I hope to see my first client flourishing.  This year it was hard because I did not know how badly the divorce and ensuing litigation had been.  This woman is a hero.  I hope next year she can know that.  It is not easy to be the one to stand up and say, "No more."  I hope my client realizes the good she has done and can someday look back on this episode of her life without the pain in her heart.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Not All Toymakers Are Willy Wonka

I am working on a products liability case against a Chinese manufacturer.  Since the case is pending, I will not go into too much detail.  However, this mega-toy manufacturer, with its American cohort, manufactured a product and totally ignored American safety laws.  Our client was gravely injured.  It's the kind of case that haunts a parent's dreams.  Yet, when the American wing of this mega-bucks Chinese company was successfully sued for trademark infringement, the American company up and liquidated the company and transferred all assets to some other phony, baloney shell company, all the while protecting the fat-cat American who is profiting from being the front for this unscrupulous mega-rich foreign company.

Many years ago, there was a Saturday Night Live skit where Dan Aykroyd played an unscrupulous toy manufacturer.  He was interviewed by Candace Bergen, promoting his company's new toy, "Bag of Glass," a bag full of broken glass.  At least potential buyers could see the product for what it was, dangerous.  Our client was unsuspecting and not so fortunate.

How can we make this foreign company stop hurting people?  I don't know and I am frustrated.