Friday, September 23, 2011

In Memory of a Little Girl

My husband's 13 year old cousin died today. She had suffered from debilitating seizures for most of her life. Her grandmother posted the following on Facebook:

"Thank you everyone for your prayers, love and assistance. I pray that in Amanda's memory people (especially children) have awareness and compassion for people that are different. Teach your children to say hello to a child in a special needs class rather than make fun of them or ignore them. They are the most loving children in the world. They are special, but in the most delightful way. As soon as I know arrangements, I will post. We so appreciate your prayers and hearing from so many people (even those we don't know personally)."

My heart goes out to Amanda's family. I am at a loss for words....

Monday, September 19, 2011

Our Crazy Civil Justice - Brave, Committed and Patient People Needed

Most of my clients are worried about going to trial, and with good reason. Being a party to litigation which culminates in trial is not pleasant for either side. It's easiest on the lawyers. Some lawyers think it is their duty to be mean and nasty and others, probably most, get a kick out of rattling the other side. Knowing what I know about how these things go, I would think long and hard before being a party to a lawsuit. I like to think I would sue, if there is a grave injustice, but I know the emotional perils of trial.

I try to tell new clients what to expect in litigation. I refuse to allow lawyers to treat my clients with disrespect in depositions. However, it's impossible to tell what can happen in a trial. The other side wants to portray my clients as a liar, a cheat, greedy, with low morals. It takes a lot of my energy to deal with this and I can imagine what it is like for my clients, who have little control once the trial starts.

My goal is to find the good things in my clients, their courage and kindness, and by the time of trial I really care about my clients the same way I care about my friends and family. My role is not just to be their advocate, but also to be their protector. I am very fortunate because most of my clients display the type of courage in the battle of litigation that I have only dreamt about. It takes quite a toll on me to protect my client and be ready to deal with the other side. But, at least I have some control over the situation. I plan the strategy, ask the questions and make the objections. My client has to sit at the counsel table, displayed before judge, jury and opposing counsel, without any control whatsoever. My clients can only talk while being questioned. They must relinquish control and trust me, even while knowing sometimes our cases don't work out.

I believe that most of my opposing attorneys are fine, upstanding people, but every once in awhile, oftentimes based on comments from the lawyers, the other side will not resolve the case until the lawyers has exacted his pound of flesh. Ironically, this phrase comes from Shylock in the Merchant of Venice, and Shylock does not portray the lawyer Shylock in a very favorable light. Insteadvof flesh, some lawyers want to make a certain amount of money off the case before they will discuss settlement. Their pound of flesh is the unnecessary pounding on my clients from which they bill their time. The more time, the more unnecessary work, the more money that lines their pockets.

I long for the days before my time when lawyers just went in and tried their cases. No whorish experts, no multiple day long depositions. The way we drag out the civil justice system today is unfair. As some Supreme Court Justice one said one day long ago, "Justice delayed is justice denied." Perhaps we need to examine why the justice process is taking so long and who reaps the benefit from this delay. Can't we do this better? I think there must be a way.

I wish I could tell my clients what will happen with their case, but all I can do is guess. I don't know the future. At some point, most, but not all cases settle. I tell my clients that sometimes I feel like my job is similar to being a professional gambler. That does not give the client much solace, since I am, I effect, gambling with both their and my money.

It takes a lot of resolve to be a client in litigation heading toward trial. I admire my clients. I admire that most of them want to make the workplace a fairer place. But, darn, this is not a path for the timid of heart nor for the half-hearted. Thank God for the courage of people to do the right thing. My clients restore my faith in humanity.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Cannibalism And The Struggle Against Inhumanity

I have been reading "What It is Like To Go To War" by Karl Marlantes and am struck by how much in common we have with violent warriors. The book is not just about war, it's about humanity. Obviously, warriors kill and fight physical battles, which is foreign to most of society. But the emotions, regrets and knowledge Marlantes recites applies universally to humanity.

In the book Marlantes talks about a friend of his, who, during the end of his tour in Vietnam committed an actionable atrocity. The man beats a prisoner and hangs him upside down from a flagpole. This soldier is, in all other respects, a normal, decent human being. What could make an otherwise normal person torture another human being? Marlantes explains how this one man's actions, while horrible and reprehensible are also understandable. He does not excuse the conduct, but explains it.

I have often wondered about the atrocities perpetrated in places like Bosnia, Rwanda, Nazi Germany, and the like. Who were these perpetrators, and more importantly, what made them carry put these atrocities? Were those "monster" who killed, hacked and mutilated other human beings so different from you and me. I have read books on genocide in Africa, about the rise of the Nazis and I am convinced under the wrong circumstances, a "perfect storm" if you will, any of us could become murderers. we could all become part of marauding cannibals similar to those depicted in "The Road", Cormac McCarthy's post-apocalyptic novel.

What intrigues me about Marlantes' book is his lifelong struggle to understand his own behavior in Vietnam and to learn from it. He proposes methods to prevent soldiers from reverting to inhumanity. At first blush, it is easy to rationalize that soldiers act bad because war makes them bad. And, that is partly true. However, we all have darker, baser sides against which we must guard ourselves. Genocide is extreme bullying. That sounds trite, but it is true. When human dehumanize others, when humans put others down to enhance their own esteem, when cruelty is rewarded by a group, we risk inhumanity.

One part of the book really intrigues me as a trial lawyer and that is the satisfaction that soldiers may, and oftentimes do, feel when killing the enemy. Marlantes describes it in ways that remind me of a winning home run, the deciding touchdown, and the win at trial. One year, my husband and i went to a University of Missouri football game against Nebraska and I sat by a little girl in a Nebraska cheerleading outfit. She was 4 or 5 years old and instead of thinking, oh, how cute, she became the epitome of the enemy. When my rational self returned, I was scared. How could I, a grandmotherly mother of two reflect such I'll feelings on a cute little girl? At that moment, she was not just a little girl, but the enemy.

At trial, I have wanted decimate my "enemy". It's a real high to battle in the courtroom and win. It's physiological. Every night while I am in trial, I have an adrenaline crash. I live
on adrenalin in the courtroom and oftentimes in depositions. I hate to admit it, but those
highs are some of the real draws to this job. It scares me sometimes. I can imagine that instead of being a 58 year old female trial lawyer, I am a 22 year old soldier and how feeling
that rush could lead to disaster.

In our family, my kids and I all have odd little phobias, things that scare us enough we will not go to movies or read books about them. To my daughter, it is vampires; to my son it is worms; and to me it is cannibals. I never understood why cannibals have scared me so much ever since I was a little girl watching cannibal movies. Today, I think I understand why I am so afraid of cannibals. In actual fact, it is not that I am afraid of being eaten by cannibals, but that I am afraid of becoming one.

What it takes

Friday, September 2, 2011


Writer's block!!!!! I have been thinking about war, aggression, the meaning of life and illness. Plus spontaneity and intuition. Nothing I can articulate yet. I am reading the new Karl Marlantes book, "What It Is Like to Go to War" about war and morality. Yikes. Hope to be writing again soon.