Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Life of a Trial Lawyer

My Mississippi friend Vicki Robinson Slater, wrote;

"Do you know what a trial lawyer is?  Unlike doctors or other lawyers, they don't demand cash on the barrel head for services.  Because even middle class Americans can't really afford a lawyer.  So they fight for their clients and work many 60, 70 and 80 hour weeks with no pay unless they win the case.  They have been vilified, laughed at, warred on and joked about.  They watch every piece of legislation in the State capitols and in DC and warn people when their rights are being diminished.  Like most prophets, their warnings are rarely heeded and the people scoff in disbelief.  Their numbers are diminishing - they are growing old and dying off - and when they are gone then there will be no rights left.  The people have been convinced by Karl Rove and corporate America ALEC and the Koch Bros. to fight against their own warriors, the only lawyers who will stand with them and once the people help defeat their own warriors - they will be unmoored not only from the most basic of human rights, but also from their dignity."

I sometimes say that being a plaintiffs' trial lawyer is like being a professional gambler. We never KNOW what the outcome of a case will be. We represent people on contingent fees and sometimes things go wrong and our clients lose. Even though I have other cases, it is hard for me to emotionally recover forum a loss. Obviously, I know it can be devastating for my clients and I do not want to underplay their sense of loss. But, for me, it is also devastating. I feel that I have not only disappointed my client, but also I must myself and others in similar circumstances to my client.  I delve deep trying to understand what I did wrong, what I misunderstood, and in what actions I failed. It takes months for me to recover from a trial loss. In the last two years, I have three trial wins and three trial losses. I focus on the losses.  It's not just because I don't get paid if I lose. Practicing law is not a mere hobby, it is my livelihood. By the time I go to trial, I am convinced my case is just. So, I must deconstruct the case and determine what went wrong. I want to learn from my losses, but it is painful to relive them.

I believe in civil rights and I believe we are on the cusp of gender equality in wages and LGBTQ equality. Yet, we haven't achieved racial equality or anything close to it even though we have been working on those issues for over 150 years. Prejudices run deep.

I have been fighting this fight, and getting paid only when we settle a case or win it outright, for 33 years. Fighting for 33 years, more than half of my lifetime, takes a toll. I am not as idealistic as I was. I am much more cynical. And sometimes I tire of the fight. But after this length of time, I am little suited for any other job and I believe being a trial lawyer is now inextricably a part of me.

I am going to the KC Royals opening game tonight. I love watching those young guys fight!  Would professional athletes keep playing professionally if they were only paid when they win?  Can you imagine a Workd Series where winner takes all the money?  So, how crazy are we trial lawyers?

1 comment:

  1. Don't 98 or 99% of cases that go through the Jackson County Circuit court, settle before trial? That was the figure I heard for the year of 2014.