From Insult to Experience


February 1, 2014 by williamsjustliving

My client was sticking to the not guilty plea, and rejecting all plea bargains. I had looked at the evidence with my law partner, and we felt that our client was actually innocent. So, we set about the process of drawing up a few motions that might, if granted, cripple or destroy the prosecution’s case. My motion, in particular, would have dissolved the case against my client if it was granted. Other than that, we were ready for trial from open to close and every examination between the two. Every exhibit had been prepared.

I submitted my motions–my very first criminal trial motions since being barred. The prosecutor laughed aloud while looking over my motion. Later, the prosecutor took both of us aside and lectured us for about 20 minutes, telling us that we “didn’t understand the way the law worked” and we had only submitted the motions because we “are young” and the prosecutor “knew” that our client was guilty among other choice phrases. I was, for once in my life, completely at a loss for words.

I was insulted. Personally insulted and livid. But, I learned a list of important lessons.

1. Be mad, be nervous, but be prepared above all. My partner and I did not make it a secret that we were prepared for trial. We actually were prepared. Our trial notebooks were the stuff of fantasies.

2. Never assume that the opposition will adhere to that unwritten code of professionalism. Never assume that another lawyer’s definition of professionalism matches yours.

3. Verbal volleys are rather pointless unless the volleys take place in front of the judge. My law partner constantly reminded me: “Get in front of the judge and let the judge decide.”

4. Your colleagues are watching you when you interact with opposing counsel. Your reputation spreads far and quickly–and it’s difficult to change that reputation.

5. Don’t take anything personal….except the things that are personal. I didn’t take it personally that my client was charged. I didn’t take personally the things said in front of the judge. I’ll let you guess about what I did take personally.

6. Be polite, or at least be quiet. That was one thing I did right and completely by accident. I was silent. I did not have anything cutting to say back to the prosecutor because I was unprepared. What would have been the point of standing nose to nose with the prosecutor exchanging hot words? How was that going to help me be prepared to stand in front of a jury and plead my client’s case?

7. Always, always keep your eye on the ball. The insult that I felt was a red herring in the fact pattern of defending my client. That is always the goal.


2 thoughts on “From Insult to Experience

  1. Ellen says:

    Hi Michelle! What a fantastic post! I think these are great lessons that you’re sharing.

    I would love to know whether the prosecutor was male or female. I’ve been an attorney for a little over a year now, and I’ve already experienced condescension and belittlement particularly from male attorneys. So, I just wanted to ask you about the prosecutor out of sheer curiosity.

    I also am dying to know whether the judge granted your motion. What, if anything, did the judge say about your motion?

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