Thursday, December 14, 2006

I Swear to Tell the Truth...

I am now in my third year of practice, and despite what I had anticipated, I've not gotten that much courtroom experience. In my experience, being a lawyer isn't anything like what I have seen on television or like what I'd imagined after spending time during the summers watching criminal trials when I was in middle school.

I've taken a few depositions, had a handful of hearings, a teacher termination hearing (kind of like an informal trial), and student discipline hearings. Today I had my second magistrate hearing. Magistrate court in Georgia only has jurisdiction for claims of $15,000 or less, and in counties with populations below a certain number, the judges are not required to have law degrees. Some people call magistrate court the "people's court," and attorneys are often not involved. I had my first magistrate hearing about a year or so ago, and I spent a lot of time preparing my questions for the witnesses I planned to call and getting exhibits ready. I had never even seen a magistrate hearing but knew that it could potentially be like a normal bench trial depending on the judge. Fortunately Plaintiff was representing himself, but at least he was educated and reasonably sane. I've seen pro se plaintiffs claim that someone put a "doo doo machine on his face." Another pro se told a federal judge that the judge "didn't even know the law and that his law clerks did everything anyway and he just signed whatever they told him to." That, not surprisingly, wasn't a winning argument.

After all of my preparation for that first hearing, I only got to say about two sentences. The judge called us up to his bench and asked Plaintiff to describe his claim. Plaintiff did a pretty good job doing so, and then the judge asked me what I thought. I said two sentences, and the judge said he agreed and dismissed the case. My clients (a college) were so impressed and just couldn't believe I won in less than forty words and without them having to testify.

I've had several other magistrate hearings scheduled in the last year (dog bite and car wrecks), but something always ends up happening (continuance, withdrawal of counsel, dismissal, settlement, etc.). So today I finally had my second hearing. It was in a smaller county, so the judge doesn't have a law degree. I'm not even sure if any degree is required at all for that matter. So anyway the hearing is in the judge's office at a small table with the judge sitting at his desk. At one point he said "I don't like those rules [the rules of evidence that apply to these hearings]. I just want to hear from the people." Spoken like a true elected official, huh?

Well anyway, at the beginning of the proceeding, the judge swears in the parties, raising his hand and asking the witnesses to do the same and swear to tell the truth and so forth. Guess who else raises her hand? Yep, I lost that game of Simon Says. Opposing counsels' eyes about popped out of his head. Hilarious.

It reminded me of the time I was in bankruptcy court and thought I heard the judge call my case, so I proceeded to introduce myself to the court until an attorney I'd made friends with before the hearing told me that it wasn't my case. Oops.

Times like these I am SO glad that I don't embarrass easy. I attribute some of that to my self-worth not being defined by my job and to a high embarrassment threshold. I can thank my father in part for the high threshold. When my sister and I were younger and had friends over, he wouldn't let them order cheeseburgers (and Lord forbid they want to order the "most expensive thing on the menu"--chicken fingers/nuggets) at fast food restaurants. His reasoning was that Burger King and McDonald's charged 25 cents or so for a half slice of cheese, and he had a whole slice at home that only cost a nickel or so. My sister would always be mortified, but I finally got to where it didn't faze me. Thank goodness as my father now sometimes intentionally tries to embarrass me, particularly when I bring guys home. For example, dad likes to ask guys on their first visit home with me if they think we'll get married. He only asks to see how they'll roll with it. Another time he offered to show a guy his hot tub. He took the boyfriend out on the deck and showed him the old bathtub in his backyard. Dad proceeded to explain that when it rained the tub would fill up with water and then when the sun came out, it'd heat it. My dad is unmarried, so his house isn't the cleanest; he claims the spiders and bugs in the corners of rooms are his friends. There's tons of stories, but you get a slight notion of why I gave up on being embarrassed long ago. And it's serving me well as an attorney. So thanks dad.


Aaron said...

+1 Dad.

Thank you for your complete and thorough job of instilling qualities in your daughter that has served her well in the real world. Without it, she'd surely be another mundane blogger with nothing extraordinary to discuss.

Still just me said...

I for one and impressed with you. You sound like a very strong and independent woman who has taken control of your own future. I can bet law school wasn't easy.

Accidentally Me said...

Ahh, those pesky rules of evidence...who needs 'em?

Not being embarrassed easily is also a sign of healthy overall self-esteem. You know who you are, what you are good at, why you are a valuable person, and little mistakes are nothing to be worried about.

I think I like your Dad:-) I don't think I have heard you mention your Mother, is she somewhere in the archives?

e.b. said...

That was a wonderful tale. A very nice tribute to your father and apparently what excellent values and skills he taught you. It also painted a nice picture of small town law practice, pro se plaintiffs and the craziness that sometimes is being a lawyer. I love it.

Ally said...

AM: I think you'd like my mom too. She's really open and candid. Oh, and she used to teach sex-ed too:) Check out this post about my mom and her inadvertent participation in a wet t-shirt contest:

And here's a photo of her:
As you can see, we look nothing alike, but our voices and word usage is very similar.

Aaron: I fear that I'm not a very exciting blog writer regardless, but thanks for your vote:) But there's no doubt that my dad instilled some skills of significant real-world value.

e.b.: I admit that I love the craziness of practice sometimes, which is probably my second favorite part of what little criminal work I do.

still just me: Thank you. I'm working on the whole future thing though:)And yes, law school was tough, but I enjoy school so it wasn't too bad all in all.

Jordan said...

Awww loved that story. Your Dad would make me laugh.

I envy those that had/have good parents.

I certainly, did not.

Anonymous said...

Ally, as a psychologist I must say you evidently have a great respect for you father. I notice,however, you have to add a few eccentricities about him just to keep him humble and hide you obvious great respect for him. I believe all those comments about him had been mentioned in past blogs . However I have noticed that you do have quite a bit in common with your dad. If you can "get Past" those things I think you will be a great lawyer . Sounds as though you need to get a job that involves more actual court hearings? Dr. Ridge

Anonymous said...

I thought lawyering was JUST LIKE Reece Witherspoon in Legally Blonde (1 & 2). I'm disappointed.

You're a good lawyer.

Your father sounds funny. Afterall he raised a great girl like you, huh?

Ally said...

FC&F: I wish lawyering was just like Legally Blonde...witnesses at the spa, lots of pink, and toting my dog around:)

Dr. Ridge: I would like more courtroom experience; I'd be happy with every other week since it takes so much time to prepare for all of the excitment.

Jordan: I'm sorry that you didn't have good parents. I hope God has placed other people in your life to help fill that absence.

kathrynthomas said...

hahahaha. your dad sounds fantastic.