When I joined the office, I didn’t know what a capias was, what nolle prosequi meant, or what WST stood for. My vocabulary has expanded to include these terms of art, and relaxed to allow the more liberal use of expletives. I’ve learned to attack the defense’s argument without attacking the defendant. I’ve learned to spot my own flaws and turn them into strengths.
But there are also lessons I haven’t mastered. I’m intellectually aware of the fact that I’m a newbie lawyer at best, but emotionally, I want to be recognized as a promising new-blood. I’m still struggling to forego legal jargon and complication in favor of accessibility and simplicity. Most of all, I’m having a hard time reconciling what I think others think of me with what I think of myself.
Our culture is obsessed with reality shows and being judgmental, but only lawyers appreciate what it’s like to be found wanting by judge and jury—and see someone else eliminated. It’s stressful to represent another person’s vulnerable interests in their moment of need. For someone as self-critical as I am, even winning isn’t enough to silence the whispers of inadequacy. Doing your best simply isn’t good enough when lives are on the line.
So, I stay up late reading case files and show up late for everything less important than the docket—because that’s what the other side does. Out of all the lessons I’ve learned over the past ten weeks, the respect I’ve gained for opposing counsel is the most surprising. My naive presupposition was that public defenders were some kind of evil monsters, paid to make excuses for the worst scum on earth. But the more I work with them, the more I appreciate the societal value of a strong defense—regardless of the accusations.
Life before law school teaches you to think in rudimentary black and white sketches. A legal education fills in the textures and shadows with shades of grey. The actual practice of law reveals the full spectrum of colors—the intricate, irreducible complexity of reality. I can’t claim to understand it all yet, but seeing the world with open eyes definitely has its advantages.