Practice Makes Progress

Neuronal connections symbolize learning

I chose to continue interning at the office for one reason—trial experience. My hope is that by the time my internship is finished, I will have a substantial number of jury and bench trials under my belt. However, I know that the number I end up with will only be a fraction of the trials I prepared for.

In the past few weeks, I’ve had more half-starts than I care to count. Fortunately, we haven’t had to drop any cases because an essential witness failed to appear, but many of our cases dissolve moments before trial when the defendant accepts our plea offer. While my participation in hearings and dispositions has greatly improved my courtroom demeanor, presentation skills, and overall confidence, I’m still short on the quantifiable measure of verdicts in my favor.

Yet if I’ve learned one thing over the course of my internship it’s this: Never let lackluster action get in the way of a good learning opportunity. Therefore, with as little humility as possible, I present part four in the critically acclaimed series, Making The Best Of It: A Courageous Journey of Self Discovery, Despite Very Little Actually Happening.

It was a dark and stormy night—which was exceedingly unusual for a bright, warm morning in Pleasantville, USA. The courtroom, jam-packed with overawed spectators and press, was silent but for the bated breath of the crowd. Later accounts would attribute the silence to lack of interest on the part of the few people in attendance, but I refuse to impugn the majesty of the proceedings by even responding to such slander. With the necessary formalities duly pronounced by the stately and conscientious judge, it was finally time for the prosecution’s opening statement.

The courageous young prosecutor strode to the well of the courtroom with a sense of purpose and determination driving her every step. When she spoke, her eloquence and poise caused tears of joy to flow from the eyes of even the most cynical journalists in attendance. Her theory of the case and narrative of the facts caused defense counsel to first squirm in fear, and finally to hang their head in despair—for they knew they had already lost. Her mastery of the law, and comprehensive yet succinct application of controlling precedent to the case, caused her colleagues to look on in wonder. This was a day they would always speak of with reverence. Her persuasiveness and the irresistible force of her conclusion caused the jury members to erupt in a spontaneous frenzy. “We the jury,” they cried, “find this defendant guilty!” It was only the great dignity of the judge, and the esteem everyone felt toward the bench, that was able to restore order to the courtroom.

Obviously, none of that happened. (Except the parts about the judge. Those parts happened.) Instead, I spent every waking hour preparing for trials that never materialized. Since, despite my best efforts, I still don’t have a verdict in my favor to list on my resume, I’ve had to invent another method for developing trial experience—vicarious learning.

In essence, I’ve been attending every trial I can, and critiquing both sides. I would never represent this work as the equivalent of actual experience, but I can say that the vicarious learning process is beneficial. I’ve learned both what to avoid and what to emphasize. I’ve tried watching as a jury member for nervous tics and other stylistic concerns. I’ve put myself in the position of the judge, ruling on objections and posing questions of law.

Besides just making note of the errors, I practice alternate, improved tactics. For instance, opposing counsel had a difficult witness on cross, and spent an inordinate amount of time asking rambling, compound questions that elicited damaging responses. Afterwards, I practiced my own cross examination questions with the help of some friends. I practiced until I got it right. Then I practiced until I couldn’t get it wrong.

In the end, I’ve realized that the quality of my experience doesn’t depend on courtroom drama, and my growth can’t be reduced to the number of cases I’ve tried. Competency is a process and it’s called the practice of law for a reason. By making the best of every day of my internship, I’m putting myself one step closer to my goal.

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