If left to my own devices, I’m kind of a quiet person. But I’m not really an introvert, because once I’m around a crowd I’m naturally outgoing and talkative. This dual personality has served me well. I’m just as happy sitting in a quiet office working on a stack of intake files as I am speaking to a group of attorneys in the break room where interns aren’t even supposed to be.
However, this week, I had to step out of my comfort zone a bit. Last semester, while interning at the ECU, I had no problem feeling productive. Since the ECU moves at a slower pace, I was able to spend more time with my supervisor, and almost always had a project to work on. Now that I’m in DV, we’re so busy that we have meetings in the elevator instead of the conference room. So I had to adapt.
Rather than wait around hoping someone would notice me and give me a trial to work on, I identified a gap in our existing trial preparation and assigned myself to solve it. While observing our trials, I noticed that quite a few of our witnesses and victims were coming to court wearing inappropriate attire. Even worse, we often had to refresh our victim’s recollection on the stand—which severely undercuts the credibility of the allegations. I mentioned the problem to my supervisor, and while he agreed with my assessment, he seemed to think there was nothing to be done about it.
I guess most interns do what they’re told instead of finding things to do. I guess they didn’t realize I’m not like most interns. Now, our witnesses show up on time, fully prepared, and in the best looking dress clothes they own. Even better, in taking the time to talk with the witnesses beforehand, I’m able to anticipate gotcha moments that might otherwise happen during cross, and pose those questions to the witnesses beforehand.
For example, one witness was surreptitiously recording an argument with a family member and the recording became a key piece of corroborating evidence for her side of events. Opposing counsel could have easily used this fact against our witness during cross. It would’ve been simple to attack her credibility by implying that she was the aggressor (and there was enough ambiguity for that to have succeeded).
The real story was much better for our case. She had been recording the confrontation because the defendant had falsely accused her in the past. But instead of trying to explain herself to opposing counsel on the stand, she could calmly tell her side to a friendly face—and we could then preempt any appearance of impropriety.
I love being prepared. Of course, I realize that in the overwhelming flood of cases our office is under, it’s nearly impossible to do everything carefully. Had our witness not answered the phone, there would’ve been no time to prepare despite my best efforts. But the benefits of preparation can’t be denied, and I will always do my best to stay a few steps ahead of opposing counsel. The real lesson for the week however, is that sometimes I need to be a self-starter and go search for problems to solve. It’s a lesson I’m glad I didn’t have to learn the hard way.