I admit I am still a little shell shocked about April's guilty verdict. Since then I have been plagued off and on by anxiety. It happens mostly when I have something set for litigation. There are times I dread going to court. Why?
I think it's the losing that really bothers me. We defense attorneys don't win much. I don't think we are supposed to. So, we tend to redefine what winning means. A clear win is a not guilty verdict. Or a motion to suppress that's granted. Or perhaps getting a case dismissed. Those are awesome wins.
I know lawyers that do death penalty cases. And in trials they lose, they consider it a win if they get life in prison as opposed to death. I get that. There have been cases where I have been able to negotiate an awesome deal. That's a win. Getting a bond reduced. A win.
I have set myself up to recognize almost anything positive as a win. It helps keep my spirit up. Trust me, doing criminal defense work in Chicago, and especially the type of cases I handle, is like begging to get the shit kicked out of you. And then coming back for more.
Sadly I don't seem to savor the wins long enough. There is always another case in the next courtroom or on tomorrow's calendar. It just never ends. But the loses can haunt me and there's where the problem lies.
Since I don't have 20 years in the business, anytime something goes wrong, I question my abilities as an attorney. I think it's natural. But it stinks. It sits inside while eating away and rotting. I can feel it. It's horrible.
Why am I so torn up about a bad verdict? There are lots of reasons. It's not pride. My ego isn't really involved. I know I have a lot to learn. I realize only experience will sharpen me into the lawyer I will ultimately become.
The reason is because another person's freedom is tied to my ability and skill as an advocate. There it is. It's really that simple. My client in the last case is now just 18. The crime happened when he was 16. He faces a minimum sentence of 45 real years, in real prison. His adult life is gone before it started.
And I am constantly asking myself: was I good enough? Sure there are things about that case that still make me wonder. I had a jury that didn't want to be there. They gave a very quick 45 minute verdict on a bad case for the State. And the fact that everyone in the courtroom expected a not guilty. Or maybe that I have solid legal grounds for a new trial? Or perhaps that one day a reviewing court will send it back for a new trial should it not be granted by the trial judge?
All of that just might be rationalizations I have created to make me feel better about a miserable event. Or they might be legitimate and I am simply too hard on myself. If there is any solace in that case, it's that the co-defendant was also convicted. And his attorney is one of the most experienced homicide trial attorneys in the county. She says I did a good job. But is she just being nice?
I have definitely been in a funk since mid April. Never mind that the very next week I got a murder case dismissed on the day of trial. That didn't count to my psyche apparently. It was quickly forgotten. It didn't even out the guilty verdict the week before. Not even close.
I often Tweet about the State not being ready for suppression hearings and trials. And I do it in a complaining manner. But in some cases, I admit a little part of me has been relieved.
Being a litigator is interesting. It can go from absolutely terrifying one moment, to euphoric the next. It definitely gets my adrenaline flowing. Standing up and speaking in court, whether it's in front of a judge or jury, is an opportunity. It's an opportunity to sound like a skilled lawyer or a complete boob.
And even when there's no jury present, there are still plenty of others hanging around to humiliate yourself in front of. I have seen and heard other lawyers make idiots of themselves. And I fear I will too (or already have).
Some of the things I have written about in this post, are probably the reasons most lawyers never go to court. And even of those that actually appear in court, so very few litigate. And even fewer try cases. And even fewer than that try criminal cases. And yet, still fewer try the serious criminal stuff like murders where the stakes are incredibly high.
Litigating at the high stakes table plays hell on the nerves. It can't be good for the body. I have a double attempt murder trial next Monday. And my client wants a jury. Ok, he gets his jury. But sitting here now more than 5 days out, my forehead is already getting oilier and I can feel a breakout coming.
Next I will start sleeping poorly. A lack of appetite will follow. And I will loose weight. Coffee, alone, will sustain me for days. Then the trial will finally start. I will stand up to do my opening and the fear will disappear before I open my mouth.
I am a total mess for days leading up to the big show, but once it starts, I relax. Of course I get nervous again before closing arguments. But again, once I stand up to talk, I quickly calm. I wonder if it will be like this forever?
And despite all of this, it still feels like this is what I am supposed to be doing. There must be something really wrong with me.
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6 months ago