The biggest mistake trial lawyers make

Flashback 1991

Tom Chambers has summoned me.  I walk down the hall past Sheila - Tom’s right hand office manager whom we have nicknamed Sheera Princess of Power.  Enter his fake office.  The one where he meets with clients or other lawyers and important people.   It is as big as a large living room.   Sitting proudly next to the marble fireplace is an imposing desk.  There is one small pile of papers neatly stacked on it just so.  As if ready for a magazine photo shoot.

Ignoring all of the magnificence, I head towards an open door on the left side of the room.   The door leads to a closet.    Tom’s real office.   Inside, papers and files are piled high on unimposing furniture.  Tom sits there contentedly.  Surrounded by his cases.

The room is so small that I have to stand outside of its doorway.  Tom hands me a file.  He has obtained a large uninsured motorist award in an arbitration.  It well exceeds the policy limits.  He tried to settle with the insurance company.  But as usual they are obstinate, unreasonable, and have forced litigation.  Now after making its insureds waste time and expense fighting for payment, the insurance company is only willing to pay the award up to its policy limits.  But Tom has another idea.  The idea involves me.  My assignment is to get the insurance company to pay the rest of the money.

Me:        I don’t see how this can be done.

TJC:        It can be.

Me:        Is there precedence for this.  Do you have anything for me to work from.

TJC:       Just looks at me with that steady unblinking semi-smile of his.

Me:        I don’t see how this can be done.  (Mentally roll my eyes).

I take the file.  Review it.  Research it.  Write a brief.  Read the opposition brief and know we are going to lose.  Remind Tom of this.  Research more.  Write the reply brief.

The day has dawned for the motion hearing.   Complain one more time to Tom.   He barely blinks.  Try a different approach:  Hey Tom maybe you’d like to argue this.  No.  He wouldn’t.

Alysha is still an infant.  Hand her carrier to Sheila so she can watch her.  Drive the few miles to Third & James.

Trudge into Judge Faith Ireland’s courtroom.    This is going to be so embarrassing.  Am going to lose this big time.  Say hi to the defense lawyer with downcast eyes.  Preparing for the inevitable thrashing.

Judge enters.  Calls me to the bench.  I stand up and deliver.

Defense lawyer goes next.  Haughty and snotty.  Says I am a dumb dumb and don’t know what the heck I’m talking about (paraphrasing just a little).

Judge Ireland says:  motion granted.  I smile slightly and pull out a proposed order.  As if I always expected to win and this is no big deal.

Defense lawyer is continuing to argue.  Her face is actually red.  Finally the court shuts her down.  Signs the order and sends us on our way.

Drive back to the office.  Walk up the stairs.  Cross the fake office.  Stand in the doorway of the real office.

Tom looks at me.  With his half smile.

I shamefully announce the news that I won.

And he grins.

Moral of the story:  The biggest mistake trial lawyers make is giving up too soon.