Every Battle Matters

Charles A. Lindbergh on the witness stand.

The Suffolk Superior Court is an imposing structure, 15 stories high, it looks like a prison but lacks the bars. Nothing could ever prepare you for what goes on inside those courtrooms.

Everything hushes as the judge enters and takes his seat. The judge sits, elevated, in his chair before two massive windows and a courtroom full of people waiting to be heard. A few brave souls continue to whisper, trying to avoid the specter of an impending trial by settling their case right now. You are on pins and needles until your matter is called. This motion could mean everything. Or nothing. Your opponent speaks first and the judge looks down at you, over his glasses, and says “would you like to respond?” You pause ever so slightly, only able to hear your own intake of breath, and begin.

Before you know it, it’s over. The battle has been fought and you’ve lived to see another day. The matter is “under advisement.” Lines in the sand have been drawn and you have to face your foe every time you are called into court. Real people, your clients, are relying on you to win. Your efforts will impact their lives. Probably forever. Oh, the pressure. The thrill of victory and the crushing pain of defeat.

You won your motion. A cause for celebration. But not for long. It’s one battle in a long war. It’s rare, but you end up on the eve of trial, preparing witnesses for a grueling two-week experience. Everyone must face one another, everyone must face the judge and everyone must face that most incredible and amazing American institution, the jury.

This might sound dramatic. That’s because it is dramatic. Unbelievably so. There is no appropriate way to explain how it feels to have the plaintiff and the defendant, the lawyers, judge and jury and someone on the witness stand giving testimony together in one room. It would be impossible to even try. If you ever have the time, go to court at 9am some weekday morning and watch a trial. Tears, anger, excruciating emotional pain. It all happens on the witness stand.

Lawyers haggling at sidebar with the judge. One side objecting vociferously to testimony they know is harmful to their case. Two sides of one coin. It is the ultimate in advocacy when you have to face your competitor in an enclosed space and duke it out in front of a jury.

And then, resolution. A final decision. What we call a verdict. It means closure. It means two sides get to move on, finally, with their lives. It means one side is overwhelmingly saddened and disappointed and one side is overcome with relief and joy. Winners and losers.

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