Hurry Up and Wait, Lawyer Version

The title pretty much describes my second week of work. (I should probably talk to Nikki about creating an “Adventures in Las Vegas” category, because while I see the [short squat version of the] Empire State Building and the [short version of the] Chrysler Building almost every day, I’m not actually in NYC…)

Last Friday, I was given two fairly big assignments – summarizing interview transcripts to help an attorney prepare for a preliminary hearing, and creating a trial binder. The hearing was mid-week, so I needed to get the summaries done pretty early. That meant I spent pretty much all of Monday reading interviews. Approximately 800 pages of interviews. I got through every thing, and was able to drop off the summary on Tuesday, after which, I began printing documents for the trial binder. I have no idea how many pages I printed, only that it was a bigger stack of paper than the 800ish pages of interview transcripts. I printed, hole-punched, and tabbed with a description all of the files available, while checking to ensure that there weren’t duplicates of anything. That took all of Tuesday, and part of Wednesday morning, but I was able to drop of the binder on Wednesday.

I spent a decent amount of time observing in court as well. There were two oral arguments this week that we were advised to attend, and I enjoyed them. It was especially cool to talk to the arguing attorneys afterwards, and hear about the trial itself. Major lesson of one argument: the old saying “The man who represents himself has a fool for a client” is seemingly invariably true. I’m hoping that the rulings come out this summer, but I know that probably won’t be the case. Probably the most interesting thing was how different real arguments are from what I’ve done in the past. Obviously competitions are different, because you’re not being judged on the merits, and it just works generally differently, but even the arguments I did for classes that were supposed to be as close as possible to the “real thing” were different. There’s a much greater emphasis on the facts in real court, and the judges may focus on things that weren’t briefed at all. Granted these were also 50 – 80 page briefs, so not all of the issues briefed were mentioned during argument.

Thursday, I attended court with one of the more senior attorneys. She was going to let me conduct one of the sentencing hearings. I spent a good chunk of time Wednesday afternoon prepping for the hearing, and felt pretty ready by the time the hearing was scheduled. Unfortunately, the defendant didn’t show up, so I didn’t get to do anything, other than sit there and look pretty and briefly stand up. I spent a bit of time Thursday working on my appeals brief, but I need to really get cracking on that next week to make sure I’ve got plenty of time.

One cool/unique thing that happened in court Thursday was that we had a defendant who had two cases, both scheduled (intentionally) for the same day, but in different court rooms (that happened to be adjacent to each other. Our judge was extremely efficient, and we had a light calendar, so by the time we were finished, the judge next door hadn’t heard our defendant’s case yet. In a surprising showing of judicial efficiency, our judge said “We’re all going to go next door, we’ll deal with both hearings simultaneously.” This was surprising, to say the least. We ended up conducting the hearing with two judges and two sets of attorneys (two prosecutors and two defenders). The judges made their rulings independently. I feel kind of bad for the reporter/recorder who had to figure out what was going on, and who was talking when. The attorneys I talked to all said they’d never seen anything even remotely similar to that before.

One thing that happened Thursday that I’ve actually experienced before was having the defendant’s family present at sentencing. I would imagine that eventually I’ll get used to hearing people start sobbing behind us after the judge announces the sentence, but that hasn’t quite happened yet. One thing that was new about the sentencing hearing was that a victim was present to make a statement. This particular victim did, I thought, a pretty good job of making his statement. A decent balancing of emotion and reason. It didn’t hurt that he was a very sympathetic victim either, or that the defendant wasn’t particularly contrite. I’m sure I’ll grow out of this, but hopefully when I’m (more) jaded and cynical I’ll re-read this and remember how at one point, it struck me as significant that these routine day-to-day events for attorneys are major life events for the parties (victims/witnesses/defendants/families) involved. Granted, that is a huge part of why I’d rather do this type of work than the BigLaw firm work…

Friday was a big day for us, to an extent. In the morning, my intern buddy (the one assigned to the same team as me) and I went to help with the traffic pre-trials. We were basically working out deals for minor traffic violations, so that these people don’t all end up in court. A surprising number of people refused to take the deal, but I wasn’t surprised by the number of people who wanted to complain about this, that, and the other. The attorneys generally dislike working in traffic court, but for a rising 3L, it was actually kinda fun. It helped to remind me that the mundane things in an attorney’s life (dismissing or reducing a traffic fine) can actually make a really big deal in the life of the person being fined. I was also again reminded how useful Spanish is. (This is another one that I’m pretty sure I could deal with myself, instead of needing an interpreter.) My team is only assigned to traffic court one Friday a month, but I’ll probably volunteer to help out again in July.

Friday afternoon was our visit to the detention center. This wasn’t a huge deal for me, because I’ve visited other detention centers in the past, but for several of the other interns, it was their first time. So that was kind of cool and interesting, to see how they reacted and what they thought. We got a first hand sight at the overcrowding problems that we’ve been hearing about the last two weeks. The officer who took us on the tour was a pretty cool guy, even if giving tours wasn’t his preferred gig.

I have (at least) two motions to write for next week, I want to draft my appeal, and 5 of my attorneys are going to be in 3 different trials. Hopefully the trials will generate some new work for me as well. I’m certainly keeping busy!

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