Yesterday, the 19th of October was thirty years since I took the oath of admission to the Florida Bar. I was twenty-three on that long-ago day and so excited to start on my journey to “Save the World” one client at a time. When I look back at the girl I was back then, I see someone who thought she was smart and savvy until the day she walked into a real courtroom for the first time to try a case and learned that people lie on the witness stand. They actually lie- actively and purposefully. I can remember how stunned I was at that revelation. It was a total blow to the solar-plexus. I quickly figured out I needed to factor that into my arsenal of skills and learn to cross-examine more aggressively and effectively.
I have been privileged to represent people from all over the spectrum of wealth, social status and mental health. Each client has etched something into my heart whether for good or for bad. I carry the scars of all those cases but amazingly, I learned in the early days of my journey that I could not bring that stuff home with me or I’d be in the mental ward myself. Some cases were harder than others not to take home- especially when I did child custody work, but leaving it at the office was important so I did my level best to do so.
One funny story from that first year of practice involved the first criminal case I handled. The accused was an 18 year old girl. She was charged with criminal mischief. In Florida, at first appearances (where the plea of not guilty and request for jury trial is taken by the court), if the case is a misdemeanor, the client does not have to appear. So, I walked in and when my client’s case was called, I came forward to the bench to face the judge. He looked down at me and said, “Little girl, where’s your lawyer?”
I replied, “I AM the little girl’s lawyer.”
He slunk down in his chair and apologized. I thought it was pretty funny myself but the man continued to apologize to me whenever he saw me until the day he retired.
By the way, I won that case- all charges were dismissed against my client when I showed there was no way the witnesses could identify the culprit since it was a dark night and the street lights were out. As well, my client was across town at a bonfire. That victory was sweet and showed me I could really do this job.