A Word of Wisdom for Young Lawyers
by Karen Koehler
Trial lawyers are often per- ceived by the public as arro- gant and phony. One explana- tion for this social perception
is because the art of braggadocio is so
prevalent and even sometimes necessary in our profession. Behind the show,
lie those memories that need to be periodically replayed, so we don’t buy into
the myth of our professional persona.
For my first solo superior court appearance, I was given a file and told
it was a simple entry of an order; I
didn’t have to do anything other than
show up. Unfortunately, I had been
set up. The judge was furious about
something that had happened previously and gave me a tongue-lashing
that seemed to last forever. When it
was over, I walked briskly from the
courtroom, opposing counsel silently
beside me. As we rode down the elevator, tears began to slip out. I was
mortified. We walked out the revolving door and as we parted, the lawyer
spoke kind words of encouragement.
LESSONS: 1) An adversary can be
compassionate and gracious but still
be a worthy advocate; 2) Always be
prepared and know why you have
showed up; 3) Tears of humiliation
can be suppressed until one escapes
from a courtroom.
that I would miss a question or objection,
or do something wrong. I felt like the
phrase “really young dumb attorney”
was emblazoned across my forehead.
A year later, I was assigned to defend
a product liability case involving DES
(drugs given to women which caused
birth defects in their daughters). Depositions were held in big conference rooms.
The drug manufacturers’ attorneys
were seated around the table and again
around the perimeter of the room. We
all wore suits. The plaintiff’s lawyer wore
beads and dangling earrings. I didn’t
have a clue what I was doing.
Questions would be asked and everyone would have a turn. I always tried to
sit at the end of the line. I quaked in fear
LESSONS: 4) If you don’t know what
you’re doing, keep quiet, listen, mimic, and try to implement; 5) It is possible to appear confident, even when
you’re not; 6) There’s something different about the plaintiffs’ bar.
My mentor in insurance defense
was Richard Foreman. Dick decided I
was ready to try my first case. It was
a premises liability action and I was
prepared to the max (and beyond). I
was so nervous. Dick discussed my
need to somehow let the jury know
this was my first trial so they wouldn’t
hold my performance against our cli-
ent. Eventually it was time for open-
ing statements. I was shaky, scared,
and had notes I couldn’t read. Lo and
behold, as I talked, I began to feel
the ground beneath my feet and I be-
came more secure. I was doing it! Just
when I was gathering steam, I heard
a hissing sound from the defense
table. I ignored it and continued.
The hissing came again and again.
Don’t be sidetracked, I told myself.
Finally, I heard Dick yelling (quietly)
in frustration: “Karen, you’ve got all
the names mixed up!” The 12 jurors,
judge, bailiff, court reporter, parties,