Penlessness and the Way of the Poker Face
Thursday, April 03, 2008
Man, I have to tell someone this story, because frankly, I can't tell anyone at the office. It's just too...embarassing, sorta.
A while ago, on the day I returned from my vacation with wifey Kim in Mexico, I was greeted in the office by the head secretary and Big Bossman, beckoning me into his office. My assignment was to cover a case for the Big Bossman in a smaller court. It seemed odd to me that we would even have such a case until I saw the plaintiff, Big Bossman. Unlike my other cases, this wasn't a case for the firm, necessarily, but the individual litigation of my boss.
I won't go into details, but it was my job to essentially babysit the case at court. If the judge wanted to start the trial, I was to call Bossman immediately. If not, I was supposed to get the trial date.
Surprising to me and Bossman, the court ordered the case to mediation, where both parties meet with a court mediator with the hopes of settling the case. I protested briefly since I thought it would be pointless to this particular action, but once I got the okay to mediate the case from the Bossman via telephone, I went about going through the motions.
When I was in law school, I acted as a mediator in Small Claims Court in Queens, NY. Because of this, I knew all of the tools of the trade, and I enjoyed watching the elderly mediator go through the motions as though he were a hack actor reading a script. He was terrible, but once I got him to see that the case could not settle, he rubber stamped us and we were told by the court that our trial date would be today, April 3. For the record, it was a bench trial, decided by a judge instead of a jury.
When I returned to the office and told Bossman about the results, he told me matter-of-factly that I would be trying the case. I should note that I had never tried any case (trials are something that young attorneys rarely do), but I did my best to see the opportunity as something positive. First of all, it demonstrated that the Bossman had faith in me. Second, it was a pretty easy case and a good one to sink my teeth into for a first trial.
The pitfall was obvious, though. My client was my boss and if I messed up, I would not only mess up in front of my boss, but I would, in fact, cause my boss to lose money. Both are not pleasant concepts.
This week, I hoped to meet with Bossman daily to prepare me for the trial for which only he knew the details. Yesterday, I finally met with the Bossman and to my surprise, he decided that while I would direct his examination on the stand, he would do the rest of the case, with me as second chair. This was actually fine by me, since it was easier to prepare for one witness, my boss who is an attorney, rather than prepare for several in the short time I had.
Once again, the plan was for me to go to the court and babysit the case, calling the Bossman once I knew it would go on trial. He was only 30 minutes away, and most courts will allow that minor delay, since there is enough for them to do in the meanwhile.
Everything went according to plan this morning. I got to the court early, since I couldn't sleep. I wore my power suit and tie. The courtroom opened at 9:30, and it wasn't until 9:25, though, that I realized I didn't have something that is crucial in every case...a pen.
I shit you not people, I forgot to bring a fucking writing utensil. I searched my bag, where I assumed I would have pens aplenty, only to find one bright orange highlighter. I thought about running down to the newstand in the lobby to see if they sold pens, but it was too late. I resigned myself to babysitting the case, with the hope that I would find an opportunity to sneak downstairs at some point to procure a pen. I didn't know anything in particularly required a pen, but logic would dictate that a pen would at the very least be handy.
At one point, before entering the courtroom, I sat on a bench in the hallway next to an older attorney. This wasn't the first time I'd been penless. The last time, though, was probably grade school.
As a kid, I was a very forgetful person. I'd often lose things or forget to do homework. I always got by, though, because I was a quick thinker and I was able to BS with the best of them. On more than one ocassion, I was sans pen or pencil, and at times, I'll admit that I would do whatever was necessary to procure one. Usually, that meant relying on friends and desk neighbors to help me out when needed. When that happened too often, it meant sneaking over to someone else's desk and swiping one. Sometimes, it meant scanning the room for an errant pen left on the floor or on an unattended desk or window sill. I was like a freaking ninja/cat burglar, with my skill at stealing pens for my own purposes.
Sitting next to the older attorney, I felt like a grade schooler once again. I considered asking him if he had an extra pen as a professional courtesy. When he got up to go to the bathroom, I considered patting down the bag he put down, open, right new to me, but I thought that my petty grade-school theft was no longer an option as an adult. But it did cross my mind...more than once.
The second time was while I sat in the courtroom. A clerk had a couple of pens at his desk, and I considered swiping one as he was constantly up and about. Sadly, when I was in striking distance, the only pen was red, and the risk was not worth the reward. Now a black pen would've seen me pull off some crazy caper-like stunts, but red...no sir.
The law clerk told me that the trial would start in 30 mins, so I called the Bossman. He was at the court in 30 minutes with his witness in tow. We all chatted outside and at one point, my Bossman told me that I would do the entire trial. I have to admit, my internal jaw dropped, even if I kept my poker face on. I could handle Bossman on the stand, since I had prepared for it and practiced, but I didn't know what to do about the other witness and the defendants' witnesses. As I previously mentioned, I'm good at BSing, so ultimately, I felt confident that I could handle the situation. However, that's when Bossman turned to me and said, "Now, I need you to take some notes for the other witnesses. Go into the court and bring out a pad."
GULP, I inwardly thought. I knew that I did not have a pen, and while I could BS my way through some notes with a highlighter, I could not prepare for several new witnesses that way. I reentered the courtroom without a plan. I considered asking Bossman if he had an extra pen. I lined up my excuses...(1) I just switched work bags and did not realize that I did not have a pen in this one. Sounds plausible, but still irresponsible. (2) My pen exploded and I did not have a backup. This was a possibility, but there would be no evidence of an exploded pen. No pen, no ink stains, nothing. Also, why didn't I have a backup pen? (3) My pen(s) ran out of ink. I figured I could pull this off for two pens. "I thought I was good, but the pens were dead."
When I entered the courtroom to grab my pad, the judge called out the case. "One second, your honor, my client is in the hall." He motioned for me to go, and I stepped into the hallway. "Bossman, we are on." I felt a bit nervous, but also a tad relieved. "Okay," Bossman replied, "tell the judge that you'll handle my testimony, but I'll do the rest." And in one fell swoop, the fortunate coincidence of our case being called just as I was sent to grab a pen saved me, not only from admitting my penless ways, but from trying a case I was not prepared to try.
The trial went extremely well, and the Bossman told more than a few people that I did an excellent job. My penless cover-up also went exceedingly well. When we approached the plaintiffs' table, I left my bag in the bench area of the courtroom. This way, if I only had my highlighter, at least one would consider that I had pens with me, but just in my bag. I relied on my highlighter as a pen, taking brief notes, and the Bossman did not seem to notice or mind. At the end of the trial, the court handed us an envelope to write down our name/address. Conveniently (cough cough), at that exact moment I began packing up my things. Bossman, who was doing nothing at that moment, took the envelope and began to fill it out. Another penless crisis averted.
Once again, my poker face and ability to bullshit saved my ass. Truth be told, not having a pen is not such an egregious offense, but it does demonstrate a lack of care and/or preparation. I've always felt that getting through difficult tasks largely is about confidence. If you act like you know what you are doing, people will think you know what you are doing and will treat you as such. That was the key to my success...that, and my constant search for alternative solutions.
Back at the office, I wanted to share my clever deceit with someone, anyone, but I knew I could not, lest my ill preparedness be exposed. But I have you, my loyal readers. You won't tell, will you?
Until next time, make mine poker!
posted by Jordan @ 3:48 PM,
- At 11:57 AM, Instant Tragedy said...
Do you have a spare scantron?
Way To Go Jordan!
- At 7:08 PM, said...
Jezus, that's a tortured tale leading nowhere. You sound like the kind of lawyer I always end up with.
- At 8:30 AM, Alan aka RecessRampage said...
Great post. This was extremely entertaining, partially because I can relate to the "thinking on the fly" to BS out of a situation. Very nice!