In 1998, I was both a new father and a new lawyer. Fortunately, I was blissfully unaware of how unprepared I was for either gig and that is what kept me from running screaming into the woods. The trial lawyer thing is by far the easier of the two by the way.
In order to spend time with my little ones, I often brought work home and read while they watched videos. The Lion King was in heavy rotation back then— my goal is to tolerate as much use and abuse as a Disney VHS tape. Last week, one scene from that over-played movie came back to me while I was in trial.
After the king lion dies, his son Simba goes through the sort of tribulations usually reserved to Disney princesses. Rafiki, the wise baboon, takes young Simba to the woods to meet his dead father. Instead, Simba looks into a puddle and sees himself.
Simba is angry that he has been tricked and is no closer to figuring out his life. The reflection of Simba’s father tells him simply, “Remember who you are.” With that, the young lion (spoiler alert) becomes king and wins the day.
My oldest son used to repeat the Lion King’s advice over and over, not really knowing what it meant but (rightly) wanting to sound as cool as James Earl Jones. In my memory, his little voice is more compelling. In fact, that was the one I heard in my head during my last trial.
Regular readers of this space know that I vowed last month not to be a Grinch this holiday season, and that I was heading into trial. The fact that I am talking about either means it didn’t go too poorly. Its back to square on the Grinchy thing, but the trial went okay.
I got caught up in the minutia of trial prep, as expected. Little things that seem important never are, and the things that look incidental can turn into king breakers. Trying to guess which is which produces the anxiety before every trial.
While picking a jury, I forgot about the big and little things that had consumed my planning. My mind can only process one thing at a time, and it is hard to be anxious while talking to a venire panel.
After jury selection, there was plenty of time to be anxious again. I have picked over a hundred juries but it still feels new each time, and all new things bring anxiety, at least for me. I guess I should be glad that I am not completely jaded at my age and new things can still make me uneasy. I am not glad of course.
When I stood up to make my opening statement, my breathing and time slowed. Maybe being able to process only one track at a time kept my brain occupied and blocked the fear. More honestly, I heard my son’s 4 year old voice saying, “remember who you are.” A familiar calm came over me, and I went to work.
Trial lawyers use lots of metaphors to describe ourselves. Gladiator. Gun slinger. Warrior. That last one, warrior, is the favorite for most of us. It is the chosen moniker at the Trial Lawyers’ College.
“Remember who you are.” My son didn’t really know what the phrase meant and to be honest, neither did I. “Warrior” was the first picture that came into my head, but it isn’t always what I see in the mirror. When my fellow trial lawyers call us warriors, I feel like a fraud. I’m pretty sure warriors don’t feel that way.
I don’t want to be a warrior. Truth be told, I want to be the Crimson Tide playing the University of Phoenix every week. I want to be Goliath taking on David. Warriors struggle. Struggling is hard and I don’t like to struggle.
Yet, there I was, in a strange courtroom giving an opening statement on a no offer case. Struggle and anxiety and a million other feelings battled for space in my head.
I didn’t have time for an existential discovery of who I am in the middle of a trial. Instead, I remembered where I was and the job I had been chosen to do. That pretty much took up the brain power that would have obsessed with all the problems in my trial. Maybe that is all a warrior does.
Sometimes it takes a little voice to remind you of who you are. If you don’t have a wise baboon around, I have it on good authority that a 4 year old child will do.
©2019 under analysis llc. under analysis is a nationally syndicated column. Spencer Farris is the founding partner of The S.E. Farris Law Firm in St Louis, Missouri. He would be happy with any simian, no baboon needed. #monkeyforspencer. Comments or criticisms about this column may be sent c/o this newspaper or directly to Under Analysis via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.