A lot of veteran lawyers have told me they lost their first trial. Even still, the knowledge that it is a common experience does not relieve the misery that accompanies that inconsolable feeling of defeat. It doesn’t make me feel any better or make writing about it any easier. It just is another piece of knowledge in a library with too many books.
The practice of law is just that; a practice. Unlike other professions, lawyers learn the hard way. We don’t undergo a residency like doctors. We earn our law degree, pass our bar exam, and are thrown into the world as if fledgling ducklings in need of their mother – the proverbial trial by fire. In the real world, the luxury of a mother is replaced with the reality of defeat.
We learn from our mistakes, from our failures, and from our most heartfelt setbacks. Like an emotional kind of Darwinian natural selection, only the strong survive. In our profession, the strong are those that bounce back quickly from their defeats, who learn from their mistakes, and take every step possible not to repeat their failures. It is a gut wrenching process because at the forefront of this entire method is the realization that the one that stomachs the cost in this arrangement is our client.
Our first cut is not on a cadaver. We do not receive the use of computer simulations to make sure our first bridge doesn’t collapse. And we certainly don’t have “trial simulators” to log hours in before flying in our first courtroom. We have real people with real problems that depend on us to be real exceptional lawyers. While we have the benefit of the practice to insure the next experience is a better one – of evolving – our clients do not share the same subsidy. They get one shot and it is up to us to make the make sure the gun is clean, loaded, and aimed correctly.
I did everything within my power to make sure that my gun was clean for my first trial. I held my breath when I aimed and saw my target clearly in the crosshairs. I said a quiet prayer when I pulled the trigger. But ultimately, the shot missed.
My first trial lasted three hours and taught me more about the practice of law then three years of law school. I left the Courthouse that day feeling like there was nothing more I could have or should have done. A flashback to high school football; I left it all on the field. Now, one month later and looking back, I know there are many things I would do differently the next time around.
I have had a lot of firsts as a young lawyer: my first job; my first hearing; my first deposition; my first mediation; my first settlement; and now, my first trial. As a young lawyer, I must keep my eyes fixed on the only first that matters: victory.