At 9:35 a.m. on Monday, October 21, give or take a few minutes, I panicked.
That day was supposed to be day one of two of a jury trial. Just over a year ago, as part of BU’s Civil Clinic, I got a housing case. My client lived in an apartment with a host of illegal and egregious conditions, withheld rent when the landlord refused to repair the conditions, and then eventually moved out. We were arguing over damages: the landlord claimed my client owed her rent; my client claimed the landlord owed her damages for those egregious conditions.
At 9:30 a.m. on Monday, October 21, 2013, that case was to go to jury trial. I had spent long nights and early mornings at Greater Boston Legal Services surrounded by folders, discovery, real evidence, tabs, post-its, pens, and, okay, the occasional vending machine chocolate. I had written and rehearsed opening and closing statements. I had put my client through the ringer of witness preparation, doing several three and four hour interviews. I had written case evaluation and trial planning memos, motions in limine, a pretrial memorandum, and multiple crosses and direct examinations of the housing inspectors. I’d compiled jury instructions, voir dire questions, an exhibit list, and written out objections.
It was an enormous amount of work. Frankly, it was more work than I expected to be. My supervisor spent long weekends with me at GBLS and at BU, and paid for at least half of my lunches over the course of the two weeks immediately before the trial. I am pretty sure our lunches were keeping the Au Bon Pain across the street from GBLS open.
The morning of the trial, my supervisor, my client, and a friend of hers trooped over to court. I had a hole in the bottom of my shoe, a hole I discovered around 6:15 a.m. and dealt with by cursing as I tripped out of my apartment. I clutched my binder with all my documents, and wheeled a cart with two boxes of evidence and discovery. My supervisor held the giant foam board diagram, and as we entered the courthouse, I felt quite calm. I had done the work. I could do this.
We went up to the fifth floor and greeted opposing counsel. The courtroom was locked, and as we waited outside to be let in, I felt an urge to pace back and forth, and it hit me how utterly crazy this all was. Cases never go to trial. Cases always settle. Certainly civil cases never go to trial. And if they do go to trial, there’s no way they go to a jury trial. And yet here I was, a 23-year-old third year law student, about to do a two-day jury trial with nine witnesses and boxes of evidence. What kind of craziness is that?
Rather than pace, I sat down on a bench, opened my binder, ostensibly to make sure I had a pen, and began flipping through everything. Opening. Jury instructions. Direct examinations for the housing inspectors. Direct examination for my client. Crosses. Discovery to impeach on cross. Closing. As I flipped back to my opening to repeat the process, it occurred to me that actually, I was prepared. Actually, I could maybe do this. Perhaps, I realized, I could – would – do a pretty damn effective two-day trial. What kind of craziness is that?
As this thought occurred to me, the courtroom door opened, and we walked in and sat down. I looked around, and realized – to my absolute horror – the housing inspectors, i.e. super important witnesses, the first witnesses, weren’t there. Cue my 9:35 a.m. panic. As I willed myself into problem-solving mode rather than freak-out mode, I muttered something like, “Should I, um, should I, you know, should I call the housing inspection department?” to my supervisor.
“I would,” she answered. “See if they can track them down.” She told me to stand in the foyer of the courtroom, so I was technically outside of the room, but could see if the judge sat on the bench and I was needed inside immediately.
To the poor hapless soul at the inspectional department who caught my, “My-name-is-Elizabeth-McIntyre-I’m-calling-from-the-BU-Civil-Litigation-Program-I’ve-supboeana’d-a-few-of-your-inspectors-for-a-housing-trial-this-morning-and-court-started-a-few-minutes-ago-and-they-AREN’T-HERE” breathless phone call, I apologize. Maybe 5-10 minutes later, the inspectors walked in. They apologized for being late. Parking’s a nightmare, you know. We returned to court.
I won’t keep you in suspense.
By 1:45 p.m., there was a settlement offer. By 2:30 p.m., both parties had signed the settlement. By 3:00 p.m., we were back at GBLS to drop back the evidence. By 3:45 p.m., I was on my way back to my apartment to get out of that annoying and, at this point, wrinkled, though luckily unstained, suit. There would be no second day of trial. There hadn’t really even been a first day of trial.
Sometime between the settlement signing and when my client departed GBLS for the last time, we hugged and exchanged thank-yous. As I sat on the subway, no longer holding the enormous files I had been toting around with me over the past few weeks, I thought over whether I deserved those thanks. Others – a phenomenal prior student and equally phenomenal supervisor – had done amazing work on this case, not to mention teaching me. I was, I thought, a law student who was still learning, figuring this out as she went along.
But then, I flashed back to earlier that morning, flipping through my trial binder, reassuring myself that I could do this. That was all work I had done. It took me probably twelve times longer than it would have an experienced attorney. There were several false starts, several go-backs-and-start-overs, several why-did-you-do-that-that-ways, and so on. But at the end of the (admittedly very long) day, I had learned how to put together a jury trial. Indeed, I had put together a trial.
And that’s a fantastic kind of craziness.