A few weeks ago, I got really overwhelmed. I have this case in which my client is facing a lot of prison time, a case that will probably go to trial. The first plea offer I got in the case is about four times more than I've ever had a client get. Unless you count when I've worked with a more senior lawyer on a murder trial or something. But, as far as my very own clients, this is my first client who is facing decades.
That particular night, I didn't sleep well at all. I just kept thinking about this case, about the family that calls me begging me to get their son out of this, and, like I said, I was just really overwhelmed. And sleep deprived.
The next morning, walking to the train, I just cried. I just stopped walking and started crying. I really thought, "I just need to go in and resign, because I can't do this."
The whole day I thought about it. Am I in over my head? Can I really handle this? Am I doing my client a disservice by not somehow stepping down and letting him have a real lawyer? Am I perpetrating some kind of fraud?
At some point, I thought about that baseball movie Sugar. Did you see it? Spoiler alert. Here the short version:
Kid comes up through the rookie leagues in the Dominican Republic. His whole life is baseball. He lives at the training camp during the week, he practices all day and studies baseball related English vocabulary at night. He finally makes it to AAA ball in the U.S. and basically realizes he can't hack it. He's in a foreign country, he doesn't speak the language, he gets in fights without really knowing what's going on, and most importantly, the batters can hit his pitches. He goes AWOL from his team, goes to New York City, and gets a job as a dish washer in a diner. He never gets his big break. When I watched the movie, I can't say that he did the wrong thing. He wasn't going to make it, if he stuck around he would've been shipped home, so he decided to take his chances as an undocumented worker in N.Y.C. Most kids don't make it. Statistically at least, he probably made the right decision.
But I realized that, like Sugar, everyone reaches some kind of testing point, where either you put on your big girl panties and say, "ok, I'm going to give this the best I've got," or you cry and resign. For every Sugar that quits and doesn't make it, there's got to be a Hall of Famer who sticks with it through his jitters, right? No matter the player, they had a day when they faced someone better than them. They had their first day in the majors and thought "Am I going to be able to handle this?" and decided that they had to. Every lawyer who has ever tried a murder case must have had their first murder case where maybe they had some doubt as to their own ability.
Or maybe they never did. But then that's just cockiness. It's not like anyone can know whether they can hack it until they really try.
So, I decided: I'm here, this is what I came to do, and even if it's difficult, I'm going to do it. When I committed to the path of a public defender career a decade ago in law school, it wasn't because I wanted to handle misdemeanor drug possession cases for the rest of my life. I wanted to do to the juicy stuff. So, now the time has come. It's time to put up or shut up, fish or cut bait, shit or get off the pot. Try the case or wash dishes.
Am I the smartest or the best? I guess I'll just never be the arrogant kind of person to say that I am. But I'm pretty good. And I'm a hard worker and a fast learner. So, if I can't do it, who can?
And that is how I've reached this turning point in my career. I've decided to be a little less intimidated, a little more ready to take on challenges.
Don't get me wrong, when a client is facing a number in the double digits, maybe a number almost as long as the life I've already lived, it still bothers me, it doesn't sit well with me, maybe it never will. But I have stopped looking around for the more experienced lawyer who can rescue me, and instead realized that I am becoming that more experienced lawyer.