Don't Call Me Sugar

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.

24 comments:

  1. First off - glad to see you're blogging again!
    Second - I think you're absolutely right. You ARE that experience lawyer.
    Fingers crossed for you and your client!

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  2. Great post, Blonde! Very inspiring. Good luck.

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  3. Hi Ms. Justice, I'll respond your baseball movie reference with another baseball movie. It's not quite on point, but it's close to what you're talking about at the end. From Bull Durham, here's the older player "Crash" talking to the up-and-coming rookie "Nuke" about his move the big leagues:

    "Look, Nuke, these big-league hitters will light you up like a pinball machine for a while, all right? Don't worry about it. You be cocky and arrogant, even when you're getting beat. That's the secret. You got to play this game with fear and arrogance."

    Good luck.

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  4. Maybe, at the end of the day it doesn't even matter if you're the best or the smartest. Maybe it just matters that you're the one who's at bat, you're the one who's standing there getting ready to take the best swing at that ball that you can manage. Maybe it just matters that your client's got you, and he doesn't have someone else.

    Could your client, in theory, find a better, smarter, more talented, more capable lawyer? Perhaps he could. And perhaps not. Perhaps, he could have someone less talented, less capable, less driven to do the right thing for him. He could have a lawyer who doesn't care, who doesn't lose sleep worrying about whether she's going the absolute best she can for him. And that would be way, way worse.

    Sometimes it's not that we're the best hitter on the team, with a .500 batting average and a knack for hitting home runs every time we're at bat. Sometimes, it's just that we're the one standing at home plate when that pitch comes screaming in, and we have to take that swing because, if we don't do it, nobody else will and we'll strike out for sure.

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  5. Hey Blonde!
    Thanks for writing this. It is candid and inspirational. I have been reading your blog in preparation for my own journey through law school, hopefully ending up in a public defender's office.
    You have been a huge inspiration and I thank you for your insight and sense of humor.
    Stay strong. Stay Blonde.
    -Overthefalls
    overthefallsblawg.blogspot.com

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  6. Do your very best with what you've got, and then don't second guess yourself any more.

    {{{Hugs!}}}

    I believe in you. You should believe in yourself, too.

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  7. Thanks everyone! I really appreciate your support!

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  8. Thanks for this...I'm very frustrated with my career at this point, and it was nice to read that someone else shares similar fears and doubts.

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  9. It gets scary when you play for real stakes. But if you quit, you will have allowed fear to control the outcome. And that's not a good way to live.

    If you were not uncertain doing your first solo murder case, then that would be an even greater concern.

    Good luck.

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  10. Missed this post somehow. It is really good.

    Keep on keeping on.

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  11. Hello Blonde Justice,

    In my first year of (Economics) graduate school, I struggled with all my courses. (I had one professor who could not lecture to save his life, one who lectured way over our heads and one who hated my guts and let everyone know it...and all of these people have long since gone elsewhere.)

    I asked myself every day "Jeff, what in heck are you doing here?"

    Well, I'm Dr. Deutsch now, and a better person for it.

    You can do it too - you knew you could when you applied to law school, and when this is over...win or lose...you'll be proud of yourself that you stuck to it, through thick and thin.

    Jeff Deutsch

    PS: Here's another one from Bull Durham: "We have to play them one day at a time. I'm just happy to be here and I hope I can help the ball club. I just want to give it my best shot and the Good Lord willing everything will work out."

    PPS: In case you're wondering, yes I'm the same Jeff Deutsch who used to comment here from another Blogger account.

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  12. Your client is lucky to have you, Blonde Justice!! Go get 'em!!!

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  13. Your client is lucky to have you, Blonde Justice!! Go get 'em!!!

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  14. Great post, glad to see you blogging!

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  15. Just remember that if your client does go to prison the main reason is that he committed a crime! It's not like he was randomly snatched off the street and hauled off to the gulag. When the system works the way it's supposed to guilty people are convicted and go to prison regardless of the efforts of their attorneys.

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  16. Sometimes I think that to be a truly successful lawyer in the courtroom you have to go in there defiant and arrogant even if that goes against your nature. I am still working on it. Prosecutors can be such self righteous assholes with a take no prisoners attitude that we have no choice but to fight as need be. Most of the prosecutors I know only care about how tight a corner they can put the defendant in and do not care about what is right. For them it is all about winning. They need to recognize that a loss of someone's liberty should not be considered a notch in their belt.

    GO GET THEM. Out preparing them does work!

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  17. I really appreciate your honesty and heart! It was incredibly inspiring someone who so deeply cares about their profession. Furthermore, your belief in yourself is great! Keep on!

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  18. Once again you had proved that you are the best. Great work.

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  19. Walked to & from court saying in my head "wash dishes or play ball, fish or cut bait, shit or get off the pot." It was my mantra.

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  20. Hi, I just wanted to say good luck on your case. I dont know you but your talk was very inspirational. I have kind of a scary job too and Its nice to hear someone else also standing up to the challange. You sound like a very special person. Have a good day :)

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  21. You're an inspiration to every female attorney!!

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  22. Great article. Thanks for blogging again.

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