I walked into the courthouse thinking about the thousands of times I have walked these halls over the last 25 years. The quiet reverence in the courthouse could confuse you for thinking you were in a library or a bank, except for the always visible police officers on duty. Suited-up lawyers talking in hushed soothing tones while their nervous clients populate the wood benches along the corridors outside the courtrooms. I glance up toward my favorite part of the courthouse – the ceiling of the rotunda with the comforting view of golden pink illustrations of eight murals revealing the history of Omaha. Though familiar, this time was different. As I walked into the assigned judge’s courtroom and sat down to the left of my lawyer.
I am involved in a minor land dispute that now requires litigation. For the first time in my life, I hired my own lawyer. He is easily fifteen years my junior in both age and litigation experience, as were the lawyers who sat at the opposite table. They each rarely appear in court given their practice areas. When the judge and court reporter asked for introductions of the attorneys present, my face was the only one familiar and the only name they knew. I corrected the court reporter and told her that today I appeared as a client.
I knew what to expect in process, procedure, and the puffery that comes with lawyers making arguments. I did not expect to wince at the harsh and mean words said about me to the judge or to recoil at the blatant lies spoken about me. I knew it would happen yet, I found myself sitting in disbelief and hurt.
I did all the things I tell my clients not to. I tapped on my lawyer’s shoulder while he tried listening to the argument being made from the opposing counsel so he could defend me against it. Even worse, at times, I leaned in to whisper at him – again distracting his focus away from what was most important – listening to what was being relayed to the judge. I reacted to each insult being thrown my way and took it all personally even though I had never met the lawyer whose mouth was uttering them. I wanted to speak up because I knew the truth better than anyone in the room. Yet, I poorly attempted to sit silently as my lawyer did his job as my advocate and spokesperson.
Afterward I agonized for my former clients. I never really understood the difficulties of being a client in a courtroom. Later that afternoon, I spoke with a client whom I have been in the courtroom with multiple times and apologized for not getting it. While I have received praise and gratitude from countless clients over the years for being their attorney, I failed to appreciate their grit, faith, and the weighty trust they placed in me to speak for them while they sat quiet.