"Beauty confronts us with the requirement that we place ourselves among...the redeemers, the leaders in the protection of life. Once you have seen the bush on fire, you are not going to get out of the assignment unless you close your eyes to the beauty.... [You] either have to close your eyes or go back to Egypt and set the people free." - Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker, "Rising to the Challenge of Our Times"

Monday, July 24, 2006

ladies and gentlemen of the supposed jury

I have returned from the trial skills sweatlodge experience, where my skills were either forged or fired in a kiln. Can't decide on the right metaphor except that the building where we were all supposed to sleep and work felt like a big clay oven. The climate in that place is usually milder in the summer. But we need not discuss climate change at the moment.

The daily routine started at 8:00 am with breakfast in the Presentation Center cafeteria, located in a brand new and much cooler building. Some people didn't find the food to their liking but I thought it was A-OK in comparison to any quasi-institutional food I've ever consumed. Generally very fresh, if a little too obviously recycled and/or experimental at times but I've been known to cook that way too, so I felt at home. Breakfast was pretty standard though. Always some kind of hot mush, fruit salad, yogurt, muffins, and either pancakes or eggs, bacon, etc. Then at 9:00 we would start practicing the skill that had been demo'd by the trainers the night before until lunch at noon, then more practice from 1-4, then a break from 4:00 - 6:00, then dinner, then demonstrations of next day's skill, then at 9:30 pm or so we were free to start our homework.

The trainers were experienced attorneys both from within and without the "legal aid" world who completely volunteered their time during the 8 days and 7 nights we were all there. I include nights because no one got much sleep and the trainers made themselves available at practically all hours. I did pretty well the first two nights getting to bed by midnight, but it was downhill after that as the assignments and sense of pressure to perform got more intense. On Friday night before our big mock jury trial, the culminating event, I was up until 3:00 am with my "co-counsel" trying to get prepared. The previous night I had stayed up until 3:00 a.m. writing an opening statement. All this for a pretend client. Our trials were held at the San Jose courthouse. Our judge happened to be a real judge (or court commissioner) from another county. After the trial the judge, the "jury," our "clients," and our "witnesses" gave us feedback. We were videotaped as well. Apparently I got away with all kinds of objectionable leading questions in my direct exam of our client. Cross-exam was a lot easier; I guess it's easier to poke holes in something than to build it right in the first place. The other side was not so lucky because my co-counsel was definitely the bad cop. I like objecting when I'm sure there is something to which I should object but I don't think I've got the killer instinct.

A couple days before the big trial we were practicing our closing arguments. Mine was praised for its content but word on the street is that the words are only about 20% of the communication. Apparently a Buddha-like stillness is not the affect the trainers thought most effective with a jury. It happens to be more or less my default position, especially when I'm nervous. One of the trainers asked me to try a few lines from my argument again, "this time, go completely over the top!" I said, "that WAS over the top!" However, I think with some practice I could learn to change my affect at will, as needed to persuade, entertain, or just communicate, and I think it might be fun to expand the repertoire. I remember as a teenager being afraid of yelling in a crowd of other people yelling, and I remember being afraid of singing if anyone else was in the room with me. For someone who secretly (or not) craves attention the way I do, being so reserved and internal can be frustrating. I still fear any real or perceived threats to my dignity, so whatever spontaneous act I perform will have to be carefully thought out first.

I almost didn't go to this training. I was feeling deeply resistant to it and I would have let it slip by if the director of the Benchmark Institute hadn't personally called our office and asked me if I was going to sign up. In my mind this was a very scary thing to do, sort of like going to a training to prepare you to jump out of airplanes. However, when I was interviewed for my job I answered the question "do you see yourself doing a lot of litigation?" with "no, but I would like it (litigation) to be tool I can use when it's needed" so I went down to the trial skills slowcooker to follow through on that idea.

Glad it's done and I'm home again. I missed Ce terribly, along with highspeed internet access, my cats and my bicycle, roughly in that order. It's bloody hot in Chico right now but at least there is such a thing as air conditioning in these parts.

Speaking of parts, I need to find a makeshift bearing cup press to install my headset. The guy at the bikeshop said he would loan me one he used before he became a bike shop owner, made from a long threaded bolt, some big washers, and nuts to tighten the whole thing down and push the bearing cups into the head tube. I told him I had used a PVC pipe to seat the crown race onto the steer tube and he was impressed by the amount of banging this obviously had required. I guess plastic is not the way it's usually done. I had wondered that myself while I banged away at the top of the plastic pipe with the flat side of the hammer.

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