The Criminal Justice Institute (CJI) has taught me that client work does not run on a student schedule. It has also taught me that no amount of classroom hours can substitute for a clinical experience. The day I most remember from CJI was the third time my elderly, motorized wheelchair-bound client was in court to defend the charge of threat against her. My supervisor and I had mooted our argument for a motion to dismiss, and we argued it well. However, the law was against us. At a probable cause level, the Judge would only grant the motion to dismiss based on the facts alleged in the complaint, so he could not take into account my client’s many disabilities.
My client was frustrated and was ready to give up on the court system when I told her that our motion to dismiss had been denied. She made the journey to court for that third time for our pre-trial hearing shortly after that. Because she was unable to arrange medical transport, she actually rode her motorized wheelchair to court that day in the frigid February weather. When she arrived and I asked her how she was, she answered “froze.” After several hours of waiting for her case to be called, she grew more and more impatient. Eventually, the stress of the case and of the day got to her, and she started to break down.
My supervisor, Dehlia Umunna, and I took my client outside of the courtroom into the lobby of the Roxbury courthouse. I tried to talk reason to my client, to explain that this was just another procedural day, and to make her understand that even though we could not get a good outcome for her based on a probable cause standard, that she would almost certainly win her case at trial. To my shock, my client burst into tears. It was at this point that Dehlia stepped in with the story of Joseph from the Bible, comparing my client’s resilience in the midst of injustice to that of Joseph’s. My client calmed down and we went back inside the courtroom. It was that day that I realized representing clients and being a trial lawyer requires more than an understanding of the law or a tenacity in the courtroom. Being a trial lawyer also means being part-life coach, part-religious counselor, and part-friend.