Volume 3, Number 4 • September 2005

You Weren’t Mean Enough

By Sara J. Seidle, 3L

 After going through the somewhat grueling and often disheartening search for a summer job during my second year of law school, I ended up spending this summer working with the district attorney’s office in a small, rural county in western Pennsylvania.

Although it wasn’t exactly the position I envisioned as I was going through the on-campus interview process last fall, now that the summer is over I can say that I am happy I ended up where I did. Though I wouldn’t say that I found my calling as a future prosecutor, my summer position with the district attorney’s office was a valuable experience nonetheless. Looking back on my summer, one of the most poignant revelations that I have taken away from the experience is that I don’t think I really want to be a trial lawyer.

During my last week of work at the DA’s office, I was asked to help out with a mock trial that was part of a children’s summer camp program organized by local law enforcement. The office was short-staffed during the week of the camp for various reasons and the rest of the lawyers were busy with other matters, so I was called to fill in. Although I didn’t know it when I agreed to help out, I would be acting as the defense attorney during the mock trial while the district attorney from a neighboring county would act as the prosecutor. Although I had zero courtroom experience before this, I thought, at the very least, it would be a good learning experience. What better way to practice my litigation skills than during a mock trial in front of a group of young teenagers that know very little about the law.

At first I was quite excited about the opportunity. I had been sitting at a desk all summer, writing brief after brief, which had started to get rather tedious. I sat in on a few trials as well and, by that point in the summer, was eager to do something more than research and write briefs. I had also really started to think that maybe I would like to enter the field of criminal law after graduation. It really is a very interesting and unique area of law. No matter how many DUI cases that came through the office this summer, they all seemed to have their own intricacies to keep things interesting. However, these thoughts of becoming a future prosecutor or defense attorney started to fade after my involvement in the mock trial. Even though it was just a mock trial, I wanted to take the experience somewhat seriously to get a feel for what being a trial attorney would really be like.

However, as the trial started and I watched the attorney I was working with give our opening argument to the twelve young campers acting as the jury, I looked around at the roomful of camp counselors, campers, and other spectators, and my nerves surprisingly started to get the best of me. Then, before I knew it, it was my turn to “act” like a real attorney. I approached the witness stand to cross-examine one of the camp kids who was acting as a witness. I had interviewed him earlier in the afternoon, and I knew he was on my side. We had already talked about everything he was going to say, so I thought it would be a breeze.

Then he answered my first question and, much to my surprise, his story had completely changed. My list of questions I had prepared no longer made any sense. All I could do was laugh and say “okay, that’ll be all, thank you.” The kid had stumped me. And when I sat back down, the attorney I was working with responded to my intimidation by a twelve-year-old by saying, “You weren’t mean enough.” Mean? Mean is not a word often used to describe me. Mild-mannered and soft spoken, yes, but mean, no. I didn’t let all of this stop me, though. I questioned a couple more of the young witnesses and had a little more success. I even decided to try to make a closing argument. It was brief and to the point and, of course, I was nervous.

I have to admit, the whole experience was kind of fun. But I’m pretty sure I’ve decided to take my legal career in a direction that doesn’t require too much trial time. A trial is certainly not something I would want to be facing every day. Of course, when I recount this story to my family and friends, they tell me not to give up hope yet, remind me that it was just a mock trial and that learning to be a litigator takes practice. And, though I definitely understand their points, I also know myself. In being true to myself, I must admit that I am not cut out to be a litigator. It just didn’t feel right. I’m good at many things, and I think I’ll turn out to be a rather good lawyer someday, but I don’t think the courtroom is the best place for me to exercise my legal talents.

Sara J. Seidle is a 3L at Duquesne University School of Law in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

 


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