Like blind men boxing

I often suggest to newly licensed attorneys wanting to learn how to practice a particular area of law that they go to the courthouse and observe a variety of cases within that field of law. While to practice in court without a supervising attorney merely requires an attorney to observe one family court trial, attorney’s meeting these “Rule 403” requirements will not observe many of the proceedings that are typical of family court, especially motions for temporary relief.  Further, in only observing one trial, they will likely observe only two attorneys. Those attorneys might be exceptional or inept, grey beards or green horns, thoroughly prepared or “winging it.” Observing all kinds of attorneys yields all kinds of lessons.

Very early in my career I had the opportunity to watch two mediocre attorneys (I’m being polite in using the term “mediocre”) try a rule to show cause. They were so unable to establish the points they were trying to establish that the case ran past its allotted time, necessitating a continuance and preventing me from completing my Rule 403 (then Rule 5) requirements. However it was one of the more instructive cases I observed.

It took years to determine the correct metaphor for watching mediocre attorneys try a case against each other but I finally decided that it must be akin to watching blind men box.  Roundhouse punches that rarely connect or do more damage to the puncher than the punched are the equivalent of cross-examinations that failed to control and pin-down hostile witnesses.  There was lots of flailing and falling in eliciting testimony whose relevance was unclear and with disjointed flow.  It can be oddly fascinating in a way that watching two merely good attorneys go at it rarely is.

When mentoring new attorneys I will look at the posted dockets and suggest they observe two attorneys I highly respect try a case against the other. This is intended for them to learn great trial skills. But, sometimes, I will also recommend they attend a trial of attorneys who will not be named in order for reasons I will not disclose. However it intended for them to learn what not to do. Watching blind men box can provided its own worthy, if mortifying, lesson.

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