Natalie Lussier, intern at Kelly & Kelly recently shadowed criminal defense lawyer Michael Kelly at a criminal court hearing. She recently reflected on this experience.
A Day In Court
By: Natalie Lussier
I was visibly excited as I emptied my pockets into the sad metal detector bins at the 22nd Municipal Courthouse in Ann Arbor. I never thought I’d be in such a good mood to be in a courthouse; it felt like the epitome of cognitive dissonance to actually be happy to observe a hearing. I had grown up with the typical lessons through mainstream media that court is not where you want to be. Why then, I wondered, do lawyers willingly go into a profession where you spend so much time here? I needed to see for myself.
First, as I’m typing this and reflecting, I want to point out that the security staff and clerks showed me genuine kindness from the moment entered the courthouse. When I was filing papers for my first time I tried to walk through with my cell phone, which only lawyers or “runners” can do. The security verified I was a runner (someone who files papers), informed me on the term (my face was like ‘what am I running from?’), and handed back my phone- all while jovially amused at my intern ignorance. He then asked me where I was going and gave me instructions on how to get to the correct office. It was this kindness that put me at ease and increased my confidence. Filing for my first time in an unknown courthouse? No problem!
Now, for the other side of the coin. I shadowed a criminal law hearing and it seemed like most of the hearing was decided before it even began. Michael Kelly and the prosecutor talked to the judge beforehand, so when the hearing began it was over in a handful of minutes. It seemed that a deal had been struck, so the hearing itself seemed like a formality.
The second hearing I shadowed was family law and that was where I really saw the unhappy aspect of court I’d heard so much about. The case I shadowed went well for our client; the judge was on our side and issued a long, stern lecture to the father in the divorce about how he needed to make different life decisions and help out his family, so for starters, pay child support. Watching this made me feel uncomfortable, similar to witnessing your friend getting scolded by their parents as a kid. It felt personal and something I shouldn’t be witnessing. However, I also felt proud of the judge for recognizing who was in the wrong and not letting this man walk out of court without a wake-up call, because the reality was that he did need to make better choices and he did need to help his family.
My final thoughts on court are as follows: court is not a happy place, but it is not the dark and gloomy place I preconceived it to be. Where one person walks out with their head down after a harsh wake-up call, another person walks out with their head high after a win. This goes for the lawyers in the court as well as the defendants and plaintiffs. Court also isn’t as long as you would think, at least for hearings. The longest part is the waiting for your case to be called. Lastly, there is no blanket personality in court houses, and no one that worked there seemed unhappy. I encountered kind security guards, helpful clerks, blunt judges, and a wide range of attorneys, some prepared and confident, others scattered and nervous.
Shadowing hearings and seeing six or so attorneys in action, I learned what to do, and more importantly, what not to do… like interrupting a judge multiple times after providing an incomplete discovery (sent over from France?!) If I took anything from these observations that I’ll carry with me through my professional career, it’s that I never want to be the attorney that the judge has to scold for being unprepared. It’s not only embarrassing, but it does nothing good for your client.