I sat on a bench in court yesterday and listened to the conversations of lawyers. Partners who evidently had not seen each other for some time embraced and updated each other. “Worked on landscaping til my fingers ached,” said the one, who had been vacationing around her home. “Did you hear the news? Sheila got engaged,” said the other, the one left at the office. Or maybe it was Sherry. Smiles all around. They obviously missed one another.
A gaggle of lawyers argued about a parenting schedule, standing by the jury box, waiting for the judge to emerge from his chambers. The stocky lawyer who clearly had the role of guardian ad litem avoided my glance. He hasn’t spoken to me since he got fired by the wife of a client of mine, who finished the case pro se, agreeing to the deal we had offered before her lawyer slogged us through several painful days of depositions. The exes remain friendly; the lawyers, not so much. I smiled at his discomfort. Get over it, I thought.
On the bench beside me, another lawyer talked about how to fashion a parenting schedule with a traveling mother. Every other weekend isn’t do-able, she surmised. Her opposing counsel nodded in agreement. Their faces tensed; they looked down at their files, pondering, wondering how to accommodate the career of a woman who seemed to them to be more interested in advancing herself than caring for her children. I thought about all the fathers who did just that without upsetting anyone. The dads whom I represent complain about gender-bias in residential placement. But a woman who wants to excel at her profession is seen as abandoning her children. We expect so much of a mother; and give so little to a father.
At the table, a lawyer whom I know as a civil litigator chats on his cell phone. I’ve greeted him; I admire his work, but don’t quite understand why he’s here on a domestic docket. Are times so hard on the civil side that he moonlights as a divorce lawyer? He shifts in his thousand-dollar suit as though he feels my eyes on his back.
I was in Independence, the other courthouse in Jackson County. I don’t regularly practice there; and I feel the distance between me and the other lawyers. I’m not one of them. I’m not an Eastern Jackson County attorney. I don’t kowtow to them if we have cases together; I don’t play by their rules. When one Eastern Jack lawyer insisted on berating my client and calling a judge, I gently assured her that I had no problem defending my position on the record. She blustered, and blew, and I could nearly see the steam come out of her ears. But I admire her talent and tenacity; I just don’t fall to intimidation, or recognize the presumed superiority of those whose offices are east of the county divide. They sometimes roll their eyes when they see me; they think I don’t notice, but I do. It doesn’t persuade me to work less hard for my clients, though I’ve learned to do so quietly, calmly, and let them sputter if they will. Most of them are good attorneys, whom I admire, though I doubt they’d suspect as much.
I had never met my opposing counsel on the case which brought me out to Independence yesterday, but I spotted him when he entered the courtroom. I had no preconceived notion of his physical appearance, but I did not recognize his name, so I assumed that he was new and possibly, like me, that he interloped in the courtrooms of Independence. I watched for someone who would walk among the chatting attorneys without being greeted, perhaps giving a small nod to the ladies, a brief smile to the men. I pegged him right. When the judge called our case, I spoke kindly to him at the bench, civilly of him to the court, and even suggested that the judge might give him leave to file his answer out of time, since he had only recently entered his appearance.
After the judge had disposed of our case, I retrieved my bag, and exited, through the doors, back into the world from which I had come. The murmurings stopped briefly as I passed the lawyers sitting on the bench that I had just vacated. Only a few smiled. Only my civil litigator friend spoke to me.
But I didn’t mind. I took myself back downtown, to the city, where I belong.