This week, my work life and my family life crossed paths in a way that I was totally unprepared for. I’ve been practicing law for six years. Being involved in litigation is part of my every day life. But, none of my cases has ever involved my parents.
Brief background :: Last year, my parents sued the home builder with whom they contracted to build their dream, retirement home in historic, downtown Grapevine. Suffice it to say that there were some hiccups along the way. They ‘lived’ in a 280-square foot hotel room for nearly five months, and spent countless hours trying to find ways to correct problems throughout the construction process.
I helped them in the beginning of the dispute, but when the time came to get more serious, we all knew they needed a more neutral attorney who specialized in construction litigation. So, once the trial began, I played a much different role than normal . . . I essentially was the client.
As attorneys, we are chomping at the bit to get inside the courtroom. We get excited about strategy. We thrive on the gamesmanship of selecting a jury and betting on who will be elected as the foreperson. We know what it means when opposing counsel moves for a directed verdict, when an attorney invokes the “rule of optional completeness,” or when the judge uses phrases like “producing cause.” We get an adrenaline rush preparing our closing argument.
Too often, however, we forget that our clients experience none of these things. They gladly would spend their days anywhere but inside a courtroom. They wrestled with the decision of whether to file suit for months, if not years. They tried their darndest to avoid litigation. Even as the trial started, they probably questioned whether it was the ‘right’ thing to do. And, at the end of this pain-staking process, a jury of six (or twelve) strangers will make a decision that means the world to them.
I was shaking like a leaf when my parents’ trial began on Monday. I thought I was going to lose it when my dad stood up, walked to the witness stand, and was sworn in to testify. I did lose it when my mom testified about the impact the situation had on my dad. I hardly slept a wink last night knowing that, today, the outcome of the case would be in the hands of strangers. All while trying to maintain my professionalism so that I could intelligently answer their questions about the process. And my anxiety was only a small fraction of what they’ve been experiencing for months now!
This afternoon, after three years of insurmountable stress, three days of testimony and three hours of deliberations, the jury rendered a verdict. They found in favor of my parents on every single claim. They awarded more damages than anyone ever imagined. And, their decision was unanimous.
There were no outbursts in the courtroom as the judge read the verdict. In fact, it was dead silent for what seemed like an eternity. We were too stunned, too relieved, and too exhausted to say a word. Many, many things have to happen before they will see a penny of the jury award (if ever), but just hearing the judge say the words “Yes” as to fraud; “Yes” as to breach of contract; and “Yes” as to deceptive trade practices, a huge weight was lifted.
I don’t talk about my ‘day job’ as an attorney much here. It’s not because I’m not proud of what I do. I’ve always thought it was an honorable profession, and I worked hard to be a part of it. But, it is also high stress and incredibly demanding, and — let’s be honest — most people don’t like lawyers. In fact, I’ve seriously considered adopting a new policy of answering the dreaded party question of “What do you do?” by telling people I’m running a coach instead of a lawyer. It sounds cliché, but I honestly went to law school because I wanted to help people and make a difference. Yet, on many days, I feel that the system is fundamentally flawed and that I make a bigger, more meaningful impact as a running coach than I do fighting with opposing counsel.
As we left the courthouse today, walked down the street to finally eat lunch (at 4:00 in the afternoon), and blessed our meal by singing “Rejoice” in the middle of a restaurant (at my dad’s insistence), I’ve never been more proud to be part of the process that brought justice to my parents.
I’ve also never been more proud to call them my parents. The kindness, fairness, and grace that they exhibited throughout this process (even while being referred to as evil, unreasonable, deceptive perfectionists) is something we all should strive to achieve.
I am happy for their outcome, humbled by the experience, and grateful to wake up tomorrow and return to ‘normal’ life.