That’s what I call a Ted talk | Marcel Strigberger
Friday, July 16, 2021 @ 2:33 PM | By Marcel Strigberger
As I am sipping a green tea and looking out my study window, I see a gentleman walking his beagle. He looks just like Ted (the gentleman does, not the beagle). And who is Ted you ask?
Ted was a top-notch Crown attorney before I got called to the bar. I sometimes snuck off from my articling job to sit in his Superior Court courtroom, mesmerized, watching him prosecute high profile murder cases. Ted was brilliant and relentless, regularly securing convictions. My goal was to practise criminal law. I admired the man but dreaded ever coming up against him.
About a month into practice, I landed a minor $200 damage, parking lot hit-and-run charge. The client pleaded ignorance saying he did not even hear a bang. As this was my first trial, I believed him implicitly.
I spent ages on preparation, including research in the courthouse Great Library. There was no Google then to query something like, “Client hits car, no boom, innocent? Please?”
We rehearsed intensely for the big day, repeatedly going over the anticipated cross-examination.
Trial day arrived and I was a bundle of nerves. As I entered the then provincial court courtroom, my jaw dropped. Who was the prosecutor? Ted of course. What was he doing in this minor league forum, I thought? My client was hardly a serial killer. I did not think Ted was here to watch me in action, returning the compliment.
Ted vetted his docket list and he asked me how we intended to plead. With zero thinking but 100 per cent passion, I blurted out, “Not guilty. This is about justice.”
Ted smiled. I imagined General Santa Anna had a similar smile after Lt. Col. William Travis notified him, he was not surrendering the Alamo.
My client testified. To my surprise when the judge asked the prosecution, “Cross examination?” Ted replied,” No questions.” Nor did Ted offer any summation following my fervent argument, readily rivalling Clarence Darrow’s closing address in Leopold and Loeb.
The judge found a reasonable doubt and acquitted my client. Ted came over and shook my hand, saying, “Great job Marcel.“
I never figured out what Ted was doing that day on a Mickey Mouse case, nor why he did not unload on me. I knew Ted’s comment was sincere. (After all, my presentation was awesome!)
But this case inspired me over my 40 years of practice, charging me with moxie in precarious litigation situations.
Ted was an influencer. Thanx Ted.
Then there was Hank, my articling principal and mentor. One night after a reception, about to take the bus home. Hank offered me a lift to the bus stop. When we got there, he drove by, and took me all the way home, driving well out of his way. I asked why and he said, “When you start practising, remember this. Always give your clients more than you promise.”
These words resonated with me, and they became part of my mission statement. I will admit now that when I would sneak off to court to watch Ted, it was actually while working for Hank. I soon developed guilt pangs, reminiscent of Dostoevsky’s iconic Crime and Punishment character, Rodion Raskolnikov. It bugged me. Do I confess or not?
I did come clean with Hank. He laughed and said, “You’ll learn a lot observing these trials. I used to do it too. That is what being a law student is all about.”
His magnanimous reaction reminded me of that scene in Les Misérables, where when the police showed up after nabbing Jean Valjean with one of the bishop’s silver candlesticks, the bishop tells them it was a gift and that he neglected to give Jean Valjean the second matching one.
Hank was an influencer. Thanx Hank.
Then there was Eugene, a current guru in persuasive legal writing. His wisdom included tidbits such as keeping it simple, clear and focused. In a document, say up front what relief you are seeking. Don’t write it like a mystery novel. Avoid fancy verbose fillers. Instead of “at that point of time” say “then.”
Instead of “until such time as,” say “until.” My favourite is, “Bottom line, good legal writing looks as if someone other than a lawyer has written it.”
He generously shares this wisdom with the profession. I found it insightful to remember judges are really human, inundated with documents and that they actually appreciate reading lawyer stuff where they can say to themselves, “For a change, this looks like it was drafted by someone standing in line with me at Starbucks.”
Eugene was an influencer. Thanx Eugene.
I must add I was also influenced by a fictional lawyer; the legendary Perry Mason. Not only did he win all his murder cases, but he also flushed out the real killer who usually sat in the courtroom. Nearing the episode’s climax, the culprit would suddenly jump up and shout something like, “Yes Mason, I killed McKenzie. He deserved it.”
Perry Mason was a huge factor in my choosing law. I will admit though I never once succeeded in nabbing the real criminal. It’s not like during that aforementioned hit and run trial, some guy in the audience jumped up and shouted, “I smashed that Corolla. It had it coming.”
Thanx to you too, Perry.
I fondly reminisce about my influencers. We all have some. Take a moment to think about them and thank them. It goes well with that green tea.
Marcel Strigberger retired from his Greater Toronto Area litigation practice and continues the more serious business of humorous author and speaker. Visit www.marcelshumour.com. Follow him @MarcelsHumour.
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