The courtroom always feels so big. Whether you’re a defendant whose future hangs in the balance, a jury member who determines that future, or someone in the galley watching justice play out before your eyes, the courtroom is overwhelming. When you’re a kid and your dad stands up there in front of everyone, that courtroom becomes the whole world. At 12 years old, I watched my dad give his opening statement at the Rodney King case. Yes, that Rodney King case. He was the defense attorney for one of the police officers. Outside, people were shouting and protesting, but inside the courtroom, you could hear a pin drop. The room was charged, and my dad knew exactly how to channel all that energy. He spoke like a Shakespearean actor, each word clear and deliberate. In his right hand he held a police baton, periodically smacking it against his left palm. Each time the baton hit, it struck his wedding ring and the sound would resonate through the courtroom. My dad held everyone’s attention so completely, you’d swear there was a spotlight on him. That’s what being a lawyer all boils down to: We have a unique opportunity to tell a person’s story. THE STORIES I TELL What It Really Means to Be a Lawyer This was the first time I saw exactly what my dad did. As a little kid, I didn’t really understand what his job was. Once, I asked if juries held up score cards like judges at the Olympics! On that day, I was in awe as I watched him give such a powerful speech. To this day, I still get goosebumps when I think about it. At the time, I didn’t understand the broader context of that case, nor did I recognize the mental and emotional pressure my dad was under. This was a real opportunity to do something great … or fail spectacularly. In the end, my dad was great, and I knew I wanted to be a lawyer like him.
Dad at work in 1992
In the months leading up to that case, my dad’s client had been vilified by everyone. They all decided he was the bad guy without ever hearing his story. So, my dad stood up in that courtroom and told his client’s story. That’s what being a lawyer all boils down to: We have a unique opportunity to tell a person’s story. As my career developed, I saw there were many ways a trial lawyer can help a person’s life by telling their stories to a judge and jury. It’s easy to get weighed down by the technicalities and legal jargon of it all, but at the end of the day, my job is to tell stories anyone can relate to. Each case contains classic themes such as betrayal and pain, hope and love, and what it means to exist in this world. When a client comes to me, I get to learn about them and fight in their name with the stories they share. I hear some truly heartbreaking stories, sometimes from people who have been hurt by negligence or ignored by someone who was supposed to help them. It can feel like a real David and Goliath struggle when you go up against some soulless company that caused this grief.
But it is my job to get the bad guys to care and to force them to make things safer for everyone in the future. It’s a tall order, and trust me, there are peaks and valleys in every case, but when I remember I’m in that courtroom to tell a person’s story, it’s not so overwhelming anymore. –Case Barnett
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