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Going to Court With Dad REMEMBERING THE LESSONS HE TAUGHT ME
Thanks to my dad, I’ve been going to court since I was a little kid.
Being the nice guy he was, the judge just chuckled, and went on with the proceedings without scolding my father or me.
The mutual respect that my father had built up during his law career followed him into the courtroom, and I’m thankful I got to work with him for the short period I did — although we didn’t always see eye to eye in court. In one particular case, we were representing the same client. I had just finished my round of questioning when the other lawyer began his barrage. Against protocol, my father, instead of me, stood up and yelled, “Objection!” I couldn’t believe it. He knew the rules, but he was so passionate for his clients, and with his decades of experience, he’d caught something that I hadn’t. The judge denied his objection, and the proceedings went forward. After that case, we decided we worked best together in the office. Once I began practicing law, I appeared before some of those same judges and lawyers I had met as a child trailing along behind my father. It was rewarding to return to the same courtrooms with the same judges years later. They seemed proud of me and happy that I had returned home to practice law. But don’t think they cut me any slack because of my father! They didn’t shy away from reprimanding me if they had to. Trailing behind a lawyer like my father, I got a head start in my law career, but I also had immense pressure to fill some wonderful shoes. His guidance helped, though. Return all your phone calls within 24 hours. Live by the sword; die by the sword. Be professional. These are all mottos I use today in my practice. On Oct. 29, my dad would have turned 73 years old. He inspired my law career, taught me the values I still hold onto today, and led by example. I wouldn’t be the lawyer I am today without his guidance — or the field trips to the courtroom.
When he was growing up, watching the lawyers at court once a month in his little southwest-Georgia town of Blakely was pure entertainment. It was part of what spurred his law career. When I went to court with him as a kid, though, procedures were different, and there are some days that stick out in my memory. I’m not really sure why, but when I was 7, I went to an arraignment with my father. It was for a woman accused of shoplifting, and the courtroom was full for a business-day arraignment. This judge was a stern, domineering Southern judge who had been presiding over law for decades — think the judge in “My Cousin Vinny.” But he and my father got along well, and since I was in court that day, my dad took me up front to meet him. He looked right down at me and bellowed, “You better mind your manners there, boy, or I’m going to lock you up. Sit on a pew and be quiet.”
Not wanting to test that threat, that’s what I did.
Though I’m now passionate about helping my clients get the justice they deserve, as a kid, there was nothing more tortuous than a drawn-out court day. I remember accompanying my dad to a workers’ compensation trial, and at one point he and the other lawyer kept going back and forth, redirecting after each other’s questions.
It’s true what they say: The most famous line a lawyer says is “Just one more question.”
I decided that it was time for some divine intervention. I got down on my knees in the pew, folding my hands as if to pray, and began begging, “Judge Zeese, please don’t let them ask any more questions.”
Happy birthday, Dad.
-William F. “Trey” Underwood, III
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