Thursday, August 10, 2017

When I started my internship, I found myself on numerous occasions mentally thanking Amicus for the training they had provided. Despite being new to the jurisdiction, I could keep up with the law – I knew about the appeals system and the 8th amendment, Batson challenges and mitigation strategies. But I soon found that those weekends in London were missing something pretty important. What we really needed was a session – at least half a day – on How to Talk About American Sport.
At least two days a week are spent going out to jail. Driving – sometimes 8 hour round-trips – to see clients for about an hour each, to talk to them in “contact” visits (where you get to actually be in the same room as them, as opposed to talking through glass). 9 times out of 10, we don’t have much to talk about. We are just going for a chat, to see how they are, to reassure them that we are still working hard on their case. Then about halfway through, like clockwork, the attorney I am with will sit back in their chair and say something like: “So how do you think the Falcons will do this season?”
And I’m lost. The conversation flows seamlessly between American football and basketball (mercifully ignoring baseball). It has taken me this long to get up to speed on the main topics of the day (i.e. I know who LeBron James is), but I am a long way from being able to contribute. My one saving grace is that the recent conception of Atlanta Utd has sparked a fervent interest in “soccer”. I get to feign expertise when client and lawyer alike turn to me for an explanation as to why one team would pay another $262m for just one player.
I can get by on my scant knowledge for three months, but these conversations are essential for the attorneys that work here. It is in those regular visits, and those disarming, playful arguments about matters far less serious than the case, that they lay the groundwork for more difficult conversations to come. It is essential that any client trusts their defence team, trusts their judgment and trusts that they are fighting for them.
Because it will not be long before these same attorneys and mitigation investigators will be coming to jail to ask what it was like growing up with an abusive father. Or to ask them why they lied in that 911 call. Or to tell them that they should accept this deal, to spend the rest of their life in prison with no hope of getting out. It does not matter how good you are at the law, you won’t get anywhere if you just turn up and cut to the chase.