My mother knew I was working, as I was carrying stacks of paper, re-reading my briefs, and revising them. But I realized, she doesn't really know what lawyers do. (My cat used to be curious, but he gave up on figuring out what I do.) Do people even know what lawyers do?
When I started law school, I didn't even know what litigating was. Do you?
The best definition on dictionary.com says that it means "to carry on a lawsuit." But that really doesn't do justice to what the word means.
Litigation is war. It's a fight with the other side. And it's all about getting the judge to rule in a way to make the other side hurt, which usually means extracting lot of money from the enemy if you're the plaintiff (or the moving party), or if you're the defendant (getting away with what you've done). And so, if you've been reading my blog, you know it can get nasty really fast.
Yesterday, I filed my appellant brief, arguing that the trial judge didn't go far enough to make the City of Baldwin Park release records. That, it really should have done more and should have made them tell us the truth about what's really going on in the City, especially when there's a court order against the City to release records.
Now, that seems like a simple argument. But it's not really that simple. (Good lawyers, however, make all their briefs seems like it's obvious that they should win. Making things look that simple, takes a lot of work.)
You have to prove your points with facts. You have to do lots of research at the library to back up your legal arguments. And although my brief was about 13,500 words, which is about 27 pages, it feels like I've ran a marathon to write it.
A lot of time goes into strategy and revision. Regarding strategy, I have to make all these small decisions on writing. Like do I tell the court that Tafoya tried to punch me? The original version had that in there. But in the end, I took it out; so, it didn't seem like a personal battle. (And there are many more decisions that I had to make like that.)
I think college and universities do a horrible job in teaching how to revise. You turn in the paper. You get a grade. And that's the end of that.
In the real world, professional writers (and litigators) have to revise their work continuously. (I had one class at UCLA - where the professor structured the class to be all about revision; it changed my life.)
I enjoy the revising, though, for some reason. Revising is like polishing a stone or sanding away at a rough piece of wood. After awhile, you really start to see the work shine; it just takes a lot to get it there.
But sometimes I'm so tired from thinking a matter over, or drafting a part of a brief, I go home and take a nap. I don't know why I feel so drained. One time, my friend Gordon called after I wrote a big piece, and I told him, "I feel like I can't even get out of bed. I'm so exhausted." I'll never forget that day. I laid in bed for three hours, awake, but feeling like a zombie.
I can't really tell you why I feel so tired from drafting a brief, as it's not physical work. But Hemingway did say: "The hardest thing in the world to do is to write straight honest prose on human beings." And writing a brief is exactly that; it's writing an honest prose on at least two human beings who are in conflict with each other.
And why work so hard? Well, one, my work always feels like it's not perfect. And even after I submit it, I realize I could've done certain things better. I told my professor once, after he said I made a mistake, "Well, I've learned from it now. Practice makes perfect."
He said, "No. Practice makes better. You never get perfect at this job. It's too hard." And I thought about it, and he's right: practice makes better.
And what about when you lose? In general, even if I lose, after putting in a good amount into the writing, I always feel like I won too.
What'd I win? The earned experience and lessons of writing better.
In short, that's what litigation is. You have to put in your best effort to really want to win, as in sports.
Like last night, after working nearly 13 hours, I laid down on my bed for 15 minutes. I could feel my mind drifting into la la land. It felt good.
Then I told myself, Get back up. You have work to do. If you don't get up now, you won't get it done.
And I told myself, that's enough rest now. I willed myself to stand up. I took out a sheet of paper. I wrote down what I needed to do to work on the brief for tomorrow. I put it on the dinner table, so I'd see it before I ate breakfast in a few hours.