Lawyers are renowned, and occasionally vilified, for their logical acuity and ability to argue in support of almost anything. They are alternately respected and abhorred, and both with reason. Some lawyers do really lousy things, and some lawyers can change the world for the better. Read the stories below to hear from lawyers about their "This one's in the bag" moment at trial!
Caution: Under Surveillance
“I had a client who had a pretty severe slip and fall in a pharmacy. In my state, we are not allowed to see surveillance of the subject until after the deposition or other similar testimony is taken. The rule is in place to protect defendants so we don’t coach the client based on what we see in the video. Anyway, we take the deposition, then they send the video. Not 30 minutes later I get a call from opposing counsel wanting to settle.
The video revealed that my client had fallen, passed out and peed herself (she was very elderly, and very hurt). The manager of the store had an employee put signs out showing wet floor, and mop up around the lady. All while she was unconscious, all before calling 911.
Settled that one for the policy limits right there.”
“I was defending a company being sued for kicking a customer out for being too hammered.
He showed up to trial (small claims) wasted at 10 a.m.
The judges in small claims are lenient on process, they like to adjudicate on the merits. So we started.
He’s the plaintiff so he goes first. Can barely stand during his opening statement. Knocks over his shopping bag full of evidence (papers. I still don’t know what had been in them). Just awful.
The court put a stop to it and ruled in my clients favour. The only words I spoke were putting my name on the record.”
“I can’t really say I’m proud of this one, it’s not a happy case, but it was really memorable because it was definitely one of those cases where you just know you’re going to win.
I represented a client once who had gone through a really rough marriage/divorce several years prior. (Child drowned, a couple miscarriages, wife developed postpartum on one, which amplified an existing mental illness, incredibly sad story.) At the time I came into the story, the ex-wife had been in jail for several years (stalking her ex-husband initially, but was still being held because she wasn’t competent to stand trial), and I was representing the ex-husband, who just wanted authorization to take over sale of the house so they could finally finish severing ties.
Prior to the trial, the wife’s pro se briefs made it seem like she was under the impression they were going to relitigate the divorce, filled with allegations related to the marriage itself. Like I said upthread, she already had mental problems, and it was clear she’d picked up some Sovereign Citizen tendencies during her ongoing incarceration. When it actually came to trial and she was brought in, you could tell she was clearly not well. She was having a conversation with herself while my client was on the stand giving his explanation of the situation. We didn’t really have any witnesses to speak of, this was hardly a major matter, so the ex-wife gave her side after that, and that’s when the wheels fell off. She basically went on like she had in her briefs, rambling about the divorce itself, claiming my client had committed adultery and therefore she was entitled to 100% of all assets, aforementioned SovCit stuff, some general babbling, etc.
The judge we had was a nice guy, for which I’m forever grateful. He was patient with her, kind, reminded her that the initial divorce wasn’t the issue, but generally just let her continue to speak her piece for a bit. After a few minutes, he gently shut her down, had the bailiff and guards lead her away, and gave us the authorization. Like I said, it’s just a sad situation, but it was probably my surest winner other than default judgments.”
“I was representing a rental company for homes. Had to present a case where I had to prove the tenants had been using the house they had rented for an illegal weed farm. They claimed they did have weed in the house, but only for their own recreational use.
Apparently there’s such a thing as a weed expert and I asked him to testify about how much weed is considered normal for a joint, how many joints per day a regular user would smoke, etc. Little weed facts, so to speak. With his written testimony I did the math, which I presented during my end statement.
With all the weed they had lying around, even if the couple smoked 18 heavy joints a day, per person, they had enough for ten years. That ain’t recreational folks. I knew I had them when I heard the bailiff snort when I presented the numbers.”
You Can’t Just Make One Stop?
“My client was a private shuttle bus company which was contracted by the publicly-funded regional transit company to pick up elderly and disabled customers (done on a reservation system). Client was sued by a woman alleging that the client didn’t pick her up when she called, which was true (she would never make a reservation, instead treated the service like a taxi), and as a result she had to hitchhike into town and stay in a shelter overnight. She claimed that at the shelter someone ‘bit a chunk of her arm off,’ and sued the client for $25,000 (small claims maximum).
I brought an application to dismiss before this went to trial on the basis that the woman’s claim was bound to fail (google the doctrine of ‘remoteness,’ among other things). At the application, the woman wore short sleeves. Her arms appeared unbitten (signal one this was going my client’s way). She argued that claim wasn’t really about the money or the chunk missing from her arm but instead she wanted the judge to order that my client pick her up whenever she call (signal two, admitting your claim is bogus to the judge is not a good strategy). I obviously objected and argued that this was not the case she brought, and the judge must dismiss. The judge said to the woman ‘I’m inclined to agree with [my name], what would you say in response to his submission?’
The woman then lost it on the judge (signal three), called her a bigot (that’s a bold strategy Cotton, let’s see if it pays off), yelled and swore at her, and said her human rights were being violated. The judge was visibly angry and ordered the woman’s case dismissed. I could see the judge gritting her teeth, so I decided to swing for the fences. I asked for an additional order that the woman not be allowed to start any other action against my client without first getting permission of the court (essentially I asked for an order that is usually awarded against people who repeatedly (and baselessly) sued the same defendant; this was the first time the woman sued my client). The judge agreed that such an order would be appropriate, and granted it on the spot. I don’t think it helped that the woman was continuing to swear at me and the judge throughout this time.”
What? Your Back Is Out?
“Worker’s compensation claim for a back injury that seems suspicious so they sic a Private Investigator on the guy, which is fairly common.
PI comes back with a video of the guy batting softball batting practice, torquing his back over and over. Exactly what he says he can’t do.
Okay, whatever. People get caught all the time.
The camera pans and who is shagging balls in the outfield?
Opposing freaking counsel.
So, ya. Case dropped and the judge took it up with the BAR.”
“I was trying a civil case in New Hampshire in front of a salt of the earth jury. In the back row were 4 women. I called a witness who was an assistant town clerk. She came in without a subpoena voluntarily while on maternity leave. She left her baby at home. She was a lovely, well spoken and articulate woman who oozed credibility and likability. Her evidence was useful to us but shouldn’t have been fatal to the other side’s case. After my direct exam, the other lawyer decides to tear into her with largely irrelevant questions in the harshest, most rude way possible. After one question particularly rude question, the 4 ladies in the back row all were rolling their eyes and looking at each other as if to say ‘you believe this pile of spaghetti?’ It was right then and there I knew we were winning that one.”
It Came Like That
“The company got an unexpected demand letter claiming we provided a defective piece of equipment and wanting big bucks for the cost of repair and all the downtime it caused.
Our in-house lawyer immediately thought something was up. Letters like that are never out of the blue, they’re always preceded by phone calls and emails, and he always got looped in on those, so when he called me up to have the ‘document preservation’ chat he also wanted me to pull and print all emails ASAP.
There weren’t many, maybe thirty mentioning the company, twenty to or from the company, and all of them, save three, were from when they bought the machine over a year before.
The last email was the only one I actually printed. It was pretty thin on details, but it made three things clear:
1. An employee decided to ride a brand new Harley Davidson inside the plant.
2. He was not a very good rider.
Oh, and the obvious. 3. Drinking was involved.
I decided to deliver it myself with one line highlighted.
‘ was surprisingly intact for being hit by a motorcycle going that fast.’
I had never seen our company lawyer smile, nor laugh, but he was doing both as soon as he read it.”
A Good Plan Gone Wrong
“I served as an expert witness for a case. A company had hired a web development firm to build them a new website and accused them of not giving what they paid for. They web development company claimed that the requirements were constantly growing and changing, the client just played dumb and said it was the software people’s jobs to figure this out at the quote and the company couldn’t possibly have known exactly what the final requirements would have been ahead of time.
While going through thousands of pages of E-Mails and Skype conversations I find 3 fun things:
A quote from a previous web development company (with the full, final requirements) at 4 times the cost.
A conversation explaining exactly which requirements to hide from the web development company that I was representing in the initial consultation based on the ultimate cost that they were willing to pay.
An email stating they will still be able to force the web development company to build the whole thing without increasing the cost because, ‘we have better lawyers.’
It was a win win. The client got a slam dunk case, and I got paid the full fee without having to write a huge report or testify.”
“My brother managed to force a major bank into the discovery process in a lawsuit, which is totally unheard of due to arbitration laws. The bank’s agents had ripped off a wealthy old lady of all her money, and she didn’t know anything until her lights were cut off.
After fighting and delaying discovery until the very last minute, the bank dumped 200+ boxes of documents on my brother the Friday before the Monday discovery hearing. He had 72 hours to go through tens of thousands of pages of documents.
He rented himself a hotel for the weekend so he’d have no disturbances, had a friend bring a dolly and hand-truck the boxes to the hotel room, and got to work.
In one of the boxes was an email between two VP’s at the bank, discussing how there would never be a discovery process, so there was no need to destroy documents (ie evidence) and also saying that they weren’t worried about the little old lady’s lawsuit since the bank had frozen her accounts on some trumped-up fraud allegation, so she wouldn’t be able to pay her lawyer and he (my brother) would surely quit. The lady had Alzheimer’s at a fairly advanced stage by this time, so the email discussed how she would likely die before her accounts would be unfrozen once the ‘fraud’ was proven to be false.
These chuckleheads openly discussed several illegal acts in emails to each other, and then failed to destroy the paperwork proving they had actually undertaken those acts — which, legally, they could’ve destroyed at the time — but they were so arrogant they thought they didn’t have to.
When my brother entered that into evidence Monday morning, they immediately motioned for a recess and offered to settle for, um, ‘an undisclosed sum.’ He also won his client $10m in a separate part of the lawsuit. One agent is currently serving a long sentence in the same federal prison as Bernie Madoff. Sadly, the lady did in fact die before the case settled, so the money went to her son and to a large charitable trust that then elected my brother as the main trustee. So he gets to disburse the money he won in the settlement, and see a lot of people benefit from his work.
Consistency Is Key
“Hit and run. My client was the one who got hit.
Defendant’s defense was: ‘It may have been my car, but I had reported it stolen and it wasn’t me behind the wheel of the car.’
During my client’s examination in chief:
Me: What were you doing at that time?
Client: I was waiting for the pedestrian light to turn green so that I could cross the street on the zebra crossing.
Me: And did you wait for the light to turn green before crossing?
Client: Yes. The light turned green, and I waited a few seconds before crossing the street.
Right then and there, the Defendant jumps up and ROARS across the courtroom: ‘MY LIGHT WAS GREEN TO GO. THAT BLOODY FREAKING LIAR DASHED ACROSS THE STREET!’
He sat back down in a huff for about 3mins before he turned white.”
Let’s Play Fair
“I’m an appellate criminal defense attorney, which means I take the case after the defendant has been convicted/sentenced, and I try to convince a court of appeals that he deserves to be released from prison/get a new trial/get a new sentence.
I had one case a few weeks ago that was a total travesty of justice – black client tried by an all-white jury (not even a single minority in the entire venire), defended incompetently by a lousy trial attorney who did absolutely nothing for him, who then got convicted on all counts and received an extremely high sentence for a relatively piddling fraud (higher than Manafort got).
I raised five different issues on appeal, which is a lot. Typically I keep it to one issue or MAYBE two.
At argument, the judges on the panel seemed pretty sympathetic during my presentation, though they asked me some tough questions. After I sat down the government lawyer went up to speak.
Before she got a word out the first thing the judge said was: ‘This is like a law school exam, there are so many issues here.’
Had a pretty good feeling I’d win after that one! And indeed they ended up reversing all of his convictions and my client is now a free man.”
The Importance of Commitment
“Worked as a prosecutor and was handling an involuntary commitment hearing. This is a hearing when someone is mentally ill and another (usually a family member) has filed a petition with the court asking for the mentally ill person to be committed for medical treatment when they are ‘a danger to themselves or others.’
The judge would always make everyone wait for at least 15 minutes before he entered the courtroom. The judge spent at least 5 of those minutes adjusting his toupee. The lady (the one being committed) was wearing only a blanket as she refused to wear clothing. During the 15 minute wait, she was screaming at me calling me every racial insult she could. The judge walks in and suddenly her attention turns to the judge’s toupee. She starts laughing and insulting him; asking why he had road kill on his head. After 5 minutes of ranting, her attorney turns to me (we are sitting next to each other, not more than 2 feet apart) and asks me to move to have her removed. I said no, she was proving my case for me. After a couple more seconds I had a change of heart, I felt bad and made a motion to have the lady removed. The judge warned her that if she would not be quiet, she would be removed. She kept going on and on. She was taken back to the detention facility by the sheriff’s deputy. The lady’s husband then testified as to why she was a danger to herself (i don’t remember the specifics). There was also a doctor’s report submitted.
This was 20+ years ago. She was sent to the state mental hospital for 7-14 days (I do not remember the exact time but it is a temporary order and there has to be a review in a short time to see if the commitment should be longer or if the person should be released). She came back to court after having been medicated and she was a really sweet older lady. She had severe mental problems that required her meds to be adjusted. She was fine, smiling, and in a really good mood when she came back to court. Her husband was really happy to see her again and was relieved she was back to her normal state of health.”
“This was a family law case I worked on.
Woman, our client who is divorced, father not paying child support, he is always claiming poverty as the cause, saying he has no money etc, always getting extension to his money owed. He had a business but said it was doing terribly and he was owing money left and right, etc. Judges had been sympathetic in the past. However guy comes in, he owed 36k now, for 5 or 6 years back child support, claiming poor mouth once again. Swears to the court he has no money, business isn’t going well, shows bank statements.
Attorney whips out facebook post copy I found ( my brightest moment). Guy’s young hot fiancee, with her new 20 thousand dollar ring, 5.5 carats, and her post saying, ‘Look what my sugar daddy bought me, and he paid cash, eat your heart out ladies.’
The guy looked like his life had ended. We got our full amount plus interest. Plus, I got a 1k bonus.
Turns out he was taking business money and never depositing it, so it wouldn’t show on the books. So the company looked like it was doing terribly, when in fact it was doing great. In a later investigation his business partner sued him and won and the business went under.
I hate family law, it’s usually that the scumbag wins, or gets away with stuff for so long, male or female.”
“For context, the Justice was talking about how Dad (my client) needed to have some parenting time. Mum had alienated the kids, and was claiming that they didn’t want to see him.
Opposing party (Mum) stands up while the Justice is speaking, interrupts, and says ‘I can’t force my children to do something they don’t want to do!’
Opposing counsel, who had most definitely not anticipated her client doing this, just lowers her head and closes her eyes.
I stand up and say ‘if Mum can’t control her children, then perhaps she should not be the primary parent.’ The Justice replies, ‘and I’ll be available to hear it when you make that application, [my name].’
That said, I knew I had won when Mum stood up earlier and questioned the qualifications of the psychologist she had suggested, when said psychologist came back with a report that my client should have parenting time.”
Know Your Audience
“I recently was in trial where my client was accused of exposing the plaintiff to a dangerous chemical that lead to his death. I had a very accomplished female doctor on the stand as my expert witness. On cross exam, the plaintiff’s male lawyer questioned her about how much money her husband made. No questions about the scientific substance of her testimony. Every woman on the jury looked right at me, frowned and shook their heads ‘no.’ They returned a verdict for my client in 15 minutes. The other lawyer completely destroyed his credibility when he personally attacked my expert on misogynist grounds.”
So Where Are You Living?
“My lawyer told me this story after a hearing on my divorce case. (I wasn’t present when it happened.)
Background: My wife left me to move in with a random guy from work. She wanted custody, but hadn’t taken the kids when she left. I was already taking care of them.
So, my lawyer and I, knowing the slight bias usually present against men having custody, even though we picked this judge because he was more open to such a thing, have prepared a very good case for why I’m the better choice for the kids. They would stay in the same schools, where they are doing really well (with report cards as evidence.) My parents are available to watch them for the few hours after school before I get home from work (with schedules and a map.) They’re all involved in some kind of extracurricular stuff, with Band, Color Guard, Scouts, etc. and wouldn’t have to change in the middle of a school year (with statements from directors/leaders.) Stuff like that. My lawyer presented our case to the judge, who seemed to be impressed that we’d put so much thought and effort into it.
He turns to my ex’s lawyer and asks ‘And where is your client currently living?’
She didn’t know.
She didn’t know the school district, the city, or even the county. She hadn’t even spoken to her for weeks.
(Ex had gotten kicked out for cheating (surprise!), and didn’t bother to tell her lawyer where she landed.)”