The last two years of my life have been stolen from me.
For almost 24 months, I’ve been handling a pro bono case that nobody else in our mid-sized firm wanted. I thought it would be a good way to stand out. It was a 1983 case on behalf of an inmate locked away in a prison 100 miles from our office.
I made repeated trips to the prison (usually counting 18-wheelers I passed just to stay awake), took depositions, gathered evidence, met with the client (needless to say, rough around the edges and hardly a raconteur), and did every single bit of grunt work myself. And I did it all in my spare time, as I still met my billables during that time.
I handled everything. The further I got into it, the more the case looked like it would actually see a courtroom. And I started to get pretty excited. After all, prepping the case for trial and seeing it through to the end was going to be a priceless skill-building lesson, right? I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and I was impressed with myself.
In fact, a few other people in the firm also got excited about the case, realizing that it wouldn’t be a run-of-the-mill prisoner rights case, and that there was the chance to actually make a little case law. But when I got done building up all my grunt work skills, my boss realized that I had actually raised “several interesting legal questions” in the case. (His words, not mine.) “You have an interesting argument,” he quipped.
Like a sap, I thanked my boss for the compliment and said I was looking forward to the trial.
But that’s when the bottom fell out, and I was robbed.
“Actually, I think I’m going to handle this matter,” he uttered. I think, at first, even he was surprised he said it, but he quickly hardened up.
I complained. Then I tried to appeal to his sense of fairness. Then I begged to at least take second chair at trial.
My boss gave the second chair to a black, female fifth-year. And everything quickly became all about him attempting to raise his profile and boost his reputation—all while looking hard-charging and diverse. It had nothing to do with seeking justice for the underprivileged. Only seeking glory for himself.
The initial day he told me, he tried to cushion the blow by saying that if he had any questions about my work, he’d let me know.
I’ve never heard from him since.
After two years of hustle and young, naive anticipation, I’ve since been assigned to a doc review assignment on some complex drug liability case that will probably never see trial. And even if it does, I certainly won’t be anywhere near that courtroom because I now work out of an unheated conference room at the client’s records storage facility.
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