today i had to go to court. by myself. no, not to represent a client or anything. i had to be there to talk to the client and make sure she requested a continuance, because the real attorney (one of my supervisors) had a family emergency and had to go out of town. well, there i was, in my suit, 15 minutes early at the proper room in municipal court (otherwise known as "the list room"), waiting, waiting, waiting... the hearing was scheduled for 10:00 a.m. and the clock was ticking... 9:55? no client. 10:00? no client. 10:15? no client. then, at 10:20 the door opens and in strolls the opposing counsel.
now, perhaps i should mention that this was a debt collection case. i'm learning that these attorneys who try these cases for the plaintiffs (the collection agencies) are all about volume. there's literally a list of cases all brought by the same plaintiff against various defendants and very few defendants actually show up for their hearings. why? because it's legitimately their debt. so the hearing consists of the commissioner reading off a list of cases, the plaintiff's attorney showing that service was good and requesting a default judgment. boom boom boom. this isn't lawyering, it's business. and it's a little depressing.
so, the commissioner gets around to our client, calls her case, and i'm nervous. why? well, since the attorney was so late, i didn't get to talk to him beforehand to make sure he had gotten the multiple phone and fax requests from our office for the continuance. and since i'm not technically an attorney and no supervising attorney was present, i couldn't approach the bar to request the continuance on the client's behalf. and finally, did i mention that the client didn't show up?
the good news, though, is that the opposing counsel had in fact gotten our request and he agreed to this with the commissioner, even though technically nobody was there to get the continuance date for the defendant's (our) side. okay, technically, somebody was there -- me. and i've got ears. so i got the continuance date. and the court will send notice to our client.
afterwards, i talked to the opposing counsel. he was a soft-looking kind of guy, and a bit of a jerk. he said, "so what, is your client indigent or something?" i said, "the organization only represents low-income senior citizens." and i left it at that. because i'm not really the client's attorney... and i'm totally erring on the side of i'm-just-the-intern.
the thing that's got me thinking, though, is that there's so much mystique and drama around the world of lawyering and then you work your way inside of it and you realize that lawyers aren't all brilliant, judges aren't all fair, and clients aren't all worth representing. sheesh. it's like a big, silly game with varying levels of difficulty. on one hand, i'm fully confident that i can do this job and do it well. on the other, well, i guess i thought the challenges this job would pose would be of a different nature. so it goes...
also, i'm going to take a little dig at summer associates. i'm going to preface this by saying that the friends of mine who are doing the summer associate gig this summer are fantastic and i love them tremendously. but i'm sure that they would be the first to acknowledge that there are a whole lotta law students out there that put the "ass" in summer associate. now for my story...
the attorney for one of the plaintiffs in the list room today didn't make it in on time because the philadelphia area has had a ton of rain lately and the rivers are all flooding. so who came in her stead? a law student. the case was called, the student approached the bar. the attorney-who-got-flooded-out is a regular player in the list room. she's literally there almost every day, so the commissioner knows her. when this unfamiliar face stepped up, the commissioner asked who he was. the kid gives his name. the commissioner says, "are you an attorney?" and what does the kid respond? "i'm a summer associate
". um. no. being a "summer associate
", even if you say it all italicized-like, does not make you a lawyer any more than having an ABA law student membership means you've been accepted into the bar. i don't think the commissioner is an attorney, either, but he's not an idiot. besides, the truth of the matter is that he's the commissioner and it's his courtroom. this kid had no paperwork from the prothonotary, no supervising attorney present, nothing. so what happened? the commissioner told him he couldn't represent the plaintiffs. and goodbye.
as for me, i knew enough not to (a) act cocky around the commissioner, and (b) impersonate a lawyer. see? i am learning stuff in this internship! and i'm learning it for $7.50 an hour! take THAT, summer associateships!
(i'm going to find a dark spot and cry into my empty wallet now...)