Behavior Modification: Trial Lawyer's Edition

Posted in the National Law Review on September 22, 2011 an article regarding a lawyer that was defending himself, pro se by Kendall M. Gray of Andrews Kurth LLP:


Just about the time you think there is nothing new under the sun or nothing interesting to blog about, the legal profession continues to astound and amaze.

More specifically, trial lawyers will never let you down.

On Monday I was trolling my usual blog buffet and I saw this item on the ABA Blogabout a lawyer that was defending himself, pro se, in his own criminal trial.

You know the old saying, a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client. But this guy took it to a whole new level. He was essentially appearing in court with the human equivalent of a canine shock collar:

Four U.S. marshals will be in the courtroom as attorney Paul Bergrin goes on trial in federal court in Newark, N.J., next month in a racketeering case in which he is accused of operating his law firm as a criminal enterprise and conspiring with another New Jersey lawyer to murder government witnesses.

But that’s not not enough security, court officials apparently have decided. Bergrin, who is defending himself pro se, will also wear a hidden ankle bracelet. If he moves too far from his assigned area of the courtroom and violates rules against approaching the bench or the jury, he could get a jolting electric shock from the marshals, via the bracelet, . . . .

A jolting, electric shock for trial counsel who neglects to seek permission before approaching the bench?

Now this could come in handy. Really, really handy . . . .

Of course, my first thought was that the Supreme Court of Texas might find such a device useful for all of those trial lawyers who handle their own appeals when they are prone to wander from the podium in order to re-deliver their closing argument:

  • But do you give the button to Chief Justice Jefferson? He might be too restrained, nice guy that he is.
  • One button to each member of court? That could be dangerous, especially if all nine are fighting to get their questions answered. That gives new meaning to the words “hot bench.”
  • Maybe just give “the button” to Justice Hecht as the senior justice empowered to act on behalf of the court?

I’m probably just a bad and vindictive person, but I began to daydream about all the other habits of trial lawyers that such a device might plausibly correct. The list began to expand rapidly with everything from pet peeves that make my head explode to matters of real substance.

But before I publish my own list, I want to hear from you:

  • What are the things that other lawyers do that drive you crazy or make it harder to successfully do your job in representing the client?
  • What behaviors would you change if you could?
  • And in particular, what do lawyers do, often without thinking, for which you might give them a zap?
  • And what about you judges out there? Be anonymous if you need to, but what lawyer conduct do wish was Taze-worthy?

Use the comments. Weigh in. Speak out.

Or else.

© 2011 Andrews Kurth LLP

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