Ok-I’m going to get a little serious. Let’s see how this fares.
I’ve been doing a lot of traveling for work lately. I’ve been lucky enough to find myself in such exotic locations as San Louis Obispo and Sacramento; a few times even Orange County. *
Recently, my work-related travel has been either to take or defend depositions. I’ve attended quite a few depositions now between my previous litigation work out of law school and my present stint, but only recently have I started appearing on my own. It has potential to be interesting and is probably one of the more glamorous parts of litigation. Unlike what Ally McBeal (which I’m currently binge-watching, so please forgive the ancient reference) will have you believe, trials and depositions are few and far between. There is much more writing and digging through boxes of documents than grandstanding and speeches. This fact never fails to disappoint Max who would otherwise probably be a fantastic attorney.
In any event, as I’m a rather young lawyer, these depos are my first little forays into the biggish-leagues. I’m not the baby lawyer anymore.
On one of my longer traveling stretches, I was tasked with taking my first two depositions, and defending some, as well. I defended my first one and it went great! Really, I could not have asked for a much better performance. My boss and partner at the firm always appears via telephone as my failsafe (aka my babysitter), because I’m still in training in many respects. He lavished me with praise afterward. I was feelin’ pur-retty good at this point and confidence was high.
The next morning I walked into the room, sat down across from the other party as my witness, which means they were not super eager to talk to me, and started taking this deposition. I immediately get an objection from the opposing attorney and it rattled me into rephrasing my question. Then the same thing happened again…and again…and again until I could hardly form a coherent sentence. I was weak and falling apart. The other party had run me over.
I was sitting next to the client, a very smart man, and had my boss on the phone. I was swallowing hard and trying to remain very collected. During breaks, my boss was speaking to me and the client as we conferenced in a private room asking what was wrong with me-“no really, what is wrong with you?” At the time I didn’t know what to say. Looking back I’d compare the feeling very closely with stage fright.
By lunch, my boss and the client had both had enough and my boss decided to take the deposition himself, literally pulling me out of the game. It looked bad, really bad. I’ve never been so humiliated.
Of course, I remained professional. I had to have dinner with the client that night. Knowing he now doubted me, and with good reason, I ensured him I would have a better handle on things the next day. God, that really was one of the worst parts. I had to do it AGAIN the very next day! But maybe that was for the best, because I had no choice but to believe I would kill it in the morning.
The story has a somewhat happy ending in that I did go on to do a good job the next day. The specific reason is because I finally understood that the other party objecting to the form of the question should basically be totally ignored-I should not try to rephrase to come up with an unobjectionable question. Think about it! My God, no wonder I could hardly form a sentence! There are probably some super kickass lawyers out there who can do this in their sleep. I am not one of them, and it is not important. More broadly, and for my general audience, the only reason I didn’t melt into the floor and die the next day is because I felt that I had learned something from my failure that would lead me to success. I had, and it did.
I will still have to work to regain the full faith of my employer, and I probably won’t be taking any further depositions in this case, so in that respect, it was a professional set-back, for sure. But I’ve also demonstrated that I am capable. I may have revealed my lack of experience, but I also showed that I have the skill set required to be sick at my job and that I am a worthwhile investment that only continues to appreciate over time.
Personally, I’ve never experienced a professional or scholastic failure on that level before, so it was a test for me. Since this happened, I’ve been asking around and it doesn’t seem that too many people have fallen on their face to quite this degree, which is great for you people-yeah, really, really great. haha. But I’ll tell ya, there is something comforting about experiencing epic, embarrassing failure like that in that failure is no longer the unknown. I’m less afraid to take risks now (slightly-ever so slightly), particularly professionally, because I know what it feels like when the risks don’t pan out, and I survived before. No one thinks I suck at my job now or is upset with me, which is where I always go in my mind when things don’t go my way.
I wanted to share my epic failure with you because it was a milestone for me, and because I know I’m not the only one who has felt these feelings. I think about my experience taking my first deposition quite a lot, so I know there is something about the way it went down that makes me want to tell the story. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about how I might put my thoughts to paper since it happened over a month ago. Now, I’ve done it.
*No offense to those fine cities. In fact, I hear San Louis Obispo is lovely. I’m just being an urban dickhead.