Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Saturday, January 14, 2006


In law school, I took a class called Trial Advocacy. Basically, this practical course was (and is) designed to train fledging lawyers how to try cases. It assumed correctly that legal tv shows, such as L.A. Law, trafficked in farce, and more formal instruction would be required.

My section was unusual because a sitting federal trial judge taught it. For our final exam, he required that we try a (mock) case in his courtroom. I was assigned the prosecution side of a drug case. I crafted a theme that was intended to show, in part, why the defendant did the crime, and therefore, should do the time.

Thinking I was pretty clever, I opened my closing argument with a quote from Thoreau about desperation. Then, I weaved all of the prefatory factors causing the defendant's desperation, and all the facts showing his desperation into my summation. Feeling that the conclusion was ineluctable, I sat down with extreme confidence.

Then, the judge rained down on me.

He queried, "Who do you think you are talking to, a library commission? Do you think the jurors have the slightest concern who Thoreau is, much less what he said?"

He then used the example to lecture about knowing one's audience. A lesson well-earned and well-learned.

However, at the time, I thought I choked the class, and my ego was bruised. Then, I received some news a few weeks later. The judge had awarded me the American Jurisprudence Award in Trial Advocacy, and the highest grade in the class.

I asked him later about the upbraiding. With a twinkle in his eye, he admitted that he did it for another reason. He said that I had the makings of a exceptional trial attorney, but that all trial attorneys had to develop thick skins. Another lesson learned.

The professor's name was the Honorable William Matthew Byrne, Jr. He died this week. Here is his impressive obituary. May he rest in peace.

Thank you, Judge Byrne.