Family Law Unraveled

The latest from Margaret's blog

Trial by Night

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

When I leave work after a long day in court, I’m pretty much drained. I listen to the radio on my drive home while replaying the day in my head, voice inside louder than the news as I leave the garage, fading in importance and internal volume as I work my way out of the city, eclipsed almost entirely by whoever Terry Gross is interviewing by the time I pull up in front of my house. Key in the door, look at the mail. Kiss my husband, slip off my shoes, feed the dog, kick the cat off the counter, run two flights up, shed the lawyer clothes.  All it takes for the transformation to domestic life is yoga pants and a tank top and I’m back downstairs. The night has begun. I’m ready to cook.

I never know where I’m going to start on cross examination.  I have a list of topics and questions I make in preparation for trial, and then another list I scribble down as the witness is testifying on direct.  I have all those notes in front of me, I survey the territory like so many mountains and lakes, and then I just dive in.  I don’t have a road map when I start. I feel my way through, touching down here, touching down there, seeing what works, abandoning what doesn’t.  It’s a very creative part of trial work.  I love it.

It occurred to me tonight, as I poured Marsala on the mushrooms that ended up in a separate pan from the chicken breasts, as I found myself squeezing a lemon on the Brussel sprouts I had sliced in half and browned heavily in butter, that I cook like I cross. I start out by looking in the frig, or I have an idea on the drive home, or when I’m walking the dog, or lying in Shavasana.  I have a notion, a track, a trend, but it’s swirly. It’s unformed. I clean the counters, wash the dishes in the sink, listen to whatever soundtrack my husband is playing for the evening, take the glass of white wine he offers me, and just start moving.  From sink to stove to cabinet to butcher block. I chop a shallot while I sauté hot red pepper flakes in olive oil. I don’t know what’s going in that cast iron pan but I know that I will know by the time I throw the shallot in and watch it curl and soften in the oil, by the time the fragrance is rising into the air.

Just like I swoop in for a question I wasn’t planning to ask – you were talking to my client in the waiting room before we came in here, weren’t you? – I’m not consciously sure of where I’m going or what it will yield.  She handed you the copy of the medical records, right? I’m just following a scent, sniffing the curling shallot. So you actually knew before you testified that your son wasn’t seeing Dr. X any more, didn’t you?  I’m cutting apart the direct testimony. And when you testified this morning that you had no information about your son’s therapy, that wasn’t really accurate, was it?  Slicing it into smaller pieces, moving in and backing off.  Let’s review what you actually did know. I’m circling around, gathering the components of the point I want to make, darting in to grab them and retreating when they slip away.

Back in my kitchen, a lid covers a pan, a knife gets washed and put away, wine is sipped, candles are lit. This is what I love, the combination of instinct and skill, a production you can’t script. You just watch it unfold. Some days/nights turn out better than others. Tonight, there was applause from the gallery as the first Marsala infused mushroom was tasted. I hope my next cross will measure up.

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