I attended a conference last week. A conference of appellate attorneys - some civil, some rude, I mean, criminal. The topic of the conference was civility and congeniality amongst the bench and bar. Some bits were enlightening, some boring (Eerie, really? REALLY?), and some entertaining, but it was the last morning's session that whacked me over the head. Not the topic, oh no, but my reaction to a comment by one of the panelists. It was a comment that was meant to be funny, and was, but it would not be funny - at all - to the millions of non-attorneys in the world.
Non-attorneys would find it crass, inappropriate, and unfeeling. I find it necessary.
As I chuckled, it hit me what someone outside of my profession would think to hear that chuckle. I've considered this before while we swap stories in the office about one case or another - always amazed, yet not, at the depravity of other human beings who commit some of the crimes we prosecute. Often amazed, yet not, at the stupidity of those committing these crimes. Always disheartened.
If you've ever been a victim, you know that an instance or an hour (or more) can stay with you ... forever. You go on, because you must, and life really does always get better. You live in a world very different from our own. I don't mean to say 'better' - certainly not - I have little if any idea what you go through, have gone through. I simply mean different.
We deal, day in and day out, with the reality of the horrors our fellow man routinely inflicts upon others. We see stories of assault, rape, murder, torture, repeated with a different set of individuals and modified set of facts. Each day. We see domestic violence victims repeatedly, frustratingly, lie to try to cover for the assholes - the cowards - who beat them. [Again, I don't walk in those shoes and hope I never find myself near them.] We hear the stories of children who have no real parents left because what parent they had has somehow decided that their next high or their next affair is more important than keeping their children safe. We hear of the sick bastards out there figuring out the next way in which they can get a small child alone in order to molest them. Each day.
We build walls separating ourselves from these crimes. It is easier for me, an appellate attorney, than for a trial attorney who fights in the trenches of a trial court, listening first hand to a victim's testimony, seeing a victim's family each day, as well as the defendant. I am one step removed - usually - because I must focus on the record below and the law. I read the stories rather than hear them; I write about the stories rather than argue them to a jury. I generally look at my trial attorney coworkers as being made of tougher stock than me in some ways because of the thinner wall they have protecting them. The walls we build - whatever you call them - are necessary for us to continue to face these issues every day. If we did not develop them, if we developed emotional attachments to every case before us, we would crumble early and often. If we did not release some of our stress through humor, some fairly crass and otherwise inappropriate, we would explode when you need us the most. If you hear us sounding crass or laughing at something you don't think is funny, please remember that we're simply building the barriers we need to do the job you need us to do.
Tomorrow, I'm meeting the family of a victim. My wall is about to be battered.