Over at Legal Blogwatch, I posted about how shingler Kiwi Camara of Camara Sibley, not yet 25 years old and just five years out of law school is giving the RIAA a run for its money in the high profile copyright infringement re-trial of Jammie Thomas. Thomas’ first lawyer, Brian Toder won a new trial of the $222,000 verdict entered against his client, but withdrew thereafter citing financial hardship associated with continued representation. Camara jumped in just three weeks before trial to represent Thomas pro bono. Already, Camara is throwing up all kinds of hurdles for the RIAA by raising challenges on fairly basic and technical evidentiary points, such as RIAA’s failure to submit certified copies of its copyright registrations or to prove that the songs that were the subject of the copyright registrations were the same as those for which RIAA claims infringement. Thus far, the judge has been receptive to these arguments.
So is Camara merely the beneficiary of a sympathetic judge or beginners’ luck? Hardly. Instead, I believe that Camara’s advantage derives from his status as a newbie: because he’s so green, he has no choice but to geekily dot every i, cross every t, work through every item on the checklist no matter how basic. While an experienced lawyer might be inclined to slough off a challenge to records that are copied rather than certified, a newbie lawyer can’t necessarily make a judgment as to the importance, so he or she will raise a challenge. And sometimes, as in Camara’s case, the challenge may stick.
Most lawyers, particularly newbies, are afraid to go through checklists in court or to raise basic issues for fear of looking stupid or nerdy. But there’s no shame in being thorough. If you feel self-conscious about appearing inexperienced to your clients, simply explain to them that their case hinges on your ability extract certain evidence during a deposition or raise certain objections at trial and that you keep a checklist handy and consult it frequently to make certain that you don’t miss a single point. Chances are your clients will admire your attention to detail rather than question your skills.
So pull out those checklists, recite verbatim whatever formal mantra is necessary to preserve an objection or avoid waiving your clients’ constitutional rights, proudly carry those 5 inch practice binders to court and thumb through them as necessary (fortunately, technology now permits us to be a little more discrete!), ask the judge or opposing counsel the stupidest, most obvious questions possible if you don’t know the answer. If you don’t have the experience to deliver a polished performance, then being nerdy is the next best thing.