Lawyers In Public Bodies
How hard is it to be a lawyer? A Harvard law school grad, Tamara Wyche, failed the bar her first two times. She said she suffered from anxiety and cognitive impairment, so I’m guessing that meant she didn’t do well under pressure. Is working under pressure that big a deal for a lawyer? Yes, if you are a trial lawyer. Not so much if you do appeals, contract law, real estate, etc. Is there pressure in those fields? Sure, but it’s not “standing on your feet” pressure. So Ms. Wyche sued the NY Bar Examiners for being too rigid. She finally passed when accommodations were made, but by then she had lost her Big Firm job and lots of money. I’ll let you know how she does.
I have attended several recent public forums where non-lawyers tried to present their case to a public body and then 1) didn’t understand the rules, and 2) didn’t understand what is persuasive and what isn’t.
Why do you, or your group, need to hire a lawyer? After all, it looks so easy on television. I suggest that you are a far better engineer, teacher, accountant, mother, father or farrier than you are a lawyer, as shown below.
Why do public bodies have rules? Well, it’s not to keep you from being heard, but they do have to conduct the business of the people. Just because 200 people show up to complain about something doesn’t mean that each one gets to be heard in that hearing. Now true, everyone can write their letter of protest and be heard that way. Or sign a petition and be heard that way. But if all 200 people were to speak, say for 10 minutes each (and some would complain about the 10 minute rule), that’s 2000 minutes. That’s 33 hours of testimony, not including bathroom breaks. Did you know that the important cases heard at the Supreme Court of Georgia get only 20 minutes per side? “But your Honor, this is really important! My client deserves 33 hours of argument time.” Good luck with that. So instead lawyers write 500 page briefs explaining their side, right? Nope, the Supreme Court limits the brief to 30 pages. And the font size has to be 14pt! So even attorneys have limits, which is why we try to be precise, coherent and organized in our arguments.
For instance, while I’ve seen attorneys cry in court arguments, it’s not normal and it sure isn’t effective. An impassioned plea before a governing body is more effective when tears are not flowing. I don’t recall the P&Z Board ever changing their mind because of tears.
Being focused on something that has a chance of winning is helpful. Arguing that property values will go down, when you have no evidence or studies to back that up, is pointless, even if it makes you feel good. Traffic issues? Now that’s got some merit if you do your research.
Arguing about fairness is always in vogue, but seldom works. While sometimes it is a good idea to get a “due process” (fairness) argument on the record, it doesn’t do much good in front of most boards. The members usually aren’t lawyers and they usually think they are being fair. Back in the days when I was a judge, I thought I was fair. Sometimes even the loser would tell me later I was fair. But usually they thought I was an idiot.