Out Takes

by jkatejohnston

15 January 2014

Dear Max,

I still like writing my law story. I guess it’s a mystery. Also a comedy. Also a courtroom drama. Also a reverie on food I would like to be eating. Rumpole of the Bailey meets Prime Suspect meets The Barefoot Contessa. (I’ve already decided that Helen Miren can play Jill in the TV series.)

Like isn’t quite the right word, because it’s also a huge pain in the ass. I have two documents going now: Potboiler and Potboiler Plot and Out Takes. Out Takes is about three times longer than Potboiler, because I keep writing these mildly amusing chapters in which nothing happens. And then I take them out. Here’s a sample:


Cases do move forward. That’s what I hate about them. Usually you just keep your head down and do the next thing: investigate, hire experts, try like hell to settle it, call the client’s mom, write some discovery motions, get your ass kicked at the prelim, and again at the 995 hearing, and pretty soon it’s about eighteen months after whatever happened happened, and you’re picking trial dates, scanning the list of available judges, ready to challenge the real horror shows, getting assigned out, motions in limine (deny, deny, deny) and before you know it, you find yourself in front of a jury with your dick in your hand and no defense.

And through it all, going to the jail to see your client. Reading police reports aloud, you say so he can stop you and explain as you go, but really because your client might not know how to read and you don’t know each other well enough yet for him to tell you that. And then you do get to know each other, a little at a time. You know if he can read or not—most can, many can’t. You know his girlfriends and baby’s mamas. You know his mom. Always with the moms. And when you get assigned out to trial, it’s his mom who brings a couple of nice shirts and a tie and dress pants and shoes-that-fit. He looks good for the jury. He trusts you. And he is usually fucked.

One of the things I love about Jill is that she never ever stopped being scared of trial, even though she did it all the time and did it better than almost anybody. Most people don’t know that about her. A lawyer in town said to me recently, “No one could ever age a case like Jill.” He said it with a kind of connoisseur’s appreciation, all but kissing his fingertips, as though she was some master winemaker. He thought it was strategy that made her dig in her high heels every single step of the way so that her cases were sometimes three and four years old before they got in front of a jury. But it wasn’t strategy, it was fear. And dread. (And skill.)

That’s why, even though Jill’s a star and I’m not, I’m not scared of her. We’re both afraid of everything else. But we’re sure of each other.

Didn’t some wise and annoying person say, “Dramatize! Dramatize! Dramatize!” But it’s so hard.