Lawyers are some of the most patient and levelheaded professionals ever. So much so that sometimes it feels like Treebeard from LotR himself was their mentor (“Don’t be hasty”). But even the best lawyers can be pushed to their limits or get emotional when they encounter a ‘gotcha’ moment in court.
Reddit user SaltyBunCrack turned to the online community’s internet lawyers and asked them to share their “oh now you messed up moments” from the courtroom. Scroll down to read the stories and Bored Panda's interviews with redditor SaltyBunCrack about their viral thread and with one of the lawyers who shared their thoughts on Reddit. Upvote the stories that you enjoyed the most and share your own similar moments in the comments below if you have any courtroom experience.
No matter how fantastic a lawyer you might be, a lot depends on the client that you have to represent. And some clients might seem like they’re hell-bent on making it as difficult as possible to represent them.
A law professor once told me about a case from decades ago when he was defending a young woman on drugs charges.
In court, his line of defence was basically to tell the truth: this woman had turned to drugs due to trauma and instability in her life, but she was now in a steady loving relationship with another woman. For the first time, she had some peace and security in her life, was genuinely working on overcoming her demons, and was unlikely to re-offend again.
It was a 50-50 proposition on how this would land with the judge....until the prosecutor stood up and started lambasting the two women (the accused and her lover) for lying because "lesbian relationships aren't real" and similar stuff.
According to the prof, "everyone in the courtroom except the prosecutor could see that the judge was a flaming fruit", so this did NOT go down well. The judge tore strips off the prosecutor, gave a furious lecture on gay rights, and ended up giving the woman a slap on the wrist and wishing her well with her partner.
Not a lawyer, but a law student. This was in a case that my professor showed us in class.
Some guy was accused of something, I cannot remember what, but the judge spoke him free because there wasn’t enough evidence he had done it. Guy said “thank you judge, I’ll never do it again”.
DA appealed and got him convicted
My friend is a Guardian Ad Litem in child protection court. She gets a case where the mother was charged for endangerment because she left her kids in a hot car in the summer. It was an awful case. Kids were in the car over 30 minutes in 90+ degree heat and nearly died. Police broke the window, got them out, and rushed them to the hospital. Mom goes to court and is assigned a public defender. First day in court, PD is talking to her and my friend is reviewing the case file, since the kids are her clients. Sheriff's deputy comes into the courtroom. "Anybody in here drive a black Toyota?" Mom: I do! Sheriff: "license plate number (whatever it was)." Mom: yup! Sheriff: "is it parked in the garage outside the courthouse?" Mom: yes. Sheriff: "um, you left your kids in it?!" My friend said it was the only time she has seen a public defender visibly face palm. The women left her kids in a hot car... at her court date... for leaving the kids in a hot car... can't make this sh*t up.
One of the lawyers, who preferred to remain anonymous, told Bored Panda that being a lawyer is a prestigious, financially and intellectually-rewarding career. "Unfortunately, most lawyers in the world aren't at the highest levels of practice."
They added that after having practiced law for over 20 years, nothing shocks them anymore. They added that people tend to enjoy watching lawyers in movies and on TV because trial scenes are well-suited to being dramatized. "The sets are small and non-dynamic, and there is a lot of dialog and impassioned speeches—and that is probably why legal movies and shows became popular to create."
They added: "However, the actual practice of law is a lot less dramatic than what you see on TV and in the movies."
Years ago I worked in personal injury, and we had a woman come to us saying that she slipped and fell outside of a nail salon because they hadn't swept up the wet leaves outside the door.
So we take the case, and almost immediately we get a call from opposing counsel saying he's going to courier us something important. We open it, pop the disc in the computer, and right there is security cam footage of our client picking up the wet leaves, putting them on the sidewalk, and sitting down on them before calling for help.
I have never facepalm'ed so hard. Needless to say we dropped the case
This was in a custody dispute, jury trial. We represented the father of young twins, and the mother wanted child support. The issue was that, for the past three years, they had been sharing the kids EXACTLY 50-50, as in he got a weekend, she got a weekend, one of them got Monday Tuesday, the other got Thursday Friday, and they split Wednesday. There was no reason not to have a shared custody order with each parent paying their own expenses, but she thought she could get more, so there we were.
The thing was, she did not have a case. She kept taking the kids to CPS and child psychologists before the trial to make a reason why she should have primary custody, but we managed to get all of that excluded.
So on the day of the trial, her big argument is that these kids have asthma. Severe asthma. The kind of asthma that requires special equipment, and the father is ignoring these issues. He's negligent. He's endangering them. She should have custody.
The trial is generally going our way. She's not a great witness, she doesn't have any medical records to back up these allegations, and we have the children's daycare teacher testifying that she doesn't know anything about any special equipment or severe asthma. But the moment that sealed the deal came when the mother called her last witness.
The last witness to testify was the children's grandmother, the mother's mother. The jury already knew that she frequently babysat the two kids, and that her apartment was often a drop-off location for the kids. The mother swore that the grandmother never smoked in front of the kids, and that her apartment was not a dangerous environment for asthmatic children. The grandmother was called last minute by the mother as a rebuttal witness.
As she took the stand, the grandmother leaned over into the microphone and cleared her throat.
It was a two or three second long expression of smoky phlegm. I don't recall exactly what the grandmother said in her testimony, but I remember she sounded like decades of three-pack-a-day smoking when she said it.
After a half-hour of deliberations, the jury awarded primary custody to the father. He immediately started crying, while the mother sat motionless. It was a good result.
Had a bylaw officer harass me almost constantly for 8-months for violating a by-law: I had parked my motorcycle in my driveway. He ordered me to remove it, and tried to levy fines for the violation. He went after my landlord and tried to get me evicted.
Eventually, I got a lawyer and filed a complaint. When asked to point to the bylaw I was breaking, he did and even read it out, which basically read:
No parking or storing anything in a driveway other than an automobile.
He seriously thought a motorcycle wasn't an automobile because an automobile is a car. When I hired my lawyer, and showed him the case, he said "I'm not taking new clients right now, but I'll make an exception because I'm personally offended that this is happening to you."
Everything was thrown out, and I'm currently working on getting my legal fees and extra payments for all the harassment.
Redditor SaltyBunCrack who made the viral thread told us that what inspired them was pure boredom. The 17-year-old redditor told us that they're not a lawyer but at one point in time thought that becoming one would be great. "I thought about lawyers who have seen some of the moments I mentioned, so I asked Reddit, since it has many stories."
We were also interested to hear the redditor's take about why lawyers are so romanticized on-screen and why so many people want to have this profession.
"I think that lawyers in dramas are romanticized because being a lawyer is a pretty serious job to have. Back then, I wanted to be a lawyer myself! Then I found out I don't have the skills to be in a courtroom with a straight face."
I was tangentially involved in a custody dispute. Dad alleged mom was doing all sorts of things and he should have the kid. Dad's attorney grilled mom for about 20 minutes on texts she had sent claiming to sell her prescriptions. She wouldn't admit it. Dad's attorney moved on and eventually ended with, "One more question. Where did you get the pills you were selling." Mom responds without thinking, "Oh my doctor prescribed them."
My dear, departed bf was a criminal defense attorney who told me this one:
Attorney (cross-examination): "You were dating my client, Eddie X, and your then-boyfriend, Mr Z, and became pregnant. How did you know that the baby was not my client's child"
Witness: "Because Eddie always f***** me up the ass!"
We just had a girl in a bail hearing for a first offense shoplifting charge tell the judge “I don’t know why I’m being charged with this, I didn’t shoplift! All I did was take the price tag from one mascara and put it on another mascara! I didn’t steal!”
Get an attorney honey
One of the best ways to keep your good reputation as a lawyer is to avoid taking on bad clients in the first place. This has more to do with a person’s character than with the reasons why the client was taken to court in the first place.
For example, as a lawyer, you would tend to avoid incredibly angry clients that are overflowing with rage because of what happened. There’s no telling when their anger might turn from someone else onto you: and that’s when your psychological health and even bodily safety can be put in danger, according to William Pfeifer on The Balance Small Business.
An offshoot of the angry client is the vengeful client. Their main purpose to make somebody’s life miserable, instead of achieving some positive goal. After all, you never know if you could become their next target if you accidentally do something that they don’t approve of.
I was a manager at a retail store in the L. A. area and we had several “I fell in your store due to negligence of keeping walkways clear and I fell and broke my nose and now I need to work with a plastic surgeon to fix it”.
Every single time we saw it was a grift on security footage and nothing ever turned into a real lawsuit.
My favorite was two women clearly scoping out an area, checking over their shoulders to see where my floor staff was, “slipping” on their face without using their hands to cushion to fall (a natural reaction in a legitimate fall”, the friend coming into view and looks right at the camera and doesn’t help her friend, and instead calls the cops before flagging anyone in the store for help.
So satisfying to turn that king of footage over to lawyers
I’m an attorney and a foster parent, and my wife won’t sit next to me when we have to go to court for our kids because I usually have a running commentary on how inept the attorneys are. The judge for this type of case knows me and knows I’m an attorney so he finds this entertaining.
Last time we went in pre-covid, there was one attorney, who is my FAVORITE, in the case before us. (She’s also an attorney in one of our matters and the social workers, myself, the judge and every other attorney hate her in these matters because she oblivious, loud, and incompetent.)
So she stands up in this case and goes “your honor, my client has only been found guilty of child endangerment in (county next to us) and (county next to that). I see no reason that this court should hold that against him when it comes to custody of his children.”
The long suffering judge, “attorney oblivious, why did your client move to this county?”
“Because he hoped CYS here wouldn’t intervene in his idea of discipline! I don’t think that just because one county objected to him locking kids away from food and using a switch on them, we should automatically assume he is a bad parent!! What about the love he has for these kids?”
All three kids were under four years old
I was involved in a civil suit against an organization that allegedly allowed and attempted to cover up the sexual assault of an at-risk population.
During a deposition of a victim the opposing counsel began asking an aggressive line of questions accusing the deposed of having been convicted of making false reports in the past, and convictions for forgery, and identity theft.
After our client answered with a simple “no” to about a dozen of these questions opposing counsel became belligerent, eventually basically signaling that at trial he would be producing mugshots, as well as conviction records, as well as charges for perjury and right about at that point he becomes ghost white, pulls very close to his face what is clearly a photo he had in a folder, looks at it closely then shoves it back in and asks to conclude the deposition. He had pulled records on the wrong person, i later found this other person and while their names were the same, the ages were more than 15 years apart.
Then there are clients with very unrealistic expectations about results, costs, the type of service you provide, and the amount of time it will take to achieve results. So it’s imperative that lawyers talk to their clients upfront about what exactly they should expect. Communication leads to a healthy relationship; miscommunication (or a lack of communication) creates resentment.
Of course, working with good clients means that “oh now you messed up” stories will be rarer but it might just be for the best.
So, picture it: mother and father are in a custody dispute. Mother's not making a lot of money but she's hustling as best as she can to take care of her kids. Father's a deadbeat. He actually was supposed to originally have primary custody, but skipped out, so she's been taking care of them for a couple years, and now she wants primary custody officially transferred to her and he's fighting it because he's a narcissist...
Anyways. In many jurisdictions, in addition to the lawyer for each side (assuming that the person isn't arguing pro se, like the father in this case, because not everyone can afford a lawyer, or thinks that they need one) when there's a child involved the court appoints a guardian ad litem, who represents the child. The guardian ad litem interviews the parents, interviews the child, does some basic investigating, and reports to the judge about their assessment. In this case, the guardian ad litem said outright that the mother was probably the better bet, but he thinks that both parents should take a drug test just in case. (Both parents had previous substance abuse problems, and both claimed to be clean.)
Well, the judge has no problem with any of that that, and sends the parents off to be tested right then (social services sent someone to administer the tests, I believe). That's done, everybody comes back to the courtroom.
Judge reads the results out loud. Mother tested negative for everything. Father...tested positive for cocaine.
Now, as the mother's attorney (and the guardian ad litem) made sure to emphasize, cocaine doesn't stay detectable for very long. Either the father used it very recently (he admitted in court that he'd gone to a party and done a line of coke), or he was such a habitual user that it remained detectable for longer (the party that he'd been at was the previous weekend, which was outside of the approx. 3 day range that cocaine remains in your system, so if that was indeed the only time he'd used coke then he must have been doing lines nonstop the week before for it to linger so long).
Things really did not go well for him after that. Mother ended up with primary custody of the kids, father ended up looking like a real tool in front of the judge.
Not a lawyer, recent law school grad studying for the bar. This happened summer after my first year of law school, I was making a court appearance as a student attorney (basically, a rule in my state that lets students practice under attorney supervision).
I was working with the public defender’s office, representing a client at a first appearance on a probation violation/bail hearing. On a probation violation, the judge is allowed to hold a defendant without bail (keep them in jail until the case is over).
Client says he has some money, but not much. Could get together about $500 for bail. Ok, I’ll ask the judge to keep it low or just release him. Prosecutor asks for $300 bail. Great, my work here is done. Whatever I say, judge will order $300 or less and my guy is out.
I say my piece, and then my client interrupts the judge, saying some incoherent stuff about how he needs to get out and he’s got this that and the other thing going on. Won’t let the judge speak.
Judge holds him without bail even though the prosecutor didn’t ask for it. All he had to do was shut up and he’d have gone home that afternoon
Posted this one a little while ago, but it does fit here.
Not a lawyer, but I have a similar type of experience to share. Where I live, municipal zoning rights are controlled by a board that has a nickname of "The Green Taliban" - so named because they are drop-dead-heart-attack serious about anything to do with environmental regulations (I live in one of the most left-wing, environmentally-conscious areas of the country). Their answer to anything that isn't 100% in compliance with the most stringent environmental codes is almost always "No."
Anyways, this millionaire decides to move out to the area and buys an acreage. His plans for developing the land include creating an artificial cave (for wine-tasting parties) by blasting one into a cliff using mining explosives and creating a new stream by draining a water-body located on the property.
Needless to say, these actions were rather controversial amongst the community and he had to have a public hearing (which I attended) in front of the zoning board to explain himself. After a couple of pointed questions from the board, he loudly groused, "You know, where I come from [a very conservative part of the country, as it turns out], if we want to build a road and there's a lake in the way, we move the lake." That was about the point where I thought to myself, Yeah, you definitely just lost your case. Congratulations on passing into local legend, though.
Not a lawyer but this story still applies. My parents have a jewelry store and the landlord was trying to extort them to sign a lease for nearly double what it was appraised for. Problem was, the lease they signed and the landlord signed said when they renewed the lease both parties were to get their own appraiser then meet in the middle of what the two prices were. Landlord didn't like what his appraiser said so he refused to tell my parents what the appraisal was. So for two years he sent every lawyer in town to try to kick them out. They tried everything but legally had no leg to stand on. Well, unfortunately during this time the landlord developed Parkinson's and his mind started to go. We finally got him to do a deposition and that's where everything when to hell for him. It was like he drank a truth serum. He just told all. My parents lawyer would ask things like: "Why did you not show the appraisal to my clients?" And he'd say: "It wasn't what I wanted. I wanted them to pay more so I hired other appraisers, and paid them off to raise the price nearly double"
Or another one was, "Why did you want them to pay you in gold that you would then sell back to them?" (Remember it's a jewelry store) He said, "Oh I didn't want to pay taxes"
It was sad honestly. His lawyer by the end of it all just had his head in his hands. We had a new lease within a month for less than we originally even offered, and he had to pay back 75% of our legal fees. Nearly $100,000.
My neighbor was going to the courthouse to visit his probation officer. When he went through the metal detector he had to empty his pockets. His pocket contained a bag of weed. Uh oh.
I've told this story before but I might as well put it here. This guy wanted custody over his children after a divorce and his wife was accusing of abuse(physical) . He was asked if he had ever abused his wife and he straight up said 'Yes, but only when she annoyed me' or something along the lines of that. I was ready to straight up leave the court room and laugh my ass off.
This was like 6 yrs ago and I've forgotten about it until now, thanks for the reminder.
My father as a young lawyer was trying to get a case to take place in one state and not another because the insurance laws were more favorable in state A. The company he was in litigation with wanted it in state B for that reason, and claimed they only distributed in state A but had no locations in it and should not have to go to court in state A.
Well this company was a soda company and my dad has a major diet soda addiction, he goes through at least a 12 pack a day. So they were in a meeting with the soda company lawyers and took a break and he went downstairs to get a diet soda. When it came out he noticed on the can that it said "Distrubted by the XYZ soda company of State A". So he got another diet soda and brought that one up stairs to the meeting. The XYZ soda co decided to settle after that.
This was in the late 70s or early 80s I believe.
I work in a fast food restaurant and theres been a few people try crap like that. My favourite was some guy splashed loads of water from the sink to the floor of the bathroom and lay down until someone found him
He tried to say he was going to sue and make a claim for damages
Once my manager told him they’d be reviewing the security footage and giving a copy to the police he got better very quickly and left
Not a lawyer, but my cousin is. He had a deposition via Zoom during this pandemic, and the Plaintiff's counsel shared his screen to present an exhibit. My cousin notices a tab on the guys internet browser, showing that he was trying to look at my cousins Facebook profile (which is set to private). Deposition ends and he says "So! Once last question. Do you like my profile picture?" Plaintiff's counsel immediately hung up the call. Maybe not the biggest f**k up, but gotta be pretty embarrassing.
When my client filed a restraining order against his ex and then asked me to leverage the restraining order just so he could get back with her. In our state, if you do this, you’ll have to pay the other persons attorneys fees.
I was in a small claims action with a former employer. He tried citing his own lawyer as an authority that the judge should defer to. The judge was not amused. I won
I once had an idiot client who put out a public statement announcing that a subordinate had resigned. Then the subordinate announced that he had not resigned, and furthermore, had no intention of resigning. Then my idiot client put out a public statement announcing that he had fired the subordinate. Then I had to advise my idiot client that he didn't have the right to fire the subordinate. Then I had to explain to my idiot client that he couldn't fire the man because he is not my idiot client's subordinate at all; in fact, he was hired by, and worked for, a completely different subsidiary - over which my client had no authority. So I got my idiot client to put out a public statement saying that his boss had fired the subordinate. Then my idiot client's boss blabbed to everybody that he had not fired the subordinate, and that he had thrown the whole matter back into my idiot client's hands. And now, dammit, I have to spend the next four months boning up on all the statues and case law pertaining to obstruction of justice.
A doctor testifying under oath that he deliberately chose not to inform a pregnant woman of a positive test result for a really severe genetic disorder, because he figured because she was a member of his church she wouldn't have considered aborting the pregnancy under any circumstances.
A primary care doctor who received a complex and technical test report from a genetics lab, and simply forwarded it to the patient (who didn't really speak English and wasn't medically educated). She testified that she "performed the minimum required diligence" which is not what you should say and expect a good outcome
My parents were going through custody of my siblings and I. Each of us kids had to speak alone with the GAL where he asked us very weird questions: he asked my 6yo sister which parent she loved more and tried to get to insinuate that my mother was an alcoholic who never did anything for us. My mother was the model parent who single handily raised five kids and her man child ex husband. The GAL was required to speak with three well know friends from mom and dad to gauge how they were from out side sources. The GAL only spoke with one of my moms sources for less than 5 minutes on the way to a court hearing. My dad needing up winning residential custody of all 5 of us. Years later, My sisters and I have heard from all different people that the only GAL in the area now has a terrible reputation and no one will go to him bc he was taking payoffs. My dad bribed him to take us away from our mother.
My roommate was on a scooter and rearended by a USSA member. Obviously, it was the fault of the guy that hit her. She took him to court to pay for her damaged scooter and her $8k ER bill. She argued that he should pay since he was rich instead of bringing the police report or ER bill to court. She of course lost. Courts only care about proof.
I was reviewing some documents of a case involving work-related death benefits. Naturally, the deceased's heirs were claiming the money as they were the beneficiaries. Basically, the heirs just had to prove that the deceased's death was work-related. I noticed that the official certificate of death said the guy passed away on January 1 (for example). But the heirs had submitted hospital records that the deceased had been admitted to that hospital in February. (the dates were so radically different that it could not have been a typo). This was the turning point when their credibility was wiped out, and I knew that the claim was bullsh*t. When the court eventually rendered judgment, the case was dismissed. The heirs never appealed, or otherwise. I think they knew their case was f**ed.
I was trying a case where my client was charged with being a felon in possesson of a firearm. Prosecutor has to prove a) he had a gun and b) he is a felon. A) is not in dispute. The way to prove b) is to bring into evidence a certified conviction and sentencing order.
This guy had been convicted of several felonies in another state and one in my state. The prosecutor was having some issues with getting a certified out of state order and just relied on the single in state order which was provided to me in discovery. My client pointed out to me that neither the DOB or SSN on the order was his.
At trial, when the prosecutor tried to introduce the conviction order, I objected on relevance. The name was the same but DOB and SSN was different than what was on the indictment. The judge agreed and refused to let it into evidence. Not guilty.
In one where I was a jury member, almost all the evidence was on camera. One lawyer was trying to make his case on the fact a mandated sweeping security check wasn’t done on time and if it had it would have potentially prevented what happened to his client. After him drilling in this point endlessly, the opposing counsel asked to see footage of around the time of the missed sweeping check.
The video showed a specific visit to the client. A personal visit is far better than a sweeping check. First lawyer was not such a smug guy anymore.