When out in public, I often get asked a variety of questions about my job. These questions range from questions about specific cases to questions about the law.
This week I got asked a familiar: what are the best parts of your job?
People are often amazed when I tell them that one of the best parts of my job is getting to travel to counties all around Ohio. As a private practice attorney, I often get called on to handle cases in various areas of the state, ranging from the banks of the Ohio River to the shores of Lake Erie.
I have literally cases in Columbiana County (on the Pennsylvania border) on one day and handled cases in Paulding County (on the Indiana border) the next. I have also had success handling cases in Ohio's most populated county, Cuyahoga, in the morning -- and then heading down to rural Carroll County in the afternoon.
Each county, and each county courthouse, has its own stories and characters.
In some counties, the clerks will talk your ear off even though they've just met you. In other counties, the judges will call you into chambers and educate you on the history of their county. Sometimes these impromptu history lessons are about famous residents of the county, while other times the stories are about colorful cases that they have had. Sometimes the stories are not as upbeat, and instead tell about families and villages that have hit hard times.
Each county and each courthouse has its own stories.
When I was a prosecutor in both Montgomery and Summit counties, one of the advantages of my job was that I did not have to travel far during my work day. As a general rule, unless I was going out to see a crime scene or talk to a witness, I could park my car 100 feet from my office door, walk in the courthouse and not leave until it was time to go home.
When I was an Assistant Attorney General, while I spent a lot of days in the office, I also spent a lot of time on the road. Usually, I would only travel to one or two cities at a time, such as traveling to Cincinnati for an oral argument in the Sixth Circuit in the early afternoon and stopping in Columbus on the way home.
As an attorney in private practice, I have gone to the next level.
Often times, I will hit three or four courthouses in the same day. My morning might start out in Cleveland or Akron and then take me to Ravenna, Chardon, Wooster, Elyria or Medina -- or out to courthouses in rural areas of the state, or even down to Mansfield, Steubenville or Columbus.
Unlike many other out-of-town attorneys, I have learned that it is often best to close your mouth and open your ears. By chatting with local clerks, bailiffs, deputies and attorneys, I have learned invaluable tips for practicing in their courts.
For example, in some counties, the judges dislike attorneys who cite lots of cases -- the judges already know (or think they know) the law, and they would prefer briefs and motions to talk strictly about the facts of their case.
In other counties, the judges and attorneys have local coffee shops (or bars) where they prefer to discuss cases. While the official "stuff" is done on the record in the courthouse, the real work gets done across the street.
In most counties, it is the court staff -- and particularly the bailiffs -- who really run the courthouse. The judges think they are in charge -- the bailiffs really are.
The other day, while talking about the number of miles I put on my Yukon each year, a younger prosecutor chimed in and said "it must suck to go all over the place to handle cases."
He couldn't be more wrong.
Traveling around Ohio to handle cases not only teaches you about various counties, and thus about the state as a whole, but also makes you a better attorney.
Good attorneys are skilled at handling cases in their home counties -- great attorneys are able to handle cases wherever they go.
It takes a certain skill to question witnesses in Cleveland about the exit ramp on Interstate 90 at the West 117th Street one week and then talk to jurors during jury selection in rural Wayne County about the various parts of making an apple pie using McIntosh versus Red Delicious apples. It also takes a certain skill to sit at a barstool at Bootlegger's in Port Clinton or the Good Times Saloon in Payne while getting local gossip on Tuesday and then meet with out-of-state frackers in Carrollton or Lisbon on Wednesday. It also takes a certain skill to talk to auto workers, laborers, plumbers or farmers in the morning -- and then relay their stories and needs to corporate executives and political leaders in the evening.
These kind of skills aren't taught in law school -- nor can they be learned overnight.
Skills like these are developed over decades of talking to farmers, mechanics, factory workers, executives, political leaders, ministers, executives, clerks, bailiffs, judges, janitors, homeless, waitresses, laborers, miners, trackers, nurses, drillers, doctors, roadmen, truckers, linemen, saints and sinners.
Skills like these are developed over decades of crawling through and hanging out in big city and small country courthouses, farmers' fields, mines, mills, churches, bars, taverns, coffee shops, country clubs, auto shops, racetracks, hospitals, prisons, jails, funeral homes, museums, county fairs, school yards and shopping strips.
Skills like these may not appear important on most days, but when you or a loved one are standing there in Wooster -- or Akron -- or Port Clinton -- or Paulding -- or in Columbus -- or Cincinnati -- or New Philadelphia -- and your family or your business' future is at stake, those skills are absolutely invaluable.
On more than one occasion, I've had folks in my office ask me "where do you practice?"
My answer is simple: I point to the wooden Ohio-shaped plaque on my wall and reply "that's my territory."