The slumbering city below held no answers for Lizzy Chung, but she nevertheless stared out her office window as she sipped her black coffee. The subtle shifts of color in the sky hinted at approaching dawn and painted downtown Los Angeles in muted gray tones, leaching the impressive city of its color and vitality.
Lizzy braked hard to stop her mind from comparing her own life to her reflections on the predawn city. Besides, color and vitality were overrated. Her life was fan-freaking-tastic. Five years out of law school, she was a senior counsel at Nelson Peters, one of the top law firms in the nation, and well on her way to making partner in two years. And she was trying a case as the lead trial counsel for the first time in her career, which happened to be the reason why she was at work at this godforsaken hour.
She brought her mug to her lips and wrinkled her nose. She hated black coffee, but her usual English breakfast tea with milk and sugar didn’t seem badass enough for the day of her opening statement. The voir dire phase of the trial was over, and they had a decent set of jurors. Not perfect but workable. Juror numbers four and nine might be problematic. They were opinionated and didn’t follow instructions well—which meant they might decide the case based on their common sense and life experiences rather than following the rule of law.
But a good trial attorney should be able to overcome that. She nodded, agreeing heartily with herself, then stopped mid-nod. How the hell was she supposed to know if she was any good? This was her first trial. She squeezed her eyes shut as a familiar tightness spread across her chest, constricting her breathing.
“Please let me be a good trial attorney,” she whispered to the ceiling, hoping a higher power would hear her. Alas, no fairy godmother materialized out of thin air to offer her a dusting of awesome lawyer glitter. Boo.
Huffing out an impatient sigh, she turned her back on the window and her gnawing doubts. I will be a good trial attorney because I have to be. With stubborn determination, she walked to the kitchen and dumped out her coffee. There was no need for any black coffee or a fairy godmother. She was already plenty badass.
Lizzy marched to the small conference room they were using as the war room, armed with a warm mug of milk tea, and sat down at one end of the long oval table. She leaned her elbows on the table and massaged her temples as the headache she’d been fighting since 4:00 A.M. drilled a hole through her head. When that didn’t help much, she took a sip of her tea and reached for the trial notebook and the exhibit binders. She knew the material inside out and upside down, but overpreparing calmed her nerves.
The sun at last completed its lazy ascent, and morning light streamed into the conference room. Reading over the documents had given her the distraction she’d needed, and her anxiety was under control—not gone but held at bay. She leaned back in her chair and stretched her arms over her head. The clock on the wall read a quarter till eight, and she frowned as she stood and strode out to the hallway. Her associate was fifteen minutes late, and punctuality mattered in the legal world. When she was a second-year attorney, she used to arrive at her destination thirty minutes early rather than be even a minute late.
“I’m so sorry I’m late.” Right on cue, Katie ran down the hallway toward her, pulling a rattling cart piled high with three Bankers Boxes. Her hair was wet and twisted into a lopsided bun on top of her head. “I was up till two last night. I don’t even remember hitting the snooze button.”
Lizzy didn’t have the heart to chew out her associate even though her younger self would’ve been masticated beyond recognition. Her law firm’s culture could often be cutthroat, but that didn’t mean she had to be. Besides, Katie was her second chair, and she didn’t want to fry her nerves more than they already must be.
“Don’t worry about it,” Lizzy said briskly, walking back into the war room. “Let’s just get to work.”
“Of course. Absolutely.” A relieved smile lit up Katie’s face as she went about unloading the boxes. “I reread all three volumes of Steven Anderson’s deposition transcript last night. I really think his testimony is strong.”
“Make sure he reads them over as well. Thoroughly. The last thing we want are inconsistencies between his deposition testimony and his trial testimony,” Lizzy said, more sharply than she’d intended, as her anxiety returned full force. Having their star witness bomb on the stand would be a nightmare of epic proportions. “I need you to start prepping him for trial. He won’t take the stand for at least a couple of days, but I want you to have plenty of time to get him ready.”
Katie sat up straighter at her tone. “He’ll be here in ten minutes for his first session. I’ll have two hours with him before we have to head over to the courthouse.”
“Good. Be sure to drill him in the basics: Answer yes-or-no questions with a yes or no. Don’t elaborate.” She grabbed the war room’s resident bottle of Tylenol and washed down two pills with the last of her tea. “If Plaintiff counsel’s question is unclear, don’t try to help her by answering with what he thinks she’s asking. Request that she rephrase the question.”
“Got it.” Her associate scribbled down everything Lizzy rattled off even though she probably knew all that stuff already.
“Thanks, Katie.” She stood and reached for her empty mug. “How are you getting to the court?”
“I’m driving over with one of the paralegals. They’re bringing the extra set of trial exhibits Judge Reiner requested.”
“Sounds good. I’ll see you there.”
She was almost at the door when Katie asked, “Are you ready for the opening statement?”
“Is this the part where I say, ‘I was born ready’?” Lizzy grinned with more confidence than she felt, gripping the mug between her cold hands. She was as prepared as she would ever be, but that didn’t mean she was ready. The ominous thump of her heart accentuated her uncertainty as a parade of what-ifs spun dizzyingly through her mind.
Katie laughed. “You’re going to be amazing.”
“Thank you.” She had to be if she wanted to win this trial and increase her chances of making partner. Her headache tightened like a vise around her head.
The gloomy tint over downtown had lifted by the time Lizzy returned to her office, and the city below positively teemed with energy. Even so, the view from her sixty-second-floor office didn’t capture her attention the way it used to when she was young and fresh out of law school. City life had a way of making a soul weary.
She closed her door and perched on the front of her desk, holding a printout of the bullet points for her opening statement. She didn’t write out the entire statement, because she didn’t want to come across to the jury as a smarmy, over-polished corporate lawyer with the perfect, practiced speech. She wanted her opening statement to be conversational and relatable.
Copyright © 2022 by Judith J. Yi