Bill Rankin's Legal Brief

The AJC's blog about the courts, crime and law

A lawyer's worst fears: Losing a case, failing to prepare, elevators?

Atlanta criminal defense attorney Don Samuel is widely regarded as one of the best trial lawyers in Georgia, both for his knowledge of the law and his skill in the courtroom.

"I feel very comfortable when I'm in court, more so than just about any other place," Samuel said

in a recent interview.

But he does have one very real and deep-seated fear when he walks into a courthouse.

"Crowded elevators," said the claustrophobic attorney, who has represented such high-profile clients as rapper T.I. and sports stars Ray Lewis, Mookie Blaylock and Jamal Lewis. "I can get nervous just thinking about confined places."

The ABA Journal recently published "32 of lawyers' most common fears."

Crowded elevators did not make the list, which does include looking foolish asking certain questions, giving clients bad news, speaking in public, being outsmarted by adversaries, having clients give false testimony, being intimidated by judges and suffering "the pain, humiliation and shame of defeat."

If he does have one fear, Samuel said, it's the possibility of being blind-sided by an important witness at trial. "You always wonder if there's something more you could have done to prepare, such as thinking of every possible answer, to make sure you don't ask the wrong question," he said.

Atlanta lawyer Mike Caplan, who specializes in business litigation, said he does not suffer from one of the most common fears on the list: giving clients bad news.

"It brings me no pleasure to do that," he said. "But it's something I feel compelled to do in order to give them the best advice possible. Sugar-coating the news is not helpful to a client."

Caplan said one of his primary fears is appearing before an overworked judge who may not have enough time to carefully consider the case. He also worries about not having thought of every angle in a case he's litigating.

"That's what can keep me up at night," Caplan said. "I'm always thinking, 'How can I best frame the issue in a way that's most compelling?' I don't want to miss anything."

Plaintiff's attorney Adam Malone didn't hesitate when asked his greatest fear.

"Losing the case that shouldn't be lost," he said. "That is by far my biggest fear."

Malone, the son of well-know attorney Tommy Malone, has enjoyed great success as a trial lawyer so his fear has rarely materialized. "I'd die of depression if it did happen a lot of the time," he said.

Malone said his other great fear is going into court without being prepared. For that reason, his motto has become: "Over-prepare and then go with the flow."

Bobby Lee Cook, the legendary attorney from Summerville, recalled his greatest fear when he began practicing law 66 years ago.

"We all had the common fear of failure, because we all wanted to do well and succeed," said the

88-year-old lawyer, who still works almost every day. "I was worried I'd lose my first trial, my second trial, my third trial. It's the fear of not having any success, of losing."

For Cook, who has won countless trials since then, said his early fear was soon wiped away when he obtained a not guilty verdict for a client charged with murder.

How long had he been practicing law at that time? "About a month," Cook said.

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Bill Rankin covers criminal justice for the Enterprise team.