“Answer yes or no!”
The guy in the expensive suit slams a thick stack of papers down on the desk in front of me.
I don’t know what to say. The question is misleading. There isn’t an answer.
He leans over me, his voice barely controlled. “I repeat: Have you stopped beating your husband?”
Okay, that’s not what they asked me, but it was the same sort of twisted question where if you say “no,” you’re admitting that you beat your husband, and if you say “yes,” then you’re admitting that you did beat him. What would you say? Answer yes or no!
In this blog, I take a rather broad view of relationships: friends, animals, lovers, obsessions, dolphins, and I’m going to add one more: attorneys. Some people might say that lawyers are not so different from, say, dolphins — except that they have lots more teeth and a reputation for going crazy when they smell blood. But, hey, I just spent more than a week swimming with the sharks, and I found them to be, well, very nice people.
I’m in Washington D.C. this week because I was subpoenaed to appear in the trial for a patent infringement lawsuit between Apple and HTC. One of the patents that Apple is using to whack HTC is mine, or rather I am the principal inventor (Apple owns the patent.) Yesterday, I was on the witness stand for over two hours being grilled by guys who were still in diapers when I was doing the work for the patent. There’s something sadly ironic about that. (God, I feel old.)
I spent more than a week preparing for two (stressful) hours of “direct” and “cross”, and then “redirect” and “recross” (maybe they should call that “double cross”?) When I walked out of the court room (a free women, so to speak), I wondered how all those guys in three-piece suits could stand it day after day after day. (It’s probably the only public place in the country where, during breaks, there’s a line at the men’s bathroom and not at the women’s.)
What did I learn? Mamma, don’t let your babies grow up to be lawyers (apologies to Willie Nelson). Find something to do that involves building things, creating things, teaching things, but stay away from the Siren call of easy money. The people who were attempting to make me a competent witness had been living in a cheap hotel in DC for weeks (and had weeks to go). They were away from their families, their homes, their lives, sitting in cold, stale buildings pouring over decades-old mind-numbing documents for what purpose? To convince a judge (who knows almost nothing about computer software) that a patent for a clever (but small) operating system trick is reason to ban 20% of the smart phones coming into the US (or not).
Unfortunately, I have no idea who’s “right” or what “the truth” might be. The thing that struck me as frighteningly ironic is that the attorneys don’t either, and they don’t really care. They’re all looking for an easy out, a slip of the tongue, a misunderstanding of a legal phrase that can be twisted into a painful knot: a way to discredit a witness and invalidate testimony. They want to win, and that’s the (only?) metric they value. For this they’re giving up their youth and their talents (and a lot of our tax dollars)? For this!?
So, back to my original question: How do you tell if a lawyer is lying? His lips are moving.
I’m going to be keeping my mouth shut for a while.