When I was nine years old, I was attacked by a dog. Because of Maryland’s adherence to the common law rule of negligence in dog attack cases, my family and I were not able to recover damages from the dog’s owners.
Fortunately, I’ve been able to lead a relatively normal life since then. Sometimes, I’m a bit hesitant when I meet a new and unfamiliar dog, but I don’t carry any other significant emotional or physical scars from the attack.
Imagine my surprise when, in my second week on the job in Annapolis, I am asked to write a short legal memorandum about the Tracey v. Solesky Court of Appeals decision, in which Maryland’s highest court held that pit bulls and pit bull mixes are “inherently dangerous.”
There I sat, 16 years after my own attack, reading and writing about something that was all too familiar to me. And over time, I became sort of the resident expert on the issue. I’ve been through one special session of the General Assembly and am working on my second regular session since that decision, and I’ve lost count of how many different bills have been introduced to try to reverse Tracey v. Solesky.
But listening to Senator Frosh’s most recent attempt this past Thursday prompted me to wonder: what do you do when you’re faced with a case that hits close to home?
The first question you should always ask yourself is whether you are even able to continue working on that case. If your history with something is too intense or too recent, then it could impact your ability to handle the case as an objective officer of the court. My dealings with the Tracey v. Solesky case have been too remote to cause any issues for me, but I’m not sure I could say the same if I were one of the attorneys who litigated the case.
If you determine that your personal history will not impact how you handle a particular case, then the next step is using that history to become a better advocate. If you remember what questions you had in the past, use that to better communicate with your client. If you remember the constant back-and-forth exchange of pleadings and motions, use that to better stay on top of your calendar now. And if you remember how you wished you could say everything that you had pent up inside you, use that to put some real fire behind your opening statement and closing argument (within the bounds of propriety, of course).
With that in mind, you should be able to realize that your own personal history with a particular issue does not have to constrain what you are able to accomplish if you encounter a case that hits especially close to home. In fact, when handled properly, you can even draw on that history to rise above your past and be an even better attorney for your client.