Boom! This is not a drill

Today, I’m sitting behind a desk in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, trying to think of a good way to tell a partner that I can’t find the answer to his question.

This time a year ago I was in a firefight.

It began with a flare lighting up the night sky. I had been waiting in a pickup truck with two thickly built Special Forces soldiers who joked with each other like Irish twins. The minute they saw the flare (the signal), they spun out of the cab and went running into the longleaf pine forest. I followed.

I knelt behind a pine tree about 20 yards behind. They opened up on the guards outside the base. So did their friends from 9 and 3 o’clock. Somebody set off a smoke grenade, and then I heard the screams of artillery. Beeeeeeeee-oooooooooooo-BOOM.

Hot damn, it was awesome.

About a month earlier, the publisher from the newspaper I used to work for had called me up and said that the Army wanted someone to portray an embedded reporter for a 10-day training exercise at Camp Mackall in rural North Carolina, my home state. Since I had nothing better to do than wait to get letters in the mail from law schools, I jumped at the opportunity.

I like to think that by that final night the instructors invited me to tag along with them to assault the students’ base because they liked me. I’d impressed them with my humor and my skillful use of swear words. Then again, maybe they just thought it would scare the crap out of me.

If that was their plan, it didn’t work. For as amazing as it was, it was always a game. Their guns were loaded with blanks. Loud blanks, but blanks nonetheless. As I knelt down behind that pine, instead of dodging bullets, I found myself worried there were spiders crawling through the pine needles.

I thought about that memorable evening when something happened that did scare the crap out of me. On my second day here, one of the partners asked me to write a motion. A real motion. That a judge would see. She strolled right into my office and dropped the file on my desk. It landed like an artillery shell.

Beeeeeeeee-oooooooooooo-BOOM.

Thank God it was an easy assignment. It was a motion to correct a clerical error. I had zero chance to screw it up. But the reality of it still freaked me out. I guess that’s the great and terrifying thing about being a summer associate. It’s real. When I get a research assignment, if I do it right, it could mean a stronger case for a client. If it works out, I get to feel like a million bucks. Conversely, a real attorney who has a real client is relying on me. This ain’t Lawyering class. If I miss a key case, somebody else has to pick up my slack. Basically, every time I do anything I’m scared I’m going to screw it up.

But I guess that’s the point with summer work. It gives you the chance to learn what being a practicing attorney is all about. Maybe the thing I’ve learned so far is that if you’re not slightly freaked out, you might not be doing it right.

Though I’ve only been at it for a few weeks, I think I like it. And it turns out this is the town where Doc Holliday died. So I guess this summer there might also be a chance of a firefight.

— Matthew Moriarty is a KU Law 2L working as a summer associate at Balcomb & Green in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. He’ll blog later this summer about his work at the firm and his study abroad experience in Ireland.

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