Denver Bar Association
June 2005
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Law School for Kindergartners

by David S. Woodruff

My daughter’s kindergarten class recently taught me an important lesson: We, as lawyers, really need to just give each other a hug.

Six-year-old Eliza’s depiction
of what it’s like to be a
lawyer working downtown.
It was my day to speak to the class about what daddy does for a living, and I was surprisingly nervous to be facing these two dozen squirming six-year-olds, sitting cross-legged on the floor, staring at me expectantly. My daughter Britten introduced me: "My dad’s a lawyer. He works in a tall building downtown. He sues people."

Tiny hands shot up and the room exploded in a flurry of little voices. "Who is Sue?" "Why are you wearing a tie?" "I’ve been downtown!" "How old are you?"

Suddenly I was the one squirming. I explained, in less-than-grown-up words, what it means to be a trial lawyer. Litigation is the grown-up version of fighting over a toy. Grown-ups can’t cry or bite or pinch each other, so they hire lawyers to fight for them. The lawyers put on ties and go to court and talk to a big, scary judge wearing a black robe, and then he pounds a wooden hammer and YELLS at the lawyers and chooses a winner. "Oohs" and "Ahs" rose up from the class.

"Do you know what a trial is?" Little heads shook in unison. Clearly, we needed a demonstration — a mock trial, complete with 6-year-old lawyers, judge and jury. One of my own specialties, medical malpractice, would be perfect, because a doctor spoke to the class
yesterday.

First, I picked volunteers. Tiny little Ally would be the plaintiff. Jordan, a boisterous fireball with blond pig tails, would make a terrific plaintiff’s lawyer. Elizabeth would be the doctor who gets sued for malpractice. My daughter Britten would defend her.

Kindergartner Ethan’s pictoral summary
of David Woodruff’s visit: “I liked when
Bianca was the judge and when she
said sit down to Jordan.”
I explained that sometimes people — even doctors — accidentally hurt people. And, as Ally approached for her mock visit to Dr. Elizabeth, the most wonderful coincidence occurred: Dr. Elizabeth accidentally stepped on Ally’s toes. Ally yelped, and Dr. Elizabeth hugged her and said, "Oops, sorry." The kids all laughed jubilantly.

This gave rise to the demand. I guided Ally and her lawyer, Jordan, into asking for money for Ally’s injury. "Why do I want money?" Ally asked.

How do you explain compensatory damages to a 6-year-old? "Because money, uh, makes you feel better about getting hurt," I explained.

"Cuz I can buy stuff and forget about my toe!"

"A hundred dollars! A hundred dollars!" Jordan sang.

The class broke into excitement. They seemed to like this idea. Dr. Elizabeth grinned and graciously held out the only money she had — a quarter. She was thrilled to give it away, but I swiftly extinguished her generosity. I couldn’t have them settling before they hired lawyers! At my urging, Elizabeth retracted the quarter. Ally and the class chortled, "Selfish!" I wondered if this tactic might work at mediation.

Our lawsuit proceeded immediately to trial. Bianca, headstrong and loud, was the obvious choice for judge. She took her throne, and I helped the little lawyers put on their cases. The jury, consisting of the entire class of 6-year-olds, watched in amusement.

Jordan’s opening statement was a remarkable display of plaintiff acumen. "Ally should get $100," she said, "because her toe really hurts and she might need a Band-Aid, but you can’t buy just one Band-Aid, you have to buy the whole box, and it probably cost at least $100." I blinked in awe.

It turned out that Ally was not a strong plaintiff. She admitted on the stand, "I like Elizabeth. I don’t need any money. My toe is fine. See?" She bent over and showed us her toe. Jordan jumped up and down and yelled, "Yes you DO need money!" The judge pounded her little plastic
hammer and screamed, "SIT DOWN! BE QUIET! PUT YOUR SHOES BACK ON!" The class rolled with laughter.

The jury found for the defendant, by a vote of 18-5. The plaintiff and defendant hugged and held hands and sat back down on the floor. Jordan pouted, until Britten put her arm around her to comfort her. Suddenly, Jordan was all smiles again, and the two girls sat down on the rug together as friends.

The children learned a few things. Lawyers wear ties and talk to judges. Some lawyers work in tall buildings. If you get hurt you can ask for money, because it will make you feel better. Judges like to yell.

Ultimately, I probably learned more than the children did. A group of 6-year-olds can perfectly mimic the operation of our judicial system. People will get hurt; they will argue and fight; and they will need lawyers to work out their differences. And when all is said and done, we are all lawyers and colleagues. Being on opposite sides of a case doesn’t mean we can’t also be friends. We will win and lose, take money and give money. But at the end of the day, it would be best if we could all just give each other a hug, hold hands, and sit back down on the rug together as friends.

David S. Woodruff can be reached at dwoodruff@kennedy-christopher.com.


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