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.
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
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.
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.