Positively Notorious

In a recent continuing legal education conference, I sat listening to a lecture that would impact my area of practice very little. I no longer work in the court room on a regular basis and the topic of cross-examination really held little interest for me.

Yet, I sat dutifully and listened. The presenter, a seasoned trial lawyer, was what I expected him to be. Smooth. Great communicator. An accomplished story teller. So, even though I told myself that I had little motivation for listening, I couldn’t help myself. Thinking of preparation and strategy in working with a witness, I found myself recapturing the excitement of law school and my few years as a commercial litigator. In practice, most of my work with witnesses were in depositions. But it was an exciting part of my job.

I also found myself thinking of great attorneys I’ve known and remembering things that I had learned from them. One particular person rose to the top of those memories. I couldn’t help but think about my association with him. I realized that I had never really seen him in the court room or in deposition. I did share office space with him — sort of. He flew into Abilene every Thursday night and occupied the office next to mine on Fridays (when he wasn’t in trial). Yet, I knew he was a great lawyer — by reputation and by the way he handled himself in daily life.

He was greatly feared by large insurance companies, railroads, and other major businesses — and their lawyers. Not because of his domineering style in the courtroom, but because of his intellect and the fact that he had a knack of getting everyone in a room to listen and, to some degree, like him.

I was startled from my memories as the presenter in this particular course summed up his points by telling the story of a famous cross-examination in the famous case of Exxon v. Lloyd’s of London. As he set the scene, I thought, “How interesting! The lawyer in the case was Don Bowen, my hero and friend.”

Suddenly, I became anxious. What if, I thought, Don’s performance in the cross-examination was an example of bad technique? Our presenter had just revealed one of Abraham Lincoln’s blunders on cross-examination. Would Don be similarly maligned?

As the story unfolded, the audience was swept into a wonderful dialog of how a kind, yet brilliant lawyer, gently led an opposing party through testimony that persuaded the jury.

Don Bowen passed away several years ago. I’m sure there were times he made mistakes. I’m aware of some of his personal struggles that occurred long before I came to know him. I remember a few times when he disagreed with me on some things. I don’t remember the details of those times, though. The details are blurred by the way he treated me. With respect.

Outstanding experience. To hear a stranger talk about a common friend. And to hear the same theme in his description of a man that I would use. That a person can be strong and commanding while treating those around him with respect.

We should all be so positively notorious.

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