It feels like 1994 all over again as the world revisits the O.J. Simpson criminal trial in the television series “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.” The often poignant series chronicles the case focusing primarily on the lawyers who tried it. I was a litigation attorney during this period and vividly remember flash points from the news of the murders on June 12, 1994, to the Ford Bronco low-speed car chase, to the verdict on Oct. 3, 1995, when all of the employees at my firm gathered in front of a small television set to witness the outcome as so many people across the country did. The trial lasted almost a year, and held a magnifying glass to the American justice system and the role played by race, wealth and celebrity.
The TV show got me thinking about how to recover from a professional setback. The Simpson prosecutors are great examples of career rebirth. In two heartbreaking story lines, the “American Crime” series explores how choices made by Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden contributed to a defense verdict.
Despite knowledge of his racial prejudice, the prosecution called detective Mark Fuhrman to the stand without addressing his past, a decision that nullified key evidence from the crime scene because he was the one who found it. Fuhrman invoked his Fifth Amendment right when the defense asked, “Did you plant or manufacture any evidence in this case?” Later, he pleaded no contest to felony perjury charges arising from his initial testimony. A second disastrous choice was having the defendant try on leather gloves, one of which was found at the crime scene and the other at Simpson’s home. This played out in a way that was tantamount to allowing the defendant to testify without taking an oath, facing a single question or cross-examination.
As anyone who has uttered the words “may it please the court” knows, battlefield decisions are required, and some do not turn out well. Some of my appellate arguments were televised, but it was PCN, not NBC, seen only by those who made a point of tuning in and one insomniac friend who stumbled across one in the middle of the night. Few people face the harrowing experience endured by Clark and Darden of having every question, objection, decision, offer of proof, and argument on national television, and later analyzed, dissected and, in many instances, denounced by a crop of reporters, commentators and observers who sprung up to capitalize on cameras in the courtroom. Darden was vilified for prosecuting Simpson and Clark’s wardrobe, hairstyle and personal life became fodder for tabloid news catering to a voracious public demand for more.
Whether you were passed over for a promotion, didn’t get a job you wanted, are disappointed with a decision your company made or lost a case, there is always something you can do to move forward. One of my clients was laid off unexpectedly. Initially crushed, she ultimately started her own business and was happier than she had been in the job. Professional setbacks come in all shapes and sizes and, hopefully, no one reading this will ever face as enormous a setback as Clark and Darden did. But regardless of how big or small the setback is, there are steps you can take to rebound:
As Vince Lombardi said, “It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.” It is also how you get up and what you learn from being knocked down that can lead to a whole new way of seeing, and being, in the world.
Reprinted with permission from the April 21, 2016 edition of “The Legal Intelligencer” © 2016 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. For information, contact 877-257-3382, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.almreprints.com.