In movies and TV sows, lawyers are polished, smooth and articulate. In real life? That’s not always the case.
Lawyers are human beings, and sometimes, they make mistakes. And even if you’re the best lawyer in the world, if your client’s got a big mouth, there’s not much you can do about it.
We asked lawyers about times when the opposing team has won the case, and the results range from hilarious to cringe-worthy. From restricted research to Facebook failures, here are twenty-four stories of how people played themselves in court!
1. “Man was suing the city for evicting him from a public housing development, and he claims he doesn’t speak English, forcing the city to hire an interpreter for the hearing. The city says he was evicted because he was raising chickens in the apartment and his attorney insists that’s absurd; no one would do that. Everything looks like it is going well for the guy until it comes up that the chickens were given to a farm for slaughter. Guy jumps up and starts yelling “give me my chickens back!” in English. The judge starts laughing. Attorneys start laughing. Case dismissed.” (bagehis)
2. “I worked as an intern for a lawyer. Construction law, in France, are quite strict about the neighborhoods around historical monuments. The city was denying a permit for heavy modification of the house of our clients, arguing that because you could see the house from the church’s bell tower, modifications were impossible. As a support, they “kindly” linked us to a 360° picture from said bell tower. We, as kindly, pointed to them that our client’s house was, indeed, not visible from the top of the church. A building permit was greenlit the following day.” (Nepou)
3. “My favorite is a story from Gerry Spence, a famous trial attorney. A witness on the stand was claiming that he had suffered injuries to his arm because of a city bus accident. Gerry asked him to demonstrate to the jury how far he can lift up his arm after the accident. The witness makes a feeble effort of lifting his arm. Then Gerry asked the witness to demonstrate to the jury how far he could lift up his arm before the accident. He lifted his arm much higher.” (ghostbt)
4. “I was in traffic court one day, and there was a taxi driver fighting a ticket he got for running a red light. He was traveling westbound first thing in the morning, and his defense was that the sun was right behind the traffic light, so he was having trouble seeing it, and believed it to be green.” (lemayo)
5. “A relative was working misdemeanor criminal court. Since cases get called in alphabetical order, a woman named “Catherine Smith” had a case right before “Kathryne Smith.” So the bailiff announces the next case to the courtroom: “Catherine Smith, for one count of possession of cocaine with the intention to sell, and one count of prostitution.” So Kathryn Smith stands up and indignantly cries, “Whoa, whoa, just WAIT a second. Where did the prostitution charge come from? I may deal crack, but I am NOT a wh*re!” Easiest drug dealing case my relative ever prosecuted.” (Bookish_Love)
6. “I’m not a lawyer, but in a suit against an employee, her attorney presented our contract and their contract to demonstrate the differences to prove that his client hadn’t stolen ours. Ummmm, then where did you get our contract? Defendants both ordered to pay 10k, filed bankruptcy and dissolved business.” (cooper1662)
7. “I was interning at Legal Services, doing discovery work for family law. My supervisor invited us to observe a hearing for our client to get a restraining order against her husband. At the hearing, the client discussed various times he threatened her. The man, representing himself, interrupted and said, “Judge, I never said any of those things. If I had, she wouldn’t be standing here.” Restraining order granted.” (9tailNate)
8. “I was on a case where the client claimed he lost because of ineffective assistance of counsel from a past lawyer (basically saying that the old lawyer didn’t do his job). So we prepare an argument based on not asking the right questions, not communicating, etc. Then, the other lawyer responds to our complaint by arguing that he was only ineffective because he didn’t have time to prepare for the case and only reviewed it the morning of the original trial (he had known about the case for months). During the trial, we essentially asked “isn’t this the definition of ineffective counsel? Not giving enough time to your client?” The silence from his side of the court was amazing.” (Daasswasfat)
9. “A barrister friend told me about a case observation she witnessed during her training. A guy was up for sex with a minor and he adamantly insisted to his lawyer that his defense was that he had never even seen the girl. This, despite witnesses in the bar and incriminating CCTV footage showing someone who looked like him leaving the bar and going to his car in the car park. When he was questioned, he steadfastly stuck to his story. When the questioning ended, there was a pause and he yelled at the judge, “There was no way I could have known she wasn’t 16 when she sucked me off.” Literally, blowing his whole case.” (ravicabral)
10. “A while back, I was prosecuting an illegal discharge of hazardous substances at a “recycling” facility. Specifically, the charge was for illegal storage and disposal of CRT glass, which contains lead and cadmium. To demonstrate that the owner had no idea that he was receiving CRT glass, the defense attorney introduced shipping manifests that lacked the term “CRT,” “monitors,” or any other word that indicated that material. A close inspection of the manifests, however, indicated that the defense attorney had just CTRL+F the documents for certain keywords, because the manifests also demonstrated that the facility had been accepting asbestos, hexavalent chromium, and various other hazardous substances they weren’t authorized to take. That attorney literally handed us the case on a silver platter.” (Crux1836)
11. “My parents were in a lawsuit where this happened. Their neighbor to the left sued us, claiming that we had been using their property without paying them or without permission. That we were essentially trying to adverse-possess it. We got a surveyor to come in and the surveyor said that not only were we using all of our property, but we had been paying rent to them on about 20 feet that was also our property. Obviously, they weren’t happy, so they got their own surveyor. Who gave us 50 feet. Now their little patch of property has a rusty fence all around it with KEEP OUT signs everywhere. It’s about 20×10 feet.” (CooperArt)
12. “My father is a physician and occasionally serves as an expert witness in some cases involving insurance payouts for car wrecks.He had just spent some time explaining all of the different forces involved in the accident and how that could translate to years of back problems (his specialty). He was quite technical in his explanation and the opposing attorney thought that my dad was overreaching his expertise and was talking more as an engineer rather than a doctor. So he asked him if he was an engineer. My dad responded that yes he was, in fact, an engineer, as he had a bachelor’s in engineering from before he went to med school.” (veggie124)
13. “I had a hearing where the opposing party offered an “updated” contract that my client supposedly signed. Except it was a horrible copy and barely readable. Then he assured the judge that the new contract was exactly the same as the old contract, except for the party name at the top (the original contract was in his mom’s name, the new one in his name) and the date of the contract itself. He made that assurance multiple times. After he exhausted himself saying how everything was the same, I then pointed out to the judge that half the provisions were different and that my client had never signed that form. The judge asked if we were really accusing him of forging my client’s signature, since that’s a serious accusation. I held up the guy’s prior conviction for contract fraud and said, “I absolutely am, Your Honor.”
We won. Hands down.” (MattProducer)
14. “Police were trying to pin a drug charge on a guy with literally zero evidence. The report read that a certain amount of weed and meth were found and recovered in the defendant’s car, but the evidence was “lost”. The defense attorney destroyed the officers on the stand for inconsistencies between their accounts and poor documentation on the official police report. The prosecution’s ace in the hole was a part of the police report that read something about the police K-9 “saying” that there were marijuana and meth in the car. It left the defense attorney no choice but to call the police K-9 to the stand to confirm its testimony. DA dropped the case.” (toughsh*t)
15. “I witnessed a pathologist win a case in court by destroying the defense’s credibility. The question was whether or not carbon monoxide poisoning could have caused certain signs of death in an individual, but the defense didn’t study their chemistry very well and kept asking the pathologist whether “carbon dioxide” could have caused these signs. After thoroughly frustrating the defense by answering his questions “incorrectly”, the pathologist said very loudly “I’m sorry, did you mean carbon MONoxide? Because that’s a completely different thing.” Completely destroyed the defense’s credibility in front of the jury. They were done after that.” (two_one_fiver)
16. “I had to go to court over a financial screw-up when I was a student. Took advice from the university legal support team who said I didn’t need a solicitor, so I went in alone. The judge didn’t like this, and postponed it for another date so I could prove I’d had more counsel first. The other party’s solicitor caught me outside the court and said “I didn’t tell you this but …” and pointed out a huge error in the financial paperwork that made it very obviously come out in my favor. Went back to legal support, got confirmation that it was right, went to the second hearing alone and got the entire thing thrown out. The other solicitor winked at me as he left. Saved me about £9K. Nice chap.” (bopeepsheep)
17. “I did work experience at a trial where the victim flat-out stated the defendant was innocent. Turns out she’s pretty bad at English so when she gave her account it appeared that the defendant had committed a crime. They then gave her a witness statement to sign, and because she couldn’t read very well, she just signed it anyway. This all came out at testimony whilst the prosecution lawyer desperately tried to get her to rephrase what she said.” (A1BS)
18. “My dad was defending someone charged with a DWI, and the arresting officer’s testimony got my dad’s client off.
“When did you observe the first traffic violation?”
“At the light at X street.”
“So you observed no infractions before that light?”
“Now, about half a mile before that light, did you notice the sign that said ‘Welcome to Connecticut?’”
Officer had no jurisdiction, case was dismissed.” (americanclassic)
19. “We had one case where a guy was driving a tractor-trailer and hit a girl almost killing her, we were defending her. So it’s my job to go on his facebook to see if there is anything we can use against him. There were about 25 videos of him speeding, drinking and driving, smoking blunts, running through red lights… all posted on his facebook. Everyone on his Facebook was telling him, “you are going to kill someone”.. etc etc. That guy was an idiot.” (Rucer44)
20. “Not a lawyer, but I represented myself against an employer who terminated me. I spent hours upon hours, day after day, preparing for this case. I printed out e-mails, recorded telephone calls, mountains of evidence.When I get there, my former employer opens with, “We terminated him for truancy. He was supposed to report to work after his doctor’s appointment, but did not show up until 3 PM.” There’s an awkward silence. The judge says “But in your written statement, you claim he didn’t report to work until 12 PM. In the timecard you presented to me, it shows that he reported to work at 10:30 AM.” More silence. I won.” (WhoaMilkerson)
21. “My dad’s ex-girlfriend took us to court over his estate after he kicked her out. Her claim was that she was entitled to half the pie due to de-facto marriage, our claim was that she was a gold-digging whore who planned it from the beginning. She had mountains of evidence of her contribution to dad’s company and running the private estate. Expense reports, receipts, dates and times, times her and dad ‘proved their relationship’ with trips and combined spending, etc. She had so much evidence, the judge took four days to look it all over, after which he came back and basically asked, “Why would you have all of this if this wasn’t your plan the whole time?” The case was very downhill from there.” (SanshaXII)
22. “When I was in court with a friend, the guy in front of us was contesting a speeding ticket. His defense was that he was passing a car at the time, and they got the radar reading from the car he was passing, not from him. He didn’t win that appeal.” (akcrono)
23. “I got mugged once. They caught the guy and I went to court to testify. As soon as I walked into the packed courtroom, the kid said “I ain’t never seen that dude in my life.” The judge asked how he knew I was there to testify against him. Everyone laughed for about 30 seconds. It was glorious.” (DingoMeanbaby)
24. “A guy had taken my family to court because he’d been dating my mother, with an itemized list of everything he’d ever bought the entire family.Every cheeseburger, every KitKat. He even billed for things he did, like house repairs.He basically says “While I was with them I bought all this stuff, but it was the idea it would be paid back”. Judge: “You bought a child a birthday cake with the idea it would be paid back? Did you ever say that these things were loans and not gifts?” Him: “Well no, but I shouldn’t need to, that’s the normal way people think.” Judge: “Well, that’s not the way I’d think, case dismissed”.” (ProtoJazz)