TBA Law Blog

Posted by: William Haltom on Sep 26, 2008

Journal Issue Date: Oct 2008

Journal Name: October 2008 - Vol. 44, No. 10

When I was a little boy growing up in the Baptist church my father pastored in north Memphis, our congregation would gather on Wednesday nights for mid-week "prayer meeting."

Prayer meetings weren't as formal as the Sunday morning worship service. There was no choir in the choir loft on Wednesday nights.

There wasn't even an organist or pianist. When the congregation sang, we all just made a joyful noise together, belting it out Acapulco.

There was no "amen corner" at prayer meetings. The "amen corner" was a group of deacons that on Sunday morning sat in a special pew to the right of the pulpit, shouting encouragement and support to my father during his sermons. ("That's right! Preach it, Brother!") But the amen corner was empty on Wednesday night.

Prayer meeting was very informal. At 7 o'clock each Wednesday night, my father would simply walk up to the pulpit with no organ prelude, announcement or fanfare. He would lead the congregation in a brief opening prayer, and then he would ask a question. It was the same question, every Wednesday night, 52 weeks a year: "Would anybody here tonight like to testify?"

Now in the evangelical church, the term "testify" means something different than it means to you and me as lawyers. Daddy didn't put anybody under oath, and there was no court reporter present. There were witnesses all right, but nobody questioned or cross-examined them. Rather, a parishioner would simply raise his or her hand, and when recognized by my father, they would give their "testimony." The testimony usually consisted of two parts. First, the church member would tell his or her story. Sometimes the stories were happy, like the announcement that God had blessed the church member with a new baby or a new job or healing from illness. Sometimes the stories were sad, as the church member would share their trials and tribulations with their brothers and sisters and ask for their prayers. But invariably, the second part of the testimony was always inspirational. Whether the witness was testifying about either blessings or burdens, they would always end their testimony by expressing their thanksgiving to the Almighty and their love to their fellow church members.

After several witnesses had testified, Dad would announce, "It's time to pray." At that point, every member of the congregation would bow his or her head and close their eyes. And then, one by one, folks would pray, sometimes silently, sometimes aloud. After about a half hour of such a "season of prayer" (as we called it), Daddy would call on a deacon to give the closing prayer.

And then we would all go to the fellowship hall and eat fried chicken. It was a real blessing, particularly the fried chicken.

Well, God forgive me, but I haven't been to a church prayer meeting in years. But recently, I have really been attending prayer meetings held in law firm conference rooms. I am not talking about Bible study groups, prayer breakfasts, or fellowship lunches. No, brothers and sisters, I'm talking about prayer meetings that occur during depositions.

Although I like to think of myself as a trial lawyer, I live in a world of litigators, and I am afraid I am acting more like one everyday. Litigators don't go to court, they take depositions. Hundreds of them, and if possible, thousands of them. A litigator's idea of a good time is to take a deposition, or better yet, simply be present for one.

And I am telling you, brothers and sisters, these depositions bear a remarkable resemblance to the prayer meetings of my youth. Just like in prayer meetings, in a deposition, someone testifies. And while he or she is testifying, everybody else in the room bows their heads and folds their hands.

Now to be honest, when we lawyers bow our heads and fold our hands during depositions, we are not praying. Rather, we are playing with our toys. These toys are fancy phones with fruity names like Blackberries or Raspberries or Blueberries. Some are called iPhones or smart phones or "National Merit Scholar phones."

It is an understatement to say that litigators worship these smart, fruity phones, as we bow and pray over them during depositions. The witness testifies, but nobody is paying any attention to what he is saying. We are too busy sending out messages or checking the Internet on our Smarter than the Average Bear Strawberries.

And the funny thing is, while we are playing with our phones, everyone pretends we are actually listening to the witness. From time to time we will look up and nod as if we were the witness's silent amen corner. But then we will bow our heads again and go back to sending and receiving messages or reading the Internet. Every once in a while, a litigator will burst out in totally inappropriate laughter, revealing to the other litigators in the room that she has just read an e-mail containing a dirty joke.

As it turns out, the only person really listening to the witness during these prayer meetings is the court reporter, and quite frankly, I am not always sure about her. She may claim she's typing up the testimony, but in reality, she's sending out the vulgar e-mail that just made one of the litigators laugh.

I confess I really enjoy these deposition prayer meetings. I try to keep my mind on bidness, but sometimes when I bow my head and fold my hands, I am doing something other than listen to the witness. In fact, the column you are now reading (probably on your Raspberry) is being composed during a deposition. I am sending it to you on my brand new Huckleberry Trio Smarter than U R Fone.

Bill Haltom BILL HALTOM is a partner with the Memphis firm of Thomason, Hendrix, Harvey, Johnson & Mitchell. He is past president of the Tennessee Bar Association and is a past president of the Memphis Bar Association.