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What I learned about practicing law from my ping pong table

Posted by Raj Chohan | May 31, 2020 | 0 Comments

I quarantined, I worked from home, and I learned something. Like just about everyone else, my wife worked from home, my kids schooled from home and we all tried to do our part to contain the pandemic.

I could have worked from my home office, but I retreated to my basement, my beloved underground man cave. For my workspace, I chose the broad surface area of my ping pong table where I could spread out my files and set up my printer, scanner and other items.  I self-isolated my workday in the quieter confines and emerged upstairs like clockwork at 5 PM. I was often in pajamas, or shorts and a tee-shirt, unless I had to videoconference a court hearing, mediation or deposition. My wife worked from our home office one floor above, and my high school aged kids attended class, or not, in their bedrooms.

On the upside, I found myself being productive enough. I settled cases, filed lawsuits, deposed witnesses, managed discovery and attended court hearings, remotely. For the most part, it worked fine. Sometimes it was hard to focus completely on what I was supposed to be doing. I remember talking with a federal magistrate about a proposed scheduling order while staring at a dried coffee ring on the faded green surface of a ping pong table that has hosted legendary family paddle-battles. My thoughts wandered to all the great things that have happened in this home since we moved in ten years ago.  I am easily distracted by the gallery of kid-art that fills the walls surrounding the ping pong table. When I take my coffee breaks, I stare out the basement window to take in a view of the Colorado mountains that still takes my breath away.  I love being at home. It is easy to be comfortable here. It is easy to feel safe.

Times are challenging as we struggle with the painful balance of reopening our economy while knowing it will almost certainly lead to a greater loss of life from Covid19. Yet, we all know, this has to happen. We have to go back to work. Businesses must be allowed to survive.  Breadwinners must be allowed to earn income. Citizens must be allowed to step back into their communities, reinvigorate those around them, and resume their lives.

When we do recapture our everyday lives, we will find out unavoidably our world has changed, in more ways than one. When the videos of the George Floyd tragedy began to circulate, I struggled to make sense of what I saw. As a former prosecutor, I have worked closely with many police officers on serious criminal matters. Based on that experience, I believe the overwhelming majority of police officers are dedicated, professional public servants who are a credit to their communities. We are lucky to have them.

But the George Floyd tragedy is yet another heartbreaking reminder that something is deeply wrong with our criminal justice system. That double standards based on race still exist.  That being black in America is an experience unlike that of any other racial minority. The agonizing minutes which were the final moments of Mr. Floyd's life are burned into my memory. It felt so unnecessary and so unjustified. It also seemed bizarrely casual. How could such a scene play out in broad daylight, with so many witnesses recording on their cell phones, with passersby asking officers to let up on the dying man, with several uniformed cops nearby, all apparently unaware or unconcerned that a life was slipping away in front of them. Whatever was going through officer Chauvin's mind as he continued to kneel on the neck of Mr. Floyd, even after he was unconscious, seems unfathomable in its legal justification and horrifyingly unnerving in its cavalier lack of human empathy.

From the safety of my basement, I watched the riots unfold in the streets of our nation's major cities, including the largest city in my home state, Denver, Colorado. By day, passionate protesters occupied the streets in mostly peaceful demonstrations. By night, the anarchists came out and all hell broke loose. As our experience instructs us, eventually, the collective catharsis, the pain and rage, will wane and whither. We will be left with the same problems, the same questions, the same uneasiness. Why does it still happen? What can be done to stop it from happening again?

The world has changed since we bunkered in our basements. It is time to emerge and get back to work on our daily living. It is also time to get back to work on fundamental fairness, human decency and proportionality in our criminal justice system.

Recently, my law office reopened. Broomfield, Colorado allowed folks to return to their jobs, with social distancing requirements in place. I was overjoyed to pack up the items on my ping pong table and return to the humble but comfortable space from which I operate my business. My first day back, I was surprisingly productive, in a way that was nearly impossible working from home. I was hyper-focused, reenergized, and ready to roll up my sleeves. My law practice has changed a bit. While I much prefer face-to-face contact with my clients, adversaries, and judges, I now know it is possible to accomplish most of what we need to do through phone calls, videoconference and email. I know that the historic times we are living through will eventually be memories and experience.  I know that eventually, things will return to something more familiar, something more comfortable. I long for that normalcy. I long to reenter the world. I long to reengage in the business of life.

About the Author

Raj Chohan

Raj Chohan is a personal injury attorney with a passion for helping injured Coloradans seek the compensation they deserve and the justice their cases demand. He is a former prosecutor with extensive jury trial experience in some of the most complex and serious cases that exist under Colorado law...

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