Invaluable Lessons from “Carrying” the Briefcase

Retired Chancellor Roger Clapp

Article by Retired Chancellor Roger Clapp Featured Author


The later infamous circuit judge Marcus Gordon, just elected district attorney, asked Joe Daniel of Daniel, Coker, Horton, & Bell to take over a beautiful grieving widowed mother’s case alleging that her beautiful little children lost their father because of negligent inspection of electrical wiring at Molpus Lumber Co. by its Worker’s Comp carrier. Trial was scheduled in Neshoba County, against a fine Meridian defense firm, large by then-current standards and all Joe’s friends.

A thirty-five year old associate not long out of night school at Jackson School of Law, number eleven on the partnership letterhead, I “carried” Joe’s briefcase and rapidly learned valuable gems from experts about trial practice (pre-trial, jury selection, voir dire and instruction wording, chambers conferences, midnight preparation, bench sidebars, opening statements, settlement negotiation, etc.). I was privileged to watch later Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Noble Lee demonstrate rare bench talent as Circuit Judge, something I seldom experienced in later decades.

The wise defense attorneys soon sensed something about the jury and our attractive clients, no doubt augmented by their great respect for Joe (and his handsome and mature but relatively new assistant — no, just kidding), causing them very early on to ask Judge Lee for a recess to explore settlement. It was over. I recall selfish disappointment over missing what no doubt would have been precious wisdom that I had to painfully gather later in other courts from Corinth to Picayune and my own term behind the bench.

It is my hope that new lawyers will always seek and enjoy similar wisdom opportunities with senior lawyers and judges, no matter how much such novices think they learned in law school.