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A Touch of Grey

By Randall Grantham Community Columnist March 24, 2013

Look what you're doing, look what you've done But in this jungle you can't run 'Cause what I got for you I promise it's a killer, You'll be banging on my chest Bang bang.

-Gorilla, Bruno Mars

Growing up, I was always the youngest in whatever was going on. Having been born in late November, there were only one month of students younger than me starting first grade. In High School, I skipped 12 grade and went to University on the Early Admission  program. And if that weren't enough, I also took the CLEP test and got another full year's worth of college credit before the first day of classes. There I was, 16 years old, a sophomore at USF, taking Accounting, Marketing and Finance classes at the College of Business right along side of people much older than me.

Though the legal age to drink back then was still 18, I, a student in the second year of college, could not (legally) down a brew with my classmates. Even though I took lighter loads and summers off in college, I was still one of the youngest in my graduating class in 1977. And despite the fact that I took 9 months off between college and the start of Law School, I was the youngest and least experienced student there, having lived at home up until then.

That was my first time living away from my parents and having the freedom that empowers and endangers youth. Finishing my last class in Law School at the ripe old age of 22, I may not have been the youngest in my graduating class but I was close. I was used to it by that time. I had learned to keep quiet when in doubt and watch and learn from my older companions. You know the saying, it's better to keep your mouth shut and let people think you're an idiot than it is to open it and prove them right.

Actually, I learned that if you keep your mouth shut, because of their own insecurities, people think you're smart or conceited or both. But either way, you learn more about the people around you than you would if you were running your mouth all the time. So not only did I get used to being the youngest person at any given event or activity, it served me well. But that was years ago.

I recently logged my 42nd year in the practice of law and have  been doing this for well over half of my lifetime. I am no longer the youngest in the room. In fact, now I am sometimes the oldest person in the room and that is taking some getting used to.

For instance, I had a jury trial last month on a drug trafficking case. As is typical in a trial courtroom, there was a judge, several bailiffs, a couple of Assistant State Attorneys, my co-counsel,my client and a jury of 6 plus two alternates. On occasion an observer or two would pop in. I didn't realize it at first, but at some point I looked around the courtroom at everyone and saw that I was most likely the oldest person in the room. One of the jurors may have been close, but the judge was maybe 40, the ASA's were probably in their 30's, the bailiffs ranged from 30's to late 40's, I’m guessing, and my client was 25 years old. Co-counsel was 40ish. I was the old man!

But I was also the most experienced. I don't mean to toot my own horn, but the experience showed. I had the case law to support everything I anticipated coming up in trial. I had certified copies of documents to prove the state witnesses were liars and felons. I had flowcharts for every eventuality and it paid off. The jury was out less than 30 minutes before reaching a verdict of not guilty.

Every case is different and I'm not saying I can work miracles, but I have learned a little in my decades of practice. I get calls from younger attorneys requesting advice or case cites. I'm frequently asked for copies of motions and briefs I've argued and won. I'm actually looked up to based on my age, experience and expertise.

In wild gorilla populations, there is typically an older male who has established his place at the top of the hierarchy in the tribe. He is looked up to and makes decisions for the tribe such as where to eat, where to make camp for the night, who to allow in the tribe. He gets his choice of the females. Because of his age, the fur on his shoulders and back has turned grey, or silver. He is known as the Silverback.

I AM the Silverback. I have been-there-done-that on almost every issue that arises in a case. I have form files and stacks of cases that go back so far that when I purge the ones that have become obsolete due to changes in the law or rules, it’s like removing a layer of geologic sedimentary rock from an archaeological dig.

But, rather than think of myself as the old man in the room, I prefer the gorilla title, “Silverback.” Now if only I could figure out that female thing.

(Randall C. Grantham is a fifth generation Floridian and lifelong resident who practices law from his offices on Dale Mabry Highway in Lutz . He can be reached at Copyright RCG)