Boutique Law Firms, Litigators, My Job Is Murder

My Job Is Murder: Of Prodigals and Prodigies

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Ed. note: Welcome to ATL’s first foray into serial fiction. “My Job Is Murder,” a mystery set in a D.C. appellate boutique, will appear one chapter at a time, M-W-F, over the next few weeks. Prior installments appear here; please read them first.
Susanna Dokupil can be reached by email at or on Facebook.

Despite his experience on construction cases, Tyler knew very little about actual construction. But he was fairly certain a rope ladder going up two stories to the roof was not standard for office buildings. He reached the top, pushed open a trap door, and climbed out onto the roof.
Not twenty feet away, Tyler saw a small tent and a rather well-dressed man sitting in it. He sat cross-legged, working on a laptop computer.
The man looked up. “Can I help you?” he asked.
“Uh, who are you?” asked Tyler.
“Name’s John Tiburon, attorney at law.”
Tyler gasped. “John Tiburon? The John Tiburon?”
“The very same.”
John Tiburon was a MakoProphet legend. Class: God who walks among us. Graduated summa cum laude from Harvard, clerked on the United States Supreme Court, published an article he wrote as a student in the Yale Law Journal, and argued in every federal appellate court in the country, including the U.S. Supreme Court (more than once), by the time he was thirty-five. And he had never lost a case.

A rising star at MakoProphet, Tiburon had taken a leave of absence from the firm to work at the Department of Justice, but then left the DOJ under a cloud of political scandal. Word around the firm was that Tiburon had more book smarts than political savvy and had probably been a scapegoat — but the firm had refused to hire him back.
“What are you doing here?” Tyler asked Tiburon.
“Same as you, trying to make a living. You’re with MakoProphet?”
“Yes. You’re practicing law?”
“My shingle,” Tiburon replied, indicating a small brass nameplate that used to grace his office door.
“You live here?”
“Sure,” Tiburon said. “I have a gym membership with a locker downstairs where I can shower, and the manager at Solstice saves food for me at the end of each day that they would have to throw away under the health code. I use this electrical outlet here” — he indicated a spot in the wall” — to power my laptop, and you must have found my, er, access to facilities. I have a cell phone, Internet, and a drycleaner down the street. It’s not free, but I can get by.”
“But how do you do legal research?”
“Many resources are free on the Internet now. Have you heard of Google Scholar? And I signed up to audit a class at City University Law School, so I can use their library. It’s only a short walk from here. People have forgotten how it was before the big online databases took over, but I am just old enough to remember.”
“Got any high-profile cases?”
“Just one. A sexual harassment case involving my old firm.”
“You’re representing Veronica?”
“Ha, no. Dick Schlosh, my old mentor. Thrax was in quite a tailspin about it. That selfish rat wouldn’t hire me back, after all I did for the firm. I brought in so many high-profile cases, and top law students flooded us with resumes just for the chance to work with me. But Thrax didn’t want the firm politicized.” He snorted. “Thought it was bad for business in this economy. Of course, the only thing that’s good for business is highly credentialed lawyers that win — and no one at the firm had a better track record than I. No long-term vision, that guy. None. Serves the firm right that they’re having to lay people off.”
Tyler cringed inwardly and changed the subject. “You heard Thrax died?”
“No . . . what happened?”
“Keeled over at his desk this afternoon around 5 p.m. Cardiac arrest, apparently.”
Tiburon stared. “I can’t believe it,” he said. “I’m so sorry.”
“Yeah, but everyone got right back to work. Right after he died, my deadline for a draft got moved up to tomorrow.”
“That’s the MakoProphet I know. What’s your case about?”
“Construction contract dispute in Virginia state court.”
“Did you run across Quirin v. Mescal Pipe?”
“Not yet.”
“It’s a Virginia Supreme Court case finding a company liable for construction delay when they failed to supply pipe on time. I argued it about five years ago.”
“Cool, thanks!”
A bright red and black beetle landed on Tyler’s arm. He jumped and brushed it off quickly.
“What’s that?” asked Tyler. “And how did it get up here?”
“You’d be surprised what finds its way up here,” said John. “Would you do me a favor and close the ceiling tiles on your way out?”
“Sure,” said Tyler.
Tyler returned to his desk after closing the ceiling tile. He looked up Quirin v. Mescal Pipe and, miraculously, it was directly on point. The opinion had apparently adopted Tiburon’s brief wholesale. No wonder he was a legend, Tyler thought. He finished his draft around daybreak and fell asleep on his desk.
Susanna Dokupil is a former appellate lawyer who abandoned regular employment in favor of raising four kids. She wishes to emphasize that the resemblance of any character in “My Job Is Murder” to any actual person, living or dead, is purely coincidental. (Except for the geeky stuff. Appellate lawyers really are that geeky.)
Susanna can be reached by email at or on Facebook.

Earlier: Prior installments of My Job Is Murder

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