Shawn Bailey for the United States of America

I was fresh out of law school. This was 2003. I had just passed the bar and moved across the country from Utah to Washington, DC. The United States Department of Justice had hired me through its honors program to serve as a trial attorney.  I was assigned to the Commercial Litigation Branch of the Civil Division, the "jack of all trades" DOJ office that handles cases for the federal government that do not neatly fit into the missions of the other DOJ offices.

On my first day, they handed me a stack of files. A case in Boston. A case in Las Vegas. A case in New Orleans. And so forth. It was interesting work. Representing various federal agencies, I enforced the United States' right to be paid before any other creditor in an insolvency proceeding. I intervened in bankruptcy proceedings when parties claimed that the Bankruptcy Code's "automatic stay" relieved them from the obligation to obey, for example, environmental laws. Hint: it doesn't, but folks keep trying anyway. I worked on a case against a government contractor that developed software guaranteed to secure for the federal government the best price in complex auctions of financial instruments (blocks of mortgages, etc). The software didn't work, some bidders figured out the glitch, and they managed to purchase assets worth many millions of dollars even though they were not the highest bidders! Our position: the knucklehead contractor had breached the contract and should pay the difference between what the agency got and what it should have got.

My time with the DOJ was brief. I jumped at an unexpected invitation to serve as a clerk for a federal judge also in Washington, DC. And after that: I was determined to go home to the west and enter private practice. But I enjoyed it while it lasted. It was exciting, especially for a brand new attorney, to stand up in a federal courthouse and make my appearance on the record with the words: "Shawn Bailey for the United States of America." Exciting, but not always glorious. The first time I uttered those words, I was standing before Judge Tauro in Boston. 

Me: "Shawn Bailey for the United States of America."

The Judge, with a distinct, side-ways look: "Excuse me, counsel, but how old are you?"

I eventually got to my carefully-outlined arguments, but not until I had assured the Court that I was a college graduate, a law school graduate, and a duly licensed attorney actually employed by the United States Department of Justice. He must have thought he was meeting a real-life legal Doogie Howser. Since then I have welcomed any sign of aging (the odd wrinkle or silver hair, etc.) that lent me gravitas in the courtroom.