The Tale of the Broken Zipper – Or, How I Knew I’d Be a Trial Lawyer

By: Sara Kropf

This is an embarrassing story. I promise it will make sense in the end.

In 1991, I was finishing my senior year in high school in suburban Georgia. I’d joined the mock trial team, and we had our competition one Saturday at a nearby courthouse.

I needed a suit for court. My mom was a nurse, and she didn’t have a business suit for me to borrow. We didn’t really have extra money to buy one. A team coach asked a friend if I could borrow a suit.

I was SO EXCITED about this suit. I looked great. I looked like A Lawyer. Just before the competition started, I went to the bathroom.

And the zipper on the skirt broke. It was a dark colored suit, and I was wearing a white slip underneath. (It was the 90s—lined suits were not yet a thing.)

I stepped out of the stall to assess the situation. When I was standing up, it was fine. The jacket was big and boxy (it was the 90s!) and covered the zipper. But when I pretended to sit down and then stand up, the white slip peeked through the now-open zipper.

I was horrified.

But what could I do? I had trial. So, I told no one about the problem. I went to the courtroom and tried the case.

My dad was in the audience. After the trial, he whispered to me, “honey, do know you your skirt is broken? Every time you stood up, I could see your . . . you know.” (He was an old-fashioned guy. Even saying “slip” was a bit too much.)

Here’s the thing: During the trial, I knew that every time I stood up, the audience was getting a peek at my white slip. But I also knew that none of the people who “counted” could see it—not the witness or the judge or the jury or my opposing counsel. I was laser focused on representing my client and winning the case.

I think we won the competition. I remember getting a plaque with a gavel on it with some award. But that wasn’t what mattered.

What mattered was what I learned that day. I already wanted to be a lawyer—I’d be the first in my family to go to grad school—but that day I realized I was going to make the courtroom my home. If I could handle flashing the audience to win a case, well, this was obviously what I was meant to do.

Last Friday, I was welcomed as a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers. I don’t use this blog to brag very often, but the invitation to join the College is a big deal for trial nerds like me. I’m honored to be among the ranks of its incredible membership. If you aren’t familiar with it, here’s the description of the organization:

The American College of Trial Lawyers is an invitation only fellowship of exceptional trial lawyers of diverse backgrounds from the United States and Canada.  The College thoroughly investigates each nominee for admission and selects only those who have demonstrated the very highest standards of trial advocacy, ethical conduct, integrity, professionalism and collegiality.  The College maintains and seeks to improve the standards of trial practice, professionalism, ethics, and the administration of justice through education and public statements on important legal issues relating to its mission.  The College strongly supports the independence of the judiciary, trial by jury, respect for the rule of law, access to justice, and fair and just representation of all parties to legal proceedings.

Several of my mentors from my previous BigLaw firm, and some of my incredible co-counsel in recent cases, are members. They may have had a role with my admission, but the nomination process is secretive, so I’ll never really know.

One thing I do know? I’ve come a long way since flashing the courtroom thirty years ago. And I’m still laser focused on winning for my client.

7 comments

  1. Sara, boy do I remember this story and have kidded you about it for years! However, I had no idea that it had the impact you speak about in this blog! Great Story!!

    Most of all Congratulations on being inducted into the American College of Trial Lawyers! Your dad would be EXTREMELY PROUD!! I am too!!

    Love you, mom

  2. Well, it might have been called trending just as I peered down one day to see my black tights, this was in 2012 or so, sporting a fine rip. I wasn’t in court but I was meeting clients where I worked pro bono as a paralegal in Immigration Law. I was horrified as well, but a particularly fine young immigration counselor shrugged her shoulders and said, “You’re Trending, go for it”.
    You stayed the course, Sara, and I get the meaning of your post. No one little thing such as a broken zipper or a tear, albeit a great tear, in a pair of tights should stop anyone from carrying on.

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