Shelly C. Dreyer always knew she wanted to be a lawyer, and it shows. Her trial wins have frequently appeared in Missouri Lawyers Weekly’s annual Verdicts & Settlements rankings. More importantly, she’s known for volunteering her time and effort to the community, particularly in the wake of the devastating 2011 tornado in her city of Joplin.
What are some of your proudest career accomplishments? My proudest career accomplishment is my first jury trial. I was a young attorney and very nervous. My client was an elderly lady with the last name Wilson who had fallen at a banquet hall while leaving bingo. As a result of the injury to her leg from the fall, my client walked with a cane.
During the trial, the defense brought a surprise witness to testify. The judge ruled that they were allowed to the call the witness but I would be allowed to question the witness over lunch before he testified. He was a young man who was employed by the banquet hall. After I questioned him over the lunch break, I informed my client that he intended to testify that she had trouble walking before her fall. That afternoon, the defense put on the witness. He testified as expected.
However, through my cross examination I felt it was obvious that he was being dishonest. My client couldn’t hear the cross examination because she was very hard of hearing. When the witness was finished testifying and preparing to walk out of the courtroom, my sweet elderly client started waving her cane around like Carry Nation with an ax and screaming “you liar, you liar, I am going to beat you with my cane.”
I was standing halfway between the witness box and counsel table when she did this. I froze. The judge began banging her gavel and yelled “Mrs. Wilson, Mrs. Wilson, stop.” But Ms. Wilson couldn’t hear the judge or just chose to ignore her. She continued to scream at the witness and swing her cane. The judge continued to bang her gavel and yell at Mrs. Wilson. I was mortified and still frozen. My paralegal was grabbing at Mrs. Wilson’s mouth, trying to cover it but Mrs. Wilson would not be silenced. Finally, after what seemed like eternity, Mrs. Wilson stopped. The trial went on but I was convinced that Mrs. Wilson’s outburst had cost me the trial. My proudest career accomplishment was that I pulled myself back together and we got a fantastic verdict.
What has been your favorite part of the job? Definitely trying cases. I describe to people who have not done a jury trial that it is like riding a roller coaster. You think you really want to do it. You are getting ready to ride and then you are questioning if this is really something you want to do but you are in line, you are committed. Then you get on and are strapped in the seat. Now you want off. Adrenaline is running. What have you done? You don’t want to do this. You are scared. But you can’t get off now, it is too late. Then the roller coaster starts. You don’t know what is after each turn but it is terrifying but exhilarating at the same time. Then it is over. Oh my gosh, that was so much fun. When can I do it again?
What is the best advice you’ve ever given or received? I don’t know if it is good advice but I find myself repeatedly telling people “Just because it is hard, is not a reason to quit.”
When you were growing up, what did you want to be? I wanted to be a lawyer for as long as I can remember. I have no idea why. I didn’t know any lawyers and my family was not college educated. I also always knew I wanted to represent individuals, not corporations. I have been fortunate to be able to do what I always wanted to do and that I love what I do.