Friday, January 22, 2010

Being a Lawyer - It's Not About Me

  When I was a young lawyer, I was thrust into the battles of trial preparation - depositions - with little training.  I was young then and it seemed like I was "fresh meat"for the old lions of the trial bar.  I was not into being devoured, so I developed a strategy for my self-preservation.  I concentrated on the way I walked and sat.  I made chit-chat with the opposing counsel, smiled a lot, sat in a comfortable, nonchalant pose and acted like I was unafraid.  A weird thing happened, when I acted unafraid, I started to feel unafraid.  Just like the song says, "Whenever I feel afraid, I hold my head erect.  And whistle a happy tune, and no one can suspect, I'm afraid."  It worked.  I started feeling the same way my body language reflected.
    I no longer need to play-act, but through the years, as a trial lawyer, there is one principle that has served me well. Whatever the other side pulls, it is not a reflection on me, but on them.  What I mean is that I strive to take NOTHING personally.  It's not about me.   If the other lawyer is nasty to me, he or she must be insecure or have some issue.  If the other lawyer yells, that means I am winning.  I don't yell,  that's a sign of weakness, that I have lost my cool and allowed something get to me personally.  I represent a person and need to protect that person.  I can handle myself and need no protection.
     This past week I was in depositions with an attorney whom plaintiffs' lawyers in this area disdain.  He is rude, cold and uncaring.  He was that way with the two witnesses whose depositions he took this week.  This lawyer proudly exclaimed that he only defended cases with catastrophic injuries or deaths.   What a sad way to make a living.  He was nasty in the depositions, and I objected when he tried to trick or cajole the witness.
      Man, did the lawyer get ticked.  So what.  It was not about me.  I protected my witness, through legal objections, but really just to made sure there was a level playing field so that this lawyer could not intimidate the witness to get favorable testimony by twisting words.  I didn't take his harangues personally, because it was not about me.  Sure, he wants to get an advantage in the case, and I prevented that.  But, what makes this guy tick is beyond me.  Maybe his father was mean to him, maybe he was rejected as a child, maybe his mother favored one of his siblings, I don't know.  But, knowing his attacks weren't about me helped.  And even if he hates me, even if I remind him of an ex-wife or mean teacher, that does not matter.  I don't care and that is so freeing.  I am free to represent my client.
      One of the many things Gerry Spence says that I wholeheartedly agree with is that we must know who we are to be good trial lawyers.  I have spent years trying to understand me.  What a liberating experience this is as a lawyer and as a person.  Eleanor Roosevelt said, "No one can make you feel bad about yourself unless you let them."  I believe that.
       In my experience, to be a good and effective lawyer, one must not let his or her ego get in the way.  It is not about us.  That is probably the lesson that has taken me the longest to learn.


  1. So true - this can be applied to many circumstances. Very well put.

  2. Lynne, your hypocrisy is stunning

  3. Lowell:
    I am sorry you feel that way. I hope you are well. Take care of yourself.

  4. sorry I feel that way too. Ask Ken.