Trial lawyering is a contact sport. To succeed, you need a level of endurance and mental toughness made possible only to those who take care of their mind and body.
If you want to build and grow a trial-oriented practice, you must learn to become a “trial athlete.” Recognizing that final trial preparation and the trial is nearly a complete time commitment which robs one’s life of all else but eating and sleeping. If you choose to be a trial lawyer, plan life around court cases, with the intent of building a stronger mind and body. Consider the following suggestions.
To get this right, you first need to have an overall practice mindset about trying cases. Hopefully, you’ve made the decision not to be a discovery litigator: a lawyer who takes depositions, drafts and argues summary judgment motions, but is afraid of going to trial (Read, Are You A Barrister or Solicitor?). You are past that point! You know that insurance companies and corporate defendants can smell discovery litigators a mile away and offer a fraction of the value of a case to them.
By the same token, you know your approach to trial preparation must be different than the crowd. Once you’ve accepted a solid case, you need to begin thinking about case themes and arguments. Opening statement and closing argument shouldn’t be afterthoughts. Develop a winning argument from the very beginning. What does this have to do with being a “trial athlete?” The barrister mindset prevents needless panic the month before trial, causing you to forfeit your personal life – particularly fitness and nutrition. If you have the right mindset, you will have begun trial preparation early on.
Although practices widely vary, most attorneys will have a period of at least several months between trials. This is the time to focus on your body. Commit to getting in shape. I’m no fitness expert, but most experts agree the best fitness regimens combine both cardiovascular and strength training. If you don’t have a discipline or sport, consider martial arts training. It will target your basic needs and put you in a warrior mindset, literally. You may find yourselves sparring students much younger than you. Learn to deal with that fear. Regardless, also pay attention to nutrition. Stop eating crap. Start training like an athlete. You are becoming a version of one.
Build in “Right-Brain” time. One of the primary reasons to become a trial athlete is the mental benefit. Exercise clears the mind. It reduces stress. When the time draws closer to trial, you’ll likely feel overwhelmed on occasion. You’ll reach a point where you think your mind can’t hold more information. This is the time to turn off the “left brain” and let the “right brain” take over. The ideal way to do this is through exercise. I recently tried a jury trial and found myself with some mental road blocks a few days out. Realizing I’d hit a wall, I went on a long bike ride with a friend. This was all it took to have some mental breakthroughs and I was able to see important aspects of the case in a new light. I attribute part of winning that case to those breakthroughs.
Win or lose, you are going to crash once the trial is over. It happens to every trial lawyer. You’ve got to build in recovery time – at least a week to ten days. Build this into your schedule. Take time for a massage. Reflect on what worked and what didn’t. Gently get back into your exercise routine. Reconnect with your significant other, family and friends.
If you want to try cases over the span of a long career, you will have to find a pace that works for your body and mind. You’ll need to learn the nuances of this discipline right before and after trial. If you commit to becoming a trial athlete, it will pay dividends that will lead to greater success and happiness.