When I was starting out as a litigator, the philosophy of “kill or be killed, eat or be eaten” of Jack London’s novel The Call of the Wild was how I approached every case. I learned to take the advantages offered and create those that weren’t. Just as the world in which Jack London’s protagonist lived demanded nothing less, so did the world of litigation. This was my definition of being “litigation ready.”
But that was many years ago and I have learned some important lessons along the way. While these have not changed my motivation for being a litigator nor diminished my zeal for what I and my colleagues at SAC do every day, they have tempered my philosophy a bit and redefined what “litigation ready” means for me now. I hope you find these lessons valuable for your professional and personal life as well.
Lesson One: Listen
Litigators, by our very nature, are competitive and we want to win. But I have learned that we need to define what it really means to win and especially when it comes to knowing what the best result for your client really is. To figure this out, you need to listen and not just assume that your definition of winning is the right or only one. Every client, no matter your business, is different. You must put your personal needs aside and focus on those of your client. Find out what is important to them. Success in the courtroom or at the mediator’s office is not about you the litigator; it is about the client and meeting the needs of the client. That is how you “win” a case. If you don’t know where you are supposed to go, how do you know when you have arrived? Lesson one for being “litigation ready” is to learn to listen to your client.
Lesson Two: Prepare
One of the most important life lessons to learn is that things won’t always go as we expect them. The unexpected is going to happen. This is not a pessimistic philosophy, but a realistic understanding. And it is mandatory for a litigator to understand this. In the courtroom and in life, if we prepare and think ahead, if we take every opportunity to shore up the details and strengthen the foundations, then when the unexpected happens, we are ready or at least we are in a better position to make wise and necessary decisions to handle them. Being prepared is not the ability to know or anticipate every eventuality. Being prepared is working to control what you can, and being able to handle what you cannot. So lesson two for being “litigation ready” is to be prepared.
Lesson Three: Be Intentional
Being “litigation ready” means doing your best to be physically and mentally prepared. This requires taking the best care of yourself that you can so that you can perform at peak efficiency and effectiveness. My regimen is pretty easy-to-follow and you probably could do it without much effort or changes to your lifestyle. There are only three things you need to do:
- Drink Water: By some estimates, 75 percent of Americans are chronically dehydrated. It’s easy to drink the recommended six-to-eight cups a day. Here at SAC, we provide alkaline water,which provides additional benefits beyond keeping us hydrated, for all guests, staff and attorneys.
- Exercise: I have been doing HIIT (high intensity interval training) for several years now. I used to run, but as I got older, my knees didn’t seem to like the stress. HIIT training, combined with resistance training, allows me to achieve the cardiovascular, weight loss and strength goals that I have set for myself. This is what works for me. You need to decide what is right for you. What are your goals? My advice is to find something that you enjoy, because if the exercise or workout regimen you choose is a burden, then it is far more likely that you won’t do it.
- Proper Nutrition: Make a list of everything you eat, and then separate that list into two columns: good for you and not good for you. Put the things that are good for you into your body and restrict the things that aren’t. Sounds easy, right? But have you really considered what you are eating every day? Be intentional. Plan ahead. For breakfast every day I have a “green smoothie” where I put the following into a blender: raw spinach, raw kale, raw dandelion greens (or a combination of the three), orange juice, beet juice, raw oatmeal, a banana, blue berries, raspberries, blackberries, and a little calorie free flavored water. Sounds disgusting? Most would say ‘yes’ until they have tried it, and then only half of would still say ‘yes’. But again, it works for me. Blend it together and you’ll know without a doubt you have a very healthy, filling breakfast. Add a little protein, like egg whites, and you are good to go.
Be intentional and find what works for you. That is lesson three for being “litigation ready.”
Jack London’s “law of club and fang” worked out pretty well for Buck in The Call of the Wild. For the litigator, who practices the “law of truth and justice”, being aggressive and wanting to succeed are also positive attributes. But as time and life has taught me, being truly “litigation ready” requires much more. Our lives often mirror the courtroom, and the lessons we learn through successful litigation experience often translate into success in our personal lives and relationships as well: Listen, Be Prepared, Be Intentional.
This blog is the one in an occasional series by SAC’s staff attorneys on their approaches to achieving work-life balance to stay “litigation ready” in our fast-paced world. We hope you find their suggestions helpful in your professional and personal life as well.