The most relentless buzzword in legal practice seems to be “wellness”. Jeena Cho writes an interesting column on the subject for the ABA Journal. Stress management is the source of quite a large number of articles. Lawyers Weekly recently ran a story with guidelines on establishing resilience covering –
1. Engage with family and friends. Take the time to maintain healthy and emotionally stimulating relationships outside of work and explore ways to connect with people in meaningful ways. For example, go for a nice walk after work or eat a meal with friends or family as often as possible.
2. Get into a structured sleep habit. Aim for seven to eight hours a night and wake up at the same time every morning (even on the weekend). ….
3. Divide your day into segments. Allocate time for certain work tasks, time to move your body and time for mental breaks.
4. Find a way to be active every day. …. Just 30 minutes a day can work wonders for your brain and increase your resilience long-term.
5. When in doubt, breathe out. ….
This sounds great, although it’s impractical when your workday looks like this –
Anyway, this left me wondering what I recommend in the way of stress management based on a career which has not been uneventful.
This is a biggy. One of the sagest bits of advice I ever received was from my friend Pam, who in turn got it from a veteran CFA Captain:
When you turn up at a bushfire, the first thing you should do when you get out of the truck is lean on the bullbar and have a cigarette.
It makes sense, right? The five minutes you take for a cancer-stick won’t make much of a difference and you’ll calm yourself down, appraise the situation and react to it calmly. In the world of law this translates to: your opponent’s sent you an email refusing to agree to a vital adjournment? Go and make a cup of tea, then come back and look at how you’ll respond to the unco-operative bastard.
You Can Fix It
It’s easy to forget, but just about every misstep in litigation can be fixed. The only ones that can’t be repaired are missing a statute-of-limitations date or (in my jurisdiction) missing a step in the workers compensation serious injury/common law field. Virtually every other glitch can be fixed. It may be expensive and embarrassing but it can be fixed.
Speak Without Thinking
This one is counter-intuitive. Let me explain. You can never show weakness or indecision and so your first response to a challenge must be to return fire. So, if you’re on the phone to your opponent and they’re telling you how rubbish your case is, you should have a stock set of phrases to commence any reply. First, hearing your own voice say something tends to persuade you it’s true. Second, the brain has a remarkable ability to come up with something that will back up you initial statement. Some of my usual phrases are –
Well, I’m afraid I don’t see it that way.
I can’t imagine a jury will agree with you.
I must say, that’s not my understanding of the law.
I don’t think that position is sound.
That’s a curious line of argument.
Well, if the defendant wants to take that position, that’s a matter for you.
If all else fails, you can finish with “It’ll be interesting to see what the Court makes of it”.
Have a Rag Bag
Litigators should have an intellectual rag bag they can rummage through for ideas. The only way to acquire this valuable resource is utterly chaotic reading about the law. Read decisions from random jurisdictions, like the All India Reporter – Rangoon or the Supreme Court of Latvia. Flip through any lawyers’ magazine or law journal that crosses your path.
It’s astonishing you can use an intellectual tool you gather from them. In no time at all you’ll feel like you can deal with any problem that the law throws your way.
Prepare a Strategy
If service with SES has taught me anything, it’s how to prepare a SMEACS briefing. These briefings are an ideal way to organise your thoughts and plan your way to a win. They’re incredibly helpful if you’re worried about a file and you can pick it it up and see exactly what you planned to do next. The acronym stands for
S = Situation: What are the client’s injuries? When was the accident? What is standing in the way of them getting some money?
M = Mission: What are you trying to achieve? Do you want to bring the matter on as a priority? DO you want to win (one assumes so)? Do you need to extend time?
E = Execution: What precise steps need to be accomplished to get you to that point? What medical reports are needed, and who from? Do you need a site inspection? Should counsel be booked? This will usually be the longest piece of the note.
A = Administration: Are there interlocutory deadlines to be met? Do you need to allocate particular jobs to someone else (for example, preparing a Court Book?).
C = Communications: Do you need to update your boss? Are you dealing with your opponent’s Sydney office rather than their Melbourne office? Do you need to include a notice under the Service and Execution of Process Act 1992 because you’re suing an interstate defendant?
S = Safety: What is going to trip you up? Does the client need a Tigrinya interpreter for their medical examinations? Are they volatile and inclined to pick fights with doctors? Do you have a looming limitations date?
Preparing one of these briefings can take anything from 45 minutes to a couple of hours but (and trust me on this) it will save you a mind-boggling amount of time in the long run.
So there you have it: my two-cents worth on the subject of stress management for litigators. What tactics do you recommend?