When I was a first-year law student, my Constitutional Law professor announced that he originally wanted to be a trial lawyer, but after losing his first ten trials, he decided he better teach law than practice it. My initial reaction was that maybe he shouldn’t have shared that but now I understand that he was simply making lemonade out of lemons.
When we choose areas of law that involve winning and losing, we have to expect that sometimes we won’t win. We can actually feel like we lost if we didn’t get the big verdict. Other times we might lose but minimized the damage. It is all relative.
Due to the fact that I quit practicing law in 2004 because of stress and other factors, I have had some time to think about how lawyers deal with loss. We can lose cases, motions, and/or clients if we don’t get the results we need to be considered “successful”. Needless to say, some have lost their bar license because of poor decisions. Learning how to turn “losing” into “winning” is a particular skill that serves lawyers well.
- Losing may not be about us. There are a lot of factors that go into winning or losing. Perhaps you chose poorly when you accepted the case. Perhaps your ego was bigger than your eloquence. Perhaps you just need to correct what you can and move on. No one got rich by winning losing cases.
- Losing may be the universe telling you to change. Perhaps getting into a less stressful area of the practice of law might be wise. Transactional work, estate planning, corporate law, taxation, or real estate are fruitful and don’t involve winning or losing. I discovered all of my corporate trials came in handy when talking to corporate clients. Worst case scenario? Find another line of work. You can always be the best at something else. Your legal experience will help tremendously in your new career.
- Look for the golden pony in the manure.In other words, everything that happens is simply a lesson. What can you learn from losing? Probably more than what you would learn if you win. One thing that always happens after a loss is some good old fashion introspection. The Law of Conflict dictates that when we lose, we learn something about ourselves.
- Don’t personalize the result.Many lawyers feel guilty when they lose. Many lawyers feel absolutely brilliant when they win. This is the result tail wagging the process dog. When we make our job about winning, I promise you that you will suffer. When me make the job about doing the best we can, we will always be a winner.
- Learn when to abandon ship.Sometimes we are just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Are you in the right law firm for you? Are you not screening your clients properly? Are you doing things your intuition and consciousness tell you are wrong because you hope to win a big fee? There are more important things in life than making money. What profiteth a lawyer who sells his soul for a fee? As I got older, I learned if it didn’t smell right, I better withdraw.
- Don’t eat the leftovers.If a client comes in the door who has been fired by a previous attorney, or has fired his last attorney, I strongly suggest you listen politely and then say no. I was sued once, and the plaintiff fired his attorney. The next attorney (who was in my law school class) charged double the fee he thought it would cost to take his case. That attorney ended up losing and later told me he had no idea what he was getting into. He actually apologized.
The bottom line is winning and losing have nothing to do with the result. Winning and losing has to do with what sort of human being we are.