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Coming face-to-face with myself on the trial lawyering path

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When I joined the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers over twenty years ago, I was on my path to transition to criminal defense from being an associate lawyer at a corporate law firm in Washington, D.C. One thing that drew me to the NACDL was its slogan that “You are never alone” when a member of the NACDL, which has a strike force to assist lawyers who come under unfair fire from judges and prosecutors for breathing life into the Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel, a multitude of brainstorming opportunities, and various continuous legal education opportunities.

As an antidote against feeling alone (other than being on a team with my client) and isolated in the courtroom, I sometimes summon the image of my mentors Steve Rench to my left, Jun Yasuda to my right, and Cheng Man Ch’ing to my rear when in the courthouse. Sometimes, the courtroom and courthouse itself have colleagues sending good vibrations and ideas my way towards victory, working for all of us to rise together, rather than seeing successful competition as stepping on colleagues’ heads in a race to win clients and name recognition. An even bigger gift are my colleagues who for years have selflessly given up time on a weekend morning — sometimes driving many miles — to join at my office for workshops to prepare me and my clients for my trial presentation and their testimony. As I revel in these wonderful teamwork opportunities, it becomes all the more alien to remember the words of a former corporate law firm litigation mentor who said to a former solo practitioner at the firm that it must not be easy not to have another lawyer in the office next door to bandy about ideas. Granted, the Internet helps eliminate such isolation, but for me it helps just knowing that there are great colleagues who will drop whatever they are doing when I am close to starting a trial or in the middle of a trial, to lend moral support, brainstorming, and other ideas.

I have benefitted tremendously from the Trial Lawyers College’s and National Criminal Defense College’s Trial Practice Institute’s hammering home the lesson that true success as a trial lawyer requires acknowledging when we need moral support, brainstorming help, and ideas from colleagues, rather than walking into the courtroom pretending that we can perform well for our clients by doing all the lifting ourselves, without ever consulting with colleagues on any cases. The Trial Lawyers College and National Criminal Defense College hit us over the heads and smashed us in the noses with two-by-fours to face our true selves, warts and all, strengths and weaknesses, and fears and fearlessness, and to reach higher quantum levels and stratospheres of accomplishment for our clients by learning from each other, by trusting our intuition, and by putting success for our clients ahead of financial success. The TLC and NCDC also focus on our sharing the gifts that we learn there. Of course, we cannot force those gifts on others; otherwise, they are not gifts at all.

Many criminal defense lawyers prefer to ask questions and to brainstorm, but fear making themselves vulnerable by showing their levels of  inexperience, inability and uncertainty by asking questions at all. At the Trial Lawyers College, participants are encouraged to shed their armor that hides their real selves, warts and all, to fully face and feel their fears and triumphs, and to help each other rise. To hide our fears and vulnerabilities from ourselves and everyone else, and to numb ourselves from pain at best will get us stuck from reaching higher levels of success for our clients, and at worst will suck us into a downward tailspin with extraordinary strong negative gravity.

I used to rue the absence or apparent lack of more birds of a feather around me, more people who march to the beneficial beat of their own drummer, and more people who will reach out with a proverbial or actual hug during my never-ending quest to reach higher heights for my clients. Then I increasingly realized that it is folly to let such apparent shortages stymie me on the path to my own self-improvement; allowing such obstacles is the antithesis of nonduality.

The seeds of today’s blog entry started with my interest in talking about colleagues who seemingly take cases to trial alone without the insight, courage nor wherewithal to seek the advice, brainstorming and support of their colleagues. However, as farfetched as his teachings about looking within for solving any problems we perceive around us may seem, my teacher Dr. Ihaleakala Hew Len makes sense for us not to waste time on critiquing others for the world’s problems, but instead to look within ourselves first and foremost to help heal the world. That does not mean to avoid publicly airing grievances about political leaders who seem to be using their authority as toilet paper in their exercise of power, to join a peace demonstration (which involves much more positive energy than joining an anti-war demonstration), and to pass around a petition to eliminate elevator music from elevators. It does mean that positive change starts from within, although being the change by itself is not as powerful as joining forces with like-minded devoted people in achieving that change.

To reach higher quantums and stratospheres of success in trial lawyering and any other human endeavor, it is important to find and summon our own strength and magic, to delight in that strength and magic, and then to harness it to achieve those quantum and stratospheric leaps. We need not only to avoid working alone all the time on the path of trial lawyering, but also to make ourselves available to help other like-minded folks.