Seizing the crossroads moment as an opportunity, not as a crisis
“You do not care about me or my case! I am going to get another criminal defense lawyer!”
The foregoing question is a crossroads statement. A defensive and indignant lawyer might reply: “You ingrate! I have been working my fingers to the bone for you, even missing celebrating my child’s birthday so we could have a meaningful focus group session in preparing for your jury trial!” An angry lawyer might reply: “Then get the hell our of my office, and watch out against the door’s slamming your ass on the way out!” A fearful lawyer might reply: “Oh no! I must have f**ked up big time! There goes my standing among potential clients and peers!”
A wise lawyer will leave his or her ego out of it all, and sincerely reply along the lines of: “I am sorry you feel that way. Let’s talk about it, regardless of whether you are going to hire another lawyer. If you hire another lawyer, I want to cooperate with you and the new lawyer to make this a smooth transition. If you are leaving room to possibly continue with me as your lawyer, let’s talk about where we can and should go from here to have you satisfied with my services as we fight together for justice for you.”
We face very challenging crossroads and hurdling situations, questions, and statements all the time in our work lives and personal lives. Being human, and having fears, feelings, passions, and concerns, plenty of people are far less than elegant — and sometimes downright nasty and offensive — in complaining about others to their face and behind their backs; such situations can be particularly difficult crossroads.
In her new book, my teacher Sharon Salzberg talks about a coffee barista who engages in
mindfulness practice to neutralize her feelings with “intense, demanding customers.” My first, non-mindful, self-centered reaction might be: “It’s just a friggin’ cup of java. Any customer giving grief to a barista for not working quickly enough, or for mistakenly sprinkling chocolate rather than cinnamon on cappuccino, deserves to sit in a puddle of old iced coffee topped with rancid old milk froth.” My more mindful response might be “What an angelic barista to not let herself get sucked into the customers’ funk!” A more angelic response will include compassion for the customer and his or her trials and tribulations in the short, medium and long term that would have brought him or her to hassle a coffee barista.
Eureka! Never get sucked into the negative funk of others. Too many judges get nasty too often. Too many prosecutors are all full of themselves, until they get cut down to size at a trial and next when they see how many colleagues they mistreated in the role of prosecutor do not call back the advice-seeking former prosecutor after s/he switches to private practice (karma). Too many cops are stuck on a power trip with their handcuffs, taser, badge, and power of arrest. I constantly deal with such people. I do my best to have compassion for them (and everyone else), to see and feel things from their viewpoint and experience-point, to deflate their negative energy like deflating a balloon and replacing it with my positive energy, and to neutralize their negative energy as a prelude to my going for the jugular of success.
Most of my clients exp,ress appreciation and compliments for the work my staff and I do for them, after having carefully considered which lawyer to hire. Some state reservations. I have a choice among getting all bent out of shape by client complaints, tuning out complaints passing them off to my staff, or welcoming them for the client’s having expressed his or her concern rather than keeping them bottled up inside the client and festering into unmanageable Godzillas. My client, not I, is the one risking a loss of liberty, who has already paid substantial funds for my services, and who risks further financial sacrifice if convicted, fined, and required to pay for and complete any programs as a part of any probation. An emergency room surgeon does not expect each patient nor the patient’s loved ones to be all calm and lovey-dovey — at least not before the surgeon shows caring, skill and results; nor do I. Then again, the more my client knows that I am busting my butt for my client with the utmost caring and compassion, the less frequent and less long will be client complaints and reservations.
The crossroads questions and complaints come also from judges, prosecutors, cops, and sometimes non-cop witnesses. As one of my first taijiquan teachers Len Kennedy asked us one evening during a lengthy standing meditation practice: “How do you deal with change? Do you resist the change? Accept the change? Embrace the change?” Embrace the change! Embrace the change to know and understand the change, to deeply listen to and from the change, to have compassion with and for the change, and to not give the change a chance to be more harmful by being more than an arm’s length away. Next, do something with the change. Perhaps the change can be neutralized, re-directed, reversed, or transformed into something good. If the change Is dangerous and remains so, beware playing with the change, lest it stings you. Even with dangerous change, my embrace of it puts me in a better position to send the change on its way where it will do no further harm.
Be honest with yourself and with the bringer of the change. Honesty alone can help neutralize the change and even make the change your friend. One day, for instance, a judge snapped at me during a discussion about an objection: “Don’t go showing me something on that cellphone you just picked up.” I answered: “I would not do that. I am just referring myself to a point that I have in my database that might help save time in resolving this matter more quickly” “Oh,” the judge replied sheepishly, before acquitting my client thirty minutes later.
Do not come across as more of a threat than is necessary with the bringer of the change, so that the change bringer will focus on your words rather than focusing on protecting himself or herself from any daggers you might throw at the change bringer.
The one-two punch of being honest and creating a sense of calm was made crystal clear to me when I was in the role of change bringer recently. I went to a shopping mall kiosk to ask the price of replacing my cellphone’s protective film, because I always leave bubbles when I replace the film myself. The service person seemed to reply “Forty ninety-nine.” I said no thanks, figuring I would prefer to do the job myself than to pay 41 dollars for each replacement. Then, his co-worker kindly said: “Excuse me. He said $14.99, not $40.99.” Silly me. I had not left room for the possibility that this man’s overseas accent had perhaps made me mis-hear his price quote. His co-worker won me over by her honest response to me coupled with the angelic demeanor of them both. He did the work splendidly. I handed him my business card with my payment, and he responded with interest at learning of my profession and said he has a friend who might need my services.
At the Trial Lawyers College, such seeming curveballs were often characterized as gifts. Certainly, do not look gift horses in the mouth. At the same time, do not fail to know when you have been handed a true gift. It now is in your hands to know what to do with that gift.