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Clearing the distractions to success – Effectively standing up for what is right without being merely reactive

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Someone decided to send me a mass emailing for two upcoming campaigning events, meaning fundraisers, for the incumbent chief prosecutor in an adjacent county. I was feeling good before, during and after reading the email, and simply clicked the unsubscribe option without reading the invitation.

A few days later, I received an email from a local lawyer co-hosting one of these upcoming fundraisers, which I then realized will be at a law firm that includes plenty of criminal defense work, just two doors down from me. My knee-jerk thought was skeptically to ask this co-host, a likable lawyer and former prosecutor, why criminal defense lawyers would really want to attend such a fundraising event. Then I reflected a moment, and decided that if I raise the matter, I will merely do so with this lawyer during one of the many times that I see him in the courthouse hallway; that will accomplish my same goal and give me a chance to gather my thoughts.

The potential distractions and cobwebs to success are many. Plenty of times I challenge as a lone or minority voice (and also sometimes support) my colleagues’ campaigns or support for one matter or another, including opposing a libel statute of limitations extension proposal spurred by the wrongful badmouthing of a colleague, dissenting from holding the annual D.C. Superior Court Trial Lawyers Association (a criminal defense group) holiday party at the police union headquarters, and pointing out the absence of questioning the very foundations of the prosecutorial system when some criminal defense colleagues advocated a police investigation of a suspected crime.

Each time I expressed the above-referenced challenges, I experienced the expected strong public voices against my views, mixed in with those supporting my challenges.

Before ever receiving my law school diploma, my close friend and fellow law school graduate Lou Manuta and I created and arranged the distribution of leaflets to graduation attendees over our dissent about keynote speaker Dick Thornburgh, then the attorney general. During my second year as an associate at a Washington, D.C., corporate law firm, I became incensed over a federal prosecutor’s subpoena of High Times magazine’s advertiser records, so took out a subscription to the magazine and sent out a dissenting letter to Dick Thornburgh with a carbon copy to High Times. How great that I took out that High Times subscription, which led to my learning about and meeting NORML’s then-national director Don Fiedler, who helped advise me how to switch from my corporate law firm to a criminal defense path.

As an aside, and related to the path of advocating with effectively positive energy, I first met Dick Thornburgh in 1999, when testifying on a lawyers panel, against the censorship that Thornburgh’s committee might end up recommending for protecting children against online sexual material. He happily replied that he has been leafleted by some of the best. I bumped into Thornburgh over seven years later, this time with my wife and months-old son strolling in downtown Bethesda on a weekend night, when his wife started the conversation by walking right up to my son, marveling over “the baby”. I emailed Thornburgh a few days later at his law firm and reminded him about my 1989 leafleting action against him. He replied that he believes in disagreeing agreebly, and so do I.

The key in each instance is to positively act with sufficient deliberation, rather than to knee-jerk react. Easier said than done, but the first is about positive energy that can snowball in the right direction, and the second is a distraction at best to our road to personal and professional success.

As I have said before, both Norman Vincent Peale positivity and Frank Zappa dissection need to be balanced on the road to success. Today’s blog entry focuses on the positivity, where plenty of my blog entries cover both the Norman Vincent Peale and Zappa poles and everywhere in between.

A key to personal and professional success is to start by looking inward. Yes, we must engage with the reality and world around us. Yes, we must help others as well as ourselves, and not just ourselves. To engage and help others and ourselves the best, we must start from within ourselves. This means looking within for success, rather than looking to others to gauge nor define my life path and greatness. At best, other people are reference points and advisers but not definers of my success.

How can a criminal defense lawyer say that? Repeatedly, people outside of myself, including judges and jurors, decide whether to accept my arguments to acquit my client and to give a favorable sentence if my client is convicted. Settlement negotiations are two-way streets between me and prosecutors. Opposing witnesses weigh in with prosecutors about my cases, and through victim impact statements for my clients sentencing. That means I must engage with these people, and do so effectively for my clients, who themselves have a role in my financial success, because having clients is essential to having a profitable law practice.

Nevertheless, the conviction and death sentence of Dzhokar Tsarnaev does nothing to diminish the ongoing greatness of my hero and Tsarnaev’s lawyer Judy Clarke. The electoral loss of my favorite political candidate does not automatically mean that the candidate was not fit for the job, versus that the electorate wanted another candidate and/or that money limits hampered my candidate from getting his or her message to all the voters. The death of a patient does not by itself point to any failure by the doctor. None of these people should allow such losses to make them throw in the towel.

On my road to success as a lawyer, I heard the following nay-sayings among the yea-sayings, with my following answers to myself:

  • Do you really want to be a lawyer? So many lawyers hate their work.
    Perhaps they hate their work because they are not doing the type of legal work suitable for them, or because they blindly became lawyers before figuring out how being a lawyer fit in with their life purpose.
  • Do you really want to be a litigator? So many of them suffer from ulcers.
    Some lawyers are suitable for the litigation battlefield while others will be more content sitting at a desk drafting wills and contracts.
  • Being a good trial lawyer requires being a good actor.
    Being a good trial lawyer requires being persuasively and powerfully real, and the acting part comes from that realness. I have that within me.
  • If you want to become a criminal defense lawyer, you are behind the eight ball to being hired by a law firm as such a lawyer if you do not first become a prosecutor. (I never have prosecuted and never will.)
    My goal was to become a public defender lawyer first, and then to become my own boss.
  • If you want to earn a living as a criminal defense lawyer, you need to realize that a huge percentage of criminal defendants get public defender/court-appointed lawyers rather than ever hiring them.
    My preference is for as much of my practice as possible to be criminal defense (which it has been for well over a decade), and I have other legal skills and interests to supplement my criminal defense work.
  • How do you expect to earn a living as your own boss rather than as an employee?
    Start by looking at the flip side that an employee has all his/her employment security eggs and payment basis in the one basket of his or her boss. Being one’s own boss means that losing one potential or existing client for whatever reason still means having one’s remaining clients on board.

On the last point, about summoning the courage to succeed as one’s own boss, I accomplished that path without first knowing about the inspiring story and wisdom of Wayne Dyer, who left his body a few weeks ago. When his latest publisher Hay House offered all his online books at $2 each through the end of this month, I bought them all, and early on started reading I Can See Clearly Now. 

Still in the middle of reading Dyer’s I Can See Clearly, I was taken by his account therein and in his interview with Tony Robbins about successfully and confidently taking the plunge from quitting the security of a tenured professorship to taking to the road to self-promote what became his wildly successful Your Erroneous Zones– when his publisher barely promoted his book — by offering interviews on radio stations and then selling his book on consignment through local bookstores.

My path to becoming my own boss in criminal defense was rooted in my commitment by the time of college to being my own boss, my commitment to social justice, and my commitment to succeeding personally and professionally. Wayne Dyer’s message of blazing our own trial without being sidetracked by naysayers rings clear and inspiring with me. Additionally inspirational about Wayne Dyer is that he was perpetually optimistic from early on in his life, even when in foster homes. I, on the other hand, labored for decades before becoming my own boss in 1998 seeing life in shades of gray. Fortunately, I finally transcended the gray, with a big part of my path to success involving clearing the distractions on that path.

Many challenges exist on the path of clearing the distractions and not being reactive. Success on this path calls for a daily practice of vibrating highly, incorporating mindfulness into my activities, and applying the approach that there is no “out there” for the mind.