Jan 07, 2017 Revisiting owning time and place in the courtroom battlefield
One of the best things about going to court in Fairfax is having my office right across the street. This is my home turf. My clients and I can relax and decompress here before going to the courthouse. My staff is here, and can come to the courthouse for me at a moment’s notice.
In courthouses outside Fairfax, prosecutors have their offices right at or adjacent to the courthouse, while I end up driving there. My car might be a great place to decompress for a few moments after parking, but still I need to get to the courthouse and wait in the security line. If it is raining, I want to head into the courthouse even earlier to dry up from the rainy walk over.
It is easy to find ourselves challenged to succumb to automatic pilot mode during the day, constantly moving, moving, moving. Criminal defense lawyers constantly prepare for battle victory. Judges tell us when to come to court and when to start our trial. Clients merit timely replies, and numerous timely phone calls and meetings during the representation period. Cases must be investigated. Witnesses must be located and talked with. Prosecutors discuss our cases with us, provide discovery, and fail timely to provide discovery. Statutory and caselaw developments must constantly be read, digested and analyzed.
We must perceive that we own time and place in representing criminal defendants. The judge can tell me to start my trial even when I say that the prosecutor still owes me more discovery and that I want the time to obtain and review it, but even a brief pause by focusing on my breath as I walk to the defense table with my client helps me stay grounded and stay with owning time. As I continue to relax and sink into the ground as I walk to counsel table, I still own the courtroom battlefield.
My daily morning taijiquan practice — often supplemented by sitting meditation — is essential for me not only for clearing out the gunk in my mind and soul, and to be ready for any unexpected challenges during the day, but also for staying off any automatic pilot mode. Taijiquan practice also warms my body and keeps it limber, to offset any drafty or musty courtrooms, and to counteract sitting for hours at the trial table with few breaks in between. Taijiquan and meditation practice are also energy practices that help counteract any negative energy from judges, prosecutors and opposing witnesses.
Some of my biggest skepticism about owning time came when I realized early on in law school that the big city large corporate law firms tended at the time to require as much as 2000 billed hours a year or more. Yale Law School. provides a range of 1700 to 2300 target hours. On top of that, the associate lawyers who exceed that minimum annual billed hours might find themselves with greater job security, better relations with law firm partners, a faster career track to more interesting/responsible work and partnership, and higher pay. Two thousand annual billable hours may sound modest when calculating that this means an average of forty hours weekly, until recognizing that billable hours are hours that are billed to clients, not hours that the billing partner writes off, and not hours spent on law firm administration, training, nor pro bono work, unless the law firm is so enlightened that it assigns billable hours credit to pro bono. Consequently, even the most time efficient lawyer who avoids having many of his or her hours written off is still going to be working substantial hours at such a law firm.
I found the right solution for owning time while still working substantial hours. That was becoming my own boss. This way, I do not answer to a corporate law firm partner stopping by my office late Friday afternoon when I am an hour before starting the weekend, and plopping an all-weekend assignment on my desk that is due the following Monday morning (whether the late assignment is a mind game or something that came up only a moment ago). Instead, as my own boss, I can still do may pre-planned weekend activities and nevertheless include substantial hours of smart work, rather than busy work, very early in the morning and late at night when not already scheduled for other weekend activities.
Not everyone is their own boss, of course, and I myself still receive timing directions from judges and courtroom procedural rules, and am obligated to keep working at a brisk pace for my clients. Some days there is little time for lunch beyond eating a banana on the run, and little other free time between waking up and hitting the pillow, aside from maybe filling the car with gas. That brings me back to the magic of the pause, which can take as little as a second or two, transitioning into the next stage of the winning battle.