Being a trial lawyer taught me to not only embrace fear, but to be empowered by it.
And one particular story comes to mind whenever I reflect on that.
Let me set the stage…
Place: Louisiana Court of Appeal 1st Circuit
Lesson: Speaking Through Fear
I am sitting next to my father – a seasoned trial attorney. He is there for moral support only, after throwing me into an appellate argument just few months out of law school.
I am pregnant. Very pregnant. And I can’t seem to catch my breath. I blame that on the weight of the beautiful unborn daughter resting high in my core..close to my chest. Isn’t that a good reason to not be able to breathe?
My breath is shallow and my knees are shaking; blood is rushing in my ears, and I can’t really feel my feet.
Yes, this fear engages me in a battle; with the Judge in My Head intimidating me before I can even begin my argument to the real Judges in the courtroom:
The Judge in My Head: “What are you doing? You don’t have any experience. The opposing counsel has been doing this for years.
Me: I know, thanks for reminding me. Will I be able to speak? Will I stumble over the words? What if I miss the right argument to say? What if a Judge asks me a question and I have no clue to what to say? Will my Dad be disappointed?
The Judge in My Head: Look around the room. It is filled with men at least 20 to 25 years older than you. And the Judges you will face in this courtroom will be the same. They aren’t going to listen to you.
Me: But, I have an allotted time to speak. Oh gosh, what if I can’t catch my breath to speak fast enough?
The Judge in My Head: You know this isn’t just about whether you can breathe. This is about your client. He is depending on this—if you lose, he loses. And he can’t afford to lose.
Me: I know. I know. (My client’s leg was crushed when a machine he was working around had a faulty back up alarm which failed to work and warn my client of the machine’s approach.). I don’t know if I can take this pressure.
The Judge in My Head: What if you don’t say the right thing?
Me: Stop it. Stand up. Speak up. There’s no place to hide.
What happened next is still a blur…it seemed over before it started.
When I sat back down, my father looked at me and said:
”Are you okay? I thought by the way you were breathing you would pass out.”
I blamed it on pregnancy, but the truth is – I’d never been more afraid, or felt a heavier weight on my shoulders.
But despite my breathing problems, we won that argument.
But that’s not the point of this story.
Because outside of victory and loss, there’s the underlying fear.
Being a trial lawyer is always about fighting – for someone or something. The fight induces fear, promotes anxiety, and it never ever stops.
For me, the fight was for my client, to help right a wrong. It was important.
I hadn’t by any means defeated fear, I just lived through it.
Over the last 23 years in a heavy litigation practice, I’ve lived with the same Fears as most lawyers:
- Being outsmarted by my opponent
- Fear of being seen as weak
- Fear of failure
- Fear of letting down the client depending on me
- Being intimidated by Judges
- Fear of things being out of control
- Not being able to juggle it all – being a good lawyer, mother, partner, and counselor
FEAR is common in the practice of law. There is a price to be paid for the pressure of “win at all costs” mentality. In fact, the ABA Journal published an article on what we have been told not to admit: “32 of Lawyers Most Common Fears”
Left unattended or repressed, fear will emerge through our autonomic nervous system – causing fatigue and paralyzing our ability to think coherently.
We will do anything to avoid our Fear: constant socializing, talking, texting, reading, watching tv, overworking, overeating, gambling, pill-taking, drug using, alcohol using.
These escapes become stressful and ineffective and take an increasing amount of energy to keep down the feelings of fear we are trying to repress.
We become afraid of our inner feelings because they hold such a massive amount of negativity that we fear we would be overwhelmed by it if we were to take a deeper look.
We can become imprisoned by our fear if we do not face it.
And after experiencing total burnout from repressing my own fear, I began searching for solutions.
I wanted practices that would empower me in my truth, my practice, and my life.
One of the most empowering practices I’ve found to releasing fear and really overcoming it – is to face it. To really feel it.
And once I did, I began to feel something else that was really amazing: the feeling of fear releasing me from its grips.
Facing fear releases the negative energy and allows for opening of new space–a place where we find courage and the knowledge that we are not our feelings or our Fear.
Fear is a powerful gift, if it is received.
Be empowered by Fear,