By John S. Berry, Jr.
I recently read a post from a good lawyer who talked about going to battle. I feel compelled to post on this topic because lawyers frequently talk about “going to battle” while precious few have ever done it. After over 50 years and hundreds of trials, we know “battle” in the courtroom. This watered-down, oft used analogy of “battle”, however, misses the point.
Before I became a trial lawyer, I served as an Infantry officer in the United States Army. I graduated from Ranger School. I left the practice of law to command a company in Iraq and have led warriors in the Balkans. I had the honor of deploying and training with our Nation’s Heroes. I know what it means to prepare for battle. Importantly, I created a legal team of warriors with similar experiences.
We do not rise to the level of expectations but fall to our level of training. Training refines skills and systems. We train for contingencies, problematic scenarios, and conduct endless trial exercises. Sun Tzu said “The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand.”
We must take calculated risk as risk can never be completely avoided. “Courage, above all things, is the first quality of a warrior.” Von Clausewitz. Those who take risks will inevitably encounter opposition. One of the greatest mistakes that attorneys make is to forget that at trial, as in war, the enemy gets a vote. You can never guarantee the results of conflict when you only control part of the equation. Instead, you must develop the appropriate skills to ensure timely and decisive action in anticipation that the unexpected will happen.
Battles are expensive in terms of time, resources, and stress, which is why we pick our battles and only fight battles that are worth it. You must carefully choose, shape, and define the battlefield long before forces arrive. The same is true in the courtroom. When we go into battle, we plan to bring the best team, best lawyers, best equipment, and the most formidable allies. There is nothing more valuable than your future and it must be protected at all costs. Time is more valuable than all the money in your war chest. You can always make more money, but you can never regain lost time.
So, the question really becomes, who do you want to fight your next battle? When you hear a lawyer talk about “battle”, do you want one who reduces the term to a cliché—or a team of warriors who actually know what to do when bullets fly? Your most important battle may not literally be life or death, but don’t you want an advocate who knows the difference?
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