Life, Litigation, and the Pursuit of Plans

For the past three years and counting, I’ve worked up countless cases, readying them for a potential future trial. In the past six (!) years, I’ve prepared for a few trials. (Still can’t believe I can even write a sentence like that and it’s actually true.) For the past 28 years, I’ve been trying to prepare myself for this adventure called life. (Still can’t believe I’m 28.) As it turns out, litigation and life share an immense amount of common ground. Most notably, the simultaneous importance and futility of a plan.

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One of the most important things you learn as a young person, and a young lawyer, is to plan. Have a good, strong plan, a strategy. Set goals and achieve them. Because when the inevitable unplanned emergency or other unanticipated curveball comes hurtling at your head, a good plan means you will be able to keep one foot on the path you’ve set for yourself. And once you’ve dealt with the curveball, you can get back on track. Even if the unanticipated event is so huge that you can only keep one toe on your original path, if you’ve clearly delineated where it is you want to go, and keep one eye focused on your ultimate goal, you’ll get back to it.

The same is true for litigation. And oh the curveballs that come flying. From the judge, from opposing counsel, from witnesses, from experts. Same with life. The losses and struggles, unmet goals, natural disasters. If you can dream it, it can happen, whether it’s in your personal life or in a case. Even during the quietest moments, a storm can certainly be brewing, ready to catch you by surprise and swing your pendulum far off to one side.

But the other part about the utter inability to completely prepare for life, or for a trial, is the fun that comes with the unknown. If you’re on your toes, you’re living. If you’re on your heels, you may be living, but you’re bored. Personally, I’m never lulled into a sense of sleepy contentment that comes from years of doing the same thing every day. Because litigation is a different job every single day. Sometimes a mediator, sometimes a writer, sometimes an oral advocate, sometimes a sounding board.

I think it can be easy to find a quiet, unpredictable groove in your regular life, to create patterns that insulate from risk and harm. The same can be said professionally, lots of lawyers can hide from any risk too. But, when your job necessarily involves a level of risk (trials are very risky), you instead become comfortable accepting this part of the world into your everyday life. And that is really where you can cultivate the joy and the fun. For as many bad things that happen, there are at least double the good things. This also helps maintain perspective when the curveballs really hit. Whether in a trial or otherwise, if you cultivate comfort with risk, it will all feel like fun.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that plans are useful in defining your guiding principles, in keeping you on track for the regular days. But plans only go so far, so it’s time to get comfortable with some discomfort and risk, because if you risk little, you’ll gain even less.  But if you risk more, your gains will increase exponentially, along with your confidence. Plans, if followed religiously, will choke out the spontaneity and the fun. But, plans can also help you get back on your feet and back on course after a particularly difficult episode in your life, so they’re critical in helping you maintain your balance.

Plans. Make them, keep them, but don’t hope to always stick to them and don’t let them keep you from the risky kind of fun.


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