When I was here, I wanted to be there; when I was there, all I could think of was getting back into the jungle. I’m here a week now… waiting for a mission… getting softer. Every minute I stay in this room, I get weaker, and every minute Charlie squats in the bush, he gets stronger.
Those are lines from the film Apocalypse Now, spoken by the main character as he is beating himself up (literally) in a hotel room while waiting for a new mission. I know that litigation is nothing like war. But the feelings expressed by this movie character suggested thoughts I’ve had about litigation, and specifically about the challenge of being engaged in litigation while trying to balance other parts of life and the practice. So here we go…
In the heat of a contested case, the litigator is on the road going to court, staying in hotels at night and taking depositions during the day, fielding motions and firing back. It has a feel of battle at times – even between the most collegial attorneys.
It’s hard to bounce in and out of litigation. Hard to be intense and let go. Stress goes with the territory. You’re watching your step all the time, while also trying to see ahead. Anticipating. Strategizing. Waking up at night with a pad of paper next to your bed.
Probably part of the reason so many trial lawyers turn to alcohol.
You have a team, but in the end, the lead attorney calls the shots.
The work is draining. I’ve heard it said: “There are only so many trials in a lawyer.” I think there is some wisdom in that.
To be good, your skills have to stay sharp -your attitude has to be in the game. You can’t just pick it up and put it down.
Trapped by their own success, in quiet moments, in the back of the courtroom or in the hall outside the court, seasoned trial lawyers commiserate. The conversation is always the same – very little variation:
“Are you busy?”
“Yes – too busy. You?”
“Yes, me too. Trying to slow down.”
Slowing down is always a pipe dream. It’s the experience and sharpened skills that clients want – and are willing to pay for. And so the push and pull becomes how to stay sharp, stay in the game, and stay sane.
Is it fun?
I don’t speak for everyone – but I think everyone who does this work enjoys some part of it. There is a “high,” as it were, that comes with being the ringmaster – facing a skilled adversary – standing in the courtroom and calling witnesses, cross examining others.
Is it fun?
Maybe more like what the movie character describes – a place that’s comfortable but uncomfortable at the same time.
[OK – I think I’m done with this series on litigation for the time being. I’ll try to get back to other topics now. Thanks for your patience.]