I spent the weekend in trial mode, preparing for a DWI trial in Montgomery County, north of Houston. This would’ve been only my second trial in a slow year for jury trials (the first ended in an acquittal; several others have been dismissed on the eve of trial) and my client’s career was at stake, so trial mode was particularly intense; I may have barked at my loved ones once or twice.

So when a reader emailed to ask,

How (or do) you recharge during trial mode?  I imagine it’s very exhausting.

I thought that might be a good topic for a blog post.

It is exhausting: trial mode is stressful, physically, mentally and emotionally. The longest jury trial I’ve had so far was a five-week federal money-laundering trial in Newark back in ’98; I wound up with a raging case of bronchitis (and lost the case, to boot). Trial mode is bad for our health and bad for our relationships. We can do it if we have to, but it’s better to have a way to back off and recharge.

So what have I learned since 1998?

First, trust your mind. You’re going to be solving problems even when you’re not thinking about them. In fact, many trial problems can’t be solved by thinking about them; they can only be solved by unleashing your unconscious.

Second, find something else to do. The only way to unleash your unconscious on a problem is to stop thinking about the problem. If you’re a focused trial-lawyer type, the only way to stop thinking about a problem is to do something else that doesn’t leave room for thinking about the problem.

Do what? It’ll be something unique to you; here are some things that work for me.

  • I like to work on machines. Cars, motorcycles, power tools, anything mechanical. Taking a mechanical device apart, fixing it, and getting it back together so that it works requires that I focus on that, and not on anything else.
  • I love to read. For a book to take my mind away from the problems of trial, though, it has to be very compelling.
  • TV sometimes works, but not law shows. I’m sure my blood pressure shoots up when the TV jury returns to announce its verdict.
  • This year I discovered indoor climbing. That’s another meditative endeavor that takes my mind off of trial.
  • I also rediscovered computer programming, an art that I had lost for 20 years. I recently taught myself PHP, and find that practicing it takes enough of my brain, and is different enough from practicing law, that it provides a break from trial mode.

My simple suggestion for criminal-defense lawyers: find something you enjoy doing and make it your trial-mode break. It’ll make you a better lawyer and a better human being.

On a not-unrelated topic, my suggestion for prosecutors: if you know on Thursday that you’re going to dismiss my client’s case on Monday (as happened on this DWI case in Montgomery County), tell me on Thursday. Don’t make me spend the weekend preparing for trial, and don’t make my client take a day off from work and drag his witnesses down to the courthouse for a trial that you know is not going to materialize. That, too, will make you a better lawyer and a better human being.

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0 responses to “Recharging”

  1. I totally hate it when I get “up” for a trial, only to have it dismissed on Monday. What makes me even more aggravated is the situation you discribe – where the prosecutor knows they are going to dismiss yet they let you waste your entire weekend preparing. That is what we do – we prepare over the weekend before even if we are already ready for trial.

    Not only is such behavior rude and uncalled for (as they should know you nor I plan to plead the day of trial), I believe that it is unprofessional. This is a profession – a job. And, our jobs DO interfere with life in general at times – especially at the time of a trial. I can say that I have NEVER done the opposite to a prosecutor – pled a client on the day of trial to the same offer that had been given before that date. (Sometimes we mutually work out the case for some sweetheart deal.)

    I also agree with your recommendation to have a life, although when I am about to start or in trial, I have a very hard time doing anything other than reviewing my case. I have to get away from the house to be distracted.

    While prosecutors may be stressed, it is the defense lawyers who, if they are good (which means they care), who are really stressed. Many times we are representing innocent folks or those who are over-charged with offenses. All times we are representing someone who risks going into custody after we are done. While a complainant may be unhappy if a prosecutor loses, unhappiness is the least of what affects our clients & their families – they lose relationships, homes, everything.

    Anyway, I’ll stop before I make your blog mine.

    (And by the way, if any reads my response, Mark is one of those “good lawyers who cares” and I know that he is affected by what affects his clients.)

  2. Mark, I agree whole-heartedly; but, Montgomery County won’t even tell you when they reset your case before docket-let alone anything else.

  3. Hand drums work for me, on three levels:

    1. It’s easy to develop a trance-like state based around bending and permutating a rhythm.

    2. TPlaying hand drums is strenuous physical exercise, and it’s far more entertaining than a trip to the gym.

    3. It’s better than beating on the dog, wife and kid.

  4. I won’t even begin to compare Defense stress with Prosecution stress. Depending on the type cases I handled mostly as a prosecutor (very young child abuse and Organized Crime) at times maybe the stress was similar. However, now as a Referee – seeing it all & having been personally represented in non criminal matters (domestic relations etc) I would tend to lean towards the defense having a much more personal kind of stress; much more intense.

    As a green prosecutor in the late 1980’s my best remedy for trial stress preparation was to basically procrastinate and worry like hell all weekend. Then on Sunday evening at 6:00 P.M. sharp, when I heard the sound of CBS’s 60 minutes: “…..tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, Hi I’m Mike Wallace, Hi I’m Morley Shaffer, Hi I’m Dan Rather and all this means, Larry you’re not going to sleep well tonight.

    Seriously, after graduating to more serious crimes, with real victim/clients my honest to God stress reliever was trying to be the best dad I could to my two babies. At night, feeding them a bottle in a rocking chair and touching my nose to their nose with our eyes wide open. On Saturday morning while “Mom” sleeps in playing “airplane” with their food to get them to open their mouth; Going to Disney movies with them and falling asleep – me that is.

    In short, what helped me unwind was simply immersing myself into my kids at such a young age. I always remember my Dad being home for my 3 older brothers and me, and I owe it to my guys and their children to do the same.

    In short, the greatest stress reliever from trial for me has always been to do my best to properly balance being just plain ole dad and work. My 85 year old WWII vet father was there for me and I owe it to my future grandkids to be there for their parents. At the end of the day, it’s all for the kids folks.

    My 2 cents,

    Larry Standley

  5. Mark,

    Sorry about discourtesy you were shown up here in Montgomery County. I’m not a fan of prosecutors not notifying defense counsel when a decision is made on their case. I’ll be reminding our folks that we work in a professional field and mutual respect across the bar makes things run better for everyone. And if David Wyborny is reading my response, the same goes for him as well although we don’t always know when cases have been reset up here (we are working on it). Please stop by and say hello next time you are up our way.

    Phil Grant
    First Assistant District Attorney
    Montgomery County

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