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.