I was talking with a private investigator the other night at a bar/restaurant near where I live. Because of her job, she needs to be able to handle herself. So, in addition to knowing how to apply a choke hold, she studies mixed martial arts. Three lessons from her trainer apply to the practice of law.
Lesson No.1: "It's easy to hit someone when you're not getting hit." An MMA champion was visiting the gym. The trainer set it up so my friend got to spar with him. She did the hitting, while the champ did the defending. She told her coach how much fun it was and that she was pumped.
His counsel: See above. Lawyers should learn the same lesson. Do not derive a false sense of empowerment from slapping around a pro se litigant, overwhelming a new lawyer or notching a string of victories in slam-dunk cases.
Lesson No.2: "When you stop flinching, then you'll be ready to get hit." The gist of this advice from the P.I.’s trainer is that, when a fighter flinches, she exposes herself, because her mind is AWOL. Flinching also causes a fighter to miss opportunities to hit her opponent.
A jury consultant with whom I work gives basically a witness basically the same advice when preparing the witness to testify at trial: No witness is bulletproof, and the other side will get in its licks. The witness must resist the opportunity to flinch, must lean into the punch and know that he will take the hit. Otherwise, the witness worries that he will deviate from the pre-approved story, try to defend the indefensible and, like the MMA fighter, get knocked out.
No.3: "Energy expended must be no more or less than needed for the task." I love this one. The trainer instructed my friend to run to develop aerobic endurance. She is all for it, promising to run for hours. He looks at her and quietly says "25 minutes, no more, no less." But why? The answer: That is the length of the fight, so do not do more or less than necessary.
The same is true for lawyers. Sometimes lawyers defend an employment suit by taking the deposition of everyone who the plaintiff states has knowledge of the events at issue. Really? Is this worthwhile? For a case where the plaintiff was making $15 an hour and the damages are capped?
The P.I.’s lesson to me, courtesy of her trainer, is this: Wisdom comes in all forms and from all sources. So, strike up a conversation with regulars at your favorite hangouts. You'll be glad you did.