Category Archives: Motivation


A lawyer I have known for many years and whom I admire, recently received a defense verdict after a four-week trial. His pain over the phone in talking to me was understandably palpable. I was thought about what Adlai Stephenson said when he was asked how he felt after losing his run for presidency of the United States. He said “I was reminded of a story that Abraham Lincoln used to tell. He was asked how he felt once, after an unsuccessful election attempt. He replied that he felt like a little boy who had stubbed his toe in the dark and reported that he was too old to cry, but it hurt too much to laugh.”

I have written several times in this blog about dealing with failure  as a plaintiff’s attorney in trying cases for our clients. We know that with the exception of a rare few, there is no way to get around it:  if you try cases for living you will lose some. Of course there is more than one way to lose a case. There are cases where  the verdict is less than  the offer and there are cases where there is a defense verdict.  And, here are cases where the verdict  should have been considerably more  than what was obtained.  Remember the apocryphal story  about the lawyer who was bragging about his  $1 million verdict when exasperated friend  finally said to him:  “Bill,  I’ll how to get a $1 million verdict like yours.” His friends said  “How?”  The response was “Just have a $5 million case like the one you tried.” However the loss, it still hurts.

Winston Churchill said ” Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts ” Theodore Roosevelt echoed that thought when he said:  “It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.” So, what are the ways in which we  might consider dealing with the pain of failure?  Here are some:

  1.  Resist the need  for approval of others.  Very often  the pain of our failure is really  rooted in our ego as it relates to not wanting to be judged by others or losing there esteem.  We are too easily influenced by  what other people say or think about us  and our performance.  Giving our power away to others by allowing them  to determine how we feel about ourselves is a serious  mistake.
  2. Adjust your point of view.  How we frame the situation determines our attitude.  Mistakes and failure are rarely as bad  as they seem at the time. This is not the end of the world  even though it may be  painful now. Adopting a  new attitude is one of the best things you can do  to shift your perspective and belief system. Reframe your view and embrace a positive association  of learning from  the experience. Every great accomplishment and every great person  has had failure  which propelled them in some way  to a  higher level of success. Michael Jordan once pointed out:  “I have missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I’ve been entrusted to take the game-winning shot and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life  and that is why I was able to succeed.”  There are numerous examples  of great people  who overcame  painful failure.
  3. Neural linguistic programming  teaches that there is no such thing as failure, only useful  feedback. When our carefully laid plans have not gone as we wanted, we think we had failed. In fact we need to know  whether we are on the right path and  feedback tells us  the answer.  By failure  we learn to overcome obstacles. There is a clear difference in thinking  about our experiences as either feedback  failure. Take stock, learn and adapt.

William Ernest Henley  in his poem  Invictus  wrote the  great  lines :

“Out of the night that covers me, Black as the pit from pole to pole,  I thank whatever gods may be for my unconquerable soul.  in the fell clutch of circumstance I have not winced  nor cried aloud.  under the bludgeoning of chance my head is bloody,  but unbowed.”

After a reasonable mourning period,  we need to  pick ourselves up  and  move ahead  with renewed determination  as well as wisdom  from the experience. In John Dryden’s poem Johnnie Armstrong  last good night  he writes:  “Fight on my merry men all,  I’m a little wounded, but I’m not slain.  I will lay me down for to bleed a while,  then all rise and fight with you again.” Rise up, pull yourself together and renew the battle with wisdom from the experience you have not had before. Be strong and fight on.







Brene Brown is a PhD research professor at the University of Houston in the graduate College of social work. Her area of research involves relationships between people. She studies vulnerability, courage, worthiness and shame. She has published about these subjects: She also has a blog(  and has TED talks as well.  She confirms what I believe about the essential need of plaintiff attorneys to be totally authentic and to be truth tellers about themselves and their cases if they want to be great trial lawyers.

In trial we are trying to create a bond with the jurors. We want to show them that we are members of  “their tribe” by identifying a common belief or value. We know that we like people who are like ourselves. We tend to trust those we identify with.  This common identity involves creating a relationship with the jurors.

The similarity of Dr. Brown’s work and our profession is that she studies relationships. Her research about relationships shows that it starts with us and how we see ourselves.  What interferes with the ability to make a connection with others  is a belief we are not worthy  personally or professionally. She makes the point that in order to have connections or relationships with other people we have to let ourselves be seen – “really seen. That involves being  willing to be vulnerable to rejection or  pain.

Why don’t people feel worthy? She says it most often is due to a  feeling of shame that makes  us believe we aren’t worthy. We are unwilling to accept us as we are because we think we should be perfect. We need to accept the fact we are not perfect.

In her study of people while doing the research she found that people with a strong sense of  connection had one thing in common which was a sense of courage. The courage to be themselves with all their  imperfections. She suggests that we have to have the compassion to be kind to ourselves first, before we can be kind and connect with others. Her research showed that we can’t practice compassion with other people if we can’t treat ourselves kindly. That involves acceptance  of who we are.

She also found that people who could make connections with others had authenticity. They were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they were. That involves being honest about ourselves and that means vulnerability. One thing people in good relationships had in common was that they fully embrace vulnerability. They didn’t see vulnerability as being comfortable. They recognized it was uncomfortable. But, they talked about it as being necessary. They were willing to be vulnerable. The willingness to say I love you first. The willingness to do something where there are no guarantees that you will get a good response in return. The willingness to invest in a relationship that may not work out. They all believed that this kind of vulnerability was fundamental to being a whole person and to have connections with others.

She argues that people avoid this kind of vulnerability by trying to numb emotion, but it can’t be done. She says that the attempts to protect against vulnerability include  trying to make everything that is uncertain, certain. She argues that religion for many  has gone from a belief in faith and mystery, to certainty. This involves an attitude of:  “I’m right and you’re wrong so shut up.” A similar reflection of this is the absence of political dialogue. In politics today, there is no gray area, no middle ground and no area for compromise. It is all either right or wrong period.

Vulnerability means exposing oneself  to the possibility of being wrong or rejected, but it is a requirement for connections with others. Dr. Brown says that when we have the courage to be vulnerable, we believe we are enough just the way we are. Because we start from a place that says “I’m enough” we stop pretending, we stop using devices to numb the truth and we become kinder and gentler to the people around us because we are kinder and gentler to ourselves.

So, what has any of this got to do with plaintiff’s trial work?  Everything. The need for authenticity, vulnerability and honesty is essential to greatness as a plaintiff’s trial lawyer. For example, one of the fundamental teachings at the Spence Trial  College is the need to drop all of the artificial walls we create around ourselves to protect against anyone finding out who we really are. They teach the need to be truthful about ourselves and our case with all of the imperfections of both.

Being real is the first step in winning a case. Why? Because we all have a strong sense of knowing when people are being totally themselves and truthful. We also have an internal antenna that alerts us to people who are guarded and giving slanted information. When that happens we don’t trust the other person and distrust what they say. When we perceive that the other person is not trying to hide behind a mask and is willing to show us who she or he are, with their imperfections, we are likely to trust them. When we trust someone we accept what they say as being credible.

In a trial with six to twelve people studying us and what we say, it is virtually impossible not to be discovered as either authentic and truthful or not. First impressions  are lasting impressions. From the moment the trial begins we need to show our real selves  and be truthful. A trial lawyer who projects to the jury an unguarded and totally authentic person coupled with honesty and truthfulness about their case is someone we trust.

But, here’s the rub – to do that requires being willing to be vulnerable and being willing to be vulnerable requires courage. A trial lawyer who does that makes him or her as well as their case vulnerable. Being vulnerable means you and your  case might be rejected. But, there is no other choice if you want to be the best you can be in representing your client. It takes courage to be vulnerable in front of a group of jurors you want to impress. You want everyone to think you’re perfect and a great lawyer so to let your guard down and really be yourself as well as sharing the imperfections of your case with the jury requires courage.

Brene Brown says: ” Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness contrary to conventional wisdom.”

Many profound truths are simple to state. It takes courage to be vulnerable in front of a room full of strangers when you want to impress them in order to persuade them. Yet the truth is that unless  we are willing to be vulnerable we are not going to be great. So, in the end, it comes down to the reality that if we really want to be great plaintiffs lawyers doing the best possible job for our clients we need to be willing to be vulnerable through truth and authenticity.


In sorting through my files to organize and to decide what goes to recycle I’ve selected some things I’ve saved over the years to share with you.  I’ve spent a lot of years reading material in the area of advertising, sales and human psychology. Industry has spent millions studying marketing, advertising  and decision making with much of  it available to us as trial lawyers. We are in the profession of persuasion for others and the material can be helpful. Here are a few examples to think about.

In 1985 Kay Porter and Judy Foster wrote a book The mental Athlete: Inner Training for Peak Performance (Wm C. Brown Publishers). They interviewed champions and applied their background in human behavior development to reach conclusions. They include some of the following:

  • Champions believe totally in themselves and in their talents
  • Their concentration and focus during competition is absolute
  • They employ the techniques of visualization for weeks before an event
  • They analyze loses carefully to refine technique, improve strategy and boost performance  levels
  • They put defeat behind them quickly and look forward to new challenges
  • Even  when losing, they never see themselves as losers
  • They always have goals

Brian Tracy was a well known writer and speaker on motivation and success. One of his presentations was about the techniques of self-made millionaires. His points included these:

  • Dream big dreams
  • Set clear goals
  • Do one thing at a time
  • Be honest with yourself and others
  • Be persistent 

In 1991 a magazine interviewed a number of elderly people and asked them for advice about life. One man, William Van Hooser, replied “Life’s a dance. Take it one step at a time and keep listening for the music.”

Helen Collier led a training firm in New York about how to communicate and how to reach goals. Here are some of her ideas:

  • Have a definite purpose . You need a clear cut plan for achieving your objectives
  • Believe in yourself.
  • Go the extra mile.
  • Speak clearly. You’ll be more convincing if you do.
  • Look the part. Dress and have the demeanor of a self confident person
  • Be enthusiastic

For many years Tom Lambert was the editor and heart of the American Trial Lawyers Association. His columns Tom on Tort were always inspirational. In one column he wrote about the role of the plaintiff’s trial lawyer:

“You cannot choose your battlefield. The Gods do that for you.  But you can plant a standard where a standard never flew”

Here are some quotes I have always liked:

  • “An appeaser is one who feeds the crocodile, hoping that it will eat him last.” Winston Churchill
  • “He was like the cock who thought the sun had risen to hear himself crow.” unknown
  • “If you want a friend in Washington, go buy a dog.” Harry Truman
  • “if an ocean liner could think and feel, it would never leave its dock. It would be afraid of the thousands of huge waves  it would encounter. It would fear all of the dangers at once – even though it had to meet them only one wave at a time.” Unknown
  • “You never know how a horse will pull until you hook him to a heavy load”  Paul “Bear” Bryant

Lee Ann Womack has sung some songs with truly wonderful lyrics. Here are some from the song Something Worth Leaving Behind:

I’ll probably never hold a brush that paints a masterpiece. Probably never find a pen that writes a symphony. But if I will love then I will find that I have touched another life and that something, something worth leaving behind.”

And Jimmy Buffet has many songs with lyrics worth studying. Here’s one from Cowboy in the Jungle:

“Roll with the punches, Play all his hunches. make the best of whatever came his way. What he lacked in ambition, he made up with intuition. Plowing straight ahead come what may.”

I read Roger Rosenblatt’s advise daily as reminder of the wisdom of these things he wrote:

  • Nobody is thinking about you. They are too busy thinking about themselves
  • Ignore your enemy or kill him. The idea is not to care –  not pretend but to really not care.
  • After the age of 30 it is unseemly  to blame your parents for one’s life.
  • A swine is always a swine. Yes, there may be a bad person who changes once in a great while, but on the whole accept the fact a swine will always  act like a swine
  • Envy  no one – ever
  • Live in the past, but do’t remember too much.
  • To thine own self be true (unless you need to change)

A golf pro was interviewed about golfing. His advice included the following:

  • You can only play one hole at a time. Keep your mind on that hole. don’t worry about the shot you just missed or the next one.

Lastly, there was a study of  what motivated the  average juror which was done some time ago, but it seems to me the principles haven’t changed. I have employed these thoughts in every jury argument I have made. Here is the list of powerful motivators for most people:

  1. Everyone wants to feel like they did the right thing under the circumstances.
  2. Everyone  wants to  achieve things  they can be proud about.
  3. Everyone wants to belong to a group that achieved something extraordinary
  4. Everyone wants respect and recognition for what they have achieved.

So, that’s enough for this writing. Maybe there is something here that you find helpful or inspiring. I hope so.