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.






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