That’s good advice for every practicing attorney. And like all good advice, it is not always easy to follow.
We are driven to win. We hate to lose. We equate losing – a case, a motion, an argument – with personal failure or weakness. Losing is an insult, a slap in the face, a dirty word. To avoid it we refuse to yield or concede even minor and insignificant points.
What’s going on here?
Ego and pride, psychologists suggest. And deep insecurity masquerading as bloated and puffed-up self-importance.
But it doesn’t all come from inside. We get it from outside as well. Fear of losing is pervasive in our society, especially in sports and politics, where compromise is a dirty word and the idea of win-win is gone-gone.
Lawyer and blogger Emily Frost puts it well:
I couldn’t tell you the names of all the cases I’ve won or how many. But I could tell you without thinking how many cases I’ve lost, the names of those cases, the witnesses, what the judge’s face looked like, the faces of the jurors, and what I was wearing when the verdict was read.
Why does losing hurt so much? I think it’s because we ascribe the result to our performance. If we lost, we fear, it must have been because we screwed something up.
Why do we enjoy winning so much? I think it’s also because we also ascribe the result to our performance: if we won, it must be because we are great.
It’s nice to feel great. It’s less nice to feel like we screwed something up. But here’s something I’ve learned, after litigating my share of cases: lawyers are better advocates, make better judgments, and give better counsel when they are able to detach their ego from the result.
Clients sometimes do not understand this. They want a litigator who is “hungry to win.” And of course litigators should care about the result just as much as their clients do. But when a lawyer wants to win for his own glory, something happens: he loses perspective. He starts to mistake his own interests for that of the client’s. And then he cannot advocate for the client’s interests, because he cannot distinguish between the client’s interest and his own.
Missing a shot or losing a game does not mean failure.
The basketball shooter who misses one-third of the time has a bright future. A coach who views defeats as learning opportunities will have a long career.
And lawyers who enjoy what they do, who take pride in their work, who feel grateful and privileged to be of service to their clients, and who look forward to their next case are already champions.
Winning and losing has nothing to do with it.
Jay Reeves is an attorney licensed in North Carolina and South Carolina. Once upon a time he was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He once hung out with Wolfman Jack. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org, phone 919-619-2441.