Bar News - August 17, 2016
Board Perspective: Stop Wearing Your Lucky Socks
By: Catherine E. Shanelaris
I was talking with a new lawyer the other day about how I prepare for a final divorce hearing. During the discussion, I was recalling the superstitious things I did many years ago as a new attorney before every final hearing, expecting that if I did not do them, I would lose.
After a number of positive outcomes at court, I realized that before every one of those winning hearings, I had gone to McDonald’s to read the newspaper (old school style – it was the ’90s), ate an egg McMuffin and drank a large cup of black coffee. Then, on the way to court, I put in my lucky cassette tape of Def Leppard’s Pyromania into the stereo of my beat-up Toyota Camry and headed to court. The music helped pump up my killer trial instinct (I still need help with that). For years, prior to any divorce final hearing, this is what I did. I don’t recall when I stopped this ritual, but I was convinced at the time that if I did not follow my own personal protocol, my clients would be doomed to suffer the consequences.
I started to think that other attorneys must do quirky, weird things to ensure success. One Nashua attorney told me that before a criminal trial, he went to Crosby’s Bakery early in the morning and had them reserve him a chocolate glazed donut. Immediately after the trial, he walked from the court to the bakery and ate the donut while the jury was deliberating. He was convinced that the outcome depended on that donut. Another attorney told me that she wears a pair of diamond earrings to difficult meetings, not because the earrings are beautiful and sentimental, but because they make her feel powerful, confident and in control; they ensure success. I worked with an attorney at one time who carried around the first chip he received from AA. He did it as a reminder of his struggles and triumphs, but also because he felt he could not do his job without it. We wear certain clothes, ties, carry beat-up briefcases, use our “lucky” pens, eat the same lunch, and wear the watch our grandmother gave us.
The website Psychology Today describes a superstition as a ritual we engage in to produce a specific outcome. We learn these behaviors through a simple process of reinforcement. When a certain action appears to lead to the outcome we want, we repeat the ritual over and over in the hope that we will get the same result again. I describe a superstition as fear. For new attorneys, and even us experienced attorneys, we believe that the rituals deliver the conclusions we want, rather than credit ourselves in doing the preparation in achieving the outcome. For new attorneys, fear is the lack of knowledge about what to expect and what should happen. What will the judge do? How do we give advice to our clients and manage their expectations? When we are unsure about what we are doing as attorneys and what to expect, the rituals are comforting to us. The jury or judge does not know about the watch we are wearing, the weird food we ate or the things we carry in our pockets.
No ritual can replace preparation and experience. Read the law, prepare for your cases diligently, and talk with experienced attorneys. For new attorneys (and not-so-new attorneys), take on a Pro Bono case through the Bar Association. Working with underprivileged clients is a great way to get invaluable experience and exposure in court while doing something good. Now go throw away your lucky socks. You never needed them in the first place.
Read more about upcoming Pro Bono training programs.
Note: President-elect Scott Harris has invited other members of the Board of Governors to participate in the Perspectives column this year.