Dealing with WTF Moments as a Young Attorney
Unexpected moments of “WTF” are also more common than anyone likes to admit.
The next time your jaw drops, here are some tips to get it off the ground and move forward.
Take a deep breath or ten
Opposing counsel can do nasty things, judges can issue orders that seemingly destroy your case or your defense, and clients can make your jaw drop on a regular basis. That said, there’s a pretty good chance that you are overreacting to whatever just happened.
I’m generalizing, but for the most part, one WTF moment does not equate to the end of the world or the end of your professional career. So when a WTF moment happens, don’t throw the phone against the wall, scream at opposing counsel, or kick your client out of your office.
Take a deep breath. Then take another one. Put your emotion aside, and figure out what actually just happened. In some situations, you may simply be misinterpreting something. If you are not, make sure you understand what actually just happened, and why you think it sucks.
I have flipped out more than once, only to later realize that not only was I overreacting, I was misreading a pleading/e-mail/order. That’s embarrassing. Don’t be me. Read it again, think it over, and take a deep breath.
Once you’ve calmed done and identified the problem . . .
Talk to a mentor, a colleague, or your dog if necessary
The best young attorneys that I know have a great mentor or surround themselves with intelligent and competent attorneys. It’s not required, but it sure seems to help.
90% of the time when I have what I think is a WTF moment, I get one of the following reactions from another valued attorney:
- “So what? Bring a motion/fix it”
In other words: chill out, it’s not the end of the world, and fix the problem. Yes, there have been rare moments of “whoa, that’s not good” or “you need to terminate that representation immediately.” I think those have both happened exactly once. Many times, you will also hear a story from a colleague about how they encountered a similar situation and how they either fixed it, or realized it wasn’t as big a deal as they originally thought.
Even if you don’t have a valued mentor or colleague, talk to someone—including your dog if necessary. Replaying the situation out loud will help you realize that you are being borderline ridiculous, and it may help you realize there are ways to fix this. Which leads me to my next point:
Focus on the solution and get past the WTF
Admittedly, some WTF moments are worse than others. But with the exception of losing a case or a client, there are options and solutions. One of the hardest parts about being a young attorney is realizing that things do not go according to plan—sometimes much more often than you would like.
If lawyering was easy, the job market would be even more saturated than it already is. Whether you litigate or do transactions, you still have to advocate for your client. Especially as a young attorney, you have to work extra hard to convince the other side, opposing counsel, a judge, or a jury, that your argument is the correct one.
So when something goes wrong, or someone pushes your buttons, you have to react accordingly. For a lawyer, that does not mean giving up and walking away. It means figuring out what options are left for your client and advising them accordingly. By focusing on what the options are moving forward, it will help you avoid getting bogged down by what happened in the past.
In other words: suck it up, get past it, and keep advocating for your client. It’s your job.