Anger: A Lawyer’s Weakest Weapon

It’s easy to let things boil over and make you angry when you deal with lawyers (or clients) all day. Letting those emotions out can feel good and be cathartic, but can lead to behavior you quickly regret. To paraphrase Yoda: anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering, suffering leads to the dark side. And as we know, all Sith are prone to disciplinary action. But how can you keep the anger in check when faced with an infuriating judge, frustrating opposing counsel, or unbearable client?

Count to Five

A lot of people say to count to ten to avoid getting angry. But Lawyerist is a site for lawyers. Our time is very valuable, so I say only count to five. Even just a five second pause can keep you from making that off-the-cuff smart remark. Those five seconds can also buy you valuable time to respond to an overruled objection or lost argument. Five seconds may seem like a long time when you’re standing in court or a partner’s office. But in reality, it’s just enough time to take a nice deep breath. While you’re doing that, remind yourself that you’re not someone who loses it. You’re someone who keeps their cool (and a job). Enjoy your deep breath, then get back in the game.

Hit the Gym

A German study shows that exercising can literally stave off anger. Unfortunately, most of us can’t hop onto a stationary bike to avoid blowing our tops at a lousy objection. Luckily, exercise also helps lower our levels of stress and anxiety. That means hitting the gym a few times a week can put you in a better mental state before you get to work in the morning. Less stress and anxiety buildup will likely make you less prone to anger.

If hard core workouts aren’t your thing, I can also recommend yoga. Yoga can provide similar stress relief without all of the grunting that can be found in a gym. Just be careful about going to yoga before work. At the end of a yoga class you will do a savasana. This is where you lay down on your back and just focus on your breathing while you clear your head. It’s a great relaxation technique. I tend to fall asleep and then get a little groggy when I wake up and need to go to work though, so just be aware of that.

Focus on the Goal

When you are completely in the zone and focused on the task at hand, it is easier to let infuriating comments slide off of you. Remember the last time you were really in your flow while writing a brief. Your mind wasn’t in a hundred places at once. You were completely focused on your task and getting the job done. As a result, the ridiculous e-mail you got didn’t immediately raise your blood pressure.

When you’re in court, a complete focus on your goal can be equally helpful. Attorney Michaelene Weimer says that when she is arguing before a judge, she is zeroed in on her argument. She knows which points to make and where her strengths and weaknesses are. That way, if things aren’t going her way, she doesn’t get angry. Instead she refocuses on her strong points and reaching her goal: winning. By staying focused on your goal you can push the emotion aside in favor of logically working through the problem at hand.


  1. Avatar Randall R. says:

    Great post. Hate leads to anger, which leads to nasty e-mails to opposing counsel that show up as part of a motion.

  2. Avatar Susan Gainen says:

    Great post, Josh. Anger and and his cousin Snark, who is even more prone to make someone misunderstood, can make a lawyer a headline in a blog post in a bad way.

  3. Good reminders. I once had a visceral dislike for an opposing party. Since the case was a family law case, I met with my client and warned her that I was not sure that I could provide objective advice because I disliked her spouse. At first, she thought that this was great – after all, she didn’t like him at all either, and she wanted to defeat and embarrass him. I pointed out, that was the problem. As an attorney, I am not supposed to have a “dog in the fight,” and I was supposed to be able to take a step back and provide her with counsel and objectivity. Fortunately, he was represented by a respected attorney, and we were able to settle without it degenerating into a nasty fight. I think that we should be taught in law school to take temperature checks at regular intervals – to ensure that we are checking for over involvement in our cases. This would increase our professionalism. Thanks Josh, I think that you are right on track, and I look forward to reading more of your posts in the future.

  4. Some good points here! I’d like to add that anger is the worst enemy for lawyers or any other professionals because when overrun by anger you lose your biggest asset – clear mind and objectivity. Anger happens and your advice to count to 5 is awesome, I would only add BREATH into your abdomen, it helps a lot to calm down the effects of adrenaline. Feel free to check out this post on 12 ways to creatively deal with angry people.

    Be good!

  5. Avatar Guest says:

    Going to law school means learning how to think differently. Passing the bar means having the keys in your hands in order to apply this method of thought to all walks of life. This is a gift that is not to be taken lightly.

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