I remember the day like it was yesterday. I was devastated. I poured my heart and soul and over a year’s worth of work into this case. I was sure we were going to win. But when the jury foreman announced the verdict, I was crushed: “GUILTY.” He said it with such glee and seemed to relish the moment and take pride in proclaiming it. Like he was presenting a lifetime achievement award at a banquet.
Later that evening I was at home. I must have been visibly sulking because my son, Brogan, who was about three years old at the time noticed I was not myself asked me: “what’s wrong, mommy?” I responded that I had lost a case. Without missing a beat, he responded: “Don’t worry, mommy, you’ll find it tomorrow.”
Out of the mouths of babes. He just continued to play with his toy cars and I couldn’t help but smile.
But let’s face it, we hate to lose trials. And as euphoric as it is to achieve victory for our clients, the reality is that we hate to lose more than we enjoy winning. In our profession, losing is magnified more than most other professions because when we lose, our client’s lives are usually destroyed – often permanently. So, the temptation we face when we experience a defeat in the courtroom is to bury it. Forget it ever happened, sweep it under the rug and move on as quickly as we can.
As strong as the urge is to fail fast and scrub the bitter stench of defeat from our minds there is value for us as professionals in processing the unwanted suffering that is ushered in each time a courtroom echoes with the nasty word: “GUILTY.”
Perhaps part of the reason why the joy of victory is so fleeting, but, despite our best efforts, the agony of defeat stays with us for days, weeks, and sometimes longer is that our subconscious is imploring us to process and learn from the loss. So, the scenes from the trial linger around, sitting patiently in the waiting room of our minds for us to fully embrace them, process them, learn from them, and become even better lawyers and people. The trick is setting aside our pride, finding that time, and extracting the lessons learned we know in our heart of hearts exist within each painful loss. We all know that the best learning process usually involves some degree of failure, failing is instructional. Experts say that after a failure there are certain steps we should take, a “postmortem.” Steps like looking back at the trial and acknowledge the mistakes we made in pre‑trial and during the trial and owning them. Remember we are human too. Next, analyze what went wrong. Then, plan for next time. If we don’t figure out how not to make the same mistakes again, we’re going to find ourselves right back in the same regrettable position.
So, the next time you have a defeat in the courtroom – or in life – remember the words of the great Ruth Bader Ginsburg: “So often in life things that you regard as an impediment turn out to be great good fortune.” At the end of the day, it’s not about us. It’s about the souls of the men and women entrusted to us. RBG was right. So was Brogan. The only thing worse than losing a case today is not finding the lessons learned to use in the cases we’ll find tomorrow.