Living with Fear/Anxiety and Trial Lawyering

I went to Church last Sunday and heard Pastor Jeff Warren talk on “You can Live Without Fear”. I’ve been known to skip church on occasion, but was glad I didn’t skip this sermon. Dealing with “Fear and Anxiety” is something I’ve been trying to figure out since attending college and law school in the 80’s. I was interested because I’ve struggled with it. Although fear and anxiety affected other areas of my life, it hit the hardest at times when I had to present myself before people for any reason. Although I fought it, I didn’t begin to really explore it until 1999 at the Trial Lawyer’s College in Wyoming.

As I listened to Jeff, I thought about how the message related to lawyers. Not only have I struggled with it, I have seen, and heard about, many lawyers who have abused alcohol and drugs in their effort to cope with it. In the face of fear and anxiety, many lawyers “fold” to avoid a jury trial. Yes, like folding your cards in a card game. Unlike a card game, where folding might be beneficial in the long run, we are dealing with someone’s life. And yes, we can justify anything in our minds. In the face of fear many of us hide behind many different kinds of masks. It might be a fancy suit, the choice of words, constant joking, or maybe even a $3,500.00 Louis Vuitton briefcase. “Look, it’s a person, it’s a human, no, it’s Lawyerman”. The problem is that jurors are not stupid and can see right through it. What is “it”? “It” is fake. “It” is artificial. “It” is not real. When the lawyer is unsuccessful in folding before the jury trial begins, the fear and anxiety remains and the lawyer must address the jurors. Rather than talk with the jurors, he may lecture them instead. The anxiety causes him to turn to what feels comfortable and safe, and he may make a worthless statement like “Can you be fair and impartial?” or “I take it by your silence that you would be fair and impartial” when more than likely, the silence comes from frustration or boredom. But more important than being a useless statement, this type of communication hurts the client.

I have talked to lawyers about how I’ve dealt with fear and anxiety. The first year out of law school, I felt the need to face this fear in order to conquer it. Although I wasn’t a prosecutor at heart, I acted like one for about a year, forcing myself to get up in front of judges and jurors. Since then, I have talked to lawyers about making the trial about the client and not them. I’ve talked to them about the phrase I first saw in ’99, on the back of a T-Shirt, in Wyoming, “Without Fear, there is No Courage” and about the next step, “Feel the Fear, Find the Courage”. I love those quotes. What do we fear in trial? Some of us have a fear of losing, some of us worry about looking stupid, and sometimes, it is just the fear of the unknown. It could be just a lack of faith and trust. Who will we trust? Many times, we lawyers don’t trust the jury and many lawyers just don’t care about the client. It is all about “me” and trying to perform. What will these people think of “me”, the lawyer? I agree with Gerry Spence that “it begins with me”, but I have to add, “but, it is not about me”.

Preacher Jeff reminded me that the Bible talks about Fear and Anxiety in many places. Imagine that. The Bible has all of the answers that I’ve been searching for. As a child, I heard the phrases on Sunday- Have no fear; Do not worry; Fear not, but it didn’t stop me from trying to do it my way or on my own. I think many of us make life tougher than it should be because we leave God out of our lives until things get out of “our” control. Jeff’s verse for the day was: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Philippians 4:6

I don’t believe that “Peace on Earth” means that the fighting on earth will stop. I think that God is willing to give us peace, but some of us refuse to take advantage of the gift. Instead, many of us lack the faith and trust necessary to live in peace. Ironically, Paul was in prison when he wrote about peace and joy in the book of Philippians.

Although able to walk, talk, and breathe, living with Fear and Anxiety, isn’t really living at all! When we struggle with fear/anxiety, we are unable to listen, be in the moment, or otherwise be real. Fear and anxiety shut us down. It stifles creativity and spontaneity. And so, it appears that we can choose to merely exist on this earth or we can live. How do you feel about it?

If you want to hear Jeff Warren’s series on 5 things you can live without, check out the podcasts where “You Can Live Without Fear” is archived.


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3 Responses to “Living with Fear/Anxiety and Trial Lawyering”

  1. Jeff Suher Says:

    Great post Tony!!

  2. Vince Gonzales Says:

    Several years back, a former-stepson asked me, after a death verdict in one of my cases, “Don’t you get tired of losing?” My reply then, and one I stand by today was, “I would if I gauged success by verdicts, but I do well because I do good.” I think we develop the stress that is stiffling because we cling on to the concept of win, win, win. Having been in the death penalty arena for the last 22 years, I came to the realization that we do have a greater obligation to those we touch. Too often I have seen family members of my client’s heading down the same path as my client. Too often I have seen the defense team ignore the client how looks to us for far more than legal representation…they look to us for comfort, for peace. How can we offer that succor if we don’t possess it ourselves? You posting gives a lot to think about.

    • vitzman Says:

      Right! Winning isn’t necessarily a “Not Guilty” verdict. Vince- this profession should have more people like you in it. I didn’t use the word business. The older I get the more I realize that there is much more to learn. Among other things, happiness is…Lubbock, Texas in my front view window, heading west.

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