Lawyers: Don’t Forget the Importance of Being ‘Present’

By Lyndsay A. Markley

I attended the National Trial Lawyers Summit in Miami early this year.  As an attorney who started up my solo practice less than a year ago, handling a case load that needs more attention than a three-year-old roaming around a Chihuly exhibit – my decision to attend is not one I took lightly.

After ten months of allocating my time to 95% work and 5% everything else (including shoveling down the occasional meal), going to a professional conference seemed self-indulgent and unnecessarily taxing on my already constrained time, overwhelmed brain and taxed emotions.

Thankfully I shrugged off those concerns, and it was one of the best decisions of my career.  Sure, I went with the intention of ditching some of the conference and hitting the beach (I am only human!), but I found myself glued to my seat for speaker-after-speaker, completely enthralled in the variety of topics and degree of depth that each individual brought to the platform.

Listening to the all-star line-up of trial attorneys left me feeling like a 13-year-old at a One Doubt concert: Howard Nations, Mark O’Mara (of “George Zimmerman defense attorney” national fame), Mark Lanier, Michael Berg and trucking wunderkind, Dan Ramsdell (a man whose personal story is as moving as any of his cases) just to name a few.

Each speaker shared their own unique experiences, stories that have made them household names in the legal community (and likely the bull’s-eye of many a corporation’s office dart boards).  From jury voir dire through closing arguments to running your law practice like a “real” business, the panelists covered an array of pertinent topics. Although all of the speakers were veterans in the court room, each approach was fresh and new – clearly their commitment to continuing their education of the law and ‘cross-training’ (as Howard Nation calls it) into other areas, including psychology and the art of story-telling – an essential skill for someone who wants to convey their client’s story to twelve strangers.

In addition to great legal minds, the conference boasted some unexpected topics from non-lawyers.  For instance, one of my favorite non-attorney speakers was Samy Chong, who spoke to us (and, it felt like, directly to me) about the importance of ‘presence’ in our practice and in our lives.  In a culture that looks down on ‘downtime,’ it can be hard to justify your need to clear your head and take care of yourself.  As if you are less of an attorney for needing to focus.  Mr. Chong’s words reassured us all that meditation and focus results in great ideas and a happier, more productive life – not ‘wasted time.’

Many of the speakers agreed that presence, self-exploration, defining oneself and setting work boundaries is mandatory to professional success and overall happiness.  Interestingly, a professional conference – for trial attorneys, nonetheless! – was encouraging. It reaffirmed my own journey of self-awareness and reflection – not just as a lawyer, but as a human-being.

As the minutes and hours passed, I realized that for the first time in ten months, I wasn’t frantically checking my emails or worrying about my to-do list. Instead, I found myself truly listening and reconnecting to what drew me to my work as a plaintiff’s trial attorney in the first place: my desire to help people by serving as their advocate when they are truly in need.  That is why I do what I do- so I can stand up to Goliath and give a voice to the “Davids” of the world that have been wronged and cannot use their voice.  I want to accomplish social change one life at a time by holding corporations and individuals who harm others accountable for their actions.

This reminder of what success looks like to me – executing societal change– was a breath of fresh air.  Due to the intensity of the past few months (starting up my own law firm), I was so focused on each individual dot on the canvas that I could never see the full Monet.  It is much easier to wake up every morning and get into the trenches of the law when you are focused on your end goal: not another motion to compel, but ultimately taking the defendant into the court room and holding them publicly accountable for the injuries to your clients.

Since I left Summit, I re-read my Gerry Spence library, sought out new tomes on psychology and story-telling and enjoyed more quiet moments for reflection or spontaneous realization.  And, guess what? Although these actions have not moved my cases forward on paper, they moved them forward in my mind – creating the entire trial from voir dire to closing, in a way that makes the steps I have to take to get there, not only bearable but enjoyable.

This article originally appeared in the WBAI Fall 2015 Newsletter.

Lyndsay Markley headshot (1)Lyndsay Markley is the founder of The Law Offices of Lyndsay Markley, Ltd.