Managing the stress of litigation

By virtue of our job description the work we do is largely adversarial. We deal with people in crisis. It’s what we signed up for right? We knew what we were in for, and we’ve been told that we just need to suck it up and deal with it. And to some extent, perhaps our skin has to thicken or we simply couldn’t stay in this game for more than a few years.

When we walk into the court room and join the litigation stakes, the stress and anxiety for practitioners is raised 10 fold. Personally, I hate it and love it at the same time. I hate that sick to the stomach feeling of the unexpected, unpredictable judges, difficult opponents and clients with unrealistic expectations. On the flip side, I love the natural high advocacy gives you, the fulfilment of helping a client in need and (when things go well) that sense of personal achievement and accomplishment. 

However, its important to reflect upon how litigation affects us. Being exposed to courtroom conflict has a hidden impact on our personal wellbeing whether we like it or not. At this time of year we can use our renewed sense of energy and motivation to put strategies in place to combat the stress litigation brings into our lives. Here are the 3 major stressors of litigation and a few ways we as practitioners can combat them.

The Judge

  1. Know your Judge. Quirks, likes, dislikes and make friends with the associate! If you don’t know the Judge, ask around. Someone will be more than happy to point our their strengths and weaknesses.
  2. Be respectful but be heard. With long court lists and increasing pressures on Judges, they are doing a tough job too. But if you have an important point that cannot be glossed over, make it known and speak up. The phrase, “Your Honour, I wish to be heard regarding .......”, seems to work for me.

The Opponents

  1. Be firm but kind. I am not a push over by any means in court, but I am nice to people. I will always give my opponents the benefit of the doubt, and if someone is rude to me I make it my business to be nothing but nice in return. They will eventually crack!
  2. Disclose material in good time as you will expect the same courtesy. If you disclose late, apologise. Even if it’s not your fault. It will soften the blow.

The Client

  1. Manage client expectations from the outset. Do not promise them the world and do not promise them a win. As we know, anything can happen once a matter gets to court. Expect the unexpected. 
  2. Focus your client on trying to resolve the matter before they go into court. Highlight the benefits of resolving before a hearing or trial and the relief it will bring to their lives once the matter is finalised. 

As practitioners we need to look after ourselves. For me, the key to self care in law is a focus on early resolution. But there are some matters that just have to go through to the keeper. When you do find yourself in court, implement these strategies to protect yourself from the stress of litigation.