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Zen and the art of lawyering

As a commercial litigator, I often joke that my practice does not deal with anything “personal” in nature. My law firm and my law practice focus on the needs of businesses.

I always believed that representing businesses should be about making the best business decisions, regardless of emotions. I quickly learned that when it is someone’s business that he or she has worked their lives to grow, it is definitely personal.

Lawyering is not easy. Being an attorney does not simply involve applying facts to relevant law but requires a whole host of interpersonal skills. We must manage our clients and their expectations. We have to deal with opposing counsel, some of whom believe that the scorched-earth method of litigation is the only method of litigation. We must zealously represent our clients but remain officers of the court. Occasionally, the balance of all three is impossible and we must toe a fine line to meet all of our obligations.

For lack of a better term, I have been working on being more “zen” regarding the practice of law, which runs contrary to my self-diagnosed obsessive-compulsive disorder. By finding some sort of harmony in my professional life, I hope to alleviate some stress in a stress-filled profession. I can provide legal advise based on hours of research to a client but, ultimately, the client should decide on the course of action. When I am faced with the scorched Earth opposing counsel, I try to assure myself that he or she is simply doing a disservice to his or her client.

Occasionally, I have days where I would like to scream from the rooftops because of  contentious litigation, a court ruling that I do not agree with or some other sort of anxiety-inducing flub that happens throughout the course of a workday. That’s when I find taking a step back usually will help put everything in prospective. For me that means going on a long run to collect my thoughts, consider the options and try to come back to the office refreshed and ready. (I have been running a lot lately.)

There is always some form of response that can be made to a client’s request or an adverse ruling. It’s important to have the perspective to make sure the response is the correct one.


  1. Shouldn’t the title to the column be “Running and the Art of Lawyering.” You use the word “Zen” once as an adjective (“I have been working on being more ‘zen'”), but that it the only mention of it. The one contemplative technique you describe, “going on a long run,” can be relaxing, but running is hardly a synonym for zen, or an ideal setting for “contemplating one’s essential nature.” There are too many distractions and dangers out there on the road that one must pay attention to.

  2. Actually I started the running in law school!

    Michael’s zen approach seems appropriate–there are many facets of our
    professions and careers that could use this same approach. Best of luck to all in maintaining such a balance.