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To The Litigators: How Do You Handle Losing Cases?

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How do you handle losing cases? Do you get better over time at trying to keep it in perspective, and learning for next time? Is there any way to shut off the spiral of self-doubt? 

It’s one thing to acknowledge that every court application is a calculated risk, and that you weigh the pros and cons with the client in advance, and that you’ve decided to take your chances. At some level, though, you believed that the outcome would come out in your favour (especially as the Plaintiff), otherwise you would have accepted a settlement. The rumination on “maybe I should have said this” or “maybe I should have told the client that” or “maybe I should have accepted a settlement” or “maybe if I were a better/smarter/more experienced/more confident lawyer this would have gone differently” or “maybe I just fuck up the lives of people who trust me” keeps me up for weeks and the impact of any losses outweighs 100x the impact of any wins. 

Edited by sunnyskies1992
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No, it doesn't get better over time. The only thing you gain is the perspective that comes from going through the troughs and knowing that you've found your equilibrium eventually. Now I can say, "I know this sucks. I know I feel like shit and everything can burn. But eventually this will pass." There's no way to avoid the emotional pain of practice if you're doing your job properly. That's like asking how you can stick your bare hand in a fire and not be burned. 

If you're losing winnable cases by making mistakes, that's a hell you can only escape by acts of mental lifesaving. Here's the reality: if you're litigating cases by calling evidence, this will happen over and over again. There is no way to escape this, even with maximum preparation. 

What you have to try to avoid is the delusion of thinking every case is winnable. 

But here's a ridiculous gloss on your question: I won a trial recently for a client who didn't even show up on the original trial-date. I had to go to his house to get him. Today I saw him at the local convenience store, and he gave me the finger. 

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In my limited experience, the clients are usually so convinced they are right and that they will win, that with every loss they are going to be just shocked at the end result. And usually angry. Many clients think lawyers can pull out some voodoo magic in court to cure their mistakes. That's not real life and it's not your job to be a magician.

Basically you can't let it get to you or you will go crazy. You have to be blunt about the potential risks of litigation, and after you've done that much, all you can do is try your best. It sounds cheesy, but try not to worry. My principal is a well-respected litigator in our community and as a new articling student I observed him lose five straight cases in a row. It's just part of the job.

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