When faced with a crisis or a tough decision, it is easy to lose your head and make a rash decision. The trick, as Kipling said, is to keep your head when all those about you are losing theirs. If you can keep your poise, when others cannot seem to keep theirs then you are showing the maturity and character you need to deal with the stress and surprises that litigation brings. Lucky for you, poise is something you can learn.
Challenge yourself. People are afraid to fail so they avoid the tough challenges. Problem with that, though, is that there is nothing surer in life than the fact that you will face tough challenges, and if you have spent a lifetime running away from them you may fall apart when you are staring one in the eye. So, as with everything else, practice makes perfect. Search out the tough cases, the challenging legal issues, the depositions no one wants to take and tackle them all. Sure, you will fall on your face from time to time, much more than if you had played it safe. But it is in the falling that you learn that you can get up again. And it is in the falling that you realize that the falling is not so bad after all.
Make a list of what is important. Sit down, take a pen and a paper and write down the three most important things in your life, that without you would be less of a person for. Your spouse? Your kids? Your faith? Is that deposition coming up on Tuesday on that list? How about the trial at the end of the month? When you are faced with a challenge at work, compare that to what really matters to you. It will help you keep perspective.
Seek help. If you are overwhelmed, do not hesitate to seek advice from others at your firm about how best to tackle a problem. There is probably someone at the office who has tackled the same problem and can tell you how you can do it too. A trick to keeping perspective is to seek the advice of those who already have it.
Take a breath. When faced with a “crisis,” take a breath, take a step back and think through your reaction. You will get through this and chances are you will get through it better if you have a game plan instead of shooting from the hip.
Have an exit strategy. When there is a fire you need to know where the emergency exits are. When a problem lands on your desk you need to figure out how to put the fire out. Sometimes you only have a few minutes to make a decision, sometimes a few hours and sometimes the luxury of days or weeks. Size up how much time you have to react, and plan an exit strategy to extricate your client from the problem at hand.
As lawyers, we are faced with problems all the time. The key is keeping perspective and staying in control so that you can control the problem and not let it control you.