How to Cope With a Difficult Courtroom Experience

Jeena Cho and Gina Maria Mele, M.S.

cope-stressful-experienceDoes this sound familiar? You are in the courtroom and you have a personality clash with the judge. By the time you leave you feel like the judge just chewed you up and spit you out. Argh! As you go about your day, you realize that event just doesn’t leave your head. It loops. Your inner critic speaks loudly, stating all the things you should have said or done differently.

So how do you stop this ineffective looping and beating up on yourself?

Here are simple strategies to stop the fixation and give you a break.

1. Acknowledge the situation.

Once you realize you are fixating on this event -stop, take a deep breath. Imagine the event as a scene from a movie. You are watching the screen, you’re not attached to the people or the event. This will help you gain perspective and some distance.

2. Give yourself a break.

It’s easy to blame or criticize yourself in these situations. Consider how you might comfort a colleague or a friend in a similar situation. Is it possible to treat yourself with some compassion? Notice how amazing you are regardless of how any one person reacts towards you. Recall all the things that went great in the courtroom or throughout your day.

3. Consider alternate interpretations.

What else could the event mean? What are three alternate interpretations for the judge’s behavior? For example, perhaps he or she

  • had a fight with his/her partner
  • had a fight with his/her teenager
  •  is just tired

4. Find the gem in the experience.

Negative experiences are always painful but is it possible to use it as an opportunity to make you a more effective attorney?

Stop. Take a deep inhale. Exhale long. Think of three things that can make you a better lawyer by using this experience as your launch pad. For example,

  • Next time you get stuck on an event look at it closely: what triggers did you notice for this judge and how can you use this as an advantage for your client?
  • Listen to your intuition. Was there some clues or indications that you may have missed that may have guided you in this situation? What does your intuition say about this person and how best to relate to him/her.
  • Learning to manage negative thoughts by allowing them to pass like a scene in the movie instead of getting attached to it. This way, those negative emotions aren’t sitting in the driver’s seat and you can look at the situation with a bit of distance.