Mindset And The Practice Of Law

Last week I was in Atlanta for a trial skills training seminar. Lawyers are required to take continuing education classes every year to insure that they remain “educated” in the law. Which is interesting because there are actually no requirements on what kind of training that we take except that it include 1 hour of ethics and 1 hour of mental health related training. Otherwise we must simply obtain 12 hours of ongoing legal education.


I take well more than the required 12 hours each year because I believe that continuing training is more than a check the box requirement. It’s an investment in myself, my business, and my clients. I also teach classes to other lawyers and professionals because I believe it's important to give back to my community. Last week I was learning how to improve my trial presentation skills while this week I’ll be teaching potentially all lawyers in the state by presenting at the Annual Legislative Debriefing for the Oklahoma Bar Association.


The truth is that trial on a day in and day out basis looks nothing like Perry Mason, Law and Order, Goliath, or any other “law” show you might see on television. There is rarely an “ah ha” piece of evidence or that “gotcha” moment we see on tv. The reality of that is if those kinds of things exists the case settles and doesn’t see the inside of a courtroom.


The cases that are tried are generally messy, with lots of disagreement and ways of looking at things. Those cases get tried because both sides can’t reach an agreement of what the likely outcome will be. In reality, the longer you do this in the same jurisdictions with the same groups of lawyers before the same judges, you tend to know how things are going to come out. Sometimes there is a dispute on value while others fault in a civil case. In a criminal case the dispute may be about what kind of crime the prosecutor can prove or how long a defendant should be punished. It generally becomes pretty predictable what will happen until a judge gets involved.

Last weeks training was about mindset work and how you approach a case in deposition and trial by connecting with witnesses, judges, and juries. Whether you are trying a case on damages, liability, punishment, or custody you have to understand the mindset of the people involved in the case and you have to be able to make a connection on a person to person level. To do that I must also be calm and in a kind state and not let my emotions get the better of me. I cannot be distracted by the rude lawyer who wiggles in the loud chair or rips paper at inopportune moments. I have to remember the witnesses' conduct isn’t about me, it's about them and their feelings.

My job as a trial lawyer is about more than just answering questions and proving facts. It’s to present those in the light best for my client. It’s also to keep witnesses calm and to reveal the truth in situations where not everyone knows or wants to admit the truth. If I go at a witness full tilt ready for battle they’re not likely to tell me hard things and the jury may not like me. However when you approach a witness with kindness and understanding, they will often tell you the hard things even when it's not in their benefit to do so.

I also have to be authentic when presenting my case. When I was going to law school and learning how to put on a trial I never thought about being authentic to my jury. I was taught how to “be or look” the part of a lawyer with drab suits, minimal makeup, and tied back hairstyles. I was never told that jurors can spot a fake from a mile away and that if I wasn’t being true to my authentic self with my appearance that I would not be credible to a jury. I spent many years in my early career just trying to conform to the conservative “lawyer” look that was pushed on me from law school to my first days of practice. I was good in this “role” as a corporate defense attorney but it wasn’t who I was. Today I shine not only because of my skill in the practice of law but because my authentic self comes out when I walk in the door. Today, Rachel Bussett goes to court with a nose ring and a visible tattoo on her arm with occasionally purple hair and a lot of color in her wardrobe. I am a person just like the judge, jury, and witnesses with a creative, intellectual, and caring side that they all see expressed. I am able to be that person freely because I have spent the time exploring my mindset and trauma and how it impacts my work. In my opinion this is the best kind of continuing education a lawyer can do to serve clients and themselves.

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Rachel Bussett is an attorney with 19 years of experience. She is motivated and inspired to fight for kids and all Oklahomans. 

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