TDot’s Tips: “The Walking Dead” as Career Advice

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Apr 22, 2014 in TDot's Tips | Subscribe

Yesterday I mentioned The Walking Dead had become one of the shows I watch regularly when I really should be working or writing here at law:/dev/null.

Well today I discovered it’s possible to do both :surprised:

Over at Solo Practice University, Suzanne Meehle has a piece entitled “Everything I Need to Know About Solo Practice I Learned From ‘The Walking Dead'”. Be forewarned, it’s a bit heavy on spoilers from the Season 4 finale. But overall it’s a good column.

Here’s a snippet –

Lesson 5: Protect your people, especially those more vulnerable than yourself.

We see Michone befriending Carl, telling him about her life before and after the Apocalypse. We see her being motherly toward him: letting him sleep with his head in her lap after he was nearly raped, hugging him after he confesses to being a “monster.” She is a bit of a super hero, defending the defenseless. She will take on a hundred hungry zombies before she will let anything happen to Carl.

That is our job: defending the defenseless. At our very best, lawyers serve others who otherwise will be abused. We take on lost-cause cases, do our best to get the best outcomes for our clients no matter what. We can’t all be bad asses like Michone. We can all be bad ass lawyers.

They all seem to be good and accurate points to me, based on my (admittedly brief) 1.5 years as a solo practitioner and 0.75 years binging on episodes of The Walking Dead. :D

I’d also append five more points of my own, though, focusing on the mid-season finale from Season 4 instead:1

  1. Don’t take half measures: When the Governor is standing outside the prison fence with a tank and a dozen armed clowns at his side,2 he gives Rick Grimes and crew an ultimatum to leave by sunset before the Governor’s group takes the prison by force. Rick first tries to talk the Governor down, then tries to convince the Governor’s minions, then offers a compromise where everyone can stay in the prison together. The Governor promptly proceeds to chop off Hershel Greene’s head, they storm the prison, and a bunch of people from both sides die.

    Rick’s problem was that he couldn’t decide what to do. In Hamlet-esque fashion he quickly went from fearless bravado to witless speechifying to practically begging his adversaries to please be nice (because children!). He was negotiating against himself and doing it poorly. We all kinda knew how that scenario would inevitably end.

    As lawyers, we’re trained to be risk averse; we learn to love half measures and call them “risk mitigation” to make ourselves feel better. But I’d argue they’re just an effective way at being ineffective. Spending your day doing doc review and running your solo practice “on the side.” Paying exorbitant amounts for a virtual office instead of a real one or none at all. Treading lightly in litigation hoping the other side will reciprocate. The list goes on.

    To quote Mick Jagger, “Anything worth doing is worth overdoing.”3 Try going full tilt on something and see how your results turn out. Focus on your practice full time; try a brick-and-mortar office; carpet bomb the other side with a multi-count Complaint and a full array of discovery requests served with it.

    You’ll still need to be observant and willing to reverse course if it looks like something is starting to go catastrophically wrong, but I suspect in nearly every situation you’ll end up being a better and more successful lawyer than you thought possible. To borrow another quote, this one from former British Prime Minister David Lloyd George: “Don’t be afraid to take a big step[.] You can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps.”

  2. Some losses are inevitable: In reading the post-episode reviews around the web after The Wallking Dead’s mid-season finale aired, a lot of commentators seemed downright shocked that Hershel got killed off (and in a paticularly brutal fashion too). Personally I was shocked they were shocked — I hated seeing him taken out, but I figured that was always going to happen once he and Michonne were captured by the Governor. We all knew the Governor was a crazy sumb*tch; anyone who could gun down his Woodbury followers last season can chop off an old guy’s head without a second thought.

    While hopefully you won’t have clients die or get killed on you (or turn into zombies), you’re going to have losses as a solo practitioner. You’re going to lose some cases, you’re going to lose some clients, and you’re going to lose money even on some of the cases you keep. It sucks. Sometimes it’s downright painful. But the world keeps moving on and you need to do the same. Dust yourself off, recuperate from your wounds if needed, and get back to the battleground of the courtroom.

  3. A fortress is only as strong as its perimeter: Anyone else watch that episode and think at one point “I sure hope they’re not expecting the fence to stop that tank!”?

    It’s true, a fence can’t stop a tank. And once the fence is knocked down, things that a fence normally could stop don’t get stopped anymore. Soon your prison is overrun with zombies.

    Treat your law practice the same way. The cliché “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link” seems particularly apt here since we’re talking about a fence — if you’re weak at returning clients’ phone calls, or calendaring deadlines, or managing staff, your practice is only going to be as good as the thing you do worst. And if you don’t fix what you do worst, more things at more points will go bad as your time is constantly diverted trying to prop up the fence.

    Focus on improving every single aspect of your practice, be it through learning more, being more disciplined, or bringing in outside help.

  4. Even tanks have weaknesses: With the prison getting destroyed around them, folks getting blown away left and right, and survivors scattering to the four winds, Daryl Dixon somehow had the sense to take a grenade and shove it down the tank’s turret. In seconds the most fearsome weapon in the Governor’s arsenal was neutralized, and the momentum of the fight shifted (as much as it could at that point anyway).

    If you’re doing meaningful work as a lawyer, you’re going to go up against tanks on a regular basis. Your opposing counsel will probably come from a big firm and make more in a month than you’ll bring in all year. The party you’re up against will likely be bigger still (especially if you do criminal defense; they don’t get much bigger than The Government!). Even a tank has a weakness though, and if you can ferret out what that weakness is you can win even unwinnable cases and causes.

  5. Justice will (eventually) prevail: I don’t know about any of you, but I let out a duly satisfied “Yessssss!” when the Governor finally got killed. I was disappointed Rick didn’t beat him down, and I thought a bullet to the brain was an awfully humane end compared to the evil he wrought (writhing in agony for awhile after his getting skewered by Michonne would have been more fitting).

    But damn if I wasn’t glad he finally reaped at least some of what he had sewn.4

    With implaccable foes around us, tanks in every courtroom, and inevitable losses that range from infrequent to more-common-than-we-care-to-admit over any given period of time, it’s easy to forget that we still live in a country with a judicial system where justice still prevails. It might not be obvious when it happens, it might not even happen until years or decades have gone by, but it will eventually happen. Justice will prevail. So keep your head up and know that you’re doing meaningful work for your clients :)

That’s my take on how The Walking Dead relates to life as a solo practitioner, along with the other great points Suzanne made. If you disagree — with my analysis of solo life or the show — feel free to let me know :D

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Past TDot’s Tips entries:

  1. The episode where the Governor and his people overrun the prison — hopefully you’ve seen it already, because there are spoilers in the rest of this post! :P []
  2. I really hope I never end up that gullible in life, post-zombie apocalypse or otherwise. []
  3. I have no clue at all if Mick Jagger actually said that, but Google tells me he did so it must be true :beatup: []
  4. Aside from the Governor, Shane and Lizzy were the only two The Walking Dead characters whose deaths felt downright satisfying. []

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