Putting Fear At Our Backs

September 8, 2020

At the beginning of my career, I met a lawyer who I came to idolize. This man sounded like a doctor when he talked. I learned from this man that knowing the medicine involved in a medical case is of the utmost importance, and I will be forever grateful. I also learned a painful lesson. My mentor lost a huge trial, and he allowed that loss to linger and frighten him away from going back into the courtroom. I saw offers decline on his cases because the defense was convinced he would not try the case. Fear is a powerful emotion. And none of us are immune.

The question is not whether fear will confront us but how we deal with our fear. For some people, fear is a headwind constantly blowing in their faces. Others put fear at their back and use it as a tailwind to propel them forward.

One of the most famous record producers of modern times is a man named Jimmy Iovine. Jimmy produced John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Nicks, Eminem, Dr. Dre, and others. He started Interscope Records and is most famous for creating and then selling Beats by Dr. Dre to Apple for 4 billion dollars. He has a take on fear:

“What I have learned is some of these powerful insecurities can be harnessed into life’s greatest motivator. The greatest 5-hour energy drink ever. It’s called a little ol’ fashioned fear. I know about fear. I was once fired from 2 jobs within 90 days. I felt as though the sidewalk was collapsing behind me. But that insecure feeling always kept moving me forward. Rather than stop me in my tracks like a headwind, I learned to use those same insecurities the tailwinds to propel me forward.”

Bravery is the capacity to act even when we are scared to death. In my world, over 250,000 people die every year from medical negligence, and countless more have their lives ruined, but only 20% of the people with valid claims ever pursue their claim. Bravery is the exception, not the rule.

My ability to put fear at my back and let it push me forward is due in large part to the bravery shown by clients I have met over 25+ years. Every client I have ever met is scared, yet they stand up and try to make things better for the rest of us.

Imagine walking into a room with 2 or 3 or 4 lawyers you have never met. They have all the resources in the world to do a thorough background check on you. They look through your Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to find anything to make you look bad. You already feel guilty about what happened because you wish you had done more, and they press on that like an open sore. Then, after you give a sworn deposition, imagine walking into a courtroom and telling your story in front of a judge and jurors who you have never met, worried about them judging you for bringing a lawsuit.

For my clients to have this courage, they need me to have the courage to put my foot on the defendant’s neck and not let them breathe until they give up. I better not let fear stand in my way.

I remember being in a small county in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains with a woman who lost her 53-year-old husband to oral cancer. The doctor’s medical records mysteriously disappeared once we filed suit.

Just before trial, we were sitting around a table in a room with the judge and the doctor, and the opposing lawyer, all pressuring my client to take the small amount of money offered.

My client looked right at the defense lawyer and told him that she had been poor for most of her life. She knew how to be poor, and if she lost, she would be fine being poor again. Then she looked at the doctor and told the lawyer he should worry about the doctor because she was sure he had never been poor a day in his life, and if she won, he might have to learn how to be poor because no one in the small town would ever let the doctor treat them again.

The jury held the doctor accountable, returning a multimillion-dollar verdict. Sure enough, the doctor left town, and we made things better for that community.

In another case, a surgeon had an extremely high complication rate for gallbladder surgery and had been sued many times. Each time, the case settled before trial.

In another case, a surgeon had an extremely high complication rate for gallbladder surgery and had been sued many times. Each time, the case settled before trial.

Believe it or not, if you are a juror, we cannot tell you about all the other times the doctor has been sued.

My client would not take the settlement. He wanted people to know what happened to stop the doctor from hurting more people.

Just before trial, the medical board finally acted and took away the doctor’s license. The client then settled the case. He told me he would have felt guilty taking the money, knowing the doctor could continue to hurt other people. Once the doctor’s license was taken, he could settle and move on, knowing he helped make things better for his community. He told me his wife would have wanted it this way.

My clients have taught me that we don’t have to let fear control us. As a lawyer, the weight of the burden my clients carry is heavy and on my shoulders. As a father, I worry about my children. As a husband, I worry about my wife. As a son, I worry about my parents. As a person, I see things happening in our world, and it shakes me. Fear gives us every opportunity to let it take control.

I’m sure you know someone like the lawyer I described before. I’m also sure you know people that pretend fear does not exist. They act tough. I’m not afraid of anyone, I’m tough, I mean business. Phrases like that usually mean those people are afraid of everything.

How do you handle fear? Is it a headwind or a tailwind?

If it’s a headwind, we all have the power to change that mentality. How? By talking about it. We will never eradicate fear from our lives. It takes hold and multiplies in the darkness of our silence. Talking about our fear is like turning the light on a bunch of cockroaches; they scurry away to hide. Talking about fear keeps the light on, and fear stays in the shadows. It takes courage to be vulnerable enough to admit our fears. But If we stay vigilant, fear is always a few steps behind, and we can make things better.

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