“People of mediocre ability sometimes achieve outstanding success because they don’t know when to quit. Most men succeed because they are determined to.”
— George Allen, Coach, Washington Redskins
“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.”
— Paul, 1st Corinthians 9:24.
This chapter will equip you to:
- Identify the elements of success
- Identify the barriers to success
- Determine when to proceed pro se or retain counsel
- Proceed with confidence in order to win your case
Success is the fruit of labor and accomplishment and the object of most human endeavor. To succeed, a person must often compete and anyone who competes does so for one reason – to win. So it is with the individual who is required to go to court, who prepares her case and competes in court to win, but not until after spending numerous hours in preparation, gathering evidence and witness testimony and preparing a case for trial.
This chapter will hop motivate you through those many hours spent in preparation, when it is might otherwise be easy to lose heart or give up rather than press on and see the effort through to accomplishment.
Sometimes you will face opponents, court personnel and even judges who seem to be bent on making your life difficult – continually throwing obstacles in your way.
Of course, the environment is different in small claims court, where almost every litigant is a self-represented litigant. But generally, as the jurisdiction moves above the magistrate and small claims level, to the point where juries and court officials and civil penalties and liabilities become involved, the opposition increases.
Certainly, there comes a point when good judgment demands the hiring of a professional attorney. Situations that threaten wage or property garnishment or seizure of your property, of course any criminal charges, and those civil matters that could cost more than about one quarter of your annual salary, these situations require the attention of skilled counsel.
British businessman and political leader David Ivor Young said; “You never learn from success. Success you take as the natural order of things.” The sting of defeat does seem to bleed out of us certain hard-learned lessons, some of which might pass otherwise unnoticed in times of success. That truth does nothing to take away the sting of failure.
There’s really only one worthwhile motive for walking into a courtroom with evidence in hand and witnesses ready to testify; to win your case in court.
So, What’s In Your Way?
So what attitudes, thoughts or fears can keep you from success? Why does it seem that so often, a litigant or even a lawyer is defeated before he even steps foot into a courtroom? More times than not he has done it to himself.There are many obstacles to achieving success. Such as–
- Fear, of Success
- Fear of Failure
- Fear of Adversity
- Fear of Discomfort
- Fear of Preparation
- Fear of the Opinion of Others
- Fatalistic Fear
- Fear of Futility
- Fear of Inadequacy
- Fear of Attack or Oppression
- Accusation, Blaming Others
- Losing Sight of Objective
- Fear of Hard Work
These are the things that steal your confidence and introduce doubts. The marvelous thing about life is that we can choose to succeed or not. We can choose to live healthy or not, choose our career, choose where we live, choose what we drive, choose who we marry and we can choose to be a positive impact in the lives of our children and friends and coworkers and communities – or we can choose to allow time and circumstances to choose for us.
You may feel like you are not bright enough or educated, or talented enough. Thomas Edison had only three months of formal education. Sir Winston Churchill graduated from his college dead last in his class. Academy award-winning director Steven Spielberg pulled very average Cs through high school
The Austrian psychiatrist Viktor Frankl – who survived interment at several Nazi death camps including Auschwitz and Dachau – saw a lot before he said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: to choose one’s own way.” You can choose to master success.
“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they lie in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”
— Theodore Roosevelt
How To Get There
There are many ways to succeed in court. The conventional method – bringing evidence in a case before a judge or jury and receiving a favorable verdict at the conclusion of trial – may be the most familiar, but is not the most common outcome of litigation. Most cases are either settled before trial or dismissed (which is another way to measure success if you happen to be the defendant).
“Whether you are suing or being sued, keep in mind that the opposing lawyer probably has been given authority by her client to recommend an amount to settle the case,” the Nolo Press advises the pro se when going up against an attorney.
If you have a solid command of the facts of your case and can “demonstrate through your court papers and conversation that you know enough about the legal system to get what you deserve … the chances are good the opposing lawyer will be willing to consider or offer a reasonable settlement at an early stage.”
Achievers don’t just stumble upon their accomplishments. There is a repetitive formula for success. Many years ago I was on my way to a University of Maryland basketball game at Cole Filed House where the Terps were playing the Wolfpack from North Carolina State. As I was riding in my car to a Maryland basketball game against North Carolina State I was listening to the Johnny Holiday pre game radio show. Johnny was interviewing the State coach Jim Valvano. Valvano had just won a National Championship the year before. Shortly into the interview Johnny ask Coach Valvano what his secret to success was. Coach Valvano said rather non challantly and quickly–” Well Johnny you have to have a vision, then a strategy and you have to be enthusiastic then you have to work like crazy to make sure that you accomplish the vision”. Coach Valvano said that his vision was to win the game on a shot at the buzzer. His strategy was to get to the last 2 minutes no more than 6 points down. He was sure that his team could play strong enough defense in the final 2 minutes to make sure the other team did not score and he was sure his team could execute and score over that relatively short period of time. Sure enough over the years I watched Jim Valvano execute his plan for success and he wound up being one of the most successful coaches. His life was cut short by a tragic and fatal fight with cancer–but the coach never gave up. His lesson and legacy will live on for years.
- Vision: A clear vision of a successful outcome and the spoils of that outcome. Remember, Solomon said “ without a vision my people will perish”(For the litigant, a judge or jury’s decision in one’s favor)
- Strategy: Getting ready. Planning and undertaking the actions and steps necessary to be ready to execute. (Preparing the case, assembling evidence, testimony, writing briefs, motions, etc.)
- Enthusiasm: You have to be excited about what you are doing. But enthusiasm is more than just excitement –it is the power of positive thinking. The notion that no obstacle is too big to be overcome.
- Work: Victory requires effort and then more effort .
What It Takes
Lastly, another way to deceive oneself is to believe that success will be easy or come without the requisite labor. If that were true, everyone would succeed at everything.
Real success always comes at a price. “What’s holding back most people from reaching their potential?” asks the American Success Institute in their empowerment series, Master Small Business. “Well, underachieving can be a very comfortable cocoon.”
“Most people find an acceptable reason for [playing it] safe. … This sounds perfectly normal and agreeable. Others will agree. No one will blame you.” The Institute adds, “Did anyone call you a loser yesterday? Of course not. So relax, no one is going to push you to excel today or tomorrow either.”
Former Chicago Bears middle linebacker Mike Singletary earned a slot in the Hall of Fame, registering the most or the second most tackles on his team for each of his twelve years in the league. Coming in at 6 foot nothing, weighing a modest 230 pounds with only so-so speed, Singletary was arguably lucky to even earn a roster spot on an NFL team, let alone carry on to lead one of the most stellar careers in league history. His story should be required reading for anyone looking to understand achievement.
Mike Singletary accomplished his achievements on pure heart and ravenous desire. No one studied or prepared more for game day than Singletary and in his book, the hall of famer spells out the sacrifices required to succeed at the NFL – or any other worthy cause.
“If you think it will be easy, you won’t succeed. If you need things to fall into place for you, you’ll fail. If you’re counting on luck or breaks or fortune, it won’t happen. If you think you can get something for nothing, you’re mistaken. No, it isn’t easy, it isn’t common. But the prize is right there on the shelf. The price tag is on it. Are you willing, or are you content to just dream.”
— Mike Singletary, Singletary On Singletary
So What If Your Opponent Has An Attorney
Another kind of lie deceives the pro se litigant into feeling inferior and less than deserving because an opponent has an attorney to represent him. The pro se wants to win his case every bit as much as a represented client; we’ve already established that. But, that does little to reassure a nervous defendant and would-be, first-time litigator, struggling to remember the rules for introducing motions while at the next table over, the plaintiff’s attorney chats smugly with his client and sips ice water in his $700 Armani suit.
It is not uncommon for a pro se litigant to walk into a courtroom believing he has somehow shortchanged his case because he hasn’t shelled out hundreds or even thousands of dollars for an attorney. He can have a perfectly valid legal right to his claim, have at his fingertips all the supporting testimony and evidence needed to prove that claim and even walk into court with a solid understanding of how to present his case and still fail to persuade a judge or jury to award him his due.
“If your claim is relatively straightforward and you have good information, there is no reason to back down just because a lawyer shows up on the other side,” writes Nolo Press in a piece published on the FindLaw.com Web site. “Likewise, if a lawyer brings suit against you in many types of smaller lawsuits, you should consider defending yourself without paying the expense of a lawyer.” 
The pro se litigant should carry no inner conflicts about self-representation. Sure, there are cases when it would be reckless to proceed without well-qualified representation, but there are likewise many situations where an attorney would simply complicate things and increase costs. It would make little sense to walk into traffic court with a lawyer in tow to fight a hundred dollar speeding ticket, for example.
“Lawyers routinely charge $150 to $450 an hour for their time, and that includes time spent talking to you on the telephone, researching your case in the library, driving to and from court and waiting (sometimes several hours) in the courtroom for the case to be called,” the Nolo Press piece writes. “It doesn’t take a genius to understand that if you can do the job yourself, you can save buckets of money.”
The legal system doesn’t consider you a helpless bystander in your case, unable to speak out or contribute to your own defense. Neither, then should you.
While most lawyers will treat you with professional courtesy if you treat them likewise, don’t be intimidated by a lawyer who tries to brush you off or bully you, whether in court or pre-trial. They may try tactics including minimizing your claim or legal entitlement to it, delaying or dodging you during pre-trial discovery, or being otherwise dismissive in an attempt to knock down your confidence.
Pay particular attention to attempts like these and guard against other passive aggressive techniques when and if the time comes for settlement negotiations. It’s probably a good idea to at least talk to an attorney during this phase and get some guidance of what such negotiations might look like and how to succeed at them, especially if the settlement documents are slathered in indecipherable legalese. Be skeptical, pretend you’re trying to buy a used car from them.
“To reach the port of success we must sail, sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it – but we must sail, not drift or lie at anchor.”
— Oliver Wendell Holmes