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When To Go Slow

A few weeks ago I visited friends near Battle, England. I toured the site of the Battle of Hastings, in which Norman troops and their allies defeated the English on October 14, 1066, effecting the Norman Conquest. (FYI, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Hastings) On the tour, I was reminded of some unfortunate incidents in the careers of lawyers I have known.

Whatever else may have caused the catastrophic defeat of the English, two factors were critical. The English troops were exhausted. Not more than three weeks earlier, under the leadership of King Harold, the English army had lost over 5,000 men in a gruesome battle defeating the Norwegian Army, led by Harold’s brother Tostig. The victorious English soldiers then walked home for a week, averaging 27 miles a day while carting arms and provisions. These were men who, although happy about their victory, were being depleted by the day, both physically and emotionally.

On his way back, Harold heard that William and his army had landed on English shores, clearly with plans to conquer England. The exhausted English soldiers were in poor condition to take on a rested, well-prepared Norman army, especially one that included cavalry. The English army was horseless.

Historians disagree about whether the joining of battle between the English and French needed to be imminent. Some think that Harold could have waited, rested his troops and perhaps even caused hunger in the French ranks. The English farmers and bakers were providing the French reluctantly, and only under threat. But there is no dispute that Harold was in a great hurry to fight the French.

Harold’s army fell for some French ruses. On one bloody day Harold lost his country and his life.

Lawyers can lose clients by charging ahead depleted. I know a solid M&A lawyer who, having recently lost an acquisition for a good client, rushed ahead to acquire another company for the client, who was in a hurry. The lawyer was tired and seeking to please. He did not conduct thorough due diligence concerning the acquisition. “You were in a hurry” did not excuse the mistake, and the client was lost. If this lawyer had rested, he would not have been so neglectful, regardless of the client’s anxiety.

I know more than one instance when litigators who needed postponements for proper preparation have lost cases, and therefore clients, because they wanted to seem invincible.

Have you just concluded a tough litigation or deal? Have you worked nearly round the clock for some period of time? If you have accomplished a professional victory, soak it in. If you have been defeated, rest and retrench.

When exhausted, try hard not to move immediately on to your next project. Sometimes one cannot rest. However, if you or your fellow lawyers and staff need sleep, food or a day or two of down-time, try to avoid the next arduous piece of work long enough to re-energize. For lawyers, whose exhaustion is usually of the mental variety, a day or two may be enough. Take it when you can.

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2 Responses to When To Go Slow

  1. Joanna Norland says:

    Very interesting take on Harold’s mistake — Query: In today’s legal culture, is there room for rest & recharge? I just read that Weil’s partners average $2.2m p.a. — with those kinds of profit expectations, is recovery time permitted . . . or is your point that you can only achieve such targets by acquiring the discipline to rest?

    • K.C. Victor says:

      There are certainly places where rest is a luxury. Lawyers need to decide if that is OK with them. As importantly, lawyers may want to actually consider whether they need rest and reflective time for their well-being. Exhaustion does breed mistakes, and mistakes cost careers.

      Just this week, much of the world learned about Weil’s profits per partner (PPP) from articles like this, http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2013/06/24/big-law-firm-to-cut-lawyers-and-some-partner-pay/?_r=0. In that same article, Weil’s Executive Partner is quoted as saying, “… this not just a cycle but that the supply-demand balance is out of whack across the industry. If we thought this was a cycle and our business was going to pick up meaningfully next year, we would not be doing this.”

      In that environment, few, if any, mistakes are tolerated. Mistakes based on exhaustion have lawyers counting days. No excuses. As you suggest, rest as well as work is a discipline, and one lawyers may want to practice.

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