My preferred method of exercise is…Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. It is similar to chess, but you play the “game” with your whole body. Each round ends when somebody gets “submitted”, either because that person is being “choked out” to near-unconsciousness, or because he or she has had a limb (arm, leg, shoulder, whatever) extended close to the breaking point. As a workout, it is basically high-intensity interval training, not unlike CrossFit, but with the additional mental challenge of trying to control and submit your opponents while preventing them from doing the same to you. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is not for everybody, but if you find normal workouts kind of boring, it might be for you.
The best advice I’ve received about balancing work and life is…Know when to hang it up for the day. You should absolutely work hard and give your all, but keep in mind that no employer is going to tap on your door at 7pm and say “hey, you’ve done enough today. Go home and relax.” There is no better work/life balance just over the horizon for you unless you make it happen! People who don’t figure this out either don’t last in our profession or wind up miserable.
The one thing I would tell a stressed out and overwhelmed lawyer is…Make lists. It’s not exactly revelatory, but it can be a big stress reliever. As attorneys, we have all felt overwhelmed by the volume of work we are tasked with on a regular basis, but I find this feeling mostly comes from not being able to fully remember everything I have committed to. To mediate this, I always encourage new lawyers to make a solid list of everything out there for them to do, work through the items on that list, cross them off, and take the time to update your list with new items at least once a week. Once everything is in front of you in black and white, it doesn’t feel as daunting as when you are trying to remember it piecemeal.
The best way to deal with a difficult colleague or opposing counsel is…Rise above. As attorneys, we rarely have our first choice as to colleagues or opposing counsel. All of us will eventually have to deal with people who are unprofessional, who try to intimidate or manipulate by force of personality, who don’t know what they are doing, or who have just lost their perspective. There is an old saying: “Never wrestle with a pig, you both get dirty and the pig likes it.” The worst thing you can do is engage people like this on their own level. It can be hard, but you have to resist the very natural impulse to “clap back” and vindicate your ego. Separate the nonsense from the substance and just respond to the substance if you respond at all. It is admittedly not as satisfying in the moment, but over the long term, becoming known in your legal community as a cool-headed professional will be worth far more than nailing the perfect insult or getting in a shouting match.
My favorite hobby is…I play guitar and write songs for a local rock band, the Seraphonics, in my spare time. I have been involved with music in some fashion since I was a teenager, and the whole cycle of writing, rehearsing, releasing and performing music is a great stress reliever that is totally different from how I spend my work-week.
I keep my priorities straight by…Making sure that my work life is balanced by demanding pursuits focused in different areas. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu gives me a chance to engage in a very direct, fast, physical kind of problem solving, and songwriting allows me to engage in a very deliberate, creative form of self-expression. Both those hobbies are very different from what I am doing day-in and day-out as an attorney, but I find that what I learn in these pursuits often informs my professional life in ways I had not considered.
The most gratifying part about my job is…I have the best client: The State of Florida. The only thing my client ever asks of me is that I do the right thing, and by serving my client, I also get a chance to better my community. I might not always agree with my colleagues or opposing counsel on what “the right thing” is, but I have never felt compelled to do anything unethical as a government attorney.
The best life lesson I ever learned was…Try new things, and don’t be afraid to be bad at them. As people get older, they tend to ossify into doing the same well-worn activities that they were comfortable with in their youth. Feelings of embarrassment or inadequacy can keep us from taking those first, tentative steps into new experiences, but the most rewarding things in life tend to come from challenges and growth fostered by those challenges.
I wish more lawyers…Didn’t take things personally. Attorneys tend to be naturally competitive, and this can lead to the terrible habit of attaching their own egos to the results they are (or are not) able to achieve as litigators. Often the outcomes of our cases are dictated by factors well-beyond our control, like the underlying facts of each case, or the decisions of judges who may not see things the way we would like them to. You must have an internal compass for when you are doing your best work and let that be your polestar, not decisions you have no control over.
Jeremy Scott is a 2007 graduate of FIU Law School in Miami, Florida. He currently works as an Assistant Statewide Prosecutor in the Attorney General’s Office, where he investigates, charges and litigates multi-district criminal cases in a variety of areas including organized fraud, retail & cargo theft, drug interdiction and gangs.