One of the hallmarks of a good attorney is to always be learning. Throughout my career, I have learned from attorneys working with me and against me. I have learned from Judges, paralegals, court reporters, experts, and clients. The practice of law requires that attorneys always seek out new skills and experiences to constantly improve. I spent three months between Japan and the United Kingdom, and from the summit of Mt. Fuji to dungeons of the Tower of London, I forced myself to be open to new experiences.
Practicing law in San Luis Obispo, Santa Maria, and Lompoc is very different than dining with Ninjas in Tokyo. However, the coast of Ireland really reminded me of the Morro Bay and Pismo Beach areas. British food cannot hold a candle to Tri Tip, but I enjoyed it just the same. And while the Trinity College students did not get to enjoy the campus and surrounding area of Cal Poly, they shared the same hunger for knowledge and the excitement of youth. Here is what I learned in my travels:
1) Never be afraid of something new. Lawyers can be very afraid of change. We see a lot of the same types of cases, and a lot of our arguments are very formulaic and predictable. It is easy to get into a pattern. I made a rule for myself when I traveled the world, which was to never turn down an opportunity. Of course, every rule has it’s exception, so I did pass on the horse sashimi. However, there were plenty of times in Japan where I just pointed to a random menu item in Japanese and hoped for the best. I also tried the Haggis in Scotland. In every case, I was pleasantly surprised. As it turns out, Haggis tastes like Swedish meatballs and I loved it. I had more good food in Japan than I ever expected. The lesson I can draw from this is that every case is unique. No matter how many cases blend together, or the facts are eerily the same, every client’s situation is going to be different. Attorneys have to be willing to take calculated risks in the courtroom, of course only so long as the client is ok with it. There are times to play it safe and conservative, but every attorney has seen a case with overwhelming evidence against his or her client. Creativity and courtroom risks are sometimes the only way to catch the prosecutor off guard and put a client in a position to walk away at the end of the trial.
2) Perseverance in the face of adversity will yield rewards. My experience climbing Mt. Fuji reinforced my firm belief that hard work in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds will always pay off. From the base of Mt. Fuji, climbing above the clouds looks impossible. I climbed through the night, so when I began the climb I could see all the other climbers’ headlamps snaking up the mountainside. The only thing to do was to keep my head down and take it one step at a time. There were times when it would have been so easy to turn around. After I passed 10,000 feet, I will be honest, the lack of oxygen made everything more difficult. I remember changing my socks at one of the mountain huts in the freezing cold. Tying my hiking boots took several attempts as I had to force myself to focus so I could keep moving. When any client has been charged with a crime, a panic sets in. So many questions swirl through your head like, am I going to go to jail, or will I lose my job? Clients often have no idea what to expect, and have visions of going to trial on their very first court date. In reality, the court process is very slow, and you have plenty of time to learn about the government’s case against you as you make the decision about what to do with your future. Time to breathe and a good guide that you trust can make all the difference. By taking the journey one step at a time, controlling what we can control, and persevering, you will take control over your future and reach the finish line. There is no greater feeling than sitting on top of the world and enjoying a sunrise at 12,388 feet. Similarly, there is no greater feeling than no longer having a criminal charge hanging over your head and getting your life back.
3) You can’t always assume people around you speak the language. I was blown away that even the taxi drivers in Japan do not speak English. This is amazing because all of the road signs are in English. Also, talking to fellow bar patrons in Ireland was certainly an exercise in patience. One of the biggest problems I have seen with lawyers is they insist on speaking legalese to their clients. I firmly believe that legalese is the lowest form of human speech. Speaking in easy to understand plain English is important when discussing a client’s future. Although a lawyer can be effective who tries to demonstrate how smart he or she is, it sure makes it harder to communicate.
4) Get out and see the world around you. It is so easy to stay inside your hotel room surrounded by the usual comforts of television or the internet. It is amazing what you can find when you get out and wander around. Aimlessly wandering in a new city and culture is intensely rewarding, and you learn so much more than merely hitting the top sights on Trip Advisor. It reinforces my long belief that you cannot litigate from police reports. An attorney learns so much about the case by leaving the office and the courtroom, and actually visiting the scene where you got pulled over, or visiting the bar where everything happened. I have never failed to learn something useful for trial by leaving the office behind and meeting clients and witnesses on their own turf, so I can better understand what happened to give rise to the facts before me in a case. It is the difference between reading and experiencing.
5) Take the time to meet new people. Getting to know the people around you can lead to some of the best times in your life. When we were children, we learned not to talk to strangers, but as adults, it should be encouraged. When I set out to climb Mt. Fuji, I planned on climbing alone. When I bought my round trip ticket to Mt. Fuji, the train station personnel failed to tell me that it was impossible to catch the bus to the base of the mountain, and when I arrived, I was stranded. Luckily, there were others in the exact same situation. Getting a ride turned out to be a huge ordeal, but by chatting up my fellow stranded travelers, we found a local American ex-pat who gave us a ride himself, and in the process met friends with three German lawyers and one French diplomat who brought me into their group and became my climbing partners. They made that climb for me, and gave me the motivation to keep going every time I wanted to stop. In Ireland, I was sitting in a pub by myself using the wifi signal to “watch” a football game, and I chatted up the guy next to me. Within an hour, we moved to another bar where all of his friends and family were, and I drank Irish Whiskey and Guinness with long into the early morning hours. One thing I have learned as an attorney is a case goes beyond a client. What I mean is that if you are facing a criminal charge, you are not the only one who is affected. I never like clients making snap decisions, and before I ever advise you to give up your Constitutional Rights and take a plea agreement, I encourage you to discuss the decision with your family. More than that, I like to help you have that conversation with your family, so everyone around you can support you in your decision. Taking the time to get to know a client’s family is crucial to giving the best advice, so much like talking to strangers, I find the more people I talk to, the better experience it is for everyone.
I am excited to be back on the Central Coast of California. After a year dedicated to military service, I am happy to be ready to take care of the legal needs of San Luis Obispo County, Santa Barbara County, as well as any military clients who find themselves in trouble. I am encouraged because whether I am practicing law or traveling the world, I firmly believe in getting out of the office and out of my comfort zone to vastly improve myself and offer the best legal representation to my clients. If you are in need of an attorney who will fight hard for you, but also communicate well with you, look no further than the Taylor Defense Firm.