UPSETS IN SPORTS AND COURTS: Fight Without Fear

In court and in sport, sometimes things don’t go as expected. In this post I talk about the past weekend in college football, and a recent court case in which a chance objection had unexpected and wide-ranging results.

First, even if you’re not a college football fan, it’s hard to believe that between last Thursday and last Saturday, half of the top 16 ranked teams lost. Conventional wisdom had them all winning. Most notably, everyone thought #2 Oregon would dispatch Arizona; #3 Alabama would beat up on Ole Miss; #4 Oklahoma would clobber anyone; #6 Texas A&M would dismantle Mississippi State; #8 UCLA would trounce lowly Utah; and #16 Wisconsin would not even have to show up to beat Northwestern.

And by Saturday night, Oregon, Alabama, Oklahoma, A&M, UCLA and Wisconsin had all lost.

That wacky weekend has parallels to fighting a criminal case, both from a lawyer’s and a client’s perspective. Here are the connections and lessons I see:

First, no matter what the odds, never count yourself out or give yourself little chance of winning – no matter what you’re walking into – before the game has been played.

Second, if you have worked as hard as you can to prepare for the battle, you simply won’t fall apart when the chips are down; you’ll be ready.

Third, without getting cocky, you can know your opponent’s weaknesses and be confident in your ability to get at them. How do I know this? Because it’s happened in court, and because this past weekend, I predicted that Alabama, Oklahoma, A&M, UCLA and Wisconsin would lose! (I didn’t know Oregon was playing Thursday night; the Ducks haven’t looked like themselves all season – I guess I’m saying there’s an even chance I would have picked the Ducks to lose, but we’ll never know.)

Fourth, have a game plan and stick to it unless it’s clear that you need to adapt to something else. An example: A few weeks ago, I was in a long hearing on a client’s case. The judge had been overruling my objections all day, and wrongly. When a chance to object arose as to some documents that were being offered by the prosecutor, I spoke up again – even though I figured the judge would admit the evidence. To my surprise, the judge sustained the objection, the DA’s witness didn’t want to give away what he said was a confidential source of the document – and the court ended up excluding the document entirely. That led to dismissal of several counts against my client. My game plan had been to fight the charges those counts were about; but when the DA changed course and didn’t make a record, I changed course, too, so as to not fill the void with a record of my own. The counts’ dismissal soon followed.

Fifth and finally, whether you’re Arizona playing Oregon in Eugene, or Ole Miss squaring off against the Tide, or Mississippi State, eternally mocked by the perennial powerhouses of your own conference — or if you’re a criminal defendant fighting for your name, reputation, liberty and future — you can’t let fear conquer you, or keep you out of the fight. Whether in court or in sport, you have to commit; play smart; adapt; get in there and mix it up; never let your opponent see you sweat; remember what you want; and, in one way or another, go and get it.

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