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Having practiced criminal and civil litigation for almost 25 years, I find it appropriate to take a moment to see if I have learned anything that might help me improve. My accumulation of errors, lucky breaks and occasional insights should provide clues about which qualities were the most valuable and how my most egregious mistakes could avoid being repeated. Indeed, 25 years of life experience should, one hopes, provide further lessons that might apply to the practice of one’s profession. So, I sat down and tried to distill the three most important “pearls of wisdom” that I have gained over the last quarter-century and put them on paper, just in case someone else might find them beneficial. ‘It’s not about you’ It turned out that the three pearls were related. The first came to me rather quickly: It’s not about you. Most litigators have egos either driven to win or driven to be fed. Such egos are generally positive for clients in life-altering struggles with government regulators or aggressive opponents. But in the end, it’s the client who has to serve the sentence or pay the judgment. Losing sight of this undeniable fact can compromise a lawyer’s effectiveness, often driving the case in a direction that satisfies the lawyer’s definition of victory instead of the client’s peace of mind. Not infrequently, a lawyer should suppress his or her own brilliance to represent the client properly. In fact, sometimes a lawyer must act for the client’s benefit in a manner that may even make him or her appear foolish to his or her brothers and sisters at the bar. Ask yourself why you are making that argument, recommending the action or not highlighting a certain fact or event. If it’s about you in almost any respect, then it’s probably not the right choice for your client. The second pearl is a corollary of the first, though much harder to achieve: Let it go. Let go of the need to do it all yourself. Instead, give another lawyer the chance to make you dispensable. The other lawyer will more often exceed your expectations than disappoint your client, and you will have developed a capable ally in the battles to come. Furthermore, let go of everything that’s not a big deal-the insult to your intelligence by opposing counsel or the perceived lack of candor in his or her brief. If we do our job well, the irritating actions of our opponents shouldn’t really affect the substance of what we are trying to achieve. And most importantly, let go of the fact that you screwed up yesterday or that you received praise today. Experience is a wonderful teacher, but it seems to provide clearer guidance for the next big decision if it is not clouded by emotions tied to the recent past. If we can “let it go” each day, the correct choice for tomorrow’s dilemma will come with greater ease. Finally, have some fun. In many ways, this is the most obvious lesson for any professional endeavor. If you are not having any fun, then you are unlikely to be able to help your client. To me, having fun means allowing myself the opportunity to develop insights beyond the careful analysis of the case law or the studious reconstruction of the facts. Without meaning to sound too new age, I am talking about relaxing. When I am experiencing life outside the law, I find myself making better judgments, counseling with greater empathy and communicating with greater clarity. Indeed, the analytics of the law often pose impediments, appearing to close possible avenues of advancing your client’s goals. Careful-sometimes painstaking-analysis is a necessary ingredient for success, but often not sufficient. Bolder and more creative solutions come from not trying to beat every problem with the hammer of deductive reasoning, but with trusting in natural instincts for creating solutions. Just three pearls. I actually may have learned something in 25 years. Perhaps it’s worth a few more years of trying to apply them in order to get it right. Steven Salky is a partner in the Washington office of Zuckerman Spaeder, where he represents clients in civil and white-collar criminal litigation.

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