Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
The methods by which trial attorneys deal with the day-to-day stress inherent in their work — particularly in the presence of gruesome facts or intense media scrutiny — often are as varied as the facts of the cases themselves. Regardless of the specific approaches to addressing stress, physical exercise and good interpersonal relationships with family and friends help lawyers maintain balance and perspective. Texas Lawyer asked six veteran trial attorneys to share their approaches to combating stress and maintaining balance in their lives during trials. � Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley‘s office has a policy that when attorneys complete a big case, they don’t show up for work for 24 hours. “There is too much you have assimilated and too much to debrief yourself on to come back to work the next day,” Bradley says. One of the most emotional cases Bradley tried involved former topless dancer Tina Marie Cornelius, who pleaded guilty in February 2000 to two counts of injury to a child after her two toddlers were found dead along a secluded creek bed. The case generated tremendous media attention and was featured in GQ magazine. For Bradley, playing basketball is an effective outlet. He plays on two teams — one on Wednesdays, one on Sundays — which breaks up the week. “If I miss those games, I’m noticeably higher stressed,” Bradley says. “I play really hard. I tend to foul a lot — am very aggressive — but it’s a tremendous release. After we finish playing, we tend to go to a bar and have a couple of beers. Most of these people are nonlawyers, which also is helpful. Hanging around lawyers is a bad idea when you’re filled with stress.” In addition to basketball, Bradley says he has a “very generous wife” who lets him talk about his work. “I find a lot of other lawyers’ spouses have the opposite rule — they don’t want to hear what the story is.” On some occasions, Bradley even discusses it in front of his three children so they know what he’s dealing with. He says he’d rather have them know his stress is work-related and not wrongly assume that they are responsible. “Having a kid hug you is a pretty big release, too,” he says. � Harris County prosecutor Joseph Owmby, division chief of Felony Division C, who prosecuted Andrea Yates, also sought ways to insulate his emotions from the grisly details. “I made a little personal plan,” says Owmby. “I did not look at the autopsy photos or deal with the deaths of the children until I had to — which is when we were actually getting ready to plan the testimony. So it wasn’t until a month before the trial that I actually looked at the clothes they were wearing, looked at live pictures of them, started to study details about their personalities,” Owmby says. “I knew it would be emotional, and I didn’t want to live with it for six months.” As he prepared for trial, Owmby, who says he exercises “on and off,” resumed what used to be his regular exercise program. “You have to maintain some degree of physical fitness,” he says. “I’ve learned that what gets you in trial isn’t the emotional stress but the physical stress, so maintaining some sort of physical exercise helps you stave it off.” Another outlet for Owmby is singing in the church choir. “I’m not a great singer,” he admits, “but I do manage to follow along. Everything about that is helpful with your speaking and control.” Not to mention the outpouring of support from other choir members. “People would ask ‘how are you doing’ or say they were saying a prayer for you, which was great,” he says. In an effort to maintain balance in his life, Owmby designated a few weekends where he didn’t work on the Yates case — to take grandchildren to the zoo and such. “You have to schedule that,” Owmby says. “The way the trial develops, we can’t exactly plan cross-exam. We don’t know who is going to be called or basically what they are going to say. During the trial, we could get to work 6:30, 7 a.m. and go home 10:30, 11 p.m. every day, really working 11 hours on Saturday and five hours on Sunday. You have to plan some day off during the trial because you have a tendency to just stay in the office.” After the trial ended, Owmby took a week off to spend time with his extended family on the occasion of an aunt’s 80th birthday. Owmby says that when he first started working at the district attorney’s office, fellow lawyers would rather pass out than complain about stress. “Now I am in a supervisory position. We tell people: ‘Don’t do that. Let somebody know.’” It is possible to shift people out of trial work for brief periods of time if necessary, Owmby says. “We don’t have a counseling program, but we are more aware than we used to be that going to trial every day or every week back to back takes a toll on people.” � Houston attorney George Parnham, of Parnham & Associates, represented Andrea Yates, the Houston mother who drowned her five children in 2001 and was sentenced in March 2002 to life in prison. Parnham says that, from an emotional standpoint, the Yates case was the hardest task he has ever undertaken — professionally and personally. “I just found myself having to basically anesthetize my emotions on a graduated basis,” Parnham says. “One day, I would listen to portions of the confession. Then I would have to stop, and I would listen to music. Then I would go back and listen to something else. That may sound strange to say for a criminal-defense lawyer,” he says, “but it was that difficult.” Parnham says he approached the case one step at a time, breaking it down into more manageable morsels. “I finally got up the courage to go down to the house,” he says. “I went in there, and I got the courage to go into the bathroom, and that was a shocker, and I got the courage to go back again, and it was easier the second time.” To deal with the stress of his job, Parnham’s personal regimen includes yoga, skiing, playing racquetball and engaging in physical activities of a competitive nature. “Something mentally distracting is probably the best medicine for stress,” he says. The tremendous outpouring of emotional support from his peers is comforting, too. “You’d be surprised at how supportive it was within the lawyer community,” he says. “Everyone knows what everyone else is going through. Everyone is supportive, and that is very important.” Having expended so much energy and attention on the trial, Parnham felt an emptiness when it concluded. To fill the void, Parnham, together with a group of mental health professionals within the Houston community, has been developing a women’s mental health association, which will focus on education not only of the public, but also of the medical community. “It’s extremely therapeutic,” Parnham says. “You come to a realization that these events which had no happy ending — tragic in every aspect — can lend themselves to something that is affirmative.” � Houston attorney Richard Mithoff of Mithoff & Jacks has handled his fair share of high-profile cases, ranging from landmark breast implant litigation in 1977 to numerous medical-malpractice cases. Among other things, Mithoff represents Pedro Oregon Navarro’s family on appeal in a civil rights suit against the city of Houston and six police officers allegedly involved in Oregon Navarro’s killing on July 12, 1998. As alleged, a Houston Police Department anti-gang task force shot and killed Oregon Navarro during a warrantless drug raid on his apartment during which no drugs were found, according to news reports. And Mithoff represented Dolores Romero, whose husband had surgery to repair a herniated disk and sustained severe brain damage. The jury returned a verdict of nearly $41 million in April 2000. After the trial, Mithoff took time off to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. His normal regimen is more mundane, however. “During trial, I like to get outside and run,” Mithoff says. “I run three, four, five miles at a time. When I get out of trial, I like heading up to the mountains — hiking, climbing, skiing — depending on the season.” Mithoff also enjoys recharging with deep-sea fishing. Later this month, Mithoff has a wrongful-death trial in Orange, Texas. The death resulted from an alleged Firestone tire failure. After the trial, he plans to head to Wyoming’s Grand Tetons for inspiration and refreshment. One of the most important ingredients to weathering the challenges as a lawyer is loving what you do, Mithoff says. “I think you really have to enjoy what you do and really enjoy people to be in this profession, to be a trial lawyer. The demands are great, but the rewards can be great as well.” � Ask Houston attorney Dan Cogdell, who has more than 250 jury trials behind him, about cases that were particularly “stress-intensive” and he mentions the 1994 six-week Branch Davidian trial, in which he represented surviving Branch Davidian Clive Doyle — he was acquitted of conspiracy to murder federal officers — and the highly publicized 1998 “cadet trial” in which Cogdell’s client, U.S. Air Force cadet David Graham, was convicted of killing a high school girl in 1995 allegedly to appease the jealousy of his ex-fiancee, Diane Zamora, a U.S. Navy Academy cadet also convicted for the murder. Cogdell finds his work completely absorbing — but at a price. “I’m very one-dimensional, very tunnel-visioned. When I become involved in a trial, my practice and my client never suffer because of the stress, but my personal life seems to suffer. I think my career as a trial lawyer is certainly, if not the sole cause, the proximate cause of being triple divorced. … [M]y relationships with people personally have certainly suffered.” So how does Cogdell relax after a day in court? Much differently than he used to, he says. When he was younger, he admits to being “a lot more raucous” in his behavior than he is now. “It was not unusual, for example, in the Branch Davidian stretch for us to go to a saloon after court and drink to midnight or 1 or 2 and get back up at 5 o’clock in the morning and prepare for trial and have our spear not only sharpened, but pointed in the right direction.” Today, as the single parent of a 5-year-old, Cogdell’s approach is “much more pedestrian,” he says. He goes to the gym every night and then goes home. On the weekends, however, Cogdell races motorcycles, as he has for 20 years. “I suppose that, more than anything else, allows me to flush my legal commode,” says Cogdell. “Motorcycle racing is a very focused sport. You really have to pay attention. … You can’t really worry about whether you made the right argument or picked the right jury or filed the right motion. If you don’t pay attention, you’re going to get hurt … so it really takes your mind away from your practice. � Houston solo Michael Ramsey, with Dick DeGuerin of Houston’s DeGuerin & Dickson, represents headline-capturing, cross-dressing real estate heir Robert Durst, who will go on trial for the murder of his Galveston, Texas, neighbor, Morris Black, after Black’s headless body was found in Galveston Bay in September 2001. Ramsey also represents Robert Angleton, now scheduled for a second trial related to the 1997 murder of his wife, Doris Angleton. “I don’t feel much stress during trial,” says Ramsey “There is some anxiety about getting ready, I guess — about whether everything is done that should be done — [but] … if you waited until you were fully ready, you’d never be ready.” What does Ramsey do to unwind? “Since I’ve gotten too old to drink, there’s not much I do,” he says and laughs. Ramsey says he doesn’t really feel the need to unwind. “I feel more in control in a courtroom than when I’m at the breakfast table,” Ramsey says. “More able to handle things. At least you are in a position to influence events. “Most guys who try a lot of cases are people who are happy with the gamesmanship involved,” Ramsey says. “You get into a kind of a zone, and nothing else is important except what you are working on. … All the mundane problems having to do with phone calls and writing letters and all of the paraphernalia that goes with practicing law goes away, and you haven’t got but one thing to think about and that is how to fly that particular airplane.” Still, when it comes time to relax, Ramsey opts for what he calls “sedentary” pursuits, including reading history books. Although he doesn’t have any physical hobbies himself, he stresses the importance of maintaining “good physical health and be[ing] in good animal spirits.” As for whether the grisly details ever cause him distress, Ramsey says, dismissively, “It’s just a matter of professionalism. It’s like asking a surgeon about blood. Blood is part of the professional life we’ve chosen, and if you don’t like blood, you ought not be in it.”

This content has been archived. It is available through our partners, LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law.

To view this content, please continue to their sites.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Not a Bloomberg Law Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law are third party online distributors of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law customers are able to access and use ALM's content, including content from the National Law Journal, The American Lawyer, Legaltech News, The New York Law Journal, and Corporate Counsel, as well as other sources of legal information.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

Reprints & Licensing
Mentioned in a Law.com story?

License our industry-leading legal content to extend your thought leadership and build your brand.


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.