Monday, December 5, 2011

Practice Makes Perfect

This past Saturday morning, I could be found at my law school. The purpose - to judge a mock trial competition.

I'm sad to report this was my first time in that building since graduation. I left for another city after the bar exam and only recently returned. You can imagine the memories flooding back.

The building looked the same. The classrooms were in their proper place. The library was still on the second floor. But it was all different. Smaller maybe. The memories swirled, but they too were different. They were out of focus and came back slowly like waving around photos from a old polaroid camera.

I was one of three evaluators for the students in my room. This was the culmination of their semester's work in a trial technique class. They had practiced their opening and closing statements for weeks and were ready for action.

That's when the vagueness faded and the memories flooded as if the dam holding them shattered. Growing up, I was paralyzed when public speaking. Sweat dripped from my face and armpits. My voice cracked. My breath faltered. I knew every person watched, judged, and waited for my inevitable mistakes. It was all I could think about.

This didn't develop in law school. The flower of my insecurity was planted in elementary school, watered in high school, and grew like a weed in college. There was just something about speaking to a group that threw my insecurity motor into overdrive.

I determined to crush this feeling in law school. There was only one way to do it. Practice. It took me a year to garner the necessary courage. In my second year, I tried out for the national trial team. This is a team that travels around the country competing against other schools in a mock trial.

At the tryout, I gave an opening statement and cross-examined the defendant. Deep breaths didn't work. Sweat billowed from every outlet. My voice cracked like I'd never used it before. It was so bad, the judges even commented on my nerves.

They saw something though. Something I didn't. Something I was trying to see. They let me on the team (although this could be attributed to having more spots available than applicants). It was a life-altering moment. Without it, I never would have practiced so hard. I might not have set food in a courtroom again.

I competed in Atlanta. We lost. I was far from the best in the competition, but my performance was credible. It was a stepping stone. I signed up to read at my church every week. I tried out and made a moot court team. I took the very same trial technique class I now judged. At the end of law school, speaking in public was a breeze. I actually looked forward to it.

Now, when I stand in front of a jury, there are nerves. But these are different. They aren't nerves based on an irrational fear that these twelve men and women were judging me. The nerves are there because I want to do a great job. I worked so hard on the case that the thought of losing is difficult to accept. Today, I just hope I can live up to my new standards. I am far from perfect at anythind I do, but now I accept my mistakes as lessons. I learn every time. Anytime I'm speaking, I know the audience isn't following along on a printed speech. No one even knows when I make a mistake! I act natural and move on.

That's a far cry from just praying I didn't pass out.

The participants I observed on Saturday were all terrific and will have fine careers. Anyone reading, please take it from me. Practice makes perfect. It's part of the reason I started this blog. I love writing and hope all this practice is helping.

What obstacles have you overcome in your life to get to where you are? Your career?


  1. Believe it or not, my big weakness has always been details. I am a big-picture guy and have a tendency to overlook details. And, as you know, that can be fatal to a case. The public speaking thing, oddly enough I've always enjoyed it. But give me a case chock full of piddly details and... well, check my work. :)

  2. I do my best in front of a group now and when I haven't had trial in a while, I get a little antsy. I've been burned my many an astute defense attorney on those inconsequential details that turn out very consequential. We learn every time though.