July 28, 2021

Hillary A. Taylor Publishes New Article About Appellate Advocacy In DRI’s The Voice

Hillary A. Taylor, an appellate and trial lawyer published a new article this week, “Mental Preparation: Before, During, and After the Pandemic.”

Mental Preparation: Before, During, and After the Pandemic
The Voice | July 23, 2021 | Volume 20, Issue 9
By Hillary A. Taylor

In the early days of lockdown, I published an article suggesting that lawyers could learn from elite athletes when it comes to mental preparation. (Improving Oral Advocacy Through Mental Preparation, The Voice, Vol 19, Issue 14, April 8, 2020). I wrote at my kitchen table, before pandemic reality was entrenched. No amount of preparation could have spared us the experience of the COVID-19 pandemic. The toll of the pandemic teaches that mental awareness and toughness are as important for everyday life as for extraordinary circumstances.

Whether you are preparing to argue a trial court motion or appearing before the highest appellate court in your jurisdiction, the ability to quiet your mind and focus is critical to success. Learning to be present amid chaos and a sea of uncertainty pays dividends.

At the beginning, it was difficult to concentrate. We were forced to practice in new and extreme ways necessitating even more mental energy and stamina to achieve simple tasks. With the world coming to a seeming halt, briefing deadlines continued unabated. Much of the life of an appellate lawyer remained remarkably undisturbed in terms of the work that needed to be done—it simply marched on. However, by the time Labor Day 2020 arrived, my beloved Pacific Northwest was literally on fire. If it was hard to concentrate before, what now? How then, do we continue to advocate for clients with zeal, attend to our families and law practices, and just generally carry on engulfed in crisis?

One key to combating loss of control is to pay greater attention to that which you still can. Mindfulness, awareness, and intentionality occupy important roles in getting through the mundane. Practice evolved. Zoom became a household name, and the idea of conducting a remote –fill in the blank– was no longer foreign but expected. The adage “get comfortable being uncomfortable,” took on new meaning. Everything, from grocery shopping to meeting remotely with a client, felt uncomfortable. Attention to mental health, taking care of oneself, and coping were acute. Many turned to meditation or new forms of exercise to enable functioning as “normal” through this shared experience that was anything but.

It is important to find solace where we can. Our brains need a break from constant stress and uncertainty. Particularly in the early months of the pandemic, the best days, when I felt most myself, were the days that I argued something. Anything really. After a couple of months, I did not even care that it was by telephone. (Pre-pandemic I would have done almost anything to avoid this.) In fact, despite all the shortcomings of telephonic argument, there was a great deal of care taken on all sides to give every argument appropriate attention, despite what else may have been happening in the background. We all craved moments of normalcy, grounding the work, providing context and meaning as we plugged away, siloed in our homes.

When preparing for my first remote appellate argument, I struggled. I was distracted by what would be different. Preparation for argument is usually fun, and I have a trusted process. This time, I would be advocating via videoconference from a makeshift podium in our law firm library. My best outings occur when I employ tools like deep breathing and visualization, on top of substantive preparation. I had no idea how to bridge that gap with being remote, and I knew of no examples to learn from.

A few weeks before argument I felt an unfamiliar and growing discomfort. In response, I forced myself to set up a “courtroom” that I used to practice and help me visualize what this would look like, what I would look like, and how this would go. This is what I could control. That acknowledgment and acceptance freed me to prepare like I always do, with special attention to the remote aspects, but in all other ways following my process. My fear of the remote beast was vanquished, importantly, before I stepped up to the podium. By the time argument was over, I knew I had accomplished everything I needed to and aptly represented the client’s interests. Had I not forced myself to reckon with the unfamiliar discomfort to become mentally prepared, it likely would have not gone nearly as well. Strange times call for particularized responses. Allowing yourself flexibility in your approach to meet the unfamiliar, allows greater performance under pressure.

Being present and in the moment when you are advocating for a client is a learned and important skill. Just like for athletes, many of whom are just now getting to perform again, so, too, is it important for lawyers to be mentally on point as advocates, whether in person or otherwise. It is important for lawyers to be present and undaunted. Those skills are facilitated by engaging in the mental caretaking and mindfulness that comes with true mental preparation. Both are key to a successful and rewarding law practice, perhaps more so now than ever before.

Hillary A. Taylor is a Shareholder with Keating Jones Hughes, P.C. in Portland, Oregon, where her practice focuses on professional liability defense, at trial and on appeal in Oregon and Washington. She obtained her B.A. from Lewis & Clark College and her J.D. from Willamette University College of Law. Ms. Taylor has authored many amicus briefs on issues of importance in cases before the Oregon Supreme Court. She enjoys spending her free time with her husband, who owns Portland Baseball Club. Ms. Taylor is a member of DRI.