Heather Hansen

How to Win Your Trials – In Business and in Life

Medical malpractice cases are fascinating and tragic. Two people who have known each other, trusted each other, and touched each other, are now at war in the courtroom. These cases are personal, even to the observer. We all have bodies, and these cases involve how those bodies work. The stories told in these cases are stories everyone can understand.

For 20 years I’ve been a med mal defense attorney. My clients have stories. The doctor who has delivered babies for so long that he’s forgotten what it is to sleep through the night. A young emergency room doctor who will be paying off school debt until 2030, because her childhood dream was to save lives. A surgeon who spends what little vacation time he has in Africa, operating on children who would otherwise never see a doctor.  When I stand to open before a jury, I tell them that it is my privilege and honor to represent these doctors. I am telling the truth. 

The other side has stories too. A young mother whose child will never ride a bike, pack a lunchbox, or eat through anything other than a feeding tube. A father whose son died before he could say good bye. A woman who looks like me, except her hair is less than an inch long, starting to grow back after the latest round of chemo. These are the people I have to cross examine. When I toss and turn at night during my trials, I tell myself I don’t know if I can do it, I am telling the truth. 

My job is to advocate for my clients. I have to ask questions and master objections (both making them and overcoming them). I have to build credibility, and persuade with skill so that the jury ultimately chooses my story. And the skills I use to advocate in the courtroom are skills you can use in business and in life. 

Because you are an advocate too. An advocate is a supporter, a champion. Every day you advocate for your family, your business, your ideas. Hopefully you also advocate for yourself. It’s not always neat, or clean, or easy. It can be hard. But in 20 years as an advocate for my clients in the courtroom, I’ve learned a few things. First, even in a courtroom battle, there are ways to fulfill your role as advocate and still respect your opponent, their client, and yourself. Everyone is entitled to dignity. Second, and more importantly for your purposes, life outside of the courtroom is not a zero sum game. In life’s trials, with enough patience, imagination, intention and empathy, everyone can win.

You can use a lawyer’s tools to win more deals, better teams, and more satisfied clients. In my book, The Elegant Warrior-How to Win Life’s Trials Without Losing Yourself, I tell you how. But here is the first step. Want to know how to win? Start by recognizing that in most situations, everyone can. 

Heather Hansen

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