The Center Line

It takes courage to be a lawyer. Each day, we take on the problems of others and make them our burdens. Each day, we make decisions that could be outcome determinative for our clients. Each day, we fight to win and, sometimes, come up short. It takes courage to do all that and get back out there and try again.

As of this month, I have been training in the martial arts for 20 years. In the martial arts, there’s something called “the center line.” This is the invisible line drawn perpendicular between you and your opponent. It’s also the line on which your body must be balanced to ensure your opponent can’t knock you down or deliver a finishing blow. Lean too far back, you fall over when pushed. Lean too far left or right, and your opponent’s strike knocks you off the center line – giving them the advantage. In physical combat, you chose to move or stay on the center line, never allowing your opponent to do that for you.

For most people, the instinct, in the face of a consequential decision or adversity is to lean back, to avoid, to let other forces decide the issue. When we don’t decide the issue, when we lack the courage to make a tough call, we give up the center line. Giving up this crucial position in a sparring match allows your opponent to take you off balance and knock you down. As an attorney, giving up the center line allows your opponent to decide the direction of your case – and potentially the outcome.

Don’t give up the center line. Have the courage to make the tough call. You decide the direction of your client’s case – each and every day. We must have the courage to hold the center line. Or, as the great Gerry Spence says, “we can simply refuse to give our opponents permission to defeat us.”

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