The first time I lost a trial I honestly wasn’t sure I’d recover. I’d tried less than 10 jury trials, and I’d been fortunate enough to win them all. This case was different though. During the 2 year period from when the case was filed to when we went to trial, I knew it was going to be a tough case to win. The medical care was good, and my expert could defend every thing my doctor had done. But the story the patient’s attorney had to tell was compelling, and the damages were extensive. When your plan for trying a case is to put good medicine up against a wonderful, likable, sincere woman who’d suffered significant pain and had horrific scars to prove it, you’ve got to recognize you’re facing a challenge.

But once trial started, I was all in. You have to be all in to try a case well.  A jury isn’t likely to believe you should win your case if you don’t believe it. By the time the case went to the jury to deliberate, I was quite sure we should and, more importantly, would win.

 “All stand for the jury.” My legs always shake when a jury files in with a verdict slip in the foreperson’s hand. We sat as the foreperson stood to read that verdict. My routine is to keep a jury sheet in front of me, and fill it in as the foreperson speaks. Here–I couldn’t believe what I was writing. We’d lost, and the verdict was high.

Initially, I was appalled and angry. I’d let my client down, and I didn’t know what to say to the doctor who I’d tried so hard to serve. I stood waiting outside the jury room to see if any of the jurors would want to talk to me, to explain their verdict. They didn’t. They filed out, avoiding eye contact as they went back to their lives. I felt like my life would never be the same. Walking home, wheeling my trial bag which seemed heavier with each bump, I started to cry. By the time I reached Rittenhouse Square I was weeping, hoping I wouldn’t see anyone I knew as my shoulders wracked with tears and disappointment. I should have taken a cab.

I wanted to skip work the next day. I didn’t want to go to the office and deal with sympathetic looks or questions from those who hadn’t heard the whispered news. “She lost.”  But I had other cases to handle, and clients to serve. I got in even earlier than usual, went to my office and closed the door. That didn’t stop the phone from ringing, though. For other attorneys in other cases, life didn’t stop for my benefit.

A seasoned defense attorney called that morning, and said he’d heard about my loss. “Remember, Heather, if you aren’t losing, you aren’t trying the tough stuff. It’s easy to win the winners.”

Twenty years later, I still can’t say that I’ve grown better at losing. But I do know that lawyer was right, about trials and about life.  “If you aren’t losing, you aren’t trying the tough stuff.” I keep trying cases, and more importantly I keep taking chances.  Losing is a horrible feeling. But knowing, deep in my heart, that I’m not trying the tough stuff? I can’t live with that. 

The origin of the word try is the old French “trier”–“to sift and to know the wrong from the right”. Juries do their best to determine what is wrong and right for us in courtrooms, but we do it for ourselves everyday. We will never know what is wrong or right for us unless we are willing to try the tough stuff,  and that means we must be willing to lose. 

I’m starting a new business to change healthcare relationships for the better. I moved. I’m traveling a lot, internationally, and often alone. I’m trying the tough stuff, and I’m working on accepting that might mean I’m bound to lose sometimes. I do believe it also means I will find what’s right.


9 thoughts on “If You Aren’t Losing, You Aren’t Trying the Tough Stuff

  1. Wow Heather!!! Loved your story and the message!!! Man, you’re the kind of lawyer I would love to work for: )) LOVE the HONESTY in your post. Sooo many thoughts going through my mind, since only yesterday a friend and I were discussing how difficult our lives always were. For me, I was ALWAYS on the losing end of things. But as a student law clerk, we WON our first case before a true judge: )) I have many thoughts!! For now thank you for sharing your time of “limitless opportunities” & time of “change” with us: )) It’s all about perspective, right? Wink wink (smile). A snowflake to one person may seem cold and reflect a season where we should stay inside…but another may think, wow, all those flakes on the ground mean I can go skiing tomorrow or skating on a pond. My views on changing perception are due to the marshmallow challenge….and to Alex who told me “think of your reading as a learning project”. I wish I could post the picture, but when I study, I now have a sticky on my desk that reads exactly that!!! Thank you to you and Alex: )))

    1. This means the world to me. I can’t thank you enough for sharing, and I couldn’t be happier to hear you are changing your perspective and opening yourself up to bigger and better opportunities. It makes life much easier and MUCH more fun!! <3 <3

      1. Hi Alex, Thank you for giving me that new perception: ))) I never revealed to anyone till recently (and I’m in my 40s) that I allllways had trouble reading and took longer to understand learnings. My Aunt would beat me if I misread/mispronounced words (hit me really hard or grabbed me violently and yelled angrily). Soo whenever I read anything I still cringe with anxiety and am instantly nervous..even before I pick up the material. It’s really hard to overcome these anxious feelings….but I have no choice now. So thank you for this new outlook. Wish I could show you the sticky with your words on it. I think I will keep it stowed somewhere as a memory …and bring it out whenever I have overcome these fears. Thank you again, and I wish you much success in your legal career: )))

  2. When I almost lost my first life as a physician, I was a new rookie resident. A patient in the ICU had a BP of 250/180. I called my upper year resident who never answered the beeper (this resident never answered beepers because she figured it was better for an intern to figure things out themselves). So I dove into my Intern survival guide while I raced the stairs and halls to get to the ICU. The guide told me to use a certain medication in a specific dose. I did not think to monitor the heart rate as well, I was so focused on the BP and preventing a stroke or death.

    The medication lowered drastically both the BP and HR. It was the wrong medication to use. I desperately called the cardiology attending who said “Thank you for trying to kill my patient, you moron.” We reversed the patients vitals with much effort, obsessive observation, and small doses of a different med. The patient made it. I cried my way to the next hospital emergency.

    The next morning, still in tears, I spoke with my residency director. He said, “Aggie, doctors kill patients sometimes. it is inevitable and usually the patient was close to death anyway. If you can’t live with that, get out of medicine.”

    That stayed with me, it loosened the noose around my neck, and I eventually became the best and favorite resident for this brilliant cardiologist. Medical residency is a combination of wins and losses and I must say I learned much more from the loses.

  3. You throw gigantic stuff like this in one little blog and expect a paragraph or two response? All your blogs or notes are filled with inspiration, some which changed my thinking, certainly changed my summer and to this day I wear The Rubber Band! I suppose if anyone can stop and start a new career, it’s you and you know you have all of us to chat or bounce stuff off while transitioning. Only a Wonder Woman can do what you are doing so it’s a good thing we’ve already given you that title. A woman so filled with optomism and joy and self confidence and now a yearning to bring together the relationship between doctor and patient because you’ve proved that opening a dialogue between them even 5 minutes of one on one is proven benefit to healing for the patient and surely to the doctor’s personal reputation as a more passionate being rather than a faceless doctor in a white coat who robotically goes about medicine with each patient. Yes it makes sense that you be the liaison who brings the two together all for the benefit of both. I’ll consider this just another chapter in your beautiful life, wish you sunshine and lollipops and marshmallows and please stay connected in our lives. Thank you for all you’ve helped me give myself, go help others do the same. ❤️

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