The importance of being able to compartmentalize

Photo:  The bookshelf on the other wall of my office.  Nicely compartmentalized of course.

Photo:  The bookshelf on the other wall of my office.  Nicely compartmentalized of course.

Prologue:  We are sitting around the table having dinner.  I am married.  Only Cristina has been born.  Have been friends with most of the group for several years.  Everyone is talking and having a good time.  Someone says something about me.  David H looks stunned.  Turns to me and says in his Hawaiian accented rather loud voice - you're a lawyer!  I nod yes.  But he can't believe it - No Way!  And on and on he goes to the amusement of those who know my apparent secret.

To this day, I don't wear my lawyer badge outside of the office.

I have a natural inclination to compartmentalize.  Part of this is genetic or family of origin or something that Freud would be able to figure out.

At first it used to bother me.  Didn't seem normal.  Maybe it isn't.  That's where the X-Men come in.  You see, the X-Men celebrate mutant traits.  And I'm here to tell, you, being a mutant compartmentalized person comes in mighty handy when you're a trial lawyer.

Typically, I work on about 40 cases at a given time.  Anne and John will be the first to tell you that I am always getting the names of the cases mixed up.  Am awful with names.  Just ask my kids.  The worst of course is that I'm always calling Noelle - Nala.

In my mind, each of the 40 cases is filed away in its own separate box.  I mentally go to that box, open it up and - bam.  Good to go.  Close the box mentally, open the next one - bam.  And so on.  To jazz things up, several of them can be open at the same time.

Same thing in voir dire. Make no effort to learn anyone's name, but have mental boxes for each of them.

There are other uses for being compartmentalized.  Top of the list - having the ability to leave the trauma of the cases at the office.

I have known lawyers who  decided to stop practicing law after losing a case at trial.  Others who do not know their children very well, because they were so rarely able to spend time with them.  And many who are perpetually anxious and stressed.

Being able to compartmentalize allows a trial lawyer to be in the moment.  To look into our child's eyes and see nothing other than the child.  To chit chat around the Thanksgiving table only hearing that chit chat.  To breathe in and out without feeling suffocated by the weight of our professional responsibilities.

There are a few drawbacks to being compartmentalized and these pretty much all have to deal with what goes on in the non-lawyer part of life.  Usually involving your significant other.  When I have all of that figured out, I'll let you know.