Boxing is a contact sport, just like litigation. That's why the boxing ring has a lot to teach trial counsel and in-house litigation managers about the courtroom.
I've duked it out in a lot of courtrooms, but I only recently took up boxing, and it has changed my take on litigation. Here are a few things I've learned.
Respect the opponent. The quickest path to defeat in the boxing ring is to underestimate an opponent. That leads to slouching in training and bad-mouthing the other fighter. Next thing the contender knows, he's on the mat wondering what hit him.
Humility wins bouts and trials. I always consider myself the underdog to avoid complacency.
Besides carrying a big stick, it's important to speak softly. In most cases, I offer to have lunch with opposing counsel up front. That can save lots of time on petty misunderstandings.
All fights are different. No two opponents fight with the same style, so no two bouts are the same. A fighter sometimes aims for a win in Round 2, other times in Round 9. Each scenario calls for different tactics.
That holds true in litigation. Noncompete enforcement actions often are quick and brutal. Defending against a retaliation claim, however, may require taking the long view. Recognizing this, trial counsel can apply the appropriate pressure at the right times.
Conceal strength. Before a bout, my ego wants me to rub my opponent's nose in my strengths. I'd love to think I could scare him off. But that's a fantasy. The reality is that nobody's backing down -- not me, not the other guy. My better bet is to encourage my opponent to underestimate me, then catch him off guard. There's no reason to show off my best punches during practice sparring sessions. I save them for the bout.
Take that insight into the courthouse. Standard pleadings, such as petitions and answers, may not be the place to reveal a case's juiciest facts or the details of the most brilliant argument. An attorney wastes show-stopping points by highlighting them in interrogatory answers.
Instead, trial counsel can minimize or, if possible, omit strong points from initial pleadings and written discovery. Flying under the radar, counsel can take an early deposition to nail down key admissions. The goal is to covertly turn a strong position into an unassailable one.