THE STRATEGIC LAWYER

::.law + strategy.::.law + governance.::.law + politics.::. ::.you get the jist.::

About: the Strategic Lawyer

Strategy has fascinated me for as far back as I can remember. You might say it’s in my blood: my parents courted over chess, and my brother learned to play the game not too long after he learned to talk. We have a fantastic photo in the family album of him at around age four, moving a chess piece in all seriousness. My mother stares down at the board, her expression intent.

As the younger sibling, I tried to learn the game, and I grasped the rules easily enough. But it frustrated me no end that my older brother was so much better than I was–better at anticipating, thinking ahead, strategizing. He outplayed me every time–never mind going up against my mother, who was the undisputed champion of the family and would handily beat me, and more often as not would win against my brother and my father as well.

"Chess from Above" Image by Nguyen Dai, Used under a Creative Commons License

“Chess from Above”; Image by Nguyen Dai; Used under a Creative Commons License

Though I may have struggled with the practice when I was a child, the theory has never ceased to intrigue me. I have loved strategy, and over the years, I’ve dipped into the “classics” on the topic, from Sun Tse’s the Art of War to von Clausewitz’s On War, as well as commentaries on the methods and approaches of various generals and empire-builders, from Agrippa to Napoleon. I found such accounts fascinating.

The challenge, of course, is that when it was abstract, and I was just trying to work strategy and tactics into the machinations of my fictional characters, it often felt like my unsucessful attempts to play against myself in chess. Those games always reminded me of the cultural trope of the bespectacled genius playing against himself and winning. I always figured, if I were cleverer, maybe I’d manage such a feat–that it would take a higher level of intelligence to play both sides, while somehow creating a “fog of war” in my thoughts, such that I could block my awareness of the next move I planned to make on the other side of the board, while still being able to speculate about the possibilities of those moves in order to formulate a credible counter-strategy. In my case, I’d know what I planned to do, on the other side, and so I’d block the move I intended to make, ultimately stalemating myself and ending up being unable to think my way out of the impasse.

The practice of law–and of litigation in particular–brings to mind those early yearnings towards becoming a chess master and expert strategist. It makes me think of my subsequent years of returning again and again to the histories and poetics of the great strategists and generals; of my repeated attempts to play against myself both in chess and via fiction writing. The key difference of course, is that, rather than being an intellectual exercise, or a challenge in the context of fictional conflicts, this is all real and the opponent–the lawyer on the other side–who may well be cleverer or more experienced than I am, with more tricks up his or her sleeve, as well as other advantages, like a differing level of risk tolerance, that will affect the way in which the matter is conducted.

Litigation is intensely strategic. This struck me from the outset. It seemed clear to me from my first few days and weeks, as an articling student in the Family Law department of the law firm where I now practice as a junior associate, that litigation consists, not simply of one, but rather of many layers of strategy.

This sense has been borne out to a greater and greater extent, as I gain more and more experience in the practice of law. And, amid the stresses, the challenges, the disappointments and the heartbreak of Family Law as a practice, I will confess to being absolutely fascinated by the strategic and tactical components that come to the fore with each new move I learn, as I practice longer and gain further experience.

I will still be writing about other topics, and commenting on policy, governance, human rights and similar subjects. But those all arise out of my own personal interests. If they map onto my daily, professional practice, they only do so incidentally and indirectly. I blog about those topics because I want to continue to engage with those subjects rather than losing sight of them amid the business of life and practice as a junior associate. My posts on strategy and tactics, however, will largely arise out of my own experience and practice, occasionally abetted by reading on the subject.

The model and the observations that emerge about the structures and contours of strategy, as it relates to the practice of litigation (and family law in particular) will therefore be limited in that they will be based, primarily, on my own experience, rather than on the gathering of data from a wider range of sources. The posts will be my way of conceptualizing and concretizing, as well as tweaking and adjusting, this emergent model/conceptualization.

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