See this woman to the right with the samurai sword over her shoulder? That’s Michone, my favorite character from AMC’s “The Walking Dead”. The other night, while catching up on the Season Finale of “The Walking Dead,” I realized that Michone also embodies the kind of lawyer I want to be.
No really! Everything you need to know about being a solo practice lawyer you can learn from “The Walking Dead.” In fact, you can get it all from this one episode. SPOILER ALERT: you’ve been warned!
Lesson 1: You do what you have to do to survive.
The Season Finale was all about the mindset of the survivor. What changes happen when we leave the world of “civilized” men. It made it clear that the zombies roaming the woods aren’t the only monsters to be feared. Dire circumstances bring out extremes in people.
The episode opened with Rick Grimes (played by Andrew Lincoln), his son Carl (Chandler Riggs) and Michonne (Danai Gurira), wandering into a pack of zombies and having to run for their lives. Finding safety and limited shelter in an abandoned car, they make camp for the night. After sunset, though, the trio are ambushed by another, less-than-savory group of survivors. One of the ambushers grabs Carl, intending to rape him. Seeing this, Rick fights back, biting the ringleader on the neck, literally ripping out the man’s throat with his teeth. Rick then attacks his son’s would-be rapist, violently gutting the man and then stabbing him to death.
Then the scene cuts to a memory of Rick and Carl at a previous fenced-in encampment at a prison, where they had eked out a little slice of civilization, complete with farming and “normal” family time. But that normalcy did not last, and in a zombie apocalypse, you do what you have to in order to survive. In this case, you become a monster yourself, killing men with your bare hands if you have to, in order to survive.
As lawyers, we live in a cutthroat, competitive world, too. OK – maybe we don’t have to rip out opposing counsel’s jugular with our teeth, as appealing as that might sound at times. We do have to fight to survive. With more lawyers than there are law jobs, solo attorneys have to fight to be heard, found and hired. We have to do more with less. Learn new skills. Adopt new technology. Be better at the job. Be better at marketing. WHATEVER IT TAKES.
Lesson 2: Try not to lose yourself because you are doing what you have to in order to survive.
Michone’s back story is that she lost herself for a little while while she was busy surviving. She forgot that other people mattered. She took two zombies as “pets” and discovered that they camouflaged her, letting her move through packs of zombies nearly undetected. She got good with a sword, learned to defend herself. Learned not to take any crap from anybody. She dispensed justice on her own, always doing what she saw as the right thing, but she was hardened.
And she forgot that before the whole Apocalypse thing happened, she had been a successful, educated, professional, and a mother with a happy family life. Then she met Rick and became part of his community at the prison. She made friends and started to remember who she REALLY was.
It’s easy as a solo to forget that living isn’t all about work. We get so wrapped up in our clients’ problems that we forget to take care of ourselves. We work too many late nights, just so that we have a law practice to come back to the next day. Like Michone, we get so busy surviving that we forget to have a life. So have dinner with your husband, go for a run with the dog, take a Saturday off and go to the beach. Just remember who you REALLY are.
Lesson 3: It’s OK to be a loner, but sometimes, you’ll do better in a group.
Solos spend a lot of time alone, at our desks, cranking out pleadings and contracts, staring at a computer monitor. We get what my chiropractor affectionately calls “lawyer neck” from too many hours of sitting and reading and typing. Our human interactions are often limited to work-related conversations with our paralegal, phone calls to clients, emails to opposing counsel. It’s enough to drive you mad.
On “The Walking Dead,” as we saw in the opening scene, loners do not survive. Zombie hordes can overtake you with no one around to help. Packs of humans are required to mount an effective defense against the zombies (as well defend against other packs of humans). My point?
Solos need to stick together. Get out of the office and have lunch with other solo and small firm attorneys. Build a community. The Big Law zombie hordes might overtake us otherwise.
Lesson 4: We all become a little sociopathic. Learn to use it for good.
Mid-episode, Carl confesses to Michone, “”I’m not what he (Rick) thinks I am. I’m just another monster, too.” What he means is, that while his dad sees an innocent twelve-year old boy who happens to be handy with a gun, Carl knows that he has become a killer in order to survive. His self-awareness is a bit disconcerting in that we are looking at a boy who has already become a man far too soon, only to realize that he has become a sociopath in order to survive well. He has adapted to the Apocalypse and become a creature of it. Innocence isn’t lost – it wasn’t there to begin with.
However, Carl still cares about his people. He usually only shoots zombies, and he only kills humans when he perceives there to be a danger to others in his community. Granted, his judgment about that may be a bit off, but he really does try to use his sociopathy for good.
As lawyers, we tend to get a little sociopathic, too. We can have a tendency to commit antisocial behavior and fail to feel guilt for such acts. How many “lawyer behaves like an ass in court” stories have you heard so far this year? I rest my case. We can reach a point of believing that as long as we are zealously representing our clients, we owe no moral responsibility or social conscience for our behavior. While I could go on about the ethical implications and bad lawyering involved therein, what’s important is that we are trying to do the right thing, even if, like Carl, our judgment is a bit off. Just remember: use your powers for good.
Lesson 5: Protect your people, especially those more vulnerable than yourself.
We see Michone befriending Carl, telling him about her life before and after the Apocalypse. We see her being motherly toward him: letting him sleep with his head in her lap after he was nearly raped, hugging him after he confesses to being a “monster.” She is a bit of a super hero, defending the defenseless. She will take on a hundred hungry zombies before she will let anything happen to Carl.
That is our job: defending the defenseless. At our very best, lawyers serve others who otherwise will be abused. We take on lost-cause cases, do our best to get the best outcomes for our clients no matter what. We can’t all be bad asses like Michone. We can all be bad ass lawyers.
Lesson 6: If snipers are shooting at you and missing, you are probably being herded.
In the Season Finale, Rick’s group is heading toward Terminus, an encampment for survivors. After they get there, Rick notices that some of the people in the camp are wearing the clothes and possessions of the people from the community at the prison. When he challenges the leader of the camp to ask what happened to his people, the camp’s armed contingent starts shooting- badly. The snipers more or less herd the group to the back of the camp and into a railroad car, without spilling a drop of blood.
What this teaches us is that we have to be aware of our own direction, no matter what is coming at us. If we don’t choose our own path, a path will be made for us. If we let ourselves be herded we will end up food for… well, that’s the next one.
Lesson 7: No matter how hungry you are, don’t eat everything you are offered.
At Terminus, there is always meat on the grill. But for miles and miles, Rick’s group has been walking to Terminus and all they ever seem to catch to eat are the occasional scrawny rabbit or squirrel. Everyone is starving outside of Terminus. So what exactly IS that on the grill? When the cook offers Carl a plate, Rick smacks it out of Carl’s hand before confronting their leader about what had happened to the other people from their previous encampment. He clearly did not want Carl eating… whatever that was.
So they left things hanging, but the implication that the fine folks of Terminus are cannibals was certainly there.
Bottom line: don’t eat everything you are given. Don’t take every case. Don’t practice “threshold law” (e.g. “whatever crosses the threshold”) no matter how hungry you are. You can and should be finicky about the work you take on. After all, you are only as good as your last client thinks you are. Make it good. Hold out for better clients, more interesting work. Specialize. Feed your passions.
Lesson 8: Don’t mess with Rick Grimes.
As they enter the railroad car, Rick and company find most of the rest of their group from their previous camp. They are trapped, but they are together. When Rick says, “They’re going to feel pretty stupid when they find out . . . that they’re screwing with the wrong people,” we know he is right. The group is going to make it out alive. Well, most of them anyway. That way, we will all tune in for the next season.
Be Rick Grimes. Be ruthless and bad assed. Protect your own. Defend the defenseless, even when you are broken. Especially when you are broken. Keep fighting.
All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.