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  • Writer's pictureScott R. Mote, Esq.

One trait all judges need to be successful

By Scott R. Mote, Esq., Executive Director of the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program

As a judge, you will be stressed. You will deal with difficult people, colleagues and the public. You will work long hours. You will have to sacrifice your time and determine what is most important. You will need to manage your time wisely. You will probably miss some family events or time with your friends. At times, you will feel burned out and taken advantage of. You will wonder if you chose the right career. This probably all sounds harsh, but it is the reality of being a member of the legal profession. One trait that can help you navigate the stresses of the profession is resilience.

Unfortunately, most of us are not born resilient. The good news is that you can learn this important trait.

How do you know if you are resilient?

You are aware of your thinking.

If you are resilient, you know how to control your thoughts. Imagine this scenario: You spend weeks on a case that takes extra time away from your family and other personal responsibilities, yet another judge criticizes your work. How do you respond? What are the thoughts that are going through your mind at that moment? You might think, “I’m terrible at this. I spent extra time on this, neglecting my family, only to be criticized. I can’t do anything right. I’m probably not even a good judge.” You might immediately get defensive and start an argument with your colleague.

A resilient person knows how to control negative thoughts and react in a professional manner. You might disagree with some of the critiques, but you know how to share your opinion without getting upset or confrontational. You realize that it is beneficial for other people to review your work so that they can offer alternative opinions or correct some of the technicalities. You learn from it. You are resilient.

I’m sure that at some point in your life a friend has shared their problems with you, in hopes that you will give advice. Imagine that your lawyer friend is having a tough time with a client. The client is demanding, quick to point out mistakes and does not follow the lawyer’s advice. You tell your friend that as lawyers, these kinds of things happen. It is how we deal with them that helps us carry on. You are quick to point out all of the reasons why your friend is wrong in their thinking. Obviously, he is a good lawyer because the client hired him and he has successfully helped many clients in the past. You tell the lawyer that we all make mistakes, and even though others might be quick to point them out, the client is still working with him and has not threatened to fire the lawyer.

Now imagine that you have a similar problem as a judge. What would you tell yourself? You might tell yourself that you are a bad judge, that you will never get through this and that you need to give up. Why is it that we are able to give our friends solid advice, yet tell ourselves that we are not good enough? It is time to cross-examine your own thinking and reframe it. When you are having a setback or thinking negatively, think about what you would tell a friend if he/she were having the same problem.

If you are one of the many people who has trouble controlling your thoughts, try the ABC Technique of Irrational Beliefs developed by Dr. Albert Ellis to help you determine why your thought process is off-track.

Let’s break down this example of a negative reaction to criticism: “I received a less-than-perfect review on a memo I wrote; I am a terrible judge.”

  • Activating event: an event that leads to some type of high emotional response or negative dysfunctional thinking. In this example, “the less-than-perfect memo” is the activating event.

  • Belief: The negative thoughts that occurred to you. “I am a terrible judge.”

  • Consequence: The negative feelings and dysfunctional behaviors that ensued. “I doubt myself as a judge, and now I am stressed."

Breaking down your thoughts this way helps you see that your thinking is irrational. In the example, the judge thinks he is “terrible” only because he did not receive high praises on his work. This leads him to self-doubt, which then leads to stress. When analyzing the thoughts, you begin to realize that 1) no one is perfect; 2) one “less-than-perfect” review does not make you a terrible judge (think about all of your accomplishments as a judge) and 3) receiving a perfect review is not a normal occurrence for any author. There will always be critiques. If you received a perfect score, you would not be able to improve, and we all have room for improvement!

You surround yourself with positive people.

You know the saying “Misery loves company.” People take comfort in knowing that others are unhappy, too. You can often see this in offices where employees huddle together and talk about who is treated the worst, who is paid the least, how unfair the practices are, etc. Resilient people do their best to surround themselves with positive people. If you are resilient, you choose to spend time with friends, acquaintances and colleagues who lift you up and help you become a better person.

You know that you are not perfect.

As you review your tasks for the day, you realize that you scheduled two different meetings at the same time. You might think: “How could I be so careless?” Resilient people know that they will make mistakes. A resilient person will problem-solve to determine how to reschedule one of the meetings.

You live in the present.

Resilient people do not waste time reminding themselves of things they have done wrong in the past. They learn from failures and mistakes and move on.

You know that it’s ok if you don’t feel ok sometimes.

Always remember that it is OK if you do not feel resilient right now. That is normal. We cannot be resilient 100% of the time. Take care of yourself, ask for support from a partner, a friend or a loved one. You might even consider talking to a professional. Do not judge yourself! You are doing the best you can. Take a moment to think about something positive in your life, such as the roof over your head, your freshly manicured lawn, your baby who just said his first word, your dog who is always at your side.

If you or someone you know needs help, contact the Judicial Advisory Group, a peer-based confidential assistance group that helps judges and magistrates with personal and professional issues. For more information, go to or call (800) 348-4343.

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