I’ve had a lot more experience as a pro se litigant than most of our members here at BAIT, but I think we all share one thing in common — feeling vulnerable. That goes double when we imagine ourselves standing before a judge battling a lawyer for the other side. If the outcome of your case is important — and let’s be honest, we wouldn’t do this if it wasn’t — then you know the wrong word or an overlooked rule or even the judge’s mood at the hearing can cause serious harm to your life.
There’s nothing quite like it, except it happens every time I have a court date. The legal documents have been prepared and filed, my oral argument is crafted and practiced, and I’ve gathered all the legal authorities I plan to hand the judge in court. And yet I’m terrified, imagining the worst.
The anxiety can snatch my confidence and even shut me down completely. There are a thousand better ways to say what I need to say. There are a million what-ifs that I won’t have time to explore. And I need to get dressed and collect all my papers and get to court on time and… What am I forgetting? There are a dozen details that, if overlooked, could destroy all the preparations I’ve made.
The truth is, if you’re representing yourself in court and not feeling vulnerable at some point, something’s wrong. Maybe you don’t care what happens in your case. Maybe you have truly unshakeable confidence or faith in yourself. Maybe you’re a sociopath (just kidding; not really). Or maybe you’re masking your anxiety with a false bravado that is really dangerous and soul-crunching.
Dr. Brené Brown, a social worker, has studied the power of feeling vulnerable for many years. Her research shows there is tremendous power in owning your feelings of vulnerability, and that pretending they don’t exist actually destroys your confidence. She says, “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.” She shares her own story of vulnerability with Oprah:
See the power there? What I’ve learned over the years is that the fighting spirit I need to take with me to court comes from feeling vulnerable and owning it. YES I’m scared. YES I will never know enough about the law. YES I’m winging it every step of the way. And YES I’m committed to showing up and fighting anyway.
Have you had an experience of feeling vulnerable, in or out of court, and gaining confidence from it? Share in the comments below.