The Courtroom vs. The Boxing Ring

The Courtroom vs. The Boxing Ring

About a year ago, I started boxing at a local gym. I like being active but walking on a treadmill or running on an elliptical seems so pointless—I mean you are literally running nowhere. I also practice yoga regularly but I value hot yoga/Vinyasa Flow more for its relaxation benefit and ability to calm mentally. I needed a challenge. Boxing became just that.

On the surface, boxing looks like it is all about injuring the opponent. Andy Lane, Professor of Sports Psychology and former amateur boxer, explains the unique mindset of a boxer:

“Boxing is a unique sport. At face value, the aim is to inflict blows on your opponent and avoid injury yourself by landing more punches than you receive. A common perception therefore is that boxers need to psyche themselves up into a frenzied state, fueled by anger with the intention of causing injury. However, for those who have worked in boxing, this perception could not be further from the truth.”

Instead, boxing is a type of physical chess: “a battle that is as much psychological and tactical as it is physical.” To be successful in the ring, a boxer must develop mental and physical strength. This requires psychological intervention in many instances. Legendary trainer Cus D’Amato, who helped bring world heavyweight titles to Mike Tyson and Floyd Patterson, recognized that “fights are won and lost in the head.” Sports psychologists or life coaches are common in the industry. A quick Google search even reveals that there is a debate on whether psychologists are violating ethical duties by participating in boxing given the intent to injure/injuries in the sport. Debate or no debate, psychological training is often part of boxing. And as with most professional athletes—or professionals for that matter— counseling or therapy is often necessary.

Two key points: First, to be successful, a boxer must first become desensitized to the effects of inflicting injury on others. Secondly, the boxer must accept personal risk with every fight. As a litigation attorney and a writer, the boxing world is full of parallels to my profession. Many key psychological aspects of boxing are very similar to that of litigation.

Understand the Effects of Inflicting Injury on Others

A boxer and a litigant must understand that at some point they will have to inflict injuries on others. In boxing this seems obvious but it still requires a particular mindset and an approach in order to be at peace mentally outside the boxing ring. Litigants on the other hand may not initially consider the negative impact that their choice to litigate may have on others. Although some litigants may file a lawsuit against their adversary for the sole purpose of hurting and destroying their opponent, more often than not a litigant will file a lawsuit to vindicate their own rights. A litigant may file suit for breach of contract to simply recover what is owed to them or enforce a property right.

Even though the intent of litigation may not have been to harm, there will inevitably be negative effects. In order to be successful, the other side must lose. This is a key consideration, particularly if a plaintiff is suing their neighbor, a business associate, or a family member. Where relationships are at stake, a good lawyer or mediator should play on these themes to push clients toward settlement. Any settlement agreement should be crafted to keep future relationships in tact. Settlement must prevent the family from being destroyed. Settlement must encourage the two warring businesses to find a way to work out their differences so they can both continue working together so as not to hurt their bottom line. Settlement must encourage the neighbors to resolve their disputes in such a way as to prevent on- going conflict in the future. Just like a boxer must understand that injury is inevitable, a litigant must consider the psychological aspect to this truth. Litigants must recognize that a refusal to settle or find a way to resolve their differences will hurt the adversary financially, mentally, and emotionally. Relatives may be estranged in a family estate dispute if issue can’t be resolved. A business may go under if saddled with a large judgment. Neighbors may become a source of constant turmoil – disturbing the quality of one’s life and ability to be at peace. While it may be tempting to take some joy in the pain or suffering of others as part of “winning,” these feelings are only temporary. Litigants must recognize that their decision to litigate and refusal to settle will inevitably cause harm to others.

Accept Personal Risk

To be successful, the boxer and the litigant must learn to grapple with the idea of personal risk. A boxer’s risk is mostly physical although there is a psychological component in terms of the shame or embarrassment of losing to a particular adversary. On the other hand, a litigants’ risk may vary. A litigant will exhaust time, energy, and money litigating a dispute. In the process, the litigant will sacrifice mental, spiritual, and often physical health.

It’s important for the boxer and the litigant to accept personal risk while also recognizing his or her inevitable fate. In boxing, there may be a winner but no one walks away from the fight without bumps and bruises (or injuries far worse like a broken nose or ribs). Likewise, in litigation, everyone loses something. With a jury award or court judgment, there may be a clear winner (maybe), but everyone walks out of the court house broken. In one way or another, litigation leaves a litigant with at least one wound.

The cost of litigation:

Think about the litigant who owes their attorney a significant sum of money even though they “won” their property-line dispute in their neighbor-to-neighbor conflict. The money inevitably spent in litigation could fund so many other more exciting things, e.g. an adventure across the globe, a home remodel, a kid’s college education.

The emotional and mental toll of litigation:

What about the litigant who may have achieved their litigation goal but whose marriage is now broken beyond repair after years of neglect and hostility due to the ongoing litigation dispute. Litigation is distracting. A part of a litigant’s brain will always be wrapped up in the stressful world of litigation until the dispute is resolved.

The time spent in litigation:

Perhaps a litigant had to miss seeing her child’s first steps. Instead of watching his kid’s piano recital, a litigant is forced to participate in seemingly endless depositions. Instead of reading a bedtime story to their child, parents are required to spend late nights making sure the lawyers have everything they need. Whether it is taking time off from work or spending late nights, litigation robs litigants of important memories they would otherwise have.

Understand the Risks and Moving Forward

A coach must help a boxer understand the personal risks at stake. Likewise, a good attorney will periodically talk to their clients about the risks in moving forward with litigation versus the other options—be it negotiations or mediation, in an attempt to reach a possible settlement.

In mediation, it is the mediator’s job to emphasize the risks inherent in moving forward with the litigation strategy. The mediator must be the voice of reality and voice of reason.

I’ve seen scare tactics used by mediators with some level of success. One mediator opened the mediation with a joint session. She drew a huge piggy bank of money. She then went on to describe how the significant chunk of change diminishes phase by phase – from the initial fact investigation to discovery to trial preparation to trial. At the end, the piggy bank is empty and only one party has anything to show for it depending on the outcome of litigation. While scare tactics may work, the goal is to highlight what is at stake. In litigation the stakes are high and there is huge risk.

Just like a boxer must understand exactly the risks when he or she walks into the ring, the litigant must be fully aware of all the personal risks at stake. Joe Frazier noted, “Boxing is the only sport you can get your brain shook, your money took and your name in the undertaker book.” There are great risks associated with both boxing and with litigation. Like coaches in the boxing arena, lawyers and mediators must help litigants understand the true breadth of what is at stake.

Mikita Weaver
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