Recently I experienced a night of cold sweats, anxiety, and dread. It all began with a family ski trip to Radium, Alberta. We were looking forward to enjoying the hot springs, the bighorn sheep, and the majesty of the Canadian Rockies. While there we planned to spend some time at the local ski resort. When we saw that the weather was going to be sunny and clear all week, we decided to spend a day at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort.

For those non-skiers out there, Kicking Horse is known as a mecca for extreme skiing. It stands tall, sporting the 4th highest vertical drop in North America, and features steep runs and deep snow. The runs have names like “Terminator”, “CPR”, “Think Twice”, “Truth”, “Dare”, and “Glory”. People have died in avalanches and other mishaps in the backcountry around Kicking Horse.

The night before I worried about whether I could make it down the mountain safely. My friends regaled me with stories of near-death experiences, tumbling down the mountain with one ski on while the other slid away. Who was I to go on the same runs when I was a far lesser snowboarder? Eventually I slept and the night gave way to a beautiful sunny morning in the mountains.

The day went fine. I had hyped up the mountain in my mind so much that there was little chance reality could match my imagination. I ended up having a fun and safe day. In hindsight I wondered what all the anxiety was about.


The fear I felt was acute. In the practice of law I have felt, to varying degrees, the same fear – the night before motions, trials, and really, anything new. The nervous energy before a big day never goes away.  The fear is further complicated by a mixture of excitement and necessity. You want to do it, you know it might hurt, but at the same time you know it must be done.

We try to overcome that fear. We direct that energy to something productive. We prepare, we go for a run, we dive in. When we actually start doing the task at hand, it invariably ends up better than we thought. It tends to be more rewarding than not. Which is, in some ways, the perverse joy of law.

When we become handcuffed by fear we put our files at risk. We procrastinate. The tasks build up. Pretty soon the pile of work becomes the mountain of work. Cases go from challenging to dogs’ breakfasts. Simple mistakes lead to large claims. Clients call and you don’t want to return them. Deadlines are missed. The pressure affects your health and you find you need help.

When you are overwhelmed a good system of checks and balances will help prevent your files, and you, from falling down.

  1. Have a backup plan in place for unanticipated work interruptions.
  2. Train your staff to set reminders to move actions along.
  3. Supervise junior lawyers appropriately.
  4. Here’s the rest of the 8 steps to avoid dismissal claims.