Mark NeJame | Crain's Orlando

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Mark NeJame

Background:  

NeJame Law is an Orlando law firm nationally known for its attorneys in criminal defense, personal injury, immigration law, civil and business litigation, and other areas. Founder and criminal defense attorney Mark NeJame represents many high-profile clients and regularly provides commentary as a CNN analyst.

The Mistake:

As a young lawyer, I used to have maybe only two gears and was simply overly aggressive too much of the time.

It’s funny how it comes back sometimes years and decades later. It happened early in my career. I remember a judge chastising me because I was being very aggressive in court and he was afraid that we would – to be stereotypical here –he was afraid that Central Florida lawyers would have the reputation that South Florida lawyers have. And that is that everything is just scorch-and-burn, very mean and ornery. And I did listen to that and I thought it was good advice. So I did take it to heart.

As you mature, you realize that you have to have at least five gears. There’s a time when you need to simply slow down, and there’s a time when you need to have that fifth scorch-and-burn gear. But just to have one or two, you lose credibility. You lose perspective, and you lose your respect for the other side – because they know how you’re going to come out.

As a young lawyer, I was simply overly aggressive too much of the time.

The Lesson:

A great trial lawyer has an arsenal full of weapons, and you use a different weapon for different means of attack. Sometimes you kill them with kindness. Sometimes you kill them with a bazooka, and sometimes they don’t need to be killed. Sometimes they need to hold their head up high because if they fight you to the death they’ll be embarrassed. If you have a chance to work things out for your client, you always let your adversary walk out with dignity.

There is a disproportionate share of young lawyers who do it, who think they need to beat on their chest, to basically overcompensate [for lack of experience]. Unfortunately, a lot of older lawyers never learn the lesson. That’s one reason that they die early of heart attacks, have a high suicide rate, a high drug use rate, and a high divorce rate – because they’ve never learned to find the balance in their lives.

When you have multiple gears, you can be more rational in your approach. The other side can’t figure you out as well. And you’re going to be more authentic in what you have to say because you’re not predictable.

Sometimes it is simply more effective to be nice than it is to be tough. Sometimes it’s more effective to be tough rather than nice, and you simply need to know which gear to operate under any given set of circumstances.

I teach law enforcement as well as [having] the largest defense practice in Florida, and the best students, whether they’re lawyers or law enforcement, are the ones that are open to listening to the other side.

You learn in life that it’s a lot easier to be nice than mean. But I was in a very controversial case last week where our client died from a lack of care in the jail. So I went crazy on the other side. I was truly passionate because it was insulting and offensive what they were offering.

When you do a lot of introspective analysis over the years, knowing how to react does become intuitive. With that said, sometimes you have to fully prepare for battle. It is a good combination of second nature and strategy. The good thing is that you’re considering how to approach it.​

Follow Mark NeJame on Twitter at @MarkNeJame.

Photo courtesy of Mark NeJame

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