In Zen philosophy and Japanese influenced martial arts, there is the concept of Zanshin.

Zen businessman
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The literal translation is “remaining mind.”  But, it really means a state of relaxed situational awareness.

In the martial arts, Zanshin translates into being aware of one’s surroundings and enemies, while being prepared to act.

But you are already familiar with this concept from sports.  Elite athletes call it “being in the zone.”  Or, you may think of it as living in the moment – being fully present and aware.  It is the polar opposite of being inside your own head.

The practice of Zanshin is a practical and useful tool when you are in trial.

Years ago, when I was still a baby lawyer, another associate attorney asked me to assist her in trial as her second chair.  I had a little more experience having first chaired my own trials.  This was her first trial as the lead lawyer.  And, it was a daunting task.  We were up against a partner and her trial team from a major international law firm.

But for all the experience our opponents had under their belts, we seemed to be far more in tune with the developing situation in the courtroom.

Our opponents had a trial plan.  And, like politicians with their favored talking points, they were going to stay on message come Hell or high water.  Unfortunately, as any combat veteran will tell you, the plan goes out the window the minute the first shots are fired.

The reason we won the trial in no small part was our ability to read the judge and adapt our trial presentation on the fly.  Throughout the trial the other side remained seemingly oblivious to the direction the Court was headed.  The most extreme example of this was at closing.

The morning of the last day of trial the judge let us know that he understood the evidence and the arguments and was ready to rule, and he stated that unless we had our hearts set on making closing arguments, he had a funeral of a good friend to attend later in the day.

We represented the Plaintiff, and my trial partner immediately said she was happy to waive closing argument.  The lead partner for the Defendants told the judge she did have her heart set on making her closing argument.  She proceeded to put on a 45 minute closing argument with a full power point presentation.

The moment she sat down, the judge asked her if she was finished.  When she said yes, he immediately gave his full ruling from the bench-pouring out their counterclaims and ruling in our client’s favor.

We knew we were going to win sometime past the middle of trial.  Defendants’ counsel was blindsided.  They were surprised by the result because they lacked situational awareness.  They had not learned the practice of Zanshin.