how to be a better trial lawyer, patent litigation, time management for lawyers, how to be a great trial attorney, how to be a great litigator, how to be a great trial lawyer, how to build a better law firm culture, Shannon Clark, Dina Cataldo, be a better lawyer podcast, how to be a better lawyer, lawyer work life balance

#248: Better Trials, Time Management and Firm Culture with Shannon Clark

How can you be a better trial lawyer?

Meet Shannon Clark.

She's a patent litigation attorney who changed how she thought about trials, time management, and how she managed herself to uplevel the way she approached litigation.

In this episode of Be a Better Lawyer Podcast, we cover a range of must-know topics like how to:

  • manage your calendar as a trial attorney
  • manage your associates for better retention
  • think differently about “difficult” opposing counsel
  • take vacation in a busy law practice
  • span style=”font-size: 100%; color: #000000;”>improve the experience of associates for retention
  • and more

Listen in to get what you need to uplevel your own law practice no matter what kind of law you do.

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How to Be a Better Trial Lawyer and So Much More with Shannon Clark

Dina Cataldo (00:31):
Hello and welcome. I hope you are having a lovely week today. I have a very special guest for you. I can't wait to share. Shannon Clark is a patent litigator who describes herself as a science nerd and an athlete. She's also one of my clients. And today she is sharing so much good stuff with you to help you organize how you think about and approach your law practice no matter what kind of law you do. We cover a lot of ground in this episode, including how to build a supportive firm culture, retaining great associates, taking vacations in a busy practice, the tips that made the biggest difference for her in taming burnout. She tells us how she needed to look at her calendar differently and approach our calendar differently to help her live a better life. And she also tells us how to deal with those days when you have counsel who are sending you emails and you're telling yourself they're just so darn difficult.

Dina Cataldo (01:33):
She'll share with you the thoughts she practiced the most that helped her make consistent progress while we were working together. And if you are a trial attorney, you need to stay till the end of this episode because she shares how you can re-approach thinking about your trial practice so you can do it without burning out. And this is the same strategy that I started to use at the end of my practice and it really made the difference. And she uses it and she has really started to see the difference in her practice. We talk a lot about time management in this episode, so if you are here for that, you are gonna get so much good stuff too. I'm gonna put the Busy Lawyer's Ultimate Time Management guide, the link in the show [email protected] slash 2 48 because it includes principles we talk about in this episode. I highly recommend you download that guide if you resonate with our conversation. All right, my friend. Without further ado, here is our conversation.

Dina Cataldo (02:40):
Shannon, thank you so much for being here because I just appreciate the fact that you're willing to be here and help lawyers see what's possible for them. So I just wanna say thank you. Of course. Can you introduce yourself for our, our audience today?

Who is Shannon Clark?

Shannon Clark (02:58):
Yes, I am Shannon Clark. I am a partner in the life sciences litigation division at a firm in New York. And I mainly focus on patent litigation and that involves pharmaceuticals or biotech. And then I'm also have been involved and wanna get more involved in the firm's recruiting and professional development efforts to help others like me. And then outside of work, I am married to a wonderful man who does laundry <laugh>.

Dina Cataldo (03:36):
I love that.

Shannon Clark (03:37):
And I am a mom. I have a five year old girl and a nine year old Labrador retriever who is my first born.

Dina Cataldo (03:46):
Yes, I agree. My dog is my first and only born <laugh> <laugh>. Yeah. And I know that we've had some conversations about this, like women in in tech. Is that something that you're ki you kind of explore in terms of like trying to get more women involved?

Women in Law and Tech

Shannon Clark (04:06):
Yes. You know, we end up recruiting a lot of women to the firm, but over time they leave or decide that this isn't for them. And in order to increase diversity in our ranks, I think we've gotta do more than we're currently doing. And I feel like I made it <laugh>. So what is it about my experience that helped me get there and what can we improve and order to see more women at the top?

Dina Cataldo (04:43):
Actually, I think we've had some conversations about this because you are heavily involved in your firm around improving the experience of the associates within the firm.

Shannon Clark (04:54):
Yes. So not only recruiting for summer associates at the firm, but also working with our professional development committee to make sure that associates are happy and fulfilled and that, you know, I can do whatever I can for them to make sure that they wanna stay and that they're happy and that they have a place at the firm where they feel like they can thrive.

Dina Cataldo (05:20):
Yeah, that's so important. And I think it all starts with our development and how we're approaching our job and how we can improve whatever systems we've got going on so that we can then help mentor people who are coming after us. And I know that that's something that you're committed to. Yes,

Shannon Clark (05:39):
Yes. I wanna be an example. And not just an example of work your butt off to get there, but how can you do it and also have a life.

Dina Cataldo (05:47):
Yeah. And you're a litigator so you do work your butt off. Like there's seasons where yes, there are intense periods and that's something that you know, know you have brought to coaching and you know, problem solved for in ways that you know, you can now help your associates coming after you and teach them those same things.

Shannon Clark (06:09):
Yeah. Not only teach them, but also sometimes as their boss make sure that they're doing it for themselves and that they have the opportunity to actually have a life outside of work.

Dina Cataldo (06:20):
Yeah. And that's so important because so many lawyers don't do that. They have been brought up in a system where it's ex expected. I'm curious how you direct your associates to make sure they're taking care of themselves.

How to Build a Better Law Firm Culture

Shannon Clark (06:38):
It's checking in with them a lot. Making sure that, you know, they're supported in their work. They've got the resources and the backing that they need, any kind of guidance that they need for their work, but also making sure that, you know, they're eating lunch, they're leaving at a normal hour, they're doing what they wanna do on the weekends, paying attention to how long it's been since they've had a true vacation. I mean, I even had an associate where she said that she was having a medical problem and didn't, hadn't had the time to go to the doctor and I just bothered the heck out of her until she finally went and it was fine. But it's that kind of thing where I want them to be able to take care of themselves.

Dina Cataldo (07:25):
<Laugh>. Yeah, I mean I, it does take a certain amount of attention that if you're not cultivating that within yourself, you can't give, I know I was in that position where I was the lawyer who had like medical thing and I just was like, oh, this isn't a thing. And then they had to tell me that it was a thing and <laugh> I needed to handle it. So it is important to have those structures in place and sometimes that means paying extra attention and taking time out of your day to check in on people.

Shannon Clark (07:58):
Yes. And knowing that, you know, I might be picking up a slack for them if they're going on vacation, but that they need it and it'll make them a better person and a better lawyer when they have that time.

How to Take Vacations as a Lawyer

Dina Cataldo (08:10):
Yeah. And I am curious what you would say to this, but a lot of lawyers are afraid to go on vacation because they don't wanna bother someone or they don't want people to think they can't handle it or they think they need to be on call 24 hours on vacation because their boss is expected of them. I'm curious what you would say to that.

Shannon Clark (08:33):
Yeah, I think that's probably true for a lot of people and it sort of depends on your relationship with your boss and you know, for me, when I was younger I would take vacations, but you know, I would send that email ahead of time that says I'm out of the office, but I have have my laptop and I'm available at this number and let me know if you need anything <laugh>.

Dina Cataldo (09:00):
Right.

Shannon Clark (09:01):
You know, over time I eventually had bosses that would say like, look, we've got it handled. You know, you go take your vacation, take the time that you need, you know, if there's a true emergency, we'll let you know. And then I think also at the same time, making sure that I am planning for my own vacation and have things in order before I leave and have anything covered by other attorneys that needs to be covered so I don't feel unsettled when I go on vacation.

Dina Cataldo (09:36):
Yeah. I I did a podcast on this because there have been several clients who wanna take a vacation and think they can't take a vacation. So I'm gonna link to the podcast where I broke down mm-hmm. <Affirmative> the system really, I've gone through with multiple people, I think even including you. So I'll link to that in the show notes for anybody who wants that.

Shannon Clark (09:58):
Yeah. And I mean, with litigators Yeah. We, for, you know, we have scheduling orders in place in our cases and once you're around enough cases, you get a sense of when there are gonna be laws in the work and you can think ahead to win a vacation is gonna be good for you and the team.

Dina Cataldo (10:19):
Yeah.

Shannon Clark (10:20):
And then you, what I've done is to schedule out and advance not only my vacations, but also talk to associates about this would be a good time to take a vacation if you wanna take one and let's coordinate so that there's gonna be coverage and that no one feels like things are gonna get left undone.

Dina Cataldo (10:42):
Yeah. And when I was talk, when I was a prosecutor and I've just talked recently to some people who were in the unit where I, I used to be there was basically nobody wanted to take vacation cuz they were scared because you could have, I don't know, 40, 50 trials on calendar and y you just freeze because you think, I can't possibly take vacation because I'm gonna drop a ball, I'm gonna miss something, something's gonna slip through the cracks. Or if you're doing prelims, like in our, in our system, it was just, you know, you'd have 10 prelims a day, five prelims a day, and you're thinking to yourself, I can't possibly take a vacation. I'm just gonna offer, if you're listening to this and you're one of those people know that you have to take vacation. If you don't take vacation, you will kill yourself.

Dina Cataldo (11:37):
Literally. Like your health will deteriorate. Yes. And not only that, you're gonna put yourself in a position where you're so mentally drained that you're not gonna be able to perform at your job and you are going to either burn out and end up being quitting because you think there's no way you could possibly go on or you're just gonna be so miserable that you're gonna push through it and create so much pressure on yourself that it's going to just feel horrible all of the time. So I encourage you to talk to your leads, to talk to your supervisors and say, Hey, this is what's going on. I, I would like to take a two week vacation. Yes. I know two weeks sounds horrible. One week vacation, whatever,

Shannon Clark (12:21):
<Laugh> I was gonna say…

Dina Cataldo (12:21):
Right? Two weeks. Two weeks. Just sounds insane. Right. But let's say one week where you could take vacation and their whole job is to help you survive <laugh> those units, right. Like to survive those kinds of things. So even if you feel like it's impossible, talk to your boss about how you can make it work within the system that you have. Do you have anything you wanted to add to that?

Shannon Clark (12:49):
No, I don't think so. I think maybe one thing is that because you are <laugh>, I guess maybe the way that I've gone about taking vacation and how I've encouraged the associates that I work with to take vacation is a little less of asking, you know, when's the right time? What if I just take two or three days here or make it a long weekend, go ahead, figure it out and then your job and your colleagues can work around it.

Dina Cataldo (13:28):
That's a great advice. That's absolutely fabulous,

Shannon Clark (13:31):
Rather than, you know, trying to fit yourself into everyone else's schedule.

Dina Cataldo (13:36):
Yeah. Like that is true because if you go in there and you don't have a plan, I mean, you wanna go in with a plan. Yes. You don't wanna make their job harder. Also, you don't want to be kind of mealy mouthed going in <laugh> Yes. <Laugh>, you're like, I need to take a vacation. Yeah. Okay. So I wanna talk to you a little bit around why you wanted to work with me. Like what kind of tipped you into the direction of getting coaching?

Shannon's Experience with Coaching

Shannon Clark (14:05):
Yeah, so I was more or less at my wits end probably burnt out. I was exhausted, I was stressed and at one point my husband was just like, you have got to do something about this. And I think he knew, you know, from me telling him as well that I don't wanna quit my job. I like my job, I'm doing what I wanna do, I just don't know how to keep doing it and be happy. And so I, one of the things I do is I listen to podcasts

Dina Cataldo (14:42):
Mm-Hmm.

Shannon Clark (14:42):
And I think I probably just searched for like lawyer work life balance, <laugh> and found your podcast. And I think I probably listened to two or three and you always sort of say, you know, think about booking a strategy session. And at that point it was like, oh, you know, this, I think this might work. Like if I have someone who's objective but who's also been in my shoes, who understands the give and take of being a lawyer, that I could probably figure out how to stay a lawyer but then be happy about it <laugh>.

Dina Cataldo (15:21):
Hmm. Okay. So when you booked a call, like what were your expectations? Like did you have any idea what was gonna happen?

Shannon Clark (15:32):
No, I really didn't have many expectations. I didn't know exactly what it was gonna be about. Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>, I think, you know, I think it was probably like more planning and scheduling and, and how to organize my life. And instead it was a little bit more introspective mm-hmm. <Affirmative> and that's probably what I ended up needing the most. <Laugh>.

Dina Cataldo (15:59):
Yeah. We, we really do kind of get into some topics when we're on that strategy session. <Laugh>, <laugh>, I don't think people really like anticipate the, it's, it's almost like a soul searching, right? Yes. <Laugh>.

Shannon Clark (16:14):
Yeah. I really, I was forced to think about what I was happy with and what I wasn't happy with, but it also sort of gave me the sense of yeah, there's a lot of obstacles, but they're not insurmountable. You can figure it out.

Dina Cataldo (16:28):
Yeah. There was actually a point, I don't know if you remember this, but there was a point where you kind of had this like deer in the headlights look and, and I could pick up on it and I, and I was like, Hey, what's going on? And you, and I think it was something to the effect of you didn't wanna upend your life. Like to you, you thought maybe you needed to upend your life in order to make change. Can you tell me what your thought process was and then if you remember that conversation, how it went?

Shannon Clark (17:01):
Yeah. I think when you are burnt out and you're stressed, you think only a big change is gonna bring a big result. And so I, I probably thought going in like, you know, I'm gonna have to go part-time at my job in order to achieve work-life balance, or maybe I need to go to a different firm or go in-house in order to be happy and still get to do what I wanna do. But I think probably that deer in the headlights moment was like, no, you're in control here. You can make small changes to your life and take back control and keep doing what you wanna do and, and achieve that happiness.

Dina Cataldo (17:46):
Yeah. I, and our brain works that way. It does, does think that we need to upheave everything and it underestimates the impact of seemingly simple small things in order to achieve the larger result.

Shannon Clark (18:01):
Exactly.

Dina Cataldo (18:02):
Yeah. So that's, that's fabulous. I didn't know that we had a conversation around it. It was something to that effect of like, we're gonna break it down really small, don't worry. Like we're gonna just start with the foundations and then move forward. How did that pan out for you? What was your experience overall in the work that you've been doing and seeing that change?

What Made the Biggest Difference for Her?

Shannon Clark (18:23):
Yeah, it ended up being small little changes in action and mindset that made the biggest difference. Like I think I would tell you, I would sit at my desk and just keep working thinking like, oh, I'll just do a little bit more work here and get this task done. I'll just skip lunch so I can be done <laugh>. And I think at some point you sort of said like really like, are you gonna get it done tonight

Dina Cataldo (18:53):
<Laugh>? I'm a little sassy if you hear this.

Shannon Clark (18:59):
Yeah. Why not? Just like, do you really think that you have to keep going <laugh>? I was just like, oh yeah, I guess I don't, <laugh> doesn't all need to get done right now.

Dina Cataldo (19:12):
Yeah. I mean I think we've all been there where we're really hard workers and if you're listening to this, you're probably high achieving really hard worker. You get to four o'clock, five o'clock and you have a gym thing scheduled for me it was yoga for you, it was running. And you get to that time when you think you're gonna go and you think, “Well if I just do this one thing I'll get ahead.” Or “if I do this one thing it's gonna feel really good.” But that's the short term dopamine hit. Yes. Versus the long term. I wanna create a life I love dopamine hit.

Shannon Clark (19:49):
Yeah, exactly. And I realized that what I thought I was achieving, I was not achieving, like I was not, you know, finishing up a task. I was just working more and never really getting to the finish line.

Dina Cataldo (20:03):
Yeah. Isn't that interesting how we really think this is gonna be the difference between me getting it done and not getting it done if I skip my gym the tonight?

Shannon Clark (20:12):
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, and I would literally skip meals like on weekends. My husband would leave me at the computer at, you know, 7:00 AM and he would come back <laugh> at like noon and I would still be in my pajamas working away and then he would come bring me food and set it next to me and come back two hours later. And I hadn't touched it. And I think that's when he was like, okay, We need to make sure Shannon's eating <laugh>.

Shannon Clark (20:45):
I think at one point he said like, I am the only person right now in charge of your survival, <laugh>. You are no longer in charge of yourself. You can't keep yourself alive. <Laugh>,

Dina Cataldo (20:59):
You know, it's hilarious looking back at it, but I'm sure in the moment <laugh>, you're like, Hmm.

Shannon Clark (21:06):
Yeah. So literally like a lot of this was putting myself back in charge of my own survival and eating and doing what I wanna do.

Dina Cataldo (21:17):
Okay. Let's do a comparison of that Shannon versus today's Shannon. What's, what's going on with you? Are you still doing that?

Shannon Clark (21:26):
No. <Laugh> I certainly still have the urge to do it. I still have those thoughts at five o'clock. That's like, ugh, I'll just, I'll just do a few more minutes of work and finish up this one section of a brief or okay. You know, I'm, I'll just wait until 1:00 PM to eat. But now as soon as that happens, I stop myself and I'm like, wait, wait, wait. <Laugh>, wow. It does not need to get done right now. It is more important that you eat and get that energy and sustenance than finishing this one paragraph of a brief.

Dina Cataldo (22:07):
Oh my gosh. Yeah. I do the same thing. Like, it's not like I'm immune to it, you know, it's, I notice myself having the urge to work more and I love what I do, so it's not as if my brain says, oh, this is a problem. It's like, oh no, this is great. I love this. Yeah. But what's happening is, is if I, if I let that happen, I'm not caring for myself as a human. I'm just looking at myself as a robot who just enjoys this one thing. It's like, no, we have these multifaceted lives where we take food in and we go outside and <laugh>. You know what I mean?

Shannon Clark (22:39):
Yeah.

Time Management for Lawyers

Dina Cataldo (22:40):
So yeah, we just, we just need to pay attention to it. Okay. So one of the things that I want to ask you about is your relationship with time. Cuz we had when we first talked during the strategy session, you said, you know, I asked this question, I say, what's your relationship with Time Zero being absolutely horrible, 10 being fabulous and you gave me a four and then I checked in with you four months later and you said it was a 6.5 to a seven, so you had like changed that. Right. It's just like, so I'm really curious. I, I don't know, do you mind if I check in where you are right now? Like on zero to 10, your relationship with time, what that looks like now?

Shannon Clark (23:26):
Man, I would say it's gone up. I'd say it's like an an eight and a half and nine. I still like the range. I like giving a range.

Dina Cataldo (23:33):
<Laugh>. Yes. You're a range person, <laugh> tell, tell me what's shifted for you.

Shannon Clark (23:41):
Well I think I <laugh> I think the major shift was that I control the time <laugh>. Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative> like time doesn't control me.

Dina Cataldo (23:50):
Yeah. When did you realize that I

Shannon Clark (23:52):
Start working and, and working

Dina Cataldo (23:54):
<Laugh>? It sounds simple, but like how did you figure that out? <Laugh>. Yeah

Shannon Clark (24:00):
Cuz I would, I would've periods of time where I would tell you like I just get in the zone and you know, it's eight o'clock at night and all of a sudden I look at the clock and it's 12:00 PM at night and I'm just not paying any attention and it just happens. And I think you were like, well pay attention <laugh>.

Dina Cataldo (24:19):
Gosh, I dunno that I actually said it like that, but maybe I didn't. No,

Shannon Clark (24:24):
You didn't.

Dina Cataldo (24:26):
I'm like, that doesn't sound like me. <Laugh>.

Shannon Clark (24:28):
You probably did something like, can I just offer to you that you can actually stop when you wanna stop?

Dina Cataldo (24:35):
That sounds more like it. <Laugh>,

Shannon Clark (24:39):
I think realizing that I was not paying attention to time was a big factor in, in my relationship with it. And then instead of just letting it go with the flow and <laugh> winging it basically, which is how I was doing mm-hmm. <Affirmative> I got into the habit of keeping a schedule and you know, we all have our work calendars where we've got our meetings on there and I'll put in personal appointments in there too, but I wasn't actually scheduling my whole day or whole week start to finish. And I started doing that and actually setting start times and, and times for not only, you know, for lunch and at the end of the day, but even for tasks, like, I'm gonna stop at 4 45 to wrap up my work, close my email flag any emails that I need to, you know, save my spot in this brief so that I have enough time to close my computer and leave the office to get my train

Dina Cataldo (25:51):
Right

Shannon Clark (25:52):
At this time. So it was really making sure that I was building in enough time for myself starting end times. But then also I think the biggest part was, rather than starting with work and then filling in the gaps, it was starting with what I wanted to do each day for myself. Yeah. And then working in work around that.

Dina Cataldo (26:20):
Yes.

Shannon Clark (26:21):
So instead of writing down, you know, start work at 9:00 AM I was writing get up and run at, you know, 6:30 AM and then working from there to figure out, okay, when can I actually start working after my run?

Where Most Lawyer Have Resistance to Time Management

Dina Cataldo (26:38):
Yeah. I think that's a, a big thing. And that's probably where I, I sense some resistance with lawyers at first when I'm working with them. It's like, oh, I shouldn't put my time first. That's not possible. Yeah. I can't do that. Yes. And what they do, if you hear that that's my dog, Frankie <laugh>, I'm sure he is protecting me from the mailman. Yeah. So what I get is I can't do that. That's, that's not gonna work. And then they start implementing it and they start seeing, oh, this actually helps me frame my day. So I'm not working till eight o'clock at night. I'm actually setting myself up for success long term in my practice by giving myself what I need.

What would you say to lawyers who have that resistance to what you just offered them, which is putting your time first? If they're in this position where they say, I just can't do it. Like, that's not gonna work for me.

Shannon Clark (27:36):
Yeah. I think there's two things. I think the first is that having experimented with it, I realized that it made me a better worker and a better wife and a better mom to put myself first and have me time. I just showed up better for everyone else. And so in that sense it, it benefited me, but it also benefited everyone else. And that's sort of the point. I mean, when we think about our careers, we wanna do a good job for everyone around us. And sometimes we don't realize that making time for ourselves makes us better in other aspects of our lives. And then the second aspect of it, which I realized in practice, but the first time I actually heard this I think was on one of your podcasts where you were saying that, you know, <laugh>, if you give yourself a set amount of time to get something done, you can get it done.

Shannon Clark (28:44):
So I think your example was, you know, the judge gave you lunch in order to go back and research this particular issue and you could have spent a couple days researching it, but you only had one hour and you fitted in with an hour and you got it done. And I came to realize that I can do the same thing. Like I can give myself a set amount of time to do this particular research or write this, you know, discovery letter and if I give myself a certain amount of time, I will make sure that I do a good job within that amount of time. And those tasks don't end up going on forever.

Dina Cataldo (29:27):
Yeah.

Shannon Clark (29:27):
Yeah. And that gives me more time in the day to do the things that I wanna do.

“What if I Don't Know How Long a Task is Going to Take?”

Dina Cataldo (29:33):
Yeah. And one of the things I hear in relation to that, that I don't know how long a task is gonna take and that's okay. You don't have to know right away how long a task takes. You can overestimate the time for it, like give yourself plenty of time. But if you're not experimenting and you're not saying, okay, I anticipate this estate plan or this contract to take three hours or two hours, if you don't start somewhere, you're never going to have a more accurate assessment of it so that you can use that estimate in the future. So just, I love the word that you use and, and I use it too, is using your calendar and experimenting mm-hmm. <Affirmative> because you might find that running at six 30 in the morning isn't gonna be great on certain days. You'll just find that out and versus giving up and saying, oh I just can't do this.

Dina Cataldo (30:29):
You just say, okay, well this is an experiment and it didn't work Tuesday so I'll try it on Wednesday. Let's see how this, this rolls. So those are things if you're, if you're hearing this and you're relating to this, make sure you're treating your calendar not as punish a punishment device where you are beating yourself with it or like not giving yourself enough time but really using it as a tool, which is what it is. It's just a tool to help you live the life you want and use your time and decide where your time goes.

Shannon Clark (30:59):
Yeah. It's less of a goal for me. The, the idea is not to check off everything on my calendar and make sure that I did it exactly when I said I was gonna do it <laugh>, but to use it as a guide and like, like you said, experiment and not feel guilty when something doesn't work. Just see it objectively and try something else.

Dina Cataldo (31:25):
Yeah. So important like just we beat ourselves enough beat ourselves up enough that we don't need to use the calendar to beat us up more. <Laugh>,

Shannon Clark (31:35):
<Laugh>

“What if I'm Afraid I'll Miss Something?”

Dina Cataldo (31:37):
There was a thought that came up and this is also in relation to the calendar, but when we were working together, and I hear this a lot from lawyers, which is the thought that you're, you're afraid, I'm afraid I'll miss something. Do you still have that thought come up?

Shannon Clark (31:53):
Yeah. <laugh> all the time. <Laugh>.

Dina Cataldo (31:56):
How do you handle it like before versus now?

Shannon Clark (32:07):
I think that I don't get it as often now because I plan out my week on Sundays and I think before I even start putting in each day I already have a list of like to-dos or appointments. Kind of like I have the list of things that needs to go into the calendar. And then I work from there so I can see if missed anything and go back and put it in. But I think I've also just become a little less concerned about the consequences if I missed something because I know that I've built in extra time to get it done or I realized that it's not a big deal if something gets missed. So I think I just have a different relationship with that kind of thought. It doesn't, I don't have the fear with it anymore. It's just another thing that's gonna happen.

Dina Cataldo (33:12):
Yeah. This is so important. This “I'm afraid I'm gonna miss something.” We can let that drive what we're doing and then we really do start missing things. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>, we really create so much pressure we can't think or problem solve. And how I heard you say that was really, you went from having that fear to then just recognizing it's a fear and it's likely unfounded and being able to be the observer of your mind instead of being driven by the fear.

Shannon Clark (33:44):
Yeah. And yeah, realizing that it's probably unfounded, but also realizing that it is gonna happen every once in a while and that's okay. You deal with it when it comes.

Dina Cataldo (33:55):
Yeah. That was actually something I had another coaching call with this week. It's sometimes, you know, something's gonna happen, right? Like somebody's gonna ask you to do something. Some, there are gonna be p people who come through your door asking you questions instead of worrying about them coming in and taking your time. Just say, oh well that's just something that's gonna happen. Yeah. You know, and just plan for it. Make a little extra time off your calendar.

How to Deal with Difficult Opposing Counsel

Shannon Clark (34:22):
Yeah. And I think realizing that other people don't necessarily have ill will when they come to you last minute. Yes. Stop by your door. That happened to me last week where another partner had a family issue and a ball got dropped and I ended up taking it up on a Friday night, but I didn't have any sort of emotional reaction to it because it wasn't the other partner's fault. It wasn't my fault. It needed to get done and we got it done without, you know, any problem.

Dina Cataldo (34:59):
Yeah. The drama our brain creates can make things take so much longer and feel worse. But when you approach it like you did, it's just like no, I just get it done.

Shannon Clark (35:11):
Yeah.

Dina Cataldo (35:11):
Yeah. That, that brings me to another area I wanted to ask you about is how you handle, and everybody has had them like an opposing council that you just think like, oh this guy's such a jerk. I can't believe it. You know, whatever. It's right. But how do you deal with your brain when it does what it naturally does and does assume the worst? Cuz that's where our brain always goes is is just this negativity bias of, oh, they must be doing this on purpose, or they are behaving a certain way because of their tone of the email. How do you handle that now? <Laugh>

Shannon Clark (35:46):
I mean, I had so much anxiety over dealing with opposing counsel, especially if I ever, I mean over email cuz you know how attorneys could be over email.

Dina Cataldo (35:57):
We're so short. Like we're just like, we just type in like robotically

Shannon Clark (36:01):
<Laugh>. Yeah. I mean we have such gusto over email, not on the phone <laugh>, but, but I would have so much anxiety and so much angst over dealing with opposing counsel, like thinking to myself like, they hate me. They hate my client. Like I just know that they're gonna yell at me. And, and I think I realized that I had that same sort of judgment back that like they're, they feel like, you know, they have this self-righteous <laugh> attitude and they can do no wrong. But I think I came to realize, I think one I experimented with how best to handle opposing counsel. I kind of experimented with it to see the best way to get the results for the client. Cuz at the end of the day, that's what matters.

Dina Cataldo (37:00):
Right.

Shannon Clark (37:02):
And realizing that <laugh>, you know, I don't know the reasons be behind why opposing counsel is doing what they're doing. They may have a perfectly valid reason to write that snarky email. They may not realize that they wrote a snarky email. So instead of trying to assign malice towards them, I'm always trying to think of, well what are they trying to get out of this? What am I trying to get out of this? How do we both get out what we want and to go about it in a much more calm manner than I had been. And for me, I feel so much better now dealing with opposing counsel. I don't feel any sort of animosity towards them. I think I've gotten better at thinking through their side of things, which we never wanna do. Cause we don't wanna, we

Dina Cataldo (38:03):
Don't wanna, we're right.

Shannon Clark (38:04):
Admit that they have a point

Dina Cataldo (38:06):
<Laugh>. Right.

Shannon Clark (38:10):
But it helps to do that. I mean not, I mean both strategically but also emotionally for me to realize that they might have motives that I don't necessarily understand. And so the emotional reaction that I'm having to them could be completely unfounded.

Dina Cataldo (38:27):
Yeah. Yeah. I've noticed that with me. And I think I've brought this example to the podcast where I had an opposing council who we've had great relationships with in court, in person, and then I get, I get this email and my brain says, what an a-hole? Who is this guy? Right? Like, you know, it's this really long thing. And then, and then I paused and then I just said, okay, hold on. This guy's been very nice to me in the past, so let's think this through. And of course you can just see like, oh, this guy's showing this email to his client, like, this isn't for me. Yes. Right. He's sending it to me, but it is not for me. It is to show his client he is fighting for, you know, his client. And even though we've had prior negotiations and it's very clear where the case is going, this is not something that I need to internalize Yes. And have angst over. It's just for me to receive it so that he can show his client he did the best that he could. Yeah.

Shannon Clark (39:33):
There's always gonna be posturing.

Dina Cataldo (39:36):
Yes.

Shannon Clark (39:37):
<Laugh>. But if you realize that it is just posturing and it's not personal Yeah. It's a lot easier for you to respond to it and get the most out of it.

Dina Cataldo (39:49):
Yeah. I mean then you can start analyzing his position and all this stuff, but you can also just save hours of time, hours of your life by not making things personal and just saying like, oh, let me just, this is me and my brain and it's just making interpretations and it doesn't mean what I think it means. And then you can go through your day versus showing all your coworkers this email. Yes. Like gossiping about it and like say, and then writing an email and then deleting it and then writing one and then showing it to one of your coworkers to see, is this okay if I send it? Right. <laugh>. Yes. <laugh>. Save yourself the time. <Laugh>. Yeah.

Shannon Clark (40:28):
Yeah.

Thought Work for Lawyers

Dina Cataldo (40:30):
Okay. Anything, oh, here's what I wanted to talk about because we talked so much about mindset work on this podcast. There were thoughts that you practiced, and I don't know if you're aware of them. I certainly saw them as we work together. Are there any thoughts that you practiced and maybe you didn't believe it first and then now you feel like you believe them?

Perfectionism

Shannon Clark (40:54):
Yeah, I mean, I wrote them down on little pieces of paper and tap them to my computer. <Laugh>. Yes. I love that. Most of them are at home because a lot of our a lot of my coaching was while I was still fully remote mm-hmm. <Affirmative> and I'm now back in my office three days a week. And so I have a sticky note in front of me that says, are you nitpicking <laugh>?

Dina Cataldo (41:17):
I need to know more about this.

Shannon Clark (41:20):
So I would get done with a brief or just an email and I would read it like 50 times coming up with like all these edits to make. It's not even that I was finding mistakes, I would just think of another way to word something. And it was just taking so much time that I could have been devoting to other things, not only at work, but just being done for the day and going for a run. So I have this sticky note asking me if I'm nitpicking.

Dina Cataldo (41:53):
I Love it

Shannon Clark (41:54):
because I don't want perfection to be the enemy of good.

Dina Cataldo (41:59):
Yeah.

Shannon Clark (42:01):
I to this day will even like tell my associates that like, you're gonna make mistakes. It's fine <laugh>. So I have that sticky note in front of me, are you nitpicking? So that I make sure that perfection is not the enemy of good.

“It Doesn't Need to Get Done Right Now.”

I've got one that says it does not need to get done right now. So that reminds me that, you know, I have a time in my calendar where I am planning on wrapping up my work and stopping and it reminds me that whatever I am working on, I can find a good stopping point. It doesn't have to get done today because you know, the deadline is next week, so why do I need to get get it done today? I've got, how can I make my life easier?

“How Do I make My Life Easier?”

Shannon Clark (43:03):
Hmm. And that's all that's for me that, you know, that goes from setting out my workout clothes for the next day and packing them or delegating to associates or to my legal assistant any way that I can make my life easier.

“What's the Worst Case Scenario?”

And then one of the ones that's helped me more recently is just, you know, pause, think about your emotion and, and what's behind it. What's behind the feeling and what, you know, what is the worst case scenario here? Yeah. What is the worst thing that could happen? And when I actually identify what that is, it's not so bad. <Laugh>.

Dina Cataldo (43:45):
Yeah.

Shannon Clark (43:46):
Even the worst case scenario is not so bad.

“What I Want Matters.”

Dina Cataldo (43:49):
Yeah. There's one thought that I've seen you develop and practice that has had a huge impact. I don't know if you've seen it or not, but it's what I want matters.

Shannon Clark (43:59):
Yes. Yeah. I think that is not a sticky note. Yeah.

Dina Cataldo (44:04):
<Laugh>. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, tell me why that was one that really hit home for you and made an impact.

Shannon Clark (44:14):
I, it's almost hard to put into words because it's not like I didn't know what I wanted out of life and out of my job, but I kept kind of coming up with excuses for why I couldn't put myself first or do what I wanted to do <laugh>. And that thought reminds me that there's a reason why what I wanna do is important. It, you know, it's, it's there for me. So there's that element of getting to do what I wanna do, but also understanding that when I put myself first I show up better for others. Hmm. And that then everyone wins.

Dina Cataldo (45:10):
Yeah. Yeah. Ah, that's such a good one. Okay. So let's see here. All right. We've done a lot of work on streamlining things for you. And this is something that we do in practice and coaching is evaluating something and then without judgment, starting to see how you can improve things.

How to Be a Better Trial Lawyer

And I know that one area was one of the trials that you had and how you wanted to approach things differently during the next trial. I'm curious what your experience has been around, and you mentioned this, like how do I make things easier? But what has your experience been around taking these concepts that you're learning around evaluating and using those in your practice? Whether it's your calendar or trial processes or talking to associates. Any, any experiences you wanna share?

Shannon Clark (46:09):
Yeah, so I think a big part of it is actually reflecting back on previous experiences and thinking about what worked and what didn't and what I wanna improve. Cuz I think for a long time I would just, I would have an experience. Like I would go to trial and it would be a whirlwind and I would just say, thank God that's over. Move on to the next thing and not think about how I wanted to improve that experience. So because I had two trials this year pretty close back to back, which is pretty rare in my practice, it gave me the opportunity to think about what went well what I could have done better, what happened that I felt like it went wrong, but then in retrospect wouldn't have made a difference. Hmm. And that helped me figure out, okay, I'm putting in place my schedule for this coming trial. What do, what do I need to do in order to get ready? What kind of mindset do I want going in?

Shannon Clark (47:20):
Ju I mean, even just the concept of having a schedule for trial was completely different for me. I mean, my first trial I just, I would get up and start working and I wouldn't eat. And then at some point I would go to bed and I couldn't even, sometimes I couldn't even tell you what time of day that was. And for the second trial to actually put in place, you know, I'm gonna go to bed or I'm gonna leave, you know, our office at the hotel where we were staying, I'm gonna leave by this particular time and I'm gonna tell others that's what I'm doing so that I'm setting expectations for myself, but also keeping others in the loop. And, and so they know sort of when to expect me to be there and, and realizing that I'm putting myself first in some sense. Like I'm gonna get up and go walk around at noon in order to get outside the hotel and just te but telling people that, that I'm gonna go do that and putting it in my schedule. And then eventually I was able to convince associates to do it with me. <Laugh>.

Dina Cataldo (48:40):
That's awesome.

Shannon Clark (48:42):
Yeah. So I think treating each experience as an experiment and looking back on it to see what, what does work and what doesn't and putting into place I mean parameters for how it's gonna go.

Dina Cataldo (49:05):
Yeah. I mean, trial is a different animal because you are putting so much focus in such a short amount of time. So I think it's even more important to implement these tools even when you're not in trial. Because then when you are in trial you can say, okay, this is the bare minimum I need to survive. I need to run, I need to walk, I need to sleep X amount of hours, I need to make sure I'm eating it this time and this time. Yeah. You know, I need to make sure I'm still functioning.

Shannon Clark (49:39):
Yes.

Dina Cataldo (49:40):
And that I'm not a horrible human being to people <laugh> Yeah. And that I'm calm. Right.

Shannon Clark (49:48):
Yeah. I mean I, you know, you think that with, with some of these big trials that we have, everyone just goes in with the expectation that it's just, you're on 24 7 and you'll sleep when you're done and you'll eat when you're done. And I did that for a trial and yes, it, it ended up going well, but man, I was miserable and I probably could have done things better. And, you know, I could think of a million ways we could have done things differently. <Laugh> and just going into the second trial with the concept of like, you know, you actually can have a start and stop time for working at trial. <Laugh>

Dina Cataldo (50:30):
Crazy.

Shannon Clark (50:31):
Right. It's just, it's kinda like a brand new concept for me. But I realized at the end of the day that was gonna make me do a better job.

Dina Cataldo (50:40):
Yeah. I, and I think that we're not taught that that is gonna, that's gonna have an impact. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>, we're just taught, we just need to keep working. Yes. But if we just keep working over time, we are going to like say the trials a week. Right. Or two weeks, you know, you do that just a few days and you start to lose your focus, your concentration, your ability to reduce output that doesn't have tons of errors. Yes. So it's so important to take care of ourselves during that.

How to Create a Better Law Firm Culture Around Trials

Shannon Clark (51:11):
Yeah. And I think I realized too, you know, it's, it's one you know, it's one for thing for me as a, a partner at the firm to put those <laugh> stops in place for working. I know it's so hard for associates to do that because they feel like they need to work 24/7 to prove that they're committed. And I think there's this pool for partners to say, well I did it. They need to experience it too. Like learn by trial, by fire.

Dina Cataldo (51:44):
Yeah. That's horrible.

Shannon Clark (51:46):
Yeah. And I just realized like, no, it doesn't have to be that way. And so at trial I would go around and make sure like, you know, it's, it's dinnertime and I can tell, you know, this one associate's at her computer and she has <laugh> no intention of getting up for dinner. It's like, no, no, no. Stop what you're doing. Let's go to dinner. If you're not there in five minutes, I'm coming back for you <laugh>, you know, to make sure that they're eating and that they're sleeping and you know, towards the end of trial, making sure that we have a little fun. So, you know, going out and finding a restaurant and inviting the associates and just having them let loose a little bit so they know that, you know, we wanna make sure that <laugh> they're getting, they're being watered and fed basically.

Dina Cataldo (52:38):
<Laugh>. Yeah. Watered fed and then you can retain them cuz they think, oh okay, this is a place that actually cares about me and my wellbeing. My wellbeing.

Shannon Clark (52:46):
Yeah. Yes. Yeah. Hopefully we can get to that point. I don't think it's always been that way.

Dina Cataldo (52:51):
Yeah.

Shannon Clark (52:52):
But hopefully we can get to that point.

Dina Cataldo (52:53):
Yeah, we're getting there. We're getting there. Yeah. Okay. So we work together for six months and well we're still working together but mm-hmm. <Affirmative> you re resigned with me. But yes. What I tell people is that I break things down into six months cuz then you get to re decide if you wanna keep working with me and during that six months you are there to get what you came for for those six months. So I'm curious, like if you look back at those first six months that we were together, did you get what you came for?

What's Next for Shannon

Shannon Clark (53:24):
Yes, absolutely. I think I was able to take back control of my time, have a better relationship with time put myself first and really start thinking about how do I want the next couple years to look? What do I, what do I wanna do? What are my goals? And I think I got that out of the first six months and then now I'm starting to work on some of those goals. So realizing that I needed to make business development a priority. Just even realizing that and committing to that with step one and now it's step two where I actually have to do it <laugh>, but I need help with that <laugh>. Cause like I tell everyone, business development seems so like used car salesman to me. Hmm. I hate going to conferences and putting myself out there. It feels so uncomfortable. But you know, that's a goal that I wanna work on and I know that there are small things that I can do to make it a lot easier. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative> and I've already started doing some of those. So it's those kinds of, of goals that I can actually have now that I'm now working on with you.

Dina Cataldo (54:42):
Yeah. Cuz once we get our time squared away, then we can start moving forward on the big goals.

Shannon Clark (54:47):
Exactly.

Dina Cataldo (54:48):
That's so great. Okay, so we're wrapping up here and I wanna respect your time. Is there anything that, cause I could talk to you about this all day long, <laugh>. Is there anything that you want to make sure, you know, there's a lawyer listening to this who is frazzled and feels like they don't have control of their time, that they don't have the ability to make things happen the way that you've made things happen. What would you say to them?

What Shannon Wants Lawyers to Know

Shannon Clark (55:19):
Ooh. I think what would've, what really appealed to me when I was in that situation was realizing that it did not need to be an overhaul change to my life that was gonna improve it. And my relationship with work and time, it really was small little changes and the way that I approached time and changes just in the way I was thinking about my job and how I was reacting to it and react to the people in my life. So it, it really was small little things that ended up making a big difference. But it is little things that it's just so hard for you to recognize on your own. You need an objective third party

Dina Cataldo (56:12):
<Laugh> Yeah.

Shannon Clark (56:14):
<Laugh> to help you realize when your brain is just straight up lying to you. <Laugh>.

Dina Cataldo (56:19):
Yes,

Shannon Clark (56:20):
<Laugh>.

Dina Cataldo (56:22):
All right. So can you share with everybody where they can get in touch with you if they want to ask you questions, maybe, you know, especially around some of the interests that you talked about at the beginning of this episode, and I'll make sure I link to them in the show

Shannon Clark (56:37):
Notes. Yeah. So I am on LinkedIn, obligatory LinkedIn profile. That's a good way to get in touch with me. If you wanna see my life outside of work, I don't have a whole lot of social media, but my beloved Labrador retriever does have an Instagram account. <Laugh>.

Dina Cataldo (56:57):
Okay. You're gonna, what is this? What's this handle? <Laugh>.

Shannon Clark (57:01):
Your handle is at living the pup life.

Dina Cataldo (57:04):
Living the pup life.

Shannon Clark (57:07):
Yeah.

Dina Cataldo (57:08):
Excellent.

Shannon Clark (57:09):
My daughter makes an appearance every once in a while, but right now she's moving too fast, so she just shows up as a blur.

Dina Cataldo (57:16):
<Laugh>.

Shannon Clark (57:18):
<Laugh>,

Dina Cataldo (57:19):
I wanna thank you again for being here, Shannon. This has been really great. I think this is gonna help a lot of people and you gave them a lot of practical tips that they can start implementing too.

Shannon Clark (57:28):
Well good. That's, that's my goal. Not only helping myself, but trying to help others who are in a similar situation. So I appreciate it.

Dina Cataldo (57:38):
So good. If you resonated with what you heard today, go back and re-listen to this episode. I guarantee that we covered so much. You are going to wanna go back, pick up on things, take notes, bring it back to your firm, start implementing. She gave us a ton of actionable steps. I'm also gonna link to everything that we talked about in the show notes https://dinacataldo.com/248. And if you heard what Shannon had to say and you know you want help book a strategy session with me, you can change and I will be with you every step of the way. You can book a call with me at https://dinacataldo.com/strategysession. Thank you so much for listening. I hope you have a wonderful rest of the week and I will talk to you soon. Bye.