August 23, 2017

What Was a Time in Your Career When Courage Made the Difference?

August 28, 2012

“A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is braver five minutes longer.” 
—Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882)

This is a good thing to keep in mind whenever we face bullies, whether on or off the bench.

Years ago, as a young lawyer in the middle of a jury trial litigating against a well-respected, more experienced local lawyer, I had to make a quick decision as to how best to protect the record when, after a number of incorrect rulings, the judge literally stormed off the bench, with the jury in the box, in furious response to what I believed was my well-founded objection.

In the stunning silence that followed, I calmly asked that the record reflect the judge’s response. When court resumed, and for the remainder of the trial, the judge was more temperate and civil in his rulings, and the case proceeded without further incident. But the best consequence of my proceeding in the face of uncertainty that day is that my then-adversary to this day tells me how impressed he was with my handling of that tense situation.

Emerson got this right: Don’t quit because you feel fear. The essence of courage is not the absence of fear, but proceeding in the face of fear. Even heroes experience fear, but they do not let it stop them. Neither should you.


Carmelite Bertaut is special counsel with Stone Pigman Walther Wittmann L.L.C. in New Orleans, Louisiana.

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