Fear and adrenaline stress - welcome to the world of lawyers

by Melody A. Kramer

Everyone has a primitive reaction to fear. Fear sets off a complex set of physiological reactions in the body that gets you ready for fight, flight, or freezing. This commonly called “fight-or-flight response” or “adrenaline rush” is crucial if you suddenly face, say, a grizzly bear or a mugger, or when you need to pull a car off of a child, but when adrenaline rushes are made part of everyday professional life, things go a little off course.

The first adrenaline rush of my legal career happened the first week of law school. University of Nebraska College of Law, Contracts class with Professor Denicola. . . .

You wouldn’t ordinarily think of a classroom discussion as a life-or-death situation warranting a trigger of your body’s fight-or-flight response, but if you have ever been in a law school classroom, you would know why.

So there I was in Professor Denicola’s class, and became the first in our class to be inducted into the Socratic method of teaching. I thought I was ready for the possibility of being called on, but when Professor Denicola called on “Ms. Kramer” to give the summary of the first case, I went blank. I looked down at my notes and literally could not read them. They could have been hieroglyphics. I could see letters and words, but the part of my brain that connected those to producing audible sounds literally shut down.

It wasn’t until years later that I understood what happened to me that day. When the brain’s amygdala fear center triggers, it sets off a cascade of physiological reactions in the body. For example, heart rate and blood pressure increase, hormones including adrenaline and cortisol are released into the blood stream, all giving the body a boost in physical strength. Sensory capabilities are limited, resulting in tunnel vision and auditory exclusion. Fine motor skills disappear and cortisol interferes with complex thinking. Sometimes the body just freezes, unable to react to its environment (sort of like a possum who plays dead when faced with an attacker). Basically, physical strength increases and mental strength decreases.

That day in law school, my high brain, the portion of my brain necessary for critical thinking, was overrun by my low, primitive brain, the amygdala, because of the fear created by the teaching method that is central to legal education. . . .

Over time I developed coping mechanisms to deal with the fear inherent in the legal teaching paradigm, but my body’s visceral reaction to this fear remained and was repeated every time I appeared in a courtroom or at a deposition for 20 years of practice as a trial lawyer. My “coping mechanism” became apparent 20 years later in a FAST (fear adrenal stress training) self-defense class when I almost flew across the room to put my hands around the throat of my instructor, but that will be the subject of a later chapter.

LOADING PDF: If there are any problems, click here to download the file.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Melody A. Kramer, Legal Greenhouse | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Melody A. Kramer

Legal Greenhouse on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.