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  • Bob Burg

“You've basically revolutionized the way we are doing business. . . Your teaching style is very, very effective.”

~ Thomas J. Bartosic, SVP, Career Sales, G.E. Financial Assurance

“Be A Judge; Not A Lawyer”

May 20th, 2011 by Bob Burg

The Sages said, “Be a judge; not a lawyer.” What does this mean and how does it help us become the most effective and successful person possible?

On a surface level and when directed at an actual judge, the advice is obvious. Whereas a lawyer is paid to win the case for his or her client by any legal and ethical means possible, obviously a judge is not. The judge’s job is to ensure that the proceedings run smoothly, legally and that both sides receive a fair hearing. Thus, the judge needs to understand both sides of the issue and, to the best of his or her ability, be completely impartial.

That admonishment is so obvious for an actual court judge that the advice was intended for the layperson involved in a non-court dispute.

Have you ever found yourself in a disagreement where you were so intent on “winning your case” that, even when confronted with a “checkmate-type point” you insisted on prolonging the argument? (I know I have!!) You just had to find a way to “win?” That would fall in the category of “being a lawyer.”

Now, if you are a lawyer and representing a client, that’s fine — you’re just doing your job. If that’s not the situation, however, you might want to reconsider and take a different path.

Here’s a very difficult (yet, mature) action to take. Look at the disagreement as though you are a wise judge. In order to do this, you must “step back” from the situation and see both sides of the issue, yours AND theirs.Especially theirs since you are pre-disposed to see yours. Ask yourself how you would judge this if you were an impartial…well, judge?

We’ve discussed before how acknowledging the other side’s case first actually helps your credibility and inspires agreement in the other person.

This is different. Here you are actually tapping into the wisdom and impartiality of a judge in order to see the situation as it really is.

Human that we are, this is difficult when the ego says, “win at all costs — even if wrong.” The best way to overcome this tendency is to be a judge; not a lawyer.

What are some effective methods for doing this you’ve found or seen others do?


{Note: No lawyers were harmed in the writing of this post.} 🙂

14 Responses to ““Be A Judge; Not A Lawyer””
  1. Nadia said at 8:00 am on

    Bob, thanks for making us think again. The “step back” attitude is a very mature one. My natural inclination is to let my passion take control and argue. But, over the years (and you know I am old lol), I came to recognize the signs of such a behavior a few seconds before it unfolds.
    So, internally I say to myself “Nadia, take a deep breath, calm down, shut up and listen”. It is the first step to understand the other person’s point of view. It does not mean that I agree at that point, but I try then to understand. It takes the heat of the conversation away and allows to find common ground and if nothing else, everybody feels respected. Too often, we think that “winning” an argument makes us the winner. In many instances, it’s just the opposite. The other person walks away frustrated. Bridges are burned and dialogue is closed for ever. Also recognizing that my point of view is wrong or simply truncated empowers me to broaden my view on the subject. It might be seen as a paradox, but it is a leader attitude to “act as a judge”. Now, don’t misunderstand me… I still have waaaaays to go :).
    Have a beautiful day, my friend.

  2. Linda Ryan said at 8:02 am on

    This is really great advice Bob (not that I would expect otherwise from you, lol) as putting myself in the role of the judge forces me to open my mind wider. If I’m only (or mostly) interested in “winning my case” I may miss a great lesson or two, while being the judge let’s me see things in a non-biased way. Interesting thought I just had… if I am a judge (mentally) I will be less judge-mental.

  3. DB said at 8:43 am on


    This blog provides the insight that seasoned executives constantly overlook, myself included. Our society is intent on winning, beginning in the elementary school gymnasium and continuing into modern day with the decade long “War on Terror”. It occurs to me (and maybe others, too) that approaching conflict with a neutral perspective will give sway to a Win-Win for all involved.

  4. Al Smith said at 10:01 am on

    Another winner Bob. I love this topic. Some things that come to mind are:

    LISTEN, ask questions and LISTEN some more. Have an OPEN mind. Remove EGO.

    Ask yourself this question: (especially if it involves family)
    Do I want to be HAPPY, or do I want to be RIGHT ?

    Great quote from Henry Ford: “If there is any one secret to success, it lies in the ability to get the other persons point of view and see things from that persons angle as well as from your own”

    Did I say LISTEN ? Thanks again Bob. You are da MAN !


  5. Dondi Scumaci said at 10:06 am on

    Wisdom indeed.

    This may go on the list of things to do ESPECIALLY when we don’t feel like it! Takes real self management to do this, but the reward is well worth it. As Nadia said, you have us thinking again. Maybe even redefining the word “winning” in situations like this.

    Love Linda’s take too – thinking like a judge makes us less “judge-mental.” (Love that.)

    To create that space in my head, I am learning to turn all of my objections in questions. When I am able to do that, conflict becomes conversation.

    Thank you Bob!

  6. John Burwell Jr said at 10:25 am on

    Great perspective Bob. It is interesting that in most cases we do want to be the lawyer because what I have experienced and observed is that most people hate to lose and hate to be wrong, however if we took the position of a judge and fully applied the concept you speak about there would be winning because by remaining in that position you could impact and influence all involved. Even if you don’t agree it is my belief that you would agree to disagree and that is okay and winning. I had the opportunity to experience this just the other day with my father. He came to the conversation very angry, tons on expectations, judgment, frustration, and assumption before a word was spoken between us (ego was in control here). His physiology gave him away, red face, angry and narrow eyes. I allowed it to put me in the state of a lawyer (I must and am going to win at all costs) I recognized this happening, caught myself, and applied that of a judge (understanding his side, validated it, listened fully allowing him to “get it all off his chest”) Then I asked him questions to make sure we understood what the real issues were and talked through them. Great outcome we both won because we agreed to value each other even though we didn’t fully agree. I reminded him that I am not a little kid anymore, that I am his son, a father, a husband, a man.

  7. John Burwell Jr said at 10:29 am on

    Linda I love your last thought and will remember and remind my team of that…stay that of a judge and you will not be judgmental, thank you for that Linda, so I am shamelessly stealing it.

  8. Mitch Jackson said at 11:22 am on

    Bob- I’ve been a trial lawyer for the past 25 years and couldn’t agree more with your approach to resolving issues. It’s always important, even when representing a client, to negotiate in a win-win fashion and to appreciate and understand the other side’s issues and needs. For everyone out there, pay close attention to the solid advice shared in this article. Good stuff!

  9. Lilyana Lovela said at 12:00 pm on

    It is said that life is truly lived when one can go beyond themselves.

    How can we ever care for, love, or respect another person and contribute in this world in a meaningful way until we learn to value an outside perspective? Even if this were achieved it would lack the courage of integrity, the wisdom of truth, and the heart of compassion to endure.

    Another Outstanding article Bob, thank you for being you =)

  10. Geneva said at 12:55 pm on

    Having recently watched “A Time To Kill” for the first time ever (I know…it’s prob a classic! ) this post brings to mind what I “witnessed” while watching.

    Hard cases are usually based on every tiny piece of evidence & then a jury is summoned to make final decisions. The judge intercedes between the victim, accuser, lawyers & jury. The judge from the movie had his mind made up early on, but chose his duty to justice over rumors, here say & popular opinion. There is much, much more, but..I am only observing. 🙂

    In real life disagreements, negotiations, mergers, dissolving of companies, etc. or even arguments b/t
    kids & parents or spouses could embrace such practice. I appreciate the fact that ego & pride were already mentioned. Often times, more than we would like to admit, our opinions, pride & ego rule our decisions. Being an effective listener, as mentioned, is usually the deciding factor. Because of my children being involved w/ divorce, I have, in times past, been at the mercy of a judge & am thankful for careful consideration.

    The scripture, “Judge not, lest you be judged” has saved me many times in critical decisions. Even recently pertaining to a family member. Letting my conscious be my guide sometimes doesn’t make me happy, but in the end…..it is best.

    Thanks Bob for bringing this subject up & validating the fact that not we are all guilty from time to time requiring a just judge, but we need to pay it forward!

  11. Bob Burg said at 5:45 pm on

    Hi all, because I was in meetings and then speaking for most of the day, I didn’t have the opportunity to respond to your awesome comments as they were coming in, but please know I read every one of them and can only say that I continue to be AMAZED by your wisdom-filled thoughts and teachings. Thank you so much.

    I was thinking of going back and commenting on everyone’s comments just to acknowledge how great they were individually. There’s just too much good stuff there and my positive feedback would go much too long, so please allow me to simply say THANK YOU and please know how much I appreciate your taking the time…to participate, to share of yourself and your personal stories with us, and to educate us with such terrific ideas!!

  12. Chi Chi OKezie said at 10:20 pm on

    Great post, Bob. It is difficult to be objective, especially when a person feels strongly about a topic or situation. In the post, you bring an excellent point to light. Looking at the situation from the other person’s perspective first, can definitely help your credibility and inspire agreement in others. Powerful indeed. From my experiences, doing this makes me less defensive and more open minded to finding a solution instead of needing to “be right”. Keep up the fantastic work!

  13. Monday Mojo said at 8:24 am on

    […] Burg offers why it’s important to “Be a Judge, not a Lawyer” Posted in […]

  14. Elizabeth Suarez said at 1:43 pm on

    Bob, great article and so true. As an Alternative Dispute Resolution professional, I appreciate reading blog articles like this, where readers are given concrete ways on how to deal and manage a disagreement/conflict. Might I suggest tapping into a mediator or even an arbitrator prior to having to get to the judge level. This of course is assuming you aren’t able to act like the judge you suggested and you are still in need to resolve the conflict.

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