Zibby Owens: I'm really excited to be here today with Heather Hanson who’s the author of The Elegant Warrior: How To Win Life’s Trials Without Losing Yourself. A trial lawyer for over twenty years defending medical malpractice suits, Heather is an advocacy and credibility consultant, keynote speaker, and host of “The Elegant Warrior Podcast.” She has appeared on CNN, NBC, FOX News, and has lectured at Stanford University and Villanova. A graduate of American University and Villanova Law School, she currently lives in New York. Welcome, Heather.
Heather Hanson: Thank you so much for having me, Zibby. I'm excited.
Zibby: Thanks for coming on “Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books.” Thanks for just having me on your amazing podcast as well, “The Elegant Warrior.”
Heather: I was so excited to have you on. It’s a thrill.
Zibby: Can you tell listeners, please, what The Elegant Warrioris about? What inspired you to write it?
Heather: For twenty years, I've defended doctors and hospitals when they get sued. While it’s been a privilege and an honor, it’s also very stressful and hard in that trials are a zero-sum game. Someone wins. Someone loses. That means that sometimes it can get quite aggressive. I was finding that during those times of trial, I wanted to maintain who I was and be true to the choices that I've made about who I was, even when things get hard and were at the height of the conflict. I’ve found that some of the ways that I could do that in the courtroom also applied outside the courtroom. We are all our strongest advocates and the best person to protect and champion ourselves. If you can take the tools of a trial lawyer and apply them to life so that you can do those things, I think it would be helpful. I wrote the book to help people be able to do that.
Zibby: It was so great, too, the way you structed the book. I'm always saying for moms who don't have time, short chapters are one of the saving graces of a book for me. The chapters, they're so efficient. You have a topic. You have a summary at the end. The have proof. You have advice -- it was great -- and your own personal story that weaves its way through everything, which made it all the more relatable and compelling. It was really great.
Heather: Thank you very much. Part of that is the way you have to write as a lawyer, not the stories, but you have to be very focused. You have to get the point. You can't be super wordy. Also, the proof part is interesting. This book sort of falls in the self-help genre. I hear people talking about things. I'm like, prove it. I don't understand why you can just say that. It was important to me to give the psychological studies that backed up some of the things that I said so that people could say, “Oh.” Especially for people for whom proof is important, I wanted to have that there.
Zibby: I loved that. It was great. Did it just come naturally to you to structure it the way you think about it legally?
Heather: It did. Also, I'm the same way with the short chapters, especially for books like this, non-fiction books. Fiction books, a chapter can go on. I can get caught up in it. I wanted this book to be one that if you were looking to a bad day or a stressful day, you could open up to one chapter and just read one chapter really quickly and have that in your pocket for the day. I knew I wanted them to be short. I wanted the three takeaways at the end of the chapter. I was pretty clear about that from the very beginning. It also helped to write it because it made structuring it easier.
Zibby: I could see that. You could really tackle it on a given day and then go onto the next. I'm envious of that structure. [laughter] That's awesome.
Heather: I've started a fiction book. It’s a lot harder, keeping things straight. What did I say? What's this character’s name or the thing that I said about that? You've got to have index cards everywhere.
Zibby: I also loved all the Law & Order-y stuff that you sprinkle through. It really did feel like you were watching a great courtroom drama. Some of the best movies of all time take place with the drama and the intensity and all those tense moments and the jury. You put us right there, which was great. It’s not just I'm getting advice from you based on your experience. This is more like, “Let me tell you about this case.” It was really, really interesting.
Heather: Lawyers have so many stories. I had to get permission from the doctors that I've represented. I changed a lot of things as well. There's a lot of things that aren't in the book. Like you, I may someday fictionalize some of those things and make it into another book. There's very little as interesting as the courtroom because it’s win and lose. What else is like that? Politics, sports, those are the things. Then in my cases, because it’s doctor and patient, they know each other. The other thing comparable to that is divorce law and family law. These doctors and patients have touched each other, sometimes very delicately touched each other. The cases get very stressful and emotional and very relatable in big, big ways. The stories were ripe for taking. That was not hard. There's hundreds of other stories that I didn't tell. That part was relatively easy.
Zibby: I really liked, the most, the stories about you and getting to know you through this book. I was particularly struck in, I think it was the first chapter. Towards the beginning of the book, you talk about yourself in high school and how you, at that time, were a hundred pounds overweight. Yet you still liked to sing. You were saying that attitude is everything. You would sing. Then you were in the ladies’ room one day. Some nasty girl was like, “What do you have to be happy about?” Really? What is with people? Everybody’s so mean. Anyway, you thought about that. I wanted to hear more about that. Then you ended up losing a hundred pounds. That's an interesting story in and of itself. Tell me a little about that.
Heather: It’s funny because that's a longer story too. The first thing about that story is the girl who asked me that question, actually, I now know for sure had her own stuff going on.
Zibby: I'm sure.
Heather: I do think that hurt people hurt people. Obviously, she was being snotty and rude. I was really curious, why am I so happy? In high school, I was popular. I had a ton of friends. I loved my high school years, but I didn't go to prom. I didn't go to the socials. I didn't go to dances. I didn't have a boyfriend. I do think that it was a choice. I chose to be happy. You make those choices. At times of trial when I'm in the middle of a case, I also choose to be compassionate to the person on the other side and to be happy as best I can. Some days, that's easier than others. That part of the story is that.
Then the weight loss thing is when I got a little bit older and got to college, I realized that I never wanted to feel as though I hadn’t reached the utmost of my potential. I wanted to see what that was. Losing the weight, I was not in a rush, which I think helps. It wasn't like I want to lose it by this day. It was just, what can I be? What could I be? Thinking of things in those terms helps you to see. I lost that hundred pounds. I've got to tell you, Zibby, that was a million years ago. I was eighteen. Now I'm forty-six. That wasn’t just it. I gained, then I lost. I gained, then I lost. For a long time, what I ate, my health and fitness and all that was such a huge part of my brain power. It wasn’t until recently that I stopped perseverating on that. It was when I stopped perseverating on my weight that I was able to write the book because less of my brain was sucked up with what am I going to eat today? Are my pants going to fit? What am I going to do to work out? Am I going to burn off as much as I ate? Started being more okay with how I looked and how I was, then I had all this brain space. Now I can write a book. [laughs]
Zibby: There you go. It’s a silver lining.
Heather: That's right. Exactly.
Zibby: It’s good to have come to a level of peace with whatever.
Heather: Absolutely. It’s also been great because since I did that, I've maintained at the weight that's right for me instead of this up and down that I used to do when I was constantly dieting. The dieting and the weight thing is not a big part of the book. It’s probably a whole other book and whole other conversation. There's no one size fits all when it comes to weight. Everybody’s got to find their own way. Sometimes it takes a whole bunch of different doors before you end up where you're supposed to be.
Zibby: Very true. I like how you included that as one of the trials along the way and how you managed that. That was great. You also talked about one trial where you had gotten very attached to a woman doctor about your age. When you were on your way to go fight for her, you had an allergic reaction, basically, to stress, not to anything else. Your hormones caused you to end up in the ER. Your lips were swelling up. It was a whole thing. I was reading this being like, oh, my gosh. I cannot believe this is happening to her. Tell me about that situation.
Heather: It was terrible. Every doctor that I represent, I become close to, but some -- she looked like me. She was my age. She was a woman in a field of men. She really needed to win the case. She was explaining to me why. As she was explaining to me why, I could feel -- I've always gotten hives from hormonal things like stress, but I could feel my lips swelling as she was speaking. Then I did that thing where you try to talk yourself into saying it’s going to be okay. Ultimately, I called an Uber to go to the hospital because I was embarrassed to call 911. [laughter]
Zibby: You are the second person in the last two days to tell me about taking Ubers to the hospital when you should've called an ambulance. These poor Uber drivers. [laughs] They have all these sick people in the back.
Heather: I know. Oh, my gosh. That is so funny. He was totally looking in the rearview mirror with his eyes wide. My face was getting bigger and bigger. It’s funny. You made me think of something. I recently read that women die of choking most often in the bathroom. They go there because they're embarrassed that they're choking. Then they end up not getting the help they need. Totally off point, but it goes to show that we need to be less embarrassed about stupid things. I should've called an ambulance that day. Women should not run to the bathroom when they're choking. Any women listening, don't run to the bathroom. Get some help.
Zibby: As a quick aside, ambulances take forever to come in New York City. It took like fifteen minutes. We could have been in a cab and at the hospital. Throwing that out there.
Heather: That's a good point. I know you've dealt with that recently with one of your children with allergies. It’s scary as can be, whether you're a child, a mother, or the person going through it.
Zibby: Go back to your story. I was just saying maybe in the future, the cab might be the way to go. Anyway, go ahead.
Heather: Hopefully, it never happens again. I went to the hospital. They gave me Benadryl and steroids. It turned out to be okay. The case was an emergency room case. The whole time that I was in the hospital, I was like, this is manifestation at its finest. I'm obsessed with emergency rooms and reading emergency room records. I'm studying emergency room medicine. Now I'm sitting in one getting a real-time experience. Ultimately though, we won that case. It was one of the best wins I've ever had. Being able to call this woman up and tell her that we had won was a huge, huge, huge reward. It also taught me that I had to find a way to make it less -- my wins and my losses were me for a while. It was everything to me. That's not healthy. Sometimes I felt like it had to be that way in order to serve my clients well. That's not true either. You can serve the people around you, whether it’s your clients as a lawyer, whether you're in sales, whether it’s your family. You can serve them well and still find a way to take care of yourself. It’s hard, but it’s something that you should really try to work on doing.
Zibby: Otherwise, you end up in the ER.
Heather: Right. Exactly, or needing other kinds of help if you don't take care of yourself. It’s imperative.
Zibby: It catches up to you.
Heather: No doubt. No doubt about it.
Zibby: You also told this other story about the man you were dating. I don't know if you're still dating him. He had a heart attack. You spent the whole weekend with him and didn't even know it and then had to go through that whole situation as well.
Heather: It’s terrible to say, but I've had two men named John have heart attack in my presence. I’m not dating John anymore. We were at the shore. Because I defend doctors, I feel like I'm a doctor. My brother makes fun of me. He's like, “You can't deliver babies.” When my sister was having her baby, I was ready to run in and take care of it. Same thing, I do a lot of orthopedic cases. I seemed to think that I could perform my dad’s knee replacement surgeries. John, when we were dating and we were at the shore, he was having stomach pains all weekend. He was such a trooper and such a great guy that he tried to come to the beach with me and my friends even though he wasn’t feeling great. He carried a woman in a wheelchair -- she had one of those sand wheelchairs -- down the beach not feeling great.
Then on Sunday morning on that weekend, the doctor finally said, “It sounds like you have a kidney stone. Go to the hospital.” It really showed me, Zibby, what role serendipity plays. If we had gone to the hospital in Jersey, it’s not as well-known for cardiac help. Who knows what would’ve happened. Then when we got to the hospital, he was like, “If it’s crowded, I'm not staying. I just want to get some sleep. If there's no parking, I'm not staying.” It turned out that we got the most amazing cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital. John had had a heart attack on Friday. He had the worst kind of heart attack you could have. We are still good friends. He is now really healthy. He was healthy before, but really good at taking better care of himself in a similar way.
Zibby: You talk about crying in the courtroom and how you're a crier. I am also a crier. I get it. Then you had this lovely line. You said, “My saltiest tears have been from the times I've lost my way,” which made me so sad. I wondered if you could share maybe one time where you feel like you lost your way in life.
Heather: It’s especially true with my cases. When I first started, there are some lawyers who are super, super aggressive. I never wanted to be that person. In fact, I've had lawyers say to their clients, “Heather is not your friend.” [laughs] I always feel as though if it’s my job to take away their story -- ultimately, the jury has to decide between two stories. If I think a patient is not telling the truth, whether by choice or by their memory, my job is to show that to the jury. I can take their story without taking their dignity, but I'm not perfect. There are times when I get more aggressive than I want to be, especially when I was younger and I felt that pressure to be -- it’s a man’s world that I live in. Only five percent of trial lawyers, about, are women. Those cases where I attacked more than I had to or got more bloody than I had to, those are the times when my tears, whether I won or lost, would be, I'm not being who I want to be in this job. There's a story that I tell at the beginning of the book of sitting in my car and crying because there was a patient who was hurt. I had to attack his story. I felt bad about it afterwards. It’s a very fine line between taking a person’s story and taking their dignity. Anytime that I feel like I've fallen on the side of taking their dignity, it hurts me.
Zibby: That's nice. It is. I'm sure not every lawyer -- I’ll leave that aside. Maybe I’ll transition to this now, actually. You have a whole section also on getting dirty, which was fantastic. You quoted George Bernard Shaw, who said, “I learned long ago never to wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty, and the pig likes it.” That's the best quote ever. Then you mentioned about ways that people had played dirty with you and how you weren’t willing to engage. I was hoping you could tell the story of the lawyer who was rooting through all of your stuff when you snuck back in and how you handled that.
Heather: When we leave the courtroom, we leave all of our papers behind. While you think that a lot of this stuff would be online, we’re still paper heavy. You put all your papers on one side the room. You hope for the best. There are some lawyers who take everything back to their office every night. We’re talking about boxes and boxes and boxes of stuff. Doing that is literally packing everything up and having a courier come. It just doesn't make sense. In this particular case, I had left the courtroom and then realized I forgot my umbrella, went back into the courtroom, and saw the opposing counsel on my side of the room rooting through the boxes.
He saw me. I saw him. He was completely embarrassed. I don't know that he actually saw anything that would have helped him with the case. At the end of case -- there were multiple defendants, it was a defense verdict we all won -- he wasn’t able to meet my eye to shake my hand, which is another thing that's important to me. I want to be able to meet the eye of everyone in that courtroom and then my eye in the mirror at the end of the day. What I did start doing is I wear my sneakers to and from court. Then I change into big, nasty, uncomfortable heels for the courtroom. I started, every day when I would take off my heels, I would put them on top of the boxes to protect them and to say people, “If you want to get in here, you have to go past these shoes.” [laughs]
Zibby: I feel like that should've been the cover of this book, a picture of those boxes with your stilettos on top. That was killer. I loved it.
Heather: My mom said the exact same thing, Zibby. I should've contacted the two of you. She loves that visual as well.
Zibby: That was a great one. Tell me, also, about starting your podcast. How did you end up starting “The Elegant Warrior Podcast?” Have you enjoyed doing it? What's been the best part?
Heather: I love it. I started it as a platform. We've talked about this before. If you are an author or have any -- I do a lot of keynote speaking on how to be your own best advocate in sales and how to use the tools of a trial lawyer to win more sales and more attention. I wanted a platform for both of those things. I don't like talking about myself, despite that you're like, “Yeah, Heather, you wrote a book about yourself.” [laughs] I really like hearing other people’s stories, and sharing other people’s stories, and sharing other people’s lessons. The podcast was the perfect vehicle to create a platform without having to be like, “Hey, look at me,” every day.
It has been the greatest gift of this entire process. Being able to meet and interview -- you know this. You get to reach out to authors who otherwise you'd never get to talk to and have conversations with them. I don't know why everyone isn't doing this. It seems like more and more people are. Some of the people -- Kelly Rutherford, you may know her as well. She lives in New York. She has become a friend. She's been on the podcast. Dan Abrams, who's my boss at the Law & Crime network. Also, she's mentioned in the book as well, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina who was the judge in that Larry Nassar case. I am an anchor at the Law & Crime network sometimes. I watched her handle that case. I so wanted to talk to her. She agreed to come on the podcast. Otherwise, I never would have been able to have a conversation with her. It is so much fun. It’s been so great and a lot easier than I thought it would be. I have a fabulous -- Gotham Podcast Studio is where I do my podcasts. They make it really easy. It’s been win, win, win.
Zibby: Awesome. I want to close with one quote that you ask people. You got this from a judge. Was it that judge?
Zibby: It was that judge. She says, “Tell me what you want me to know.” Instead of asking, she says, “Tell me what you want me to know.” I loved that. She found that, and you also found that it elicited a whole different range of responses than a more direct question or something. It allows people to offer up. I want to ask you now. Tell me what you want me to know.
Heather: What I want people to know is that there is no one better suited to speak up for you, to champion you, to protect you, to help you, than you are. I always say to people, be your own advocate. There is no one who knows what you know. Your voice is as individual to you as your fingerprint. There is no one who can say what you need to say the way you need to say it. Whether that's writing a book, as all of the authors that you've talked to, whether it’s having a podcast, or whether it’s talking to your spouse and telling them what you want them to know, you can do it. You don't need to look to somebody else to do it for you. The more tools that you have in your toolbox, the better you can do it. One way or another, you'll find your way.
Zibby: I love that. Any last advice for somebody writing a book right now?
Heather: Again, it’s like losing weight. Everybody has their way. The way that I did it was I took time every morning. I'm an early riser anyway. I get up at five to work out. I started getting up at four. I know that sounds like, oh, my gosh. Four to five was during that time for me that no one was going to call me. My doctors are early risers. Sometimes they do start calling at five. I had that hour of time every morning that I could totally commit to writing. That's how I got it done.
Zibby: Wow. I'm so impressed.
Heather: It’s not easy, but it’s done.
Zibby: It was great. The book, it was really fantastic and user-friendly. Also, I loved getting to know you more through the book. It was really great. Thanks for coming on the podcast, and your podcast, and all the rest of it.
Heather: Thank you, Zibby. It was my pleasure.
Zibby: Mine too. [laughs] Bye, Heather.