Remember that Criminal Law class during your first year of law school? Your professor unwittingly laid out a simple model to help you get exactly what you want . . .

Success, Criminal-Style

Do you remember the two elements of a crime? You will probably recall that those two elements are referred to by their Latin terms, Mens Rea and Actus Reus.

Mens Rea means a “guilty mind,” and is the mental component of criminal liability. It refers to the thoughts and intentions behind a wrongful act. Actus Reus refers to a “guilty act,” and represents the wrongful act or omission that constitutes the physical component of a crime.

What if the accused has only the Mens Rea, but has not committed the Actus Reus? In other words, what if someone filled with malice just thinks about doing something prohibited by law, but doesn’t go through with it? Clearly, there will be no liability. Our justice system does not prosecute people for simply having bad thoughts. For example, you can sit around all day and night plotting ways to annoy your ex (and let’s be honest, that can be really fun), but if you don’t actually follow through and act out your felonious fantasy, no crime has been committed.

What if the Actus Reus has been committed, but the act was not combined with intention or purpose? Imagine that a pedestrian is hit by a car and fatally injured. Is it murder, or something equally tragic but less heinous? Depending on the circumstances, it might be considered an accident, or negligence if the driver was speeding, or even recklessness, but it would likely carry a lower penalty if the driver did not intend to cause injury or death.

The Two Elements of Success

So, if I were teaching a class on how to be a successful criminal, I would emphasize that you need the criminal mindset and the criminal act. You’ve probably guessed, though, that I am not in the habit of teaching people how to become criminals, successful or otherwise. So, what’s the point? How can understanding how to be a “successful” criminal help you understand how to be a successful attorney?

Just as a fundamental principle of criminal law is that a crime consists of both a mental and a physical element, it is a fundamental principle of success that you must employ a success mindset (what I call “Mens Successum”) in addition to taking focused, success-oriented action (“Actus Successum”).

Thinking positive isn’t enough. You can read all the self-help books you want and study the psychology of success, but if you don’t take calculated, purposeful action in the direction of your goals, you won’t get anywhere. And not seeing results has a tendency to dampen your positive mindset, which leads to a vicious cycle of frustration and dead ends. Don’t be fooled into believing that just putting on a happy face and thinking positive thoughts will result in your goals being realized. Action is necessary.

Going through the motions isn’t enough. You can have a to-do list as long as your last brief or closing checklist, but if your thoughts and attitudes are not aligned with your actions, you will just be unenthusiastically going through the motions. When the going gets tough, you may abandon the effort altogether. It is your positive thoughts, emotions and attitude that will power you through the hard work even when obstacles threaten to get in the way.

When you combine the two elements of success, Mens Successum and Actus Successum, there will be virtually no limit to what you can achieve.

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