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Lessons From The Warrior Mindset

by Nick Saflund, CSU Law Student

I served 13 years on active duty as a Submarine Warfare Officer in the US Navy and completed 3 submarine deployments. I also studied national security strategy and policy at the US Naval War College. As I begin this second career in law, I want to share with my fellow law students some lessons I have learned that I believe will be helpful.

There are universal attributes that make the people who engage in conflict more effective. As future attorneys, we cannot stop at being legally competent. We must also adopt the proper mindset for the roles we will soon play. For many of us, we will face adversarial situations. 

For some of us, conflict will be a principal focus of our practice. To be successful in adversarial situations, we must be ready to embrace the mindset of a warrior. Merriam-Webster defines a warrior broadly as “a person engaged in some struggle or conflict.”  CSU College of Law has knighted us “Guardians of Justice.” That mantle puts us at odds with those who seek injustice. Our role as guardians demands that we be willing and able to fight.

Here are some lessons my military service taught me about how to be ready to make war. 



Law school is daunting. It is easy to lose sight of why we need to learn a doctrine or write an assignment.

As you toil away, remember that you are building a skillset that you will have to use in the heat of battle with lives at stake. You won’t have time to teach yourself when it matters. Soldiers will tell you that the battlefield is a terrible place to learn how to shoot your rifle.

I think of law school as time on the firing range. This is the place to work things out, gain proficiency, make mistakes, learn what to look and listen for, and dial in your sights. When the time comes, you will have many weapons at your disposal and must be ready to use them all.

Nick Saflund driving the USS NORTH CAROLINA SSN-777 in a RIMPAC multinational maritime security exercise

Nick Saflund driving the USS NORTH CAROLINA SSN-777 in a RIMPAC multinational maritime security exercise in 2012.



Warriors travel light. The more you carry around with you, the harder it is to move. You simply can’t carry everything with you; you must prioritize.

Warriors carry only what they need to accomplish the mission and make sure those things are close at hand. Efficiency is key. In law school I see this as prioritizing your time and effort effectively.

This, I believe, is why many of our assignments have word limits. In practice, we will not have the luxury of writing capacious motions, hoping we get the right stuff in there somewhere. We need to fire, hit the target, and move on to the next.  Traveling light is also a mindset. I caution you to not carry around past mistakes or setbacks.

Jeep breaks down? Keep fighting.

Someone in your platoon gets shot? Keep fighting.

Didn’t get the grade you wanted on that assignment or in that class? Keep fighting

Motion wasn’t granted? Keep fighting

Carrying around a past you cannot change will only bog you down. Adjust to prevent repeat mistakes, but do not carry the past with you. That extra weight will distract you and make it harder to keep fighting.

Put it down and keep your eyes forward. 

Nick walking with his twins on the submarine piers in Pearl Harbor, 2011

Nick walking with his twins on the submarine piers in Pearl Harbor, 2011



If you ask most combat veterans why they were willing to fight, their answer might surprise you. Most of them will tell you they were fighting not because they hated what was in front of them; they fought because they loved what was behind them and next to them. They fought for their families, their country, and their brothers and sisters in arms. They fought to protect the values they believed in.

In our future legal conflicts, we will also have things behind us.

Behind us will be our clients.  Behind us will be victims of crime and their loved ones. Behind us will be the legitimacy of democracy and civilized society. Behind us will be justice.

Try not to get so focused on the enemy in front of you that you forget why you are fighting in the first place. This call to action also comes with a warning.The old saying, “If you are a hammer, every problem looks like a nail” is applicable here.

Good warriors do their homework. They know who, when, and where to fight, not just how to fight. They do not charge in blindly. Sometimes, direct conflict won’t achieve your desired results. Learn to choose your battlefield well. And, when the conflict is in front of you, be a guardian.

Be a warrior. Fight the fights that need fighting. The world needs us to be the most effective warriors we can be.