Category Archives: Trial Lawyers


I’ve written before in this blog about the destructive foolishness of comparing ourselves to other people and then regretting we are not more like them. We do it regarding our looks, our body and our abilities. We do it as lawyers, trying to be exactly like some other lawyer we admire and envy. Plastic surgeons spend a good part of their professional life satisfying someone wanting to be like someone else. Teens model themselves after celebrities and peer group members they admire.  Marketing is based  upon people wanting to wear the same things as the models they put in  their ads. People we admire are featured in advertising to motivate us to want to be just like them. Our world is largely one of imitation of others.

But, it is a fool’s errand and a waste of time. It’s a  fool’s  errand because each  one of us is special and the imitation is, at best, an imitation. It’s a waste of time because when we are not who we really are, we are  only an imitation of something – not real or genuine. Shakespeare writes in Hamlet “To thine own self be true and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”

Even the Bible tells us how foolish it is compare ourselves to others. Paul says in Galatians:

“Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else.”

What’s wrong with trying to be someone else? To start with there is no reasonable way for us to make any  kind of accurate comparison. Since we are so unique it simply isn’t possible to compare ourselves to someone else.  More importantly, we are each very distinctive in so  many ways because God did not make any two people the same. Like fingerprints and DNA we are made as one of a kind. You simply can’t realistically make comparisons that are fair or accurate. And  that’s true of what you consider your  successes as well as what you think are your imperfections.

There is only one rational way to compare ourselves and that is to compare ourselves of the present moment to ourselves  of the past. Have we grown, improved and become better than we were? That’s the real question and the accurate comparison we should be  making at the end of each day. Not comparing us to someone else.

If you do make a comparison and artificially adopt  some aspect of another it will be apparent to others. What is worse than the person who is pretending to be someone else? They look foolish and they are foolish. We spot the actors and the phonies immediately. We also recognize the genuine person and we trust them as authentic. Our goal should be to become more open, transparent and genuine in everything we do while striving to improve what needs improvement. We should be truthful and honest, not only because it is morally right, but because it means being a genuine person.

Does that mean we should settle for our many flaws and failures? Not at all. There is a need to set goals for change and improvement. There is also a rational way to evaluate ourselves and others. Some of the principles of Neuro Linguistic Programing (NLP) suggest ideas for examining this and suggest:

  • We all have the necessary resources to achieve our goals. We have got what it takes or the means to create these resources within ourselves. We have to learn how to unlock the resources we have.
  • In general, if someone else can do something than so can you. To achieve it means you learn from them and by applying the same principles achieve it.
  • We each have our own way of interpreting a particular event or occurrence. We build a “map” on our mind based upon our perceptions but the map is not the actual reality. It is just our viewpoint.

When we take the time to realistically examine ourselves, who we are and what we are like we are beginning to open a path to improvement. When we evaluate other people’s good characteristics we can examine how we might achieve our own unique characteristics. It is a process of starting with ourselves as a worthy, distinctive person and improving upon ourselves rather than pretending to be someone else.


On Sunday I left Gig Harbor for Wyoming about 4:15 AM  to make the flight from Seattle to Salt Lake  and then transfer to another plane for the flight to Jackson Hole. In Jackson the weather was beautiful, in the mid 80’s  and the Teton’s still had snow. After  collecting my bag I headed out in the rental SUV for the ranch.

As always, there was construction and rough road along with the slow moving cars pulling trailers, but I made it to Dubois,Wyoming, some 86 miles away, about two  and a half  hours later. In Dubbois I made my annual stop at the Cowboy Cafe to have their hamburger  and french fries before heading on to the Thunderhead Ranch where  the college is located. The ranch is  some 25 miles  East of Dubois and 75  miles Northwest of Riverton, WY. However, a good portion of those  miles are on a rough dirt road  to the ranch. By the time I got there in the midafternoon on Sunday the students had been there for a couple of weeks going through psychodrama and trial training.

This group of students were one of the best groups I’ve worked with in some time as far as  their enthusiasm and desire to learn. They were of all ages and gender. The subject was jury selection when I arrived. Gerry Spence gave a talk at 9:00 am until noon. That afternoon and evening we broke into groups to practice under supervision of staff members  who had been through the program and the graduate program.  We quit at 5:00. After dinner the groups worked again from 7:00 pm to 9:00. I gave a talk one evening from 7:00 to 9:00. The morning I left Gerry had lectured on cross  examination and they would work on that in groups.

The students were more than 1/3 women. They were were of different  ages and  experience. A number of public defenders along with plaintiff injury  lawyers. The staff was also a mix of gender, age and practice areas. I enjoyed seeing my friend Gerry again. He  is 83 years old, writing  two books, teaching and working on his photogaphy exhibits. We talked about planning another  photography trip together, but agreed it had to be easier on us, given our age, than previous  trips we had made together.

Of course, I always learn a lot more than I teach. For one thing, you can’t help but  learn when you watch people attempting to do something involved  in trial and teaching them how  to do it correctly. They mirror the difficulty we all have in doing it right and correcting them results in learning  on both parts. This was something like the 17th year of teaching for  me.

My friend  Dana Cole was there again. He was  in the class the first year I taught (which was  the second year Gerry started  it) and he was  there again. He has  not only come back to teach every year, but he used to stay during the entire course plus  attend other sessions held there. So it was a reunion of  sorts since the staff had been students when I taught there. I’m tired,  but happy I  made the trip. Next week on to New York and the Inner Circle Convention.

Keep fighting for justice for  your clients.

Ten rules for being a good trial lawyer

  1. HONESTY IS ALWAYS THE BEST POLICY. You must be always be honest with others and especially with yourself. You must be willing to face the truth even when it hurts. This commandment is especially true in presenting a client’s case to a jury. All people are equipped with internal detectors about lies and when youput a group together their collective ability is even more sensitive to falsehood. Scripture teaches us this fact. “The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out. ” (Proverbs 10:9)and “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32)
  2. ETHICAL ISSUES ARE SIMPLE: ALWAYS DO THE RIGHT THING When you stop to honestly examine issues that arise in your law practice you will find that you inherently know what the right thing is you should do. But, we are tempted by the human frailties of greed, pride, power and the like to rationalize and justify. The problem is that when we don’t do the right thing it has a way of punishing us later. Somehow, truth always comes out in the end and our short term benefit is never worth the consequences.
  3. ALWAYS PUT THE CLIENTS BEST INTERESTS FIRST The other rule that is connected to ethical issues is that in every situation if we put the client’s interests before all others and especially our own we will make the right decision in ever case. You have a question of conflict of interests? What’s the right thing for the client. You have an question about settlement? What’s the right thing for the client. In every situation this is the litmus test of making the right decision.
  4. IF YOU WANT TO AVOID DISPUTES & MISUNDERSTANDINGS, CONFIRM IT IN WRITING We have a lot of dealings in our law practice and disputes as well as misunderstandings are part of our communication problems. Make it a standard practice after a conversation or phone call to send a confirming note. It can be E-mail or a letter and it doesn’t have to be in “legalize” or should it be insulting. Just confirm the understanding you have and avoid disputes.
  5. NO FEE IS WORTH THE PAIN OF A PROBLEM CLIENT No matter how attractive the case or how large the potential free, learn this iron clad rule. The pain, anguish and frustration of a problem client is simply never and I mean never worth whatever fee you might earn. One of the reasons you became a lawyer was to have independence so exercise good judgment and send the problem clients somewhere else.
  6. PICK YOUR BATTLES Life is not fair and justice is a goal but not always a reality. There are situations where the cards are stacked before the are dealt. In those cases you need to evaluate what is possible and what is not possible. Changing an existing condition may be possible and you should have the courage to act even where the odds are against you. There are also situations where no matter what you do you are not going to succeed. Unless you enjoy being a martyr recognize the facts.
  7. THERE IS NO CRYING IN BASEBALL OR IN TRIAL WORK You learn quickly as a trial lawyer there are lots of things about the trial system that are unfair and not right. If you are a woman trial lawyer you will probably recognize rather quickly about gender discrimination. The young trial lawyer may experience the discrimination of the older members of the profession. If you are representing clients charged with a crime you will learn how difficult it is to get justice. There are so many reasons to complain about the system that are not going to change anytime soon that if you dwell on them, you will not grow into the kind of lawyer you should become. You should conduct yourself as a professional and be firm about who you are and your role,. However, don’t spend your time whining to your friends about it. It’s a waste of time, Toughen up. Trial work requires courage and determination.
  8. BE YOU AND NOT SOMEONE ELSE Don’t waste your time trying to be someone else you admire. Learn from those who have something worthwhile to teach but always make it yours. You are unique. Over and over I see lawyers I would never expect to be successful based upon appearances who are, in fact, great trial lawyers because they are totally authentic – warts, bumps and all. People respond to authentic human beings so be the unique person God created when he created you.
  9. WHATEVER YOU TAKE ON GIVE IT YOUR BEST EFFORT Everyone should evaluate legal work you have accepted and be prepared to re-evaluate it at every stage, but in all things give it your best effort. Nothing is worse then a half hearted trial lawyers. If you accept the work, then give it your best effort at all times and I all things.
  10. FOR A SHORT COURSE IN HUMAN NATURE STUDY DALE CARNEGIE Dale Carnegie taught courses in success and was a best selling author on the subject in the 1920’s & 1930’s. He wrote what is probably the most accurate encyclopedia of human nature in 1936 with his book How to Win Friends and Influence People which remains today a best seller and has been translated into thirty one languages. Trial lawyers have a justified reputation for being loud, combative and often obnoxious people. Too many of us haven’t a clue about the makeup of people who serve on a jurors, our clients or the judges we deal with. This simple, interesting and very accurate book, with an unfortunate title, is all one needs to rectify this failure on our part if its teachings are put into practice