SHAKESPEARE’S ADVICE FOR TRIAL LAWYERS

I marvel at the gift of words Shakespeare exhibits in his writing. Allow me to take a great deal of liberty with it and apply it to our work as trial lawyers.

Let’s start with those limited number of trial lawyers we deal with who never fail to demonstrate a lack of integrity and ethics in their discovery disclosures and general conduct. They soon become known to all of us and we learn they cannot be trusted. Shakespeare’s advice about this is on target. Here’s what he said:

“Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.”
― William Shakespeare, All’s Well That Ends Well

Or as he also observed about some of our opponents lack of moral compass this could be their confession:

“Though I am not naturally honest, I am sometimes so by chance.”
― William Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale

I think we often have the great’s struggles with ourselves when it comes to representing our client and with regard to our own self evaluation of our abilities. Almost always a small dose of self confidence completely changes our outlook and therefore our abilities. Our first battle is to convince ourselves about our case, our ability and our determination to win. Shakespeare had something to say about that too:

“Our doubts are traitors,
and make us lose the good we oft might win,
by fearing to attempt.”
― William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure

There is a truth that things seem to happen in groups. Certainly it seems that too often our troubles demonstrate the old adage “when it rains, it pours” and Shakespeare had something to say about that as well:

“When sorrows come, they come not single spies. But in battalions!”
― William Shakespeare, Hamlet

The comedian Flip Wilson once observed: “you can’t win a jackpot if you don’t put coin in the machine.” or as someone else has observed: “you can’t steal second base with your foot on first base.” To achieve you have to take risks and Shakespeare said it this way:

“There’s an old saying that applies to me: you can’t lose a game if you don’t play the game. (Act 1, scene 4)”
― William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

This same reluctance to take reasonable risks out of self doubt or fear of failure too often means we miss those “golden opportunities” of life that only come around once and must be seized or lost forever. Shakespeare had something wise and beautiful to say about this:

“There is a tide in the affairs of men
which, taken at the floud, leads on to fortune
ommitted, all the voyage of their lives
are bound in shallows and in miseries”
― William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

Defeat and setbacks can either be seen as the end of the world resulting in a determination never to experience that pain again or a motivation to learn from it in order to become greater. Admittedly, having the right frame of mind about these painful defeats is difficult to achieve, but Shakespeare was right when he said:

“Sweet are the uses of adversity
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head.”
― William Shakespeare, As You Like It

Coupled with this wisdom is the following advice about being determined not to let set backs decide our future striving for justice for deserving clients:

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall with our English dead.”
― William Shakespeare, Henry V

The following quote is what I want to say to every defense lawyer, defense doctor and unsympathetic judge I encounter who seem incapable of any empathy at all for the injured client with a meritorious claim.

“He jests at scars that never felt a wound.”
― William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Too often we react before we think and cause more harm than good in the process. Here’s Shakespeare’s advice for calm analysis before we react:

“Thou weigh’st thy words before thou givest them breath.”
― William Shakespeare, Othello

What is one of the most common mistakes we make as lawyers with witnesses and evidence? It is over trying our cases. Dragging out the examination beyond what is compelling. Cross examining on the irrelevant and generally boring our juries to death. Shakespeare said this about it:

Therefore, to be possess’d with double pomp,
To guard a title that was rich before,
To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,
To throw a perfume on the violet,
To smooth the ice, or add another hue
Unto the rainbow, or with taper-light
To seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish;
King John,

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