Ten rules for being a good trial lawyer
- 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)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
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