What they don’t teach you in law school about trial
We are taught a lot of subjects in law school. There are even classes on the trial of lawsuits. But there are some very fundamental rules everyone must learn if they are going to be successful trial lawyers.
RULE NO 1: TO BE A GREAT TRIAL LAWYER REQUIRES HARD WORK, DETERMINATION AND COURAGE
If you want to be a truly great trial lawyer you must be willing to: (1) sacrifice for the good of other people (2) be determined in the pursuit of justice for your clients (3) to put clients before your ego, vanity or greed and (4) to serve others with courage, skill and total honesty. Being a great trial lawyer means hard work, determination and courage in your calling
RULE NO 2: ADOPT THE "RULES OF THE GAME" AS A TRIAL LAWYER
If you want be a great lawyer learn the fundamental rules as developed by great trial lawyers. There are many, but some of the more important include these: (1) Develop mental toughness. Persist in spite of fear, trial problems and unpleasant surprises. Never give up. A trial is a series of battles and one lost battle does not mean the loss of the case (2) Know your opponent’s case through hard work and techniques of psycho drama (3) find the right theme, develop a strategy & stick to them (4) always tell the truth about you, your client and the case and (5) Give it your very best at all times, but if you lose, learn all the lessons you can from it and put it behind you.
RULE NO 3: OPENING STATEMENT IS A STORY NOT A FACT OUTLINE
When making the opening statement, tell it as an interesting story, not as a series of detailed facts in outline form. Jurors want to make sense out of the conflict. They do so by stories in their own mind and will fill in facts to make sense as they interpret them. Give them your client’s story in a compelling manner. Be general in your description. Jurors find irrelevant details boring unless they go to the heart of the issue. Decide from whose standpoint you intend to tell this story, the plaintiff, the defendant or as if a third party looking on. Tell it in the first person as if it were happening now whenever appropriate. Start your story with the defendant rather then starting with the plaintiff because jurors begin to mentally question facts as they are related to them.
RULE NO. 4: IF YOU WANT TO WIN, YOU MUST TELL THE TRUTH
The inflexible uniform rule of every great trial lawyer is that you must at all times tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth if you want to win. The late Melvin Belli used to say that a trial was a "race for the truth" and advocate the importance of being the first one to tell the jury all of the facts bad as well as good. Gerry Spence has made the important point that to win cases the jury must trust us. In order to trust us we must first be trustworthy. To be trustworthy requires total honesty. Outstanding advocates know the power of the truth and the credibility one gains by being honest about all of the facts of your case, the good and the ugly. Be honest and truthful with the jury.
RULE NO. 5: THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU CAN DO ON DIRECT OR CROSS EXAMINATION IS TO LISTEN
Don’t strive to be the best note taker in the court room. Listen intently to what the witness is saying. Stop and think about it’s impact or importance before moving ahead to your next planned question. Be a listener, not a note taker. In conducting direct examination, remember Rudyard Kipling’s words:
"I kept six honest serving men
(they taught me all I knew)
Their names are what and why and when
and how and where and who"
Remember that both direct and cross examination is nothing more then re-telling your client’s story again and again.
RULE NO. 6 IF YOU WANT TO WIN YOU HAD BETTER KNOW HOW NORMAL PEOPLE THINK
Lawyers generally are out of touch with the value systems and attitudes of ordinary people, like those who serve on juries. Ordinary people have a general bias against those who bring lawsuits. They believe the advocates for tort reform. They want to do the right thing as jurors, but they don’t reason to their verdicts the way most lawyers think they do. We need to learn what motivates normal people on a jury. We need to address their demands for honesty and candor from trial lawyers. We need to know and learn how to deal with the value systems and motivations of jurors if we want to win.
RULE NO. 7 ALWAYS KEEP IT SHORT AND SIMPLE
Lawyers are boring people. They talk to too much. They use big words and they are not clear about what they are trying to communicate. Learn to use short sentence & simple words. Use the "telegram" technique. Learn to communicate the point in a short telegram like way. Your messages must be simple, direct and understandable the first time you say it. Remember to only cover one point at a time in direct or cross examination as well as in your communications generally
RULE NO. 8 REMEMBER, IT’S YOUR CLIENT WHO COUNTS AND NOT YOU
You will always be right if you put your client’s interest’s first, before yours. Before your concern over a fee, your concern about looking good or your concern about what makes you happy. A trial is not your show, your time to look good. It’s your client’s only opportunity to have justice. Always put your client’s interest first when making decisions about their case. Love your clients, even if they are unlovable. Learn to see with their eyes, understand how they feel, and put yourself in their place. You are their representative, their spokesperson and their guardian. You owe a fiduciary duty to them in every sense of the word.
RULE NO. 9 IN SUMMATION, IT IS MORE IMPORTANT TO SPEAK FROM THE HEART THEN THE HEAD
Passion is the essence of good argument. Not emotional dramatics but genuine sincerity without pretense. Knowing that you say what you mean and mean what you say carries conviction with jurors. Jurors collectively recognize acting or pretense. They are more persuaded by the non verbal communication then the verbal. Who you really are and what you really believe is communicated to them clearly as a group. Be yourself. Expose who you really are and what you stand for without trying to make an impression. Remember, everyone on the jury wants to do the right thing. They want to achieve something they will be proud of doing. They believe justice should be done and will try hard to achieve justice. It is the role of the advocate to show them why finding in your client’s favor is the right thing to do in this particular case and will be something they can be proud about later.
RULE NO. 10 BE PROUD TO BE A TRIAL LAWYER
You have been given a great privilege and burden of being responsible for what is the most important thing in someone else’s life. They have trusted their legal well being to you and are relying upon you to not let them down. Be proud to be a trial lawyer on the side of those who have been injured or wrong. To be the protection for those who need protection. To be the spokesperson for those who need someone to speak for them. Be proud of being a warrior for those who need your skill, determination and dedication to their cause.
One thought on “What they don’t teach you in law school about trial”
Thank you for sharing. These are powerful points to to remember as we try our cases.