The “What It Takes to be a Great Trial Lawyer” Series

Here are the opening paragraphs of my December 15, 2007 post that gave rise to a series of posts that has garnered a good deal of attention:

I participated in a panel discussion at for the Young Lawyers Division of the Tennessee Bar Association on Friday and was asked this question: what does it take to be a great litigator?

I knew in advance that I would be asked that question and gave the matter a good deal of thought driving from Atlanta to Nashville Friday morning. My response seemed to go over pretty well so I thought that I would share the thoughts on this blog.

I changed the question to "what does it take to be a great trial lawyer?" I chose "trial lawyer" over "litigator" because I think that the readers of this blog tend to view "litigators" as paper-pushing big firm lawyers who don’t try cases. It is true that there are a significant number of lawyers in litigation departments in big firms who will never see the first or second chair of a jury trial, but it is also true that there are some great trial lawyers in those firms. My goal is identify the attributes of great trial lawyers, regardless of the type of cases they try, who they customarily represent, or whether their office is over the bank on the town square or in an all-glass office tower.

Now, a couple preliminary statements. First, these thoughts are in no particular order. That is, I am not listing the attributes of a great trial lawyer in order of their importance.

Second, I am not talking about what it takes to comply with the standard of care as a trial lawyer. I am identifying those lawyers who practice above the standard, who are truly at the top of the heap.

Third, a great trial lawyer need not have all of these attributes. Every lawyer has at least one weakness. A great trial lawyer knows his weakness(es) and figures out a way to work around each of them.

Finally, one or more of you (perhaps all of you) may ask what qualifications I have that makes me think I can create a list of attributes worth reading. That ‘s a fair question. My response is that I was trained by a great trial lawyer (John T. Conners, Jr.) and I have been fortunate enough to have been swimming in the deep end of the litigation pool for twenty-six years. By that I mean is because I worked six or more days a week with Mr. Conners for the first eleven years of my career I had the benefit of working on some significant cases early in my career and most of our adversary counsel were very good or even great lawyers. I left my old firm fifteen years ago and my practice since then has been such that I customarily face lawyers that most people agree are very good or great lawyers. It is my interaction with these lawyers, plus my conversations and interactions with the thousands of lawyers I know in Tennessee and around the nation, that form the basis of these thoughts.

Read the first six parts of the series here.