What It Takes To Be A Great Trial Lawyer – Part 13

A Passion for the Work

It is hard to be a great trial lawyer if you don’t like what you do. Most people can quickly determine whether a lawyer – or the cashier at McDonald’s – has a passion for the job. You can see that passion  in the face of a great trial lawyer, you can hear it in her voice, you can feel it in his writing. For whatever reason, great trial lawyers love what they do.

We all know lawyers who hate what they do. Indeed, we know lots of these lawyers. These lawyers do not have a chance of becoming great trial lawyers or maintaining the status of a great trial lawyer if they achieved it in the past. Why? Because becoming and staying a great trial lawyer is too much work, and the person who hates or is ambiguous about the work cannot do or continue to do the work to the extent required of a great trial lawyer. They will never reach the status because they are unwilling – indeed, unable—to do what is required to get there. And if lawyer reaches the status of a great trial lawyer but for whatever reason begins to lose passion for his or her work preparation will suffer, corners will be cut, and quality will suffer.

Some great lawyers can take any position on behalf of any client at any time. They are in it for the competition or the money or both, and it makes no difference who they represent or what position they take. They are hired guns.   I am not suggesting that these lawyers  are dishonest – if they were, they would not be great trial lawyers.  I am saying that these lawyers  do not necessarily care about the particular client or the cause when they elect to take on another case.  

Other great trial lawyers tend to pick a side. These lawyers defend doctors or sue them in medical negligence litigation. They represent shareholders or defend boards of directors in shareholder litigation. They represent employees or employers in discrimination cases. These lawyers feel more comfortable taking a side (chosen deliberately, by gravity, or a combination thereof) and sticking with it. 

Is there a link between continued passion for the work and picking a side? Perhaps. Some will argue that continued passion for the job can only come for the belief in something other than the competition and the money.  Others will argue that the passion for the profession comes from a place different than what side of the "v" you are on or the client’s cause.  And yet others will say that it is the cause the drives the passion, but the cause in a particular case, not the cause in general.

What is the answer?  The answer can only come from the individual lawyer who has become a great trial lawyer or who is working to maintain that status.  What is it that motivates her to do her best, every day?  What is it that  makes him go the extra mile in every case?  In short, how does the lawyer  keep the "fire in the belly" burning?  And, more importantly, how does the fire stay hot over an entire career?

The rest of the series.

Note:  I have heard many wonderful comments about this series.  I appreciate them very much.  Some commentators, however, believe I have set the bar to becoming a great trial lawyer far too high.  I will address these  concerns in my last post on this subject, which will be somewhere around the first of June.