What It Takes To Be A Great Trial Lawyer – Part 19

The Knowledge That You Are Only as Good as Your Next Verdict.

I stole this idea from a friend in Atlanta who told me about it over a decade ago.  While I disagree with the notion some might take from this statement (that a lawyer has  to win or has done a  poor job), I wholeheartedly agree with what I know was intended by the statement:  great trial lawyers do not rest on their laurels.

There is no doubt that some percentage of  lawyers who have had a few victories start to believe their own press.  These people come to believe that they are better than their opponents and  that they can win by the sheer force of their past successes.  They believe that yesterday’s victories will carry the day and that they can cut corners in preparation with no adverse effect.

And sometimes it is true.  Accomplished lawyers occasionally intimidate their adversaries.  They occasionally even intimidate judges.  They get their way, whether they are entitled to it or not.

But great trial lawyers do not take such things for granted.  Great trial lawyers know, in the words of a friend from New Orleans, that "the higher a monkey climbs a flag pole the more of his [posterior] shows."   Great trial lawyers know that other lawyers want to beat them and that most trial judges are going to call the ballgame the same regardless of who the competitors are.   Younger lawyers working their way up to great trial lawyer status present the greatest threat – they want to be able to say they beat a person recognized as a  great trial lawyer.

Great trial lawyers also know that great reputations are hard to get and easy to lose.  (They also know that bad reputations are easy to get and hard to lose.) They know that they might be able to cut a corner from time to time and still come out the victor, but  word quickly spreads that they are doing so.  That talk fuels the fire in their adversaries, increasing the likelihood that someone will work even harder to beat them in a case.

As suggested above, all this is not to say that great trial lawyers must win or that great trial lawyers never lose.  Nor do I mean that a lawyer who loses has done a poor job. That is not the way it works.  For example, great trial lawyers who do defense work do not get to pick their cases and therefore lose the ability to screen out cases where the risk of loss is high.  Indeed, one "reward" for being a great insurance defense lawyer is that you are asked to take on even more difficult cases involving a potential for an even greater damage award against your client.  Looking only at win/loss records is a simple person’s way of determining who is a great trial lawyer.

In summary, a great trial lawyer is expected to win, and  the pressure to win honorably only increases as time passes and experience grows.  Thus, great trial lawyers do not rest on past successes but remember and duplicate the habits and discipline that got them to great trial lawyer status in the first place.  And, regardless of the outcome of the case, great trial lawyers analyze the trial and the preparation for it with a critical eye toward self-improvement.