What is the role of luck in the development of a great trial lawyer? Well, professionally it often begins with having the right mentor early in one’s career. This is largely, but not completely, luck, because most students come out of law school (a) not understanding the significance of having a good mentor and (b) not having the skills to identify who would be a good mentor. Worse yet, those students who do understand the significance of having a good mentor may have a difficulty finding one with whom they can work.
Luck is important factor in getting the right cases that help the lawyer develop the appropriate skills. This is another benefit of having a good mentor – one gets to work on cases that lend themselves to advanced preparation and that increase the likelihood that a great trial lawyer will be on the other side. A strong opponent sharpens skills, and the more strong opponents you are able to face the stronger lawyer you will become (assuming you attempt to meet the challenge).
Getting the right cases also helps you get results that build your reputation. The reputation of being a great trial lawyer is not the same as actually being a great trial lawyer, but a solid reputation helps one get the work (and face the opponents) that advances the developments of habits and skills that allows one to become a great trial lawyer.
Like it or not, getting "big" cases makes a difference, and there is some element of luck involved in that. I believe in the old joke (how do you get a $1 million verdict? mess up a $4 million case) but that fact of the matter is people pay more attention to larger results than small ones even if, from an objective basis, the result in the "small" case reflects better lawyering.
There is also the "luck" involved in drawing the right adverse lawyer, the right judge, the right jury pool, etc. in any given case. There is the "luck" of facing a lying expert that you can destroy in a deposition or on the witness stand, of finding a "smoking gun," of having a whistleblower come forward, etc. To be sure, one often "makes luck" occur in these matters and must have the dedication and skill to recognize and capitalize on such matters when they occur, but there is an inescapable element of luck in each.
One needs "luck" to avoid health problems that can derail an otherwise promising career; indeed, such problems with a spouse, child or parent can make it difficult, perhaps impossible, to do what is necessary to become a great trial lawyer. Alcohol can destroy a career, and there are many lawyers who look back over the course of their lives and will admit that there was some element of "luck" in avoiding many of the problems that arise from the excessive use of alcohol. A single ethical lapse can also destroy a career, and one may have been "lucky" to have committed one and not been caught.
The list is endless but enough time has been spent on it. The bottom line is that most great trial lawyers will admit that good luck has played some role in their development.
However, the words of Thomas Jefferson ring true to this writer: "I’m a great believer in luck and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it." Has Warren Buffet been lucky? For five solid decades? How about Tiger Woods, with 62 PGA Tour wins at the age of 32? Are Larry Page and Sergey Brin simply lucky to have developed Google – and a decade later have it worth billions of dollars? No, Lady Luck may give risk to occasional opportunities, or help one avoid misfortune. But, over time, those that are truly successful in whatever field tend to make their own luck, and capitalize on it.