6. Great Trial Lawyers Don’t Cheat
There are lots of opportunities to cheat in the practice of law. You can withhold information during the discovery process. You can improperly coach a witness or client. You can knowingly violate orders on motions in limine. You can knowingly violate the rules of evidence or the law of trial. You can mis-cite case authority or misrepresent facts to a trial judge or appellate court.
And sometimes cheating can help you win. A weak trial judge won’t call you down or impose sanctions. The victim of the improper conduct doesn’t discover it or discovers it too late. And when you start cheating and aren’t punished for it, you keep doing it, in part because it has worked for you in the past and in part because you are afraid that you will lose if you don’t. And you can’t stand to lose, or you wouldn’t have cheated in the first place.
There are four problems with cheating. First, it is wrong. Second, word gets out that you cheat. Third, at some point in a cheater’s career they will get caught. Red-handed. And someone is going to make them pay. Big. Finally, I work under the assumption that late at night, in the dark, the cheater faces the fact that he or she has cheated and won. And my guess, indeed my hope, is that the cheater wonders whether they would have won if they had not cheated. And in my mind that is almost punishment enough.
Great trial lawyers don’t cheat. They have a strong desire to win, but would rather lose than cheat. They know that becoming a great trial lawyer is more than about just winning – it is about winning with honor.
Each of us knows otherwise great trial lawyers with an asterisk behind their name. Like the home run hitter who uses steroids, they are known to cheat. And as a result, they are known for nothing else.
Read the rest of the Great Trial Lawyers Series.