When I say top qualities of a trial lawyer, I am not referring to personal injury lawyers, who describe themselves as “trial lawyers.” Criminal defense lawyers typically try way more cases than PI lawyers. I had lunch with a good friend last week. We spoke about who we would hire if we whacked somebody. I started thinking about what qualities those lawyers have in common. Here are my thoughts.
Craving to be appreciated – William James wrote: “The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” Always seeking approval.
Egomaniac (see insecure above – these go hand in hand, like peanut butter and jelly).
Most people only think of oratory when it comes to trial work. Listening is extremely important.
Some of the best cross examinations I’ve ever seen were based on listening to the witness, remembering exactly what they said in deposition and at trial and then ripping them apart.
Knowledge of human nature
How are you going to pick the right jury for your client if you don’t know a thing or two about human nature?
Ability to react quickly to verbal and non-verbal behavior
Thinking on your feet and trying to get into another’s mind is crucial.
Smell bullshit and call it out
You’ve got to get along with other people to some extent. We all need help from others.
Alcoholic, recovering alcoholic, obsessive compulsive
Some of the best trial lawyers I’ve ever seen were raging alcoholics. Their lives were shit, but man when they went in the courtroom everything was all right. They were in complete control in the courtroom.
Belief in the cause, what is right
Sharp dresser, but not flamboyant (tone down the ego just a bit, will ya?)
Particularly with criminal defense, novel theories of defense require creativity.
No family or significant other
Nobody to drain your time away from the client.
Talk to people like you’re having a drink in a bar. Don’t use big words. Nothing worse for a client than his lawyer talking down to jurors.
Actor – drama major
So much of trial lawyer is acting. “All the world’s a stage and we are merely players.” – Shakespeare. The courtroom is the stage and the trial lawyer is one of the main players.
Respect from the prosecutors and judges can go a long way to a smoother trial. Also, the judge may sustain more defense objections, give you the benefit of the doubt on a cause challenge, peremptory challenge, etc.
Tell the truth
This goes hand in hand with reputation, but deserves it’s own category. You may be an awesome trial lawyer, but if your word is shit, so are you and so is your client.
Grey Tesh is a board certified criminal trial lawyer in West Palm Beach, Florida.