How to Be a Better Trial Attorney

This post is for the younger attorneys, because most of the advice will be obvious to experienced attorneys.

  1. Join Trial Lawyer Associations – If you want to be a trial lawyer, hang out with other trial lawyers who have already been there. Join ATLA and join your state TLA. Go to their seminars, go to their conventions. If you’re just starting out, go to as many as you can afford (or go to one more than you can afford). Listen to what people are saying and talk to the other lawyers. You’ll learn an awful lot about being a good trial lawyer, just by hanging out with good trial lawyers.
  2. Go to ATLA Colleges – The ATLA colleges are about as good as it gets. Start out with the Essentials of Civil Litigation and work your way from there as your budget and time allows. When I was a younger lawyer, I would sign up for a college every time I got a sizeable settlement in. You can learn more in several days than you would in years otherwise. One of the great things about the ATLA colleges is that they will match you with people with similar experience. If you’re brand new, they’ll put you in a group of people that are new to relatively new. If you’ve been practicing for 10 years, they’ll group you with more experienced attorneys.  Going to the colleges also gets you hanging out with other trial lawyers.
  3. Participate in Listservs – SCTLA has a wonderful listserv that is very active. When I talk to people from other states, their listservs are not nearly so active or helpful as ours. My guess is that perhaps being a smaller state and the lawyers knowing each other more, we get more participation. Either that, or the people are just nicer in South Carolina. Get on the ATLA listservs, get on your state listserv and if your state doesn’t have an active listserv, join the San Antonio Trial Lawyers Association listserv, which is recognized as one of the best in the country.

  4. Learn Anatomy and the Physics of Injuries – We deal with people that are injured. The more we know about the body, the mechanics of the injury and how well the client will recover, the better we can convey that to the jury. When reading medical reports, look up any term you don’t know on the internet. Before the internet the information was not freely available. Now anything you want to know is at your fingertips. Once you have this basic knowledge, figure out a way to convey this information so that it is easy to understand.

  5. Learn from the Best – As you go to more and more seminars and conventions and you see the best, copy them. At first, you’ll be a pale imitation, but over time you will improve and the next thing you know, people will be asking you for advice. You have to learn from someone, and it’s better to imitate the best. The alternative would be imitating the competent, which is not nearly as good an idea as imitating the best.

  6. Learn About Your Clients – When you ask your clients about how the injury has affected their life, they don’t know what to tell you. They really don’t. No matter how many times you ask the question, you won’t get real good answers. Go out to their house and see how they live and what is important to them. Are there tons of pictures with them and their small children? Bowling trophies? A big yard with lots of landscaping? Going out to your clients house and meeting with them, you get a much clearer sense of who they are. You can’t tell a jury who your client is if you don’t know yourself.

  7. Try Cases – Okay, this sounds obvious, but get in a courtroom. Don’t settle every case. If the insurance company doesn’t put good money on the table, try the case. The more you get in the courtroom, the more comfortable you will be. 

  8. Read and Soak in Information – Read as much as you can get your hands on. Read books about trial techniques, read books about trial lawyers, read biographies about trial lawyers. Read about storytelling techniques and the decision making process. Read about public speaking and how to put together presentations. Read about graphic design and how to convey information in an visual format. Read about psychology and anatomy. Read about education and how people learn, read about group dynamics… Well, you get the point. It amazes me when people say they are bored with this profession, I have a backlog of over 30 books sitting on my shelf that I want to read and haven’t got to yet.

There are no shortcuts or secrets. Just work hard, work on your trial skills, learn how the body works and fight for your client. After a few years of that, you’ll be surprised at how good you’ll get.

Written By:Paul Ajlouny On November 14, 2005 4:58 AM

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