As a trial attorney, that only helps us do our job better because understanding people is the key to human interaction, which is the heart of what a trial attorney deals with everyday.
At the same time, what it takes to be a great trial lawyer is more than understanding human interaction, although just knowing that much can go a long way toward professional success. Understanding the mechanics of the legal process fulfills the equation of being a great lawyer.
That’s a lesson learned, in a roundabout way, from Nashville attorney John Day. A remarkable trial attorney and gifted speaker, his blog on all things related to Tort Law (quite aptly titled Day On Torts) is worth a regular read, no matter what area of law you may practice. He knows his stuff.
Day has written a series of articles collectively titled "What it Takes to Be a Great Trial Lawyer" and the article is terrific. I won’t spoil the fun of reading it (you can find the entire series on the web and also in the Fall 2008 Ohio Trial published by the Ohio Association for Justice), but here are the 19 points that make up Day's List:
1. A great trial lawyer knows the substantive law applicable to the cases the lawyer evaluates, accepts, settles and tries.
2. A great trial lawyer has a solid knowledge of the law of evidence.
3. A great trial lawyer has a solid knowledge of the law of civil procedure.
4. A great trial lawyer takes time to think.
5. A great trial lawyer maintains a reasonable caseload.
6. A great trial lawyer does not cheat.
7. A great trial lawyer learns the facts.
8. A great trial lawyer understands the importance of depositions.
9. A great trial lawyer has the ability to pull the trigger.
10. A great trial lawyer has the ability to organize.
11. A great trial lawyer understands the need to be true to one’s self.
12. A great trial lawyer has the courage to tell the client the truth.
13. A great trial lawyer has the ability and willingness to undertake (and share with the client) a cost-benefit analysis throughout the litigation.
14. A great trial lawyer has a passion for the work.
15. A great trial lawyer has an understanding of the human condition and what it takes to motivate jurors to action.
16. A great trial lawyer has an appreciation for the discretion vested in the trial judge.
17. A great trial lawyer has the willingness and ability to delegate.
18. A great trial lawyer is blessed with "luck."
19. A great trial lawyer knows that he or she is only as good as the next verdict.
His list is, as he has said, "what I must do to become the lawyer I want to be."
There is not a single thing on Day's list that should be skipped by anyone wanting to master the craft of being a trial lawyer. And there certainly isn't much to add either. Mastering Day's list can take a lifetime, but what a life's time it would be.
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