Law school is full of reading. Read, take notes, remember, regurgitate … dump. That is the process for the three years of law school. Law related texts are not what anyone would characterize as engaging or enjoyable reads. To be blunt, law school reading sucks.
After a full three years of reading in law school, a prospective lawyer earns the privilege of spending a full summer reading ad-nausea, preparing to take the crucible of the legal field – the dreaded bar exam. Passing the bar exam does nothing more than earn you a lifetime of reading. The practice of law, even for trial lawyers, is spent with our eyes trained to the good ole black and white. Reports, contracts, case law, statutes, transcripts, discovery; the practice of law is reading.
Why would any lawyer or law student, already inundated with reading assignments, want to read any more? They probably have no such desire. However, there are two simple reasons why any attorney, especially a trial attorney, should continue reading.
Law school teaches a perspective of formalities and legal technicalities. While knowing the law is important, the practice of law, especially trial advocacy, involve human interaction. Humans are on both sides of a legal dispute. The ultimate decision in legal disputes are made by humans – jurors and judges. Every human-being’s decision-making process is driven by a host of complicating factors. Primarily their perspective on what the facts are, how they are important and how they are to be applied to the existing law. Perspective matters.
For this reason, understanding human decision-making, and specifically behavioral psychology, is arguably more important than the black-letter law and legal theory in the actual practice of law. Learning to identify and address the driving forces behind another person’s motivations and decision-making is a necessity. Appreciating different perspectives allows a lawyer to accomplish this often-ignored task. Great authors challenge their readers to identify and consider many different perspectives. Learning to view cases and clients through varying perspectives allows a lawyer to better advocate on their client’s behalf. For law students and young attorneys just starting their legal journey, reading material that may be applied practically also places perspective and context to the black letter law they are continuing to learn.
The minute anybody thinks they know it all, they know nothing. Too often lawyers become complacent with what they have observed to work for other lawyers or what has worked for them in the past. They settle into a rut and ignore the crucial task of self -improvement. They don not take the time to hone their craft. Consequently, they do not improve. In fact, many digress. Without muscles being stretched and torn, they do not grow and get stronger. The same goes for any skill, especially trial advocacy. Challenging ourselves to push boundaries and comfort zones and stretch existing skills promotes professional growth. Challenging ourselves to continue to learn is a crucial component to continued professional development and success.
This brings us to The List. There are countless great resources for lawyers. A new author sharing a new perspective and a new skill seem to appear monthly. New fads appear in the practice of law as they do in high school student fashion. Many are great. Some are garbage. Nuggets of wisdom can be gleaned from most. The GRL Law team has read many of them and we look forward to reading the many more to come. However, looking back over the past years we have come up with our top-5, go to, always applicable, trial lawyer resources that have been the most transformative of our legal practice. Here they are.
- Cross-Examination: Science and Techniques – GRL Law’s Bible for trial advocacy. It teaches careful preparation, theme identification, fact development and witness control. Facts that are elicited through cross-examination of an adverse witness become indisputable facts. Learning to identify witness motivation and use that to your advantage is a game changer. Preparing a case and thinking through where and why certain facts need to be further developed are the extra effort that many lawyers overlook. It takes more work but the methods taught in this resource are effective and have the ability to transform a lawyers trial advocacy practice. Identifying and presenting the crucial facts in way that best supports your case is the single best way to obtain superior results. “You just had better facts” is the ultimate compliment for a lawyer utilizing these methods. This is a must read!
- Reptile: The 2009 Manual of the Plaintiff’s Revolution – Don’t let the title scare you away. This is the book that really got the ball rolling in our minds as it relates to effective use of behavioral psychology in the practice of law. The primary premise of the book is responding to the tort reform impact in personal injury cases. However, the fundamental concepts of behavioral psychology discussed throughout the book are applicable across the board in all legal disputes. Every human decision is driven by basic primal motivations. The better a lawyer can develop themes and facts to trigger decisions that satisfy those primal motivations the greater likelihood of success. This approach requires proactive brainstorming, extensive fact development and careful presentation, but when done correctly, is very effective.
- Win Your Case: How to Present, Persuade, and Prevail, Every Place, Every Time – Authenticity is the most overlooked characteristic of any successful trial lawyer. There is no greater BS detector than 12 people selected at random from the community that have no connection to either party. For some reason, law school has a way of beating authenticity out of future lawyers. The master of trial advocacy, Gerry Spence, explains how to harness truth, fairness, and emotional honesty, to effectively communicate our client’s story to the decision maker. Lawyers need to put their ego’s aside and let the well-developed facts and emotional tell their clients compelling story. Causing the decision-maker to care is the focus of this book.
- Talking to Strangers – Malcolm Gladwell is a can’t-miss author. All of his books are top-sellers and worth a read. While certainly not a traditional legal text, Gladwell’s most recent book dives into the challenges of interacting with people we do not have a personal connection with. More importantly, it explores ways to effectively communicate with people who may have different opinions or perspectives. This is precisely what the vast majority of trial advocacy involves. Think about it. Perfect strangers decide the fate of the parties in a jury trial. Learning how we can most effectively communicate with people we do not know can provide a significant advantage in the practice of law. Identifying, understanding and appreciating differing perspectives is crucial to effective communication with strangers. This book has a wide application across the spectrum of any legal practice.
- Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It – A former FBI, hostage negotiator, Iowa native, Chris Voss, provides compelling examples and insight into high-stakes negotiations. Negotiating is certainly a component to the practice of law but my most important take-away from this book was the concept of emotional intelligence and “tactical empathy.” The concepts in this book can be applied to trial advocacy by teaching lawyers how to identify and understand the primary driving forces behind a witness, opposing party, or decision maker’s position. Once those are identified, emotional intelligence can be used as a powerful tool, enabling superior resolutions. Many of us think that we can convince someone they are wrong through logic. This book explains why such attempts are a fools-errand. Feelings drive decisions. Logic is used to justify the decision after it is made. While we may not be able to change how someone feels about a given fact or situation, we can identify and understand where they are coming from. This permits a resolution of a dispute without the opposing party having to compromise their stated position. The result matters more than being “right.” These are important concepts with specific application to trial advocacy, especially jury selection.