When I was starting out as an attorney, after passing the bar, I became obsessed with trying to figure out how it is that some trial lawyers continuously get large jury verdicts. What makes a good trial lawyer? I started trying to read everything I could find on the subject. I listened to tapes and I attended seminars. One lecturer, who I found very helpful, was a fellow named Irving Younger. He was much acclaimed as a lawyer, a professor, a judge, and a scholar and he had some very entertaining tapes that ran for hours on all different topics of trial efficacy. What I learned from Judge Younger’s tapes was through an interesting story he told about when he was growing up in New York during the 1940s.
During the summer months, every day that the Yankees were in town, his parents gave him money to get on a streetcar, buy a ticket, eat a hot dog, and watch the Yankees play baseball. In the 1940s, the Yankees had a terrific team and their star centerfielder was Joe DiMaggio. Irvine Younger, as a young boy, watched Joe DiMaggio play over 500 times. His first job out-of-college many years later, was as a club reporter for the New York Giants. In the New York Giants’ centerfield, there was a fellow named Willie Mays. And he watched Willie Mays play many times, as well.
After many of the games where Willie Mays was playing centerfield, Irvine Younger went to the newsroom and talked to the more experienced, seasoned sports reporters. He was surprised to find that the reporters considered Joe DiMaggio to be the best centerfielder of all time, not Willie Mays. The reason they felt that way is because DiMaggio was reliable; he was dependable. You could trust Joe DiMaggio that if the ball was hit in his direction, he would catch it. When it came to Willie Mays, he was excited because he never knew whether he was going to catch it.
The lesson of the story is that a good trial lawyer is someone who is reliable and is credible. It is a lawyer who comes into the courtroom prepared, dressed appropriately, and organized. The counsel table in front of him is neatly established, he has his files and folders, and he can find everything within a few seconds. The other trial lawyer who comes in the courtroom might not have his shirt tucked in, he may have papers all over the place; he is not someone who looks like he is in control of the case. It is key to establish credibility with the jury for being dependable and reliable.
Credibility is related to the Greek concept of Ethos. Ethos refers to ethics. The main thing you need to do when starting a case as a trial lawyer is to create that ethos with the jury. One way of doing it is, instead of being an advocate, be more like a teacher. Do not overstate your case to the jury; you want to come off as being in control and reliable. You are not going to overstate or argue things that you cannot necessarily prove. Instead, try to convert your role to more of a teacher, who is explaining the story in a very compassionate, non-confrontational way. That is how you establish credibility with the jury.
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