While many personal injury cases are ultimately settled out of court, it’s best to choose a personal injury attorney who’s ready for trial. Even if your case is settled out of court, having a trial-ready attorney on your side sends a message to your opponent that if a settlement offer isn’t satisfactory, a trial will be the result. And naturally, if your case does go to trial, your personal injury attorney can persuade a jury that your claim is well-founded and that the award you seek is justified.
But persuading a jury isn’t a skill that’s easily acquired. Some lawyers are great at doing this; others, less so. So, how can you be confident that your attorney is up to the task?
In 2014, federal judge Mark W. Bennett wrote a thoughtful article for the Review of Litigation titled “Eight Traits of Great Trial Lawyers: A Federal Judge’s View on How to Shed the Moniker ‘I Am a Litigator.” Bennett, who spent thousands of hours listening to lawyers attempt to persuade juries during his long tenure on the bench, has a dim view of most lawyers’ trial skills, writing that “the vast majority of lawyers do not communicate effectively with juries.”
Here are several qualities of successful trial lawyers that distinguish them during trials:
- Unsurpassed storytelling skills. Juries are made up of lay people, not lawyers. Unfortunately, too many attorneys lack the talent to transform the complicated facts of a case into a story that the jury can understand. A great trial lawyer, however, has the storytelling skills necessary to lay out the facts and the law in such a way that every juror can understand, and relate to. In doing so, the jury members can, as Bennett writes, “place themselves into the story as it unfolds before them.”
- “Gritty” determination to become the best lawyers they can be. Great trial lawyers are made, not born, and only extensive experience in courtrooms can teach them what to do (and what not to do) in front of a jury. The drive to continuously improve one’s lawyering skills is a distinctive characteristic of every great trial lawyer, and any personal injury attorney you’re thinking of hiring should have it.
- Virtuoso cross examination skills. Being able to successfully probe weaknesses or contradictions in the testimony of one’s opponent at trial is another key skill for a successful trial attorney, and it’s a skill that can only be honed through many years of practice in front of juries.
- Preparation. Jurors are intelligent people, and they’ll quickly discern when an attorney is unprepared. This awareness will undermine confidence in the attorney’s arguments, even if his/her case has merit. Great trial lawyers know that there’s no substitute for preparing carefully for each case, in terms of acquiring a comprehensive understanding of the applicable law, the facts of the case, and the strategy of one’s opponent. Consequently, they’ll never exhaust a jury’s patience (or that of a judge), appear flustered, or be surprised by events transpiring during the trial.
- Unfailing courtesy. Great trial lawyers don’t bang the table, berate witnesses, or are histrionic. They are calm, confident, polite, and respectful of jurors’ time.
- Refined listening skills. While lawyers, as Bennett writes, “love to hear the sound of their self-perceived silver tongues,” many have not refined the art of listening. Sadly, this skill is rarely taught in law schools, and is only developed over many years of questioning witnesses in actual courtrooms.
- Unsurpassed judgment. Fair judgment is another overarching characteristic of a great trial lawyer that developed from years of experience. This means knowing when to probe and when to back off, when to speak and when to remain silent, when to continue a cross-examination or break it off, or whether to settle a personal injury case or continue to trial.
- Reasonableness. While every trial has a bit of a gladiatorial air, great trial lawyers know that it’s not an actual battle, but a civil contest where compromise is welcome (as long as such compromise is reasonable). Therefore, personal attacks are never warranted and the big picture (the strategic interests of the client) should always outweigh any other consideration. Being “reasonable,” in other words, isn’t a sign of weakness, but of strength.
Have you suffered a personal injury? Please contact us and tell us what happened to you.