Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi reportedly said, "Winning isn't everything. It's the only thing." In the courtroom, Credibility is not everything. It is the only thing. Without credibility the criminal defense lawyer cannot hope to win. But credibility is built slowly, one small step at a time. It can be secured only through tireless and difficult effort - but the payoff is worth the sacrifice.
How does the defense lawyer develop credibility in the courtroom when every time we walk in on the first day of trial we are facing a group of people who question our motives. They assume we will never let the truth stand in the way of a victory. These same people believe a lawyer, especially a criminal defense lawyer, will lie in court to promote their case. If a trial is a credibility contest, how does the defense lawyer establish they are the one lawyer in the room who should be trusted?
We begin by always telling the truth. The defense lawyer cannot afford to lie about anything. Every statement that utters from their lips during trial must be completely accurate, even if it hurts. If the lawyer is in a situation that seems to call for a "little white lie," take the road less traveled by lawyers and say nothing. See Scott Greenfield's post on the strategy of saying nothing.
However, honesty alone is not enough. Credibility requires honesty and knowledge. The criminal defense lawyer must know more about the case than anyone else in the courtroom. Every statement the lawyer makes during trial must be correct. This can only happen when the lawyer's preparation has been exhaustive. When we make mistakes in front of the jury we lose hard earned credibility. But mastering the facts and legal issues in a case is difficult work, especially when the lawyer is busy juggling other cases and the practical aspects of running a law practice. The answer? Have fewer cases paying higher fees. Several of the blawgers commented on this issue last week here, here, here, and here.
That's enough for now. Soon we'll discuss the building of a persuasive case and using credibility to get results. Please stay tuned.