Monday, February 27, 2012

Rule #17: "Beware of the Rocking Chair"

I learned this lesson the hard way . . . one learned during my third year in law school at a mock trial competition. It wasn't a real case but it was real enough for me and real enough that the lesson learned stayed with me all these years. The other name for this Rule is "When you are finished with an exhibit, put it away." It avoids much embarrassment especially if you hate losing as much as I do. "Beware of the Rocking Chair." 

My partner and I were on the defense. Our mock trial client was charged with murder and we believed we had a clever defense "angle" on the case. Our theory was our client could not have shot the victim as alleged because he'd been shot in a rocking chair and the bullet trajectory was inconsistent with the prosecution's key witness. During our closing argument we used a rocking chair as demonstrative evidence. 

My mistake? Not putting it away after I was finished. I left the chair in the middle of the courtroom as the prosecutor stood up to give his rebuttal. Needless to say, my opponent used the chair to shred my defense in the most embarrassing way.  Even my wife cringed as the rocking chair was shoved down my figurative throat. Had I simply put the exhibit away I think I would have avoided the shock. That was the lesson. 

In my work as a criminal defense attorney I often use various exhibits and presentations to illustrate evidence to the jury. I will have a witness introduce the exhibit and then describe how the information presented is relevant to our case. After I've gotten what I want, I put the exhibit away. Leaving something out not only looks tacky and unorganized, it gives my opponent (and the jury) a chance to deconstruct my argument and use my exhibit against me. 

So that's Rule #17. When you're finished with it, put the darn thing away. Don't let the proverbial Rocking Chair get between you and a victory.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Rule #37: "Learn to Think BIG"

Anything worth doing is worth doing well. In fact, in everything we do there's potential to make it not just better, but BIG. In this way every endeavor can be made into something great. Folks in every profession make the mistake of being content with overwhelming mediocrity. 

I train my people to think BIG. If something isn't going well there's a greater potential to be reached with a little extra effort. Even when things are looking good the most exceptional people will see where improvements can be made. That's the mindset I want my people to possess.

Notice the Rule doesn't teach one to necessarily think big, but to LEARN to think BIG. Thinking BIG is a process, a mindset, a lifestyle. But it doesn't come naturally. It takes work because there is risk in thinking BIG. Risk of failure. And yes, the risk of being successful, which can be scarier still. In running a criminal defense law firm, like any business, learning to think BIG brings rewards. Better service to the client, more rewarding financial gain, and a happier team. 

If it's worth doing, it's worth doing BIG. Learn to mine your potential. Learn to think BIG.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Rule #3: "Never Lie to Anyone . . . Ever"

Contrary to public opinion defense lawyers are not compulsive liars (i.e., used car salesmen!) who will say anything to win a case. The bad ones might be, but not the good ones. While being a good criminal attorney often involves interpreting evidence differently than most people would initially, my work does not require . . . nor does it allow . . . me to lie under any circumstance. Everything I do as a defense lawyer requires integrity and requires I maintain my credibility with others. (see Rule #33: "Credibility is Everything")  Whether that be with the jury, judge, prosecutors, or the public. Trust is the lawyer's stock and trade and that means being honest with everyone, all the time. 

Often my work requires me to separate fact from speculation. It requires me to be a zealous advocate for the real people entrusted to my care. Sometimes I need to suppress evidence and argue that seemingly "incriminating" evidence is not incriminating at all. But lying is not part of that job description. Rather, out of respect for the law, the court, the prosecutor, and my client . . . my integrity and my honesty . . . are everything. 

So the Rule is never lie, to anyone, ever. We might need to parse our words as defense lawyers. But make sure those parsed words are still the truth. The lives of others depend upon it. 

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Rule #24: "Know the Facts Better Than Your Opponent"

My old boss taught me this. Every criminal case in existence was driven by the facts. Sometimes by the law, but most often by the facts. Usually, the side with the best facts has the momentum and most favorable position. But not always. Sometimes the side who knows the facts better than their opponent has the upper hand. Therefore, Rule #24.

Often there's a plethora of information flying around and it's easy for the defense lawyer to lose track of seemingly unimportant details and get bogged down. That's why I also favor Rule #5: (Always visit the Scene), Rule #6: (Read Everything in the File) and Rule #28: (Out-work Your Opponent). It's a mistake not to know the facts and it's darn hard work to make sure you've got a complete understanding of each facet of the case. But again, even if the facts aren't on your side, if you know them better than the other guy, you might have the advantage.

Finally, juries like it when you have a better grasp of the facts. That helps you build credibility with them. See Rule #33: (Credibility is Everything). One of the best ways to persuade is to demonstrate to the jury you know more about the case than your opponent. They are more likely to trust you. And this trust is often the tipping point in the deliberation room.