A great DUI trial lawyer is not born, a great DUI trial lawyer, like any criminal trial lawyer, is a product of lots of hard work. The authors of a new book Trial in Action: The Persuasive Power of Psychodrama, the authors have this to say: [T]rial lawyering is as much an art as it is skill. Familiarity with and mastery of many disciplines improves not only your effectiveness in the courtroom, but your satisfaction as a professional and a human being.[i]
Law school does not equip you to be a trial lawyer.[ii] Few law schools offer classes on storytelling, voice and diction, psychology, or group dynamics – all tools a good trial lawyer should be familiar with.[iii] At any point in practice, you need not only to be intelligent with an understanding of the law, but also to be a good storyteller, director and performer, and most importantly, an empathic, genuine, and real human being.[iv]
A Michigan criminal defense lawyer, Hank Greenwood, has been trying cases for more than 40 years. He has these observations on the topic:
I’ve always been of the belief that to be a good criminal defense trial lawyer, you must be quick on your feet. Tap dancing is a necessary skill.
Further, you must be flexible like a ballet dancer. You cannot have a rigid plan that you adhere to irrespective of what is said or done, or not done, at the trial. Sometimes you must get up on your toes and spin away.
You also must listen to the witnesses like a priest in the confessional. Your client’s body, if not his soul can be lost by inattention. You must determine the ambiguities that may exist is witness testimony. What the witness says might need to be clarified if it helps your case.
You have to hone your skills at reading people like a poker player. The ability is obviously necessary in jury selection, but when witnesses testify, you have to read the subtleties in their face or their body. You might be able to tell whether they might be concealing something or might be willing to say something more, but are reluctant.
You must be able to play the hand your are dealt and hide your cards from the other players. The key to life, and winning in poker is the same. Sometimes we are dealt good cards, and sometimes we have bad ones. You must play your cards by the minimax principle; minimize your loses and maximize your gains. In the end, you, and your clients will come out ahead.
Finally, as criminal defense lawyers, we must sometimes be like plumbers. Sometimes a pile of shit is standing between our clients and freedom. People who are not real criminal defense lawyers will try things to clear the shit and unplug the path to freedom by using sometimes ineffective tools. Only true defenders are willing to put their hands in the toilet, pull out the shit, and flush it away.
A great DUI trial lawyer must be all of these things, and developing these skills can take a life time. The journey however is well worth it, both for the lawyer as well as for the client.
[i] Id. at pg. 1