My Time at the Gerry Spence Trial Lawyers College

Posted on June 24, 2018 in Uncategorized

If I am to be trusted, I must be trustworthy. This seems like a basic moral principle and life rule – a little bit too trite to even spell out on paper. In a world, however, of sophisticated marketing, political mudslinging, and insincere lawyering, it bears repeating: If I am to be trusted, I must be trustworthy.

I recently spent 23 days at the Gerry Spence Trial Lawyers College, in Dubois Wyoming. There were fifty lawyers there from all over the country, living as students, dormitory-style. We scrubbed toilets, bussed tables, worked out hard every day, and went through the most intense lawyers' training in existence. This is the first in a series of blog articles about the Trial Lawyers' College experience. It was an extraordinary experience, where we were privileged to learn from one of the great masters of our craft: Gerry Spence.

I can summarize the entire experience down to three words: authenticity, honesty, and humanity.

If we are to be effective as trial lawyers, we must not try to fool anybody. We must be authentically ourselves in the courtroom. That sounds simple, but it isn't. Most of us go through life hiding parts of ourselves from public view. Usually, we are not even aware of it. We present ourselves to the world as we wish to be, rather than as we are. This may seem to be irrelevant to lawyering, but in fact it is critical. The jury's openness to what we are saying is directly related to our authenticity as people. For example, I am embarrassed about my weight. I have a bit of a belly. So, I often walk around holding my belly in. It has become almost unconscious. One of things that I worked on at the Trial Lawyers College was to get over this embarrassment. When I let go, my posture changed, my voice changed, I became calmer. I was being more authentic with the jury – and it was obvious to everyone. That is a silly example, but it illustrates the point. As lawyers, we cannot be phony and be successful. We must be authentic.

Honesty is another concept that gets too little attention. Honesty is not just a character trait; it is a skill, just like physical fitness. You have to work at it. Every day we are presented with opportunities to be honest, or less than honest. My wife may ask me if I ate candy in the car, and I have an opportunity to strengthen my honesty – even in this trivial way. To be truly honest requires that we practice it in our daily lives at all times, not just when it is convenient. If someone overpays us, we must return the money. And we must always, always be truthful with the jury, the court, our clients, and opposing counsel, even when it hurts. Juries are skeptical of lawyers; they are watching us for the slightest trace of deception. If we are not trustworthy, they'll see it. Being honest is its own reward, but it also works in the courtroom.

The system tends to dehumanize our clients. They are not named, but rather, they are labeled "the defendant" or "the plaintiff." The same is true of the other players in the courtroom, including ourselves. We are "the lawyer." Our expert is "the expert." These labels cause us to have less rapport with the jury. So, the first task of the trial lawyer is to expose his or her own humanity to the jury. I must endeavor to be a real person to them. This starts right at jury selection and continues throughout the trial. The same holds true for my client, who must always be seen as a, living, breathing, suffering human being. To be seen as a person is a necessary part of having a relationship with the jury.

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